ExplorersWeb has been awarded best of adventure by National Geographic and best of the web by Forbes magazine. What is then the Best of ExplorersWeb?
We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2004. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2004.
Today number 1: The Magic Line
Communication with BC was broken, as the severe cold had exhausted the batteries in the climbers radio unit. But at 8.00 pm, Oscar Cardiach was able to send a short SOS; Help Negrotto over the radio. One hour later, at 9.00 in the night, in the middle of a snow storm, Valen Giró, along with Baltí Ghulam, set of from BC with some food and medicals.
The high avalanche-risk forced them to retreat shortly after. At 3:00 am in the morning they left BC again, to climb up to C1 on the Magic line. Meanwhile, in Camp 1 at Negrotto Col, at 4:30 am on August 19th, Manel de la Matta passed away in Oscars arms.
Breaking up a pact of silence
Manel de la Matta was part of a team. It was a team not like any other, for yes, there were many of them on K2 this 50th anniversary summer season.
But the five Catalan's of the Magic Line were different: They chose the most difficult line of 2004 to the summit, they worked the route 24 hours a day, they sent accurate and punctual dispatches, and the most amazing pictures we could imagine. They didnt complain about other teams. They reported they enjoyed the climb.
But they were the ones, the only ones, who raised the flag and tried to organize a rescue party when two climbers were missing on the crowded Abruzzi Spur route. This, while dozens of other climbers, on the same Abruzzi route and some under the same permit, looked the other way, packed their things and hurried home. The Magic Line was the only team who dared to brake up a horrible "pact of silence." But they were too late, and three climbers perished on the mountain.
Little did they know, that the next would be one of their own.
Away from a K2 Base Camp of high-altitude egos, our greatest joy was always to go back to the Magic Line. No kidding, no lies and no false motivations were afforded on its steep couloirs and unknow upper ridges. It took a very strong team even to dare to face that impressive spur. Perhaps that is why they were there alone.
Oscar Cadiach, Jordi Corominas, Jordi Tosas, Manel de la Matta and Valen Giró were attempting the first repetition of the Magic Line on K2. Once described as suicidal by Reinhold Messner (which he later denied), the line is considered one of the most difficult routes on K2.
The South West Pillar of K2 was dubbed "The Magic Line" in a widely publicized pre-expedition tour. Reinhold Messner took one look at this route in 1979, and switched to the normal Abruzzi route. The line was climbed in 1986 by a Polish/Slovak team, and is still the hallmark of "suicidal excellence.
The first pioneers were Wojtek Wroz (Poland), Przemyslaw Piasecki (Poland) and Peter Bozik (Slovakia, formerly Czechoslovakia). The climbers ascended in expedition style up to 7600 m. Wojtek Wroz fell from the fixed ropes during their descent by the Abruzzi spur. Peter Bozik later perished during an attempt to climb the Bonington route on the South West Face of Everest in 1988.
For the K2 50th anniversary, the climbers dispatched a tribute to to a character that, although he played a fundamental role in K2's conquest, was defamed and is rarely mentioned these days: Walter Bonatti. The climber took revenge in his own way: Solo climbs, first ascents, new technical routes all over the world, elegance in the itineraries and methods, Bonatti proved without a shadow of doubt that he was one of the best climbers of his time, if not in all of climbing history.
The values that brought us to the Magic Line
Wrote the team in their dispatch: Bonatti represents the true spirit of Alpinism: Commitment, exposure, tenacity, courage and self discipline. Those are precisely the values that brought us to the Magic Line.
Face the void from the mountains to find myself...; those Bonattis words have a special meaning to us now, after living face to face with K2 for two months.
World watching with bated breath
"The adventure world is watching with bated breath as the toughest line on the toughest mountain is attempted right before our eyes this weekend," ExWeb wrote in a Saturday week in review. The drama started already the next day, and ended with a press conference one week later.
A weather window was predicted and the Catalan climbers started out on their summit push, on the most demanding section of the K2 Magic Line. Above Camp 3, located at 7500m they were entering the Terra Incognita'. A system of couloirs and ribs, both on rock and ice, something like Matterhorn, but at 8000 meters. They headed straight into the crux of the climb, an oblique couloir leading to the foot of the Casarotto Tower, at 8100m. They brought a small bivouac tent in which they spent the nights at 8100 m, at the foot of the Casarotto.
Scouting at 8300
Meanwhile, Valen Giró and Gulam, a high altitude porter left BC and climbed up the Abruzzi Route to Camp 2, to stash a camp for the climbers in case they decided to descend via the normal route (Abruzzi). With base camp deserted, the weather reports were relayed to the climbers over satellite and handheld radios.
The next day, Jordi Corominas and Oscar Cadiach scouted the route above their bivouac spot by the Casarotto Tower and reached 8300m. They then returned to their tent to get some rest before their summit bid. They would spend another night in the 8000+ death zone, without supplemantary oxygen. There were local gusts of wind at sunset and worry of increasing winds mid Monday.
That night, Manel de la Matta, who only one day earlier was as strong as his climbing mates, felt tired and decided to not join Oscar and Jordi for the summit attempt. The climbers had by now worked hard for two days at the 8000+ level. At this altitude, the body doesn't recoup with rest and sleep.
Winds of K2
On the Abruzzi Spur, Valen Giró reached C3 trying to keep in touch with the climbers through the radio, and with ExplorersWeb and Catalonian Meteo services over satellite-phone. Any new detail concerning the forecasted weather had become crucial, most importantly - the wind. There was a concern about the late Sunday night gusts.
In spite of the weekend, the American WNI was on the phone with ExplorersWeb to discuss the forecast in detail before it was sent out to the climbers. The situation was very uncertain. The climbers had some tough choices to make. It would all come down to their strength, the terrain - and - the notorious winds of K2.
Alone on K2
Early Monday, the news came: Jordi Corominas was climbing the final slopes of K2, advancing at a very slow pace, sunk in fresh snow up to his waist. Oscar and Jordi had left their tent at 4:00 am, local time, but Oscar soon decided to turn around. At 2:00 pm local, there were only 100 vertical meters between Jordi and the summit.
Oscar hurried down with Manel to camp 3 on the Magic line. The climbers didn't think that Jordi would be able to come down the Abruzzi route, where getting lost was deemed too easy. Valen Giró therefore left C3 on the Abruzzi and headed back down to BC to be on standby for the climbers.
But due to unexpected deep snow, Jordi would not be able to come back down the Magic Line either. He was now alone high on the mountain - with an uncertain route of descent.
In the next update, hours later, Jordi Corominas was still on the Magic Line, around 80 meters from the summit. The situation was grave. Night had fallen and he had been out for nearly 20 hours. He had only climbed 20 meters in the past two hours. The problem was very deep snow on the final slope. At this rate, he'd have to climb another 6 hours through the night only to reach summit, and then try to find his way down somehow. A miracle was needed or he would never make it. Our favorite climber was seemingly dying right before our eyes.
Point of no return
The phones at ExplorersWeb went crazy. There were calls to the Japanese Mountain Federation, to K2 BC, to the home team. We were desperate for the lone climber, stuck in the night 80 meters from the summit of K2, at a point of no return.
News came that the small Dosanko Japanese expedition had reached the summit by the Cesen route. Once informed about the situation, the Japanese agreed to wait for Jordi in Camp 4 (shared both on the Abruzzi and Cesen routes), and take him back with them by the Cesen, should he be able summit and make it down to them.
It became clear that Jordi had to summit, and come down the Abruzzi. It was do or die.
Third night in the deathzone
That's when the incredible news came. At midnight local, Jordi called Valen in Base Camp - from the summit of K2. He planned to descend to camp 4 on the Abruzzi ridge - he estimated another 4-5 hours down. He would have to come down alone, through the very same route where Juan Oiarzabal had got lost and others had died only weeks earlier. Jordi had by now climbed for 21 hours, the last 5 in darkness. It was his third night above 8000 meters without oxygen support. The news were good, but they were not great.
He arrived in the Japanese camp 4 at dawn, Tuesday, 5 am local time. He stayed only one hour with the Japanese. He felt fine and decided next to climb down - alone - on the Abruzzi route. He reached C3 at 10 am, rested and left for C2. But after only one pitch he felt tired and returned to C3 for the night. He slept in the tent stashed for him earlier by Valen. We could not believe his strength.
Valen monitored Jordi every hour over radio and got himself ready to head back up to the Abruzzi to meet him. In the meantime, Oscar and Manel were coming down slowly on the fixed ropes below C3 to C1.
Wednesday the weather window had closed and the climbers descended in a snow storm. Valen Giró climbed up to ABC, to wait for Jordi. As the batteries died, contact was lost with Manel and Oscar on the Magic Line.
Valen accompanied Jordi back to Base Camp, but headed next back up the Magic line for Oscar and Manel. He brought with him Balti high-altitude porters Gulam and Akhmed. In the heavy snow and night fall, the team battled a section of 1300 vertical meters of snow and ice couloir, leading to the Negrotto col, where Camp 1 is located.
But Manel couldn't be saved. Early Thursday morning the news came that he had died on camp one. A Friday press conference stated that peritonitis was suspected, as he had complained of acute abdominal pain during the descent. The death was ultimately probably caused by general exposure to altitude.
The end of a true alpinist
They were the best team on K2. That's why the mountain kept one of them. We had been with these guys night and day, over the phone and the internet, and team ExWeb was devastated. Angela Benavides wrote a fiery tribute to Manel and the Magic Line: "He had a passion for Alpinism. In the end, it took his life. Too much love will kill you says the song. Climbers die on the mountains. Real climbers die in real mountains, on the most difficult routes. Or so they whish. Manel had the end of a true alpinist".
Descending the King of Mountains
And the ExWeb community wrapped it up in a flood of e-mails: "Thank you for your coverage of this years gripping and extraordinary events on K2. Those of us "in the know" are quite aware that the human drama of a Tour de France or a tennis tournament, while compelling in their own right, pale in comparison to the life-or-death struggle involved in ascending (and descending!) the King of Mountains. Edurne and Jordi have earned their place in climbing history... seemingly the best climbers in all genres of the sport hail from northern Spain these days... again thanks, it was unforgettable..."
The Pirates stole the show
The climbers dedicated the route to Renato Casarotto, another legend underdog, who's widow Goretta was with them in Base Camp. Renato lost his life on the route after he fell into a crevasse on the Phillipo Glacier. Even though he managed to contact his girlfriend Goretta, who was in BC, the rescue party came too late. Renato expired in his rescuers arms a few minutes later.
The Spanish Federation of Climbing and Mountaineering, who have raised controversy in the past 2 years, refusing to give out their annual award due to lack of good enough climbing decided this year was different. There was one expedition worthy to receive its annual award (the Spanish version of the Golden Ice-Axe): The K2 Magic Line!
In the remarkable K2 anniversary of 2004, the Pirates of K2 stole the show.
ExplorersWeb have chosen the team Best Of 2004, for living up to each and every one of the categories of the ExplorersWeb award.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
8 expeditions have been chosen best in the world of adventure in 2004.
Previous in the countdown:
2. Jannu North Face for incredible courage, determination and persistence.
3. Microlight over Everest for courage, ingenuity and a Great Spirit of Adventure.
4. Dominick Arduin (North Pole) for her refusal to compromise her goals.
5. The SpaceShipOne team for their self reliance, pioneering and ingenuity.
6. The Russian North Wall team (Mount Everest) for persistence, pioneering, courage and comradeship.
7. The Russian Extreme Project (Amin Brakk BASE jump) for pioneering, ingenuity and courage.
8. Fiona and Rosie (South Pole) for their record-breaking performance and respect for each other.
An additional 4 expeditions received a special mention award:
Edurne Pasaban and Juanito Oiarzabal (K2) - for their courage and honesty.
Henk De Velde (NW Passage) - for his battle to the bitter end.
Pavel Rezvoy (Ocean rowing) - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Nawang Sherpa (Mount Everest) - for his determination and ground-breaking performance.
Images: Climbing images copyright Magic Line.
-Manel and Oscar in a High Camp on August 11 summit attempt.
-Jordi Corominas on the summit ridge of K2, with the shadow of the mountain in the background, at 18:00 (6 pm) on August 16th. Right after taking this picture, he contacted BC to report he was 80 vertical meters away from the summit (which he would reach at midnight).
-Magic Line team celebrating Walter Bonattis birthday in K2 BC last summer, before the summit bid,
-Renato Casarotto's burial ground in K2 Base Camp Memorial, also burial for Manel.
-Image of Renato courtesy of intraisass.it
-Dig image "Climber and headlamp before dawn, Himalaya" copyright Nomads'Land.
-Image of Bonatti in his twenties, courtesy of Pistehors.com
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