K2 Ski Expedition 2009 Karakoram, Pakistan
On August 4, 2009, Dave Watson became the first person in history to ski down the notorious "Bottleneck Couloir" on the "most difficult mountain on Earth".
In doing this, Dave realized a dream that many of the world's best skiers would not even consider. "As challenging as the skiing was, the climb to get up there was much more difficult. K2 is a really hard mountain."
In 2008, Watson travelled to Pakistan to ski K2. He acclimatized on the neighboring Broad Peak (Earth's 12th tallest mountain) and skied from an elevation of 25,000 ft. on Aug 2nd. This proved to be the only weather window of the season. After the Broad Peak descent, Dave moved his base camp over to K2 where he spent another 4 weeks hoping for a break in the weather to attempt skiing K2. This break never came and Dave and his partners were the last to leave the mountain, never getting a chance to climb high on the "King's" slopes.
Dave hoped to return to K2 in 2010 but in June 2009 when a friend called and invited Watson to join him for an incredible price, the invite couldn't be turned down. Two weeks later they were on a plane headed for Pakistan. They arrived in base camp on July 6 and less than a month later Dave was leading and fixing ropes up the fabled "bottleneck" at over 8,300 meters. On the wind protected slopes above the bottleneck, the snow deepened with every step until it eventually stopped progress. Dave was out front breaking trail for 4 1/2 hours until the call was made by the other members of the summit team to turn around. "It was getting late, 3 pm and the snow was chest deep. Progress was very slow. Breaking trail in those conditions at 8,400 meters was very tiring and there just wasn't enough manpower to get the job done. The weather was good but we weren't sure how long it would hold. When my partner started signaling me to turn around I knew that was it. It was time to ski." Despite the presence of some of the world's strongest high altitude climbers, no one would reach the summit of K2 in 2009.
Dave then climbed down 50 meters to meet up with his partner and have a cup of coffee from his thermos. As all of the other climbers were rappelling down the ropes in the bottleneck, Dave was going through a mental checklist preparing for his historic descent. "I wasn't thinking about the skiing, being so tired and covered in ice from the trail-breaking. I was on auto pilot just to get ready for the skiing: pack off and clipped in, change my frozen gloves, skis off pack. The snow was so hard I couldn't jam the skis in, I had to tie them off. Next was take the crampons off, overboots off, put them in the pack, clean the ice off of the boots, put the skis on, adjust the length of the poles, ice axe on the pack, buckle the boots, zip up all the zippers on the suit, pack on and unclip from the rope."
"I hadn't skied since April when (my wife) Audrey and I were in the Sierra's. Now I was at 27,400 feet looking down the 60 degree bottleneck and South face at base camp, which was 10,000 ft below. Committing to that first turn was incredibly exciting." Dave then skied down the bottleneck and shoulder back to camp 4 where all of the others were standing in disbelief. Dave's partner said "I knew you wanted to ski but I didn't think you were going to launch in the bottleneck!" Dave then skied boot top powder down to camp 3 at 24,000 feet. "They were the best turns of the trip." Arriving at camp 3, at the top of the Black Pyramid, Dave then took his skis off and rappelled the 2,000 foot rock wall. He arrived at camp 2, a small wind beaten platform at 21,600 feet, drank some water and then rappelled the House Chimney. Watson then skied a 45 degree 4,500 vertical foot slope down to advanced base camp.
"I was happy to have made it down without incident. The whole trip people were begging me not to try to ski the mountain. One climber even offered to carry my skis down for me. Amongst the other climbers, there wasn't much belief that it was possible, but I knew it was within my abilities. I didn't get to ski off the summit, but skiing the bottleneck and shoulder was incredibly satisfying"
K2's Abruzzi ridge with locations of camps 2 (6600m) 3 (7300m) and 4 (7900m)