Climber to return as survivor, not conqueror

Tulalip mountain climber Don Beavon triumphed over K2, the second-highest peak in the world.

He survived.

After spending more than two months on the 28,250-foot-high mountain, Beavon’s climbing team left the treacherous peak on Aug. 23 without reaching the summit.

“I’ve discovered firsthand that K2 is not just a mountain to climb. It is a mountain to survive,” Beavon, 50, said in an e-mail from Skardu, Pakistan. “Our ultimate goal was to come home safely and that we will do.”

At one point, Beavon and seven others spent the night within 1,800 feet of the top, only to be turned back by high winds. Two people in other parties died on the mountain this summer, and several others were injured. Even so, members of several teams reached the summit on July 20, including Russians, Koreans, Italians and three Americans not from Beavon’s party.

Beavon’s group was made up of accomplished climbers, mostly Americans. Beavon, who has summited Mount Everest and many other major peaks around the world, was invited to join the group to make an attempt at K2’s summit. The peak, known for its steepness, avalanches and bad weather, is nicknamed the “Savage Mountain.”

Before this year, only 191 people were on record as climbing K2 compared with about 1,400 for Mount Everest, according to the Web site K2climb.net. Forty nine climbers have died on K2 including 22 while climbing down from the summit, making it the deadliest mountain in the world to descend.

Of the two killed this year, one died on the way up, the other on the way down. Nima Sherpa from Nepal, working for one of the Korean parties, stepped to the side to avoid falling rocks as the group approached the summit, Beavon wrote.

“As he moved to the right, he stumbled to the ground and slid slowly downhill. To the horror of the others, he did not stop,” Beavon wrote. “Seconds later, he vanished over the edge toward the Chinese side of the mountain never to be seen again.”

The other tragedy occurred when Stefano Zavka, one of two Italian climbers descending from the summit, got separated from his partner and simply disappeared, Beavon wrote. No one knows what happened.

Zavka and another Italian climber had befriended Beavon on the trek to base camp in June, offering him tea, he wrote. Zavka asked Beavon about mountains he had climbed. Zavka celebrated his 35th birthday at base camp on June 24, Beavon wrote.

“Less than a month later he would be dead,” Beavon wrote.

Members of Beavon’s party climbed several times to set up higher camps and get acclimatized to the thin air, then returned to lower camps to recover or to retreat from the weather. On July 23, Beavon’s team helped carry American Don Bowie down the mountain after he broke his leg while descending from the summit.

A few days later, Beavon, four Germans and four members of Beavon’s party headed up. At one point they were pelted by rocks and ice from a nearby avalanche. Beavon suffered a minor injury to his elbow.

The group made it to the camp at 8,000 meters, or about 26,500 feet, at dusk and planned to leave at midnight for the summit.

“I put on all my warmest clothes before settling in to wait,” Beavon wrote. “I was feeling fairly good and was high on the mountain for the second time. I knew I could climb higher.”

Then the winds came. The group waited one hour, then two no change. They recalled how members of one team in the 1980s were literally blown off the mountain while descending from the summit.

“We simply did not want to risk climbing to the summit in strong winds,” Beavon wrote.

After retreating to base camp, Beavon realized the long climb and altitude had taken a toll.

“I was weak, my fingers and lips were split and the inside of my nose was sore and caked with blood,” he wrote. “My big toes were swollen and the nail beds had turned purple from all the pounding. I’d also developed a chronic cough. It took over a week before I was feeling better again.”

The group planned one more summit push, but it never happened. Snow started falling.

“When examining our route it looked very avalanche prone,” Beavon wrote.

The group had to leave the mountain Aug. 23 in time to make their planes home from Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sept. 2.

It was bitter not to make the summit, Beavon wrote, especially because “we came oh so close.” But, he added, “I am proud of the way we did ascend the mountain and am proud of the fact that I am sitting here today able to share with you this story.”

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