Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

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Brant Didden, who found a passion for climbing at an early age and has already climbed Mt. Everest, left Malibu on June 23 to summit the world’s second-highest peak, K2, located in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range.

While some people plan to spend their summer vacation relaxing by the beach in Malibu, one local got out of town to go on the excursion of a lifetime. 

Broker, climbing guide and enthusiast Brant Didden packed his bags, hugged and kissed his wife and kids goodbye, and left the country on June 23 for a seven-week climbing expedition in Pakistan, to summit the second-highest peak in the world, K2.

“I made the decision to go about four months ago, but in reality I’ve been training for this my whole life,” Didden said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “This is sort of a culmination of my whole climbing career, in a way.” 

Didden found a passion for climbing at an early age and began reading about K2 in high school. Between family camping trips, Boy Scouts and later becoming an Eagle Scout, Didden’s fervor for the outdoors made Colorado an easy choice for college. 

He started his ascent into the climbing world with rock and ice climbing, and later began traversing snow peaks, guiding climbers through terrain as a mountaineer and eventually climbing Mt. Everest. 

But as for this climb, K2 is different.

Standing tall at 8,611 meters (28,251 feet), the mountain’s name “K2” was first established by British surveyor T.G. Montogmerie for its location in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range, and as the second mountain Montogomerie surveyed.

K2’s peak is the highest point in Pakistan, the Karakoram Range and is less than 200 meters shorter than the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest. Along with 13 other mountains, K2 is part of the “eight-thousanders,” the highest independent peaks on the planet, 8,000 meters above sea level.

“Some of the most coveted climbing peaks in the world — the great Trango Towers, the Gasherbrum group, Broad Peak — they’re all clustered in this valley, but at the very end of this valley, as you come around the last day where all these glaciers meet, and you see K2 … it just sort of stands alone all by itself, just like this beacon,” Didden said.

Another widely-used (and far more chilling) moniker climbers have given the peak due to its extreme difficulty and second-highest fatality rate is “Savage Mountain.” 

With 302 successful climbs and 80 fatalities, roughly one person dies on the peak for every four people who summit. The mountain has never been successfully climbed in the winter. 

“From the beginning, there was a lot of mystery around the peak,” Didden said. “A lot of people died who had attempted to climb it prior to 1954. There was never a huge draw for people to go there because it was such a dangerous mountain. There are spans of decades where no one climbed the mountain.”

An avid sportsman, outdoor aficionado and climbing extraordinaire, Didden decided to approach K2 differently than the climbing tours he’s used to leading, and joined a guided commercial mountaineering expedition with Madison Mountaineering.

Led by Garrett Madison, last year’s commercial climbing group became the first and only guided group to successfully climb K2 on July 27, 2014.

While many climbers have polarizing opinions on the purest way to summit any peak and often frown upon guided tours, Didden believes that any climb is a deeply personal experience between the individual and the mountain.

“I’m married, I have a family, a business … I don’t mind not doing it in the ‘purist’ style,” Didden said. “I’d rather experience the whole trip and come back with all of my fingers. I’m willing to trade some of the purism of what climbing can be for a safer experience overall. To me, climbing is a very personal thing. It doesn’t matter what other people think about the style of climbing that I do.” 

Supported heavily by porters who live in the region, know the terrain, and help carry food and personal items, the climbers’ initial expedition through glaciers and loose rock into K2’s base camp is more than twice the distance as the trek to Everest’s base camp. 

In addition, the almost entirely uncharted 80 miles leading to K2’s base camp doesn’t include a village or lodge, unlike Everest, and the group must transport its entire camp on the voyage to simply establish base camp.

An army of porters, sherpas and climbers will spend the next 21 days acclimating their bodies to different altitudes on the journey to reach the top of K2. 

Didden agreed the sport has taken off in popularity, with gyms offering climbing classes and excursions popping up all over the world. Old and young thrill seekers are challenging themselves to climb higher, eliminating age limits and constraints, as the most important part of being on any mountain Didden insists: mental focus.

“The mental part is probably the biggest part. The physical part, you just gut it out,” Didden said. “You have to be in a certain mental state to be able to just rationalize it and compartmentalize what you’re doing. I’ve always had to break it down into small pieces and focus on each piece, one at a time. If you look at it as a whole aspect … it’s too monumental to really grasp what you’re doing.”

Follow Brant Didden’s journey on his blog.