Understanding control and the uncontrollable on K2

September 22, 2020

Journal excerpt, July 24th, 2021
Today we started our attempt on the direct West Ridge of K2. It was stunning with a fortuitous full moon that shone down through clear skies. The climbing was fantastic ice conditions. I was able to climb without a headlamp. If this is the only climbing I do on this trip, it's been worth it, but with clear skies in the forecast. It feels like maybe we can get this thing done.

Journal excerpt, July 26th, 2021
It didn’t take long for us to conclude that we would need to go back down to basecamp and hope that the weather cooled down. There is nothing we can do, or could have done differently. We've come up against a hard choice presented to us by the mountain and our margin of safety was already small in our chosen style of climbing. Continuing to climb will subject us to a far greater chance of death than either of us are willing to take on. It is simply too hot.I am thinking a lot about the following Marcus Aurelius “There is never a need to get worked up about what you cannot control" which feels very pertinent.

Just like life in general, when on adventures or in events there are some things that we can control and many that we cannot. On K2 this summer there were many factors over which we had no control. As we prepared, we simply had to ensure that we were as optimized as possible in order to take advantage of opportunities presented by the conditions and weather being right. It was a challenging equation because defining this dichotomy was complex. Additionally, the uncontrollables were immense while the controlables were immensely time-consuming. So, what was I able to control on this trip?

I spent the year leading up to this trip in a focused series of training blocks designed between myself and Seth Keena at Uphill Athlete. They were designed to get me as strong as possible for our attempt on the West Ridge while addressing a variety of factors including a chronic injury in my right knee. When we showed up in Basecamp, I was the strongest I'd ever been.

I couldn't control the weather or conditions on K2 but I could make sure that I had as much info as possible. This primarily came from extensive research on the mountain through the American Alpine Club Library, a clear view of conditions leading up to the trip that came from contacts in the range, and a professional forecast provided by climatologist Jackson Yip. If the conditions on the route were good, we would have known about it and known what to do.

By working with teams who had tried hard routes on K2 in the past alongside some of the best climbing equipment manufacturers in the world, I was able to design systems for climbing that would allow us to move quickly and safely through the mountains.

What I eat has turned into one of the most imperative parts of my training, preparation, and execution on big trips. For many years I have been taking on a variety of experimental diets to better understand how my body reacts to food and can be set up for success on big trips. This journey has led me to the team at Skratch. Just like me, they are food geeks who are trying to get the most out of their bodies. They set me up with an excellent batch of nutrition for the trip as well as time with their staff nutritionist to help dial on how best I could eat to perform my best. It worked. Up in k2 I was well fueled and hydrated with a high level of confidence in my systems being able to take me the distance. 

Journal excerpt, August 7th, 2021
I am sitting in my tent as a snowstorm rips through our basecamp.The heat has been replaced by a surge of moisture from increasingly intense monsoon pouring off the Indian Ocean. Our forecaster is telling us that there are both factors likely linked to climate change, a warming mountain environment, and a warming ocean.In a few days, we head home. The uncontrollables have ensured that we have not had the ability to climb the route on K2. We never even had a chance. While this is, of course, frustrating I feel strongly that we showed up with all the tools, fitness, and systems needed to climb the route if the conditions had been right. That feels good. Now we're executing on the most important objective of the trip. We are going home safe. 

It may seem frustrating that I didn't have the opportunity to truly test my systems on K2, to see if they would take me to the top. And in many ways it was. But a big part of such massive objectives is being satisfied with a result like we had while understanding that it provided me with more data points to better refine my systems in the future. Projects like alpine climbing are iterative and constantly evolving. In the past I have been presented with perfect climbing conditions and I will again in the future. When this happens, I will be even better prepared. For me, this progression is what the practice of alpinism is all about. 

About Graham Zimmerman
Zimmerman is a multi-disciplined content expert who excels with complex logistics and strategy. He thrives under pressure while utilizing clear communication and management. The outcome is excellence in marketing through a symbiosis between athletes, influencers, scientists, creatives, policy wonks, and content programs.

As an alpinist, he holds leadership roles in a variety of organizations and has won severalprestigious awards, including the gold medal of alpinism (the Piolet d’Or) for first ascents on four continents.

He has climbed new routes in the Pakistani Karakoram, shot films on the volcanoes of the Atacama desert, and has very successfully led projects with brands and organizations including REI, Direct TV, and Outside.

Follow Graham's adventures on Instagram, and check out more from Graham on his website.

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