Friday, June 20, 2014

back to the karakoram

Nick Rice on K2 near Broad Peak: 2008 photo courtesy Nick Rice

A Los Angeles-based mountaineer who was on K2 when 11 climbers died in August 2008, then survived a serac fall high on Annapurna in 2010 that left him with a brain injury, is heading back to the Karakoram in Pakistan to attempt Broad Peak, an 8,000-meter summit that rises into the "death zone" within sight of K2.

Rice, 29, has been recovering the past four years and studying to prepare for premed at UCLA, where he's been doing clinical research at Ronald Reagan Medical Center in the emergency department. He's planning to begin full-time studies in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics this fall, he said in a phone interview June 19.

It was a "car-sized piece of ice" that narrowly missed killing Rice in April 2010 on Annapurna, another of the world's highest, most dangerous mountains, located in Nepal. Debris from the shattering ice block broke his helmet in three places, and doctors warned him to stay below 16,000 feet elevation for six months to a year so that swelling from the deep trauma brain injury could subside, Rice said in a later email. "This is what prompted me to return to university."

Asked why he's motivated to return to the Karakoram to climb to heights where there is not enough oxygen to sustain human life, Rice quoted Jim Whittaker, expedition leader for the first American team to summit K2 in 1978:

Being out on the edge with everything at risk is where you learn and grow the most.

"I return from every expedition a changed person," Rice said. "I've gone through a lot of traumatic experiences on many of my climbs, but each has taught me something important, and I'm equally grateful for my successes and failures."

Rice is planning to climb Broad Peak with three Spaniards, including experienced Himalayan climber Catalina Quesada, 45, of Sevilla, who teamed with Rice on a recent expedition to 23,400-foot Peak Lenin on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, former republics of the Soviet Union. Climbing veterans Maria Pilar Agudo and Carlos Garranzo round out their team.

Catalina Quesada and Rice on Peak Lenin: 2013 photo courtesy Nick Rice
Rice said he is planning to fly Monday June 23 from LAX to Dubai, then to Islamabad where he'll meet up with Quesada, Agudo and Garranzo. Weather will dictate when they fly onward to Skardu in northeast Pakistan.

After ensuring their equipment arrives safely, they'll jeep from Skardu to Askole, and from there begin the 12-day trek to Broad Peak base camp at around 18,000 feet elevation, Rice said.

"We will use Pakistani porters to help us to bring our food and equipment to base camp only but will not use High Altitude Porters for the actual climb above Base Camp," Rice said.

Broad Peak's summit stands at estimated 8,047 meters - 26,400 feet - above sea level. Five climbers, three Iranian and two Polish, died on Broad Peak in 2013. According to AlpinismOnline and other sources, more than 20 others have died on Broad Peak since 1975.

The first ascent of Broad Peak was accomplished in 1957 by four Austrians: Marcus Schmuck, Fritz Wintersteller, Hermann Buhl and Kurt Diemberger.

Rice and his team do not plan to use oxygen on their summit attempt. Rice said he plans to return to Los Angeles on Aug. 9. Rice was born and raised in Hermosa Beach and he lives in the Carthay Square area of LA, near Fairfax and Olympic.

For background see:

Karakoram Story

'Death Zone'

Cowboys on K2


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