From the Tour de France to the peaks of Pakistan, 49-year-old New Zealander Nathan Dahlberg attempted the world record for cycling at high altitude last year on Broad Peak.
Having raced in 55 countries and climbed peaks in India, China, Pakistan, USA, and New Zealand, Nathan shares the details of his self-propelled adventure.
An expedition in itself
Getting to Broad Peak/K2 base camp is an expedition in itself - not to mention the road to Askoli. After five days of trekking in the confluence of the greatest ice mass outside the Polar Regions, we see Broad Peak for the first time and are immediately struck by this enormous mass suspended in the sky. Several hours later, arriving in base camp, the biggest impression is just how steeply it rises above you.
It was not the year to go climbing – very heavy winter snow falls had been softened by a strong warm monsoon which meant that the mountains were in perilous state. The day we arrived at base camp seven climbers had been overwhelmed by an avalanche at the base of the mountain. Good fortune alone saved six of them but a famous local guide was lost.
Next to our camp was a Spanish team including Juanito Oairzabal, the Basque mountaineer who is the most successful high altitude mountaineer in history – he is close to climbing all 8000 meter peaks twice. With probably as strong a team as could be assembled anywhere, they failed to reach the summit due to deep, soft, unstable snow.
Right from then, we knew our chance were limited. Conditions and weather steadily worsened after our arrival. Team after team had cracks at the summit of Broad Peak, including several that had given up on K2, which was way too dangerous and difficult to climb this year. They all failed.
There were two phenomenal solo successes by Argentinian Mariano Galvan and Polish skier Andrzej Bargiel. It is difficult to imagine climbing Broad Peak solo in the best of conditions and these two put in unreal efforts.
We had arrived rather late and short on time, especially on a season like this. We were low in resources and we were load carrying ourselves.
We severely underestimated a phenomena of the Himalayas – glacial lassitude - which pins you to the slopes in scorching sun. And then there is the effect that sun has on the snow – if you can even call it snow. Both conditions I have read about, but they are the things you have to actually experience to understand.
The climbing itself was more rocky and steep than we expected - once again time pressure and not doing a proper reconnaissance let us down.
The consequences of all of the above were that I had a fall. I was lucky – after sliding on very steep ice, I tumbled backwards down a moderate rock face and after 30 meters came to a halt with a few small injuries. The worst part was I lost my pack – no sleeping bag or tent caused a short term problem, no passport cause a long-term problem.
Dr Richard Price – an old New Zealand climbing legend who was working for the Himex team at K2 base camp put in a few stitches. The head wound I got was more gory and superficial than anything else and two days later we headed back up to do a search and rescue for my pack but it had completely vanished.
By now most teams were packing up and leaving - none seemed too keen on prolonging the misery and risk of trying to climb. One of my climbing partners, Dimitar wouldn’t even look at Broad Peak, a mountain full of anger - no fun at all – just desperate fear. “I am happy to be alive” he would say.
Broad Peak in Pakistan
At any cost
But with our other partner, Zdeno, an immense resolve to continue at any cost now became apparent. The dangers were increasing daily but even when a massive rock crushed his bike, he repaired it and somehow convinced Diimtar to go back up.
It seemed dangerous madness to those left looking on but Zdeno was a man possessed - a mad passion that would lead in most cases to success but on an 8000m peak, more likely an early demise. They holed up at camp 2 (6200m) for five days with monsoon snow falling.
Dehydrated and weary, they descended. But not without drama. As Dimitar was pulling the fixed rope out of deep snow suddenly it no longer existed – obviously cut by an avalanche – and he found himself in empty space. In moments, he hurtled down 300 meters of snow and ice but miraculously came to a halt on a shallower grade, basically unharmed. Once again we had been lucky!
Although Dimitar and I were of the opinion that we had got off lightly and were already at the limit luck-wise, Zdeno was still wondering if we couldn’t have pushed harder.
Dreams open the gate of possibility
Certainly it was a great experience and I look forward one day to having another shot at it. Everybody has dreams, but only few people manage to fulfil them. Dreaming is a gate into a new world: by dreaming you open the gate, if you are strong and brave enough you will enter in! Curious, adventurous and enthusiastic people show the world that possibilities only end where dreaming stops.