EXPED ambassador, Graham Zimmerman, reflects on K2 attempt

EXPED ambassador, Graham Zimmerman, reflects on K2 attempt

You just returned from attempting the west ridge of K2 in Pakistan. What interests you about this particular mountain and route?
I am on a constant mission to define what I am inspired by, particularly in climbing. K2 has always been a symbol of hard climbing on the highest peaks and as I have progressed in the practice of alpinism I have found myself more and more attracted to its flanks. Specifically, I have been keen to try something new or novel (rather than joining the conga line on the regular route). As I sought the best tour to attempt, the west ridge stood out since it is relatively safe and represented a passage to the summit on which I could move quickly and safely.

Was this part of what you call your “progression” in the mountains?
For better or worse, I am deeply inspired and driven by personal progressions. This is true in my work as a creator, in my marriage, and in my climbing. Having made first ascents on a number of 7000m peaks I was looking for a challenging and inspiring route to attempt on one of the world's highest peaks. My research drew me to the West Ridge of K2 due to its beauty, technical challenge, and the opportunity for a direct finish to the original line.

From your updates on the mountain this summer, it sounds like you had some interesting weather/conditions. What happened?
This summer we encountered very challenging conditions on the mountain. Early in the trip, we experienced exceptionally high temperatures, and later in the trip, the monsoon poured in from the Indian Ocean, blasting the mountains with storms and snow. Both of these events appear to be associated with human-caused climatic warming.

You’ve been working with the non-profit group Protect Our Winters (POW) to raise awareness of climate change. How did your experiences on K2 inform that effort?
I have been working POW for 5 or 6 years now and am currently the captain of their climbing team. This in combination with my academic background in glaciology meant that I had a good pretty idea of what was going on while we were on K2. And while we were not successful on the West Ridge, I am hopeful that we can use the stories from the trip to create meaningful change in US policy, driving towards the systemic changes that we need to be able to peruse our love of the mountains without destroying them.

What was your first home-cooked meal when you returned?
 Gigantic salads with lots of greens :)

You’ve been an EXPED ambassador for a long time through many adventures. What’s your favorite pieces of EXPED gear?

Ohhh, that's hard. I love a lot of it. Functionally I love the WhiteOut packs, but oftentimes I most appreciate the Mega pillow :)


Click here for a full list of Graham's EXPED gear.


Circumstances prevented you from standing on K2’s summit. Put that in perspective for us.

During this trip there we some brilliant moments including:
-Stunning climbing on ice slopes under a bright full moon.
-Walking narrow snow and ice ridges.
-Feeling as though we were climbing through history as we mixed climbed past signs of other climbers on the mountain
-Sitting out during the days and watching the sun's light move over some of the world's most stunning peaks.

But in the end, we were stopped in our tracks by some of the warmest temperatures either of have experienced in the big mountains. At 7000m we were unable to go any further due to near-constant avalanches and rockfall down the route. At our 6900m bivy I recorded ambient (shaded) temperatures of 10+ degrees Celsius. Far too hot for climbing a route like the West Ridge. And with more high temps on the way we decided to bail and rapped all night. I knew that the climate crisis was affecting these mountains but I can't say that I anticipated getting scorched off the second highest peak in the planet.

You did some reading on the trip. What books held your interest?
I love reading I read about a dozen books on this trip. A few of favs were:
Exhalation - Ted Chiang
An Indigenous People' History of the United States - Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
One River - Wade Davis

What are you planning for the next few years?
Now that I am home, I am diving back into the policy work on climate which I am fired up about. In terms of climbing, it's rock climbing season and I am very excited about it :)

When you aren’t climbing or training for climbing, what other interests do you have?
Climbing is the thread that winds its way through everything that I do. It has led me down a path of creativity and advocacy. 

You take your coffee pretty seriously. Care to recommend a favorite?
Ohhh yeah! On expedition, I am drinking First Ascent's Hero Day Blend made in an Aeropress, and on the route, I am drinking their instant. Those are both excellent, but I am very happy to be home to my espresso machine :)
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