Boulder alpinist ventures into rare air
The Denver Post
Boulder, CO Colorado
BOULDER, Colorado “-Boulder’s Fabrizio Zangrilli has spent 13 years guiding climbers to the top of the world’s highest peaks. Later this month, the accomplished alpinist will lead 10 select clients on a first-ever commercial trip up the Himalayan peak K2, the world’s second-highest mountain and its most perilous.
A tall, lean 36-year-old mountaineer who spends 10 months a year climbing formidable heights in faraway lands, Zangrilli calls his plan “super guiding,” in which he serves more as a coach than a step-by-step guide.
“This is the evolution of high-altitude guiding,” he said.
His team has been vetted from several dozen applicants. They are paying $11,500 each, and they all have experience climbing above 7,000 meters, the nefarious “death zone” where the lack of oxygen decimates body and mind.
“This isn’t about who has the money,” said Zangrilli, who is leading the expedition for Massachusetts-based Field Touring Alpine. “It’s about skills and expertise.”
While many K2 climbing teams get prepackaged trips with porters and permits, Zangrilli’s plan is unparalleled. With K2 long considered a mountaineer’s mountain, tourist climbers have never been shepherded onto it.
Guided clients are commonplace on Himalayan monsters such as Everest, the world’s highest peak, on which more than 2,500 have reached the summit. But not on K2, on which fewer than 300 have reached the 28,251-foot summit since 1954 and about 70 have died. There are entire seasons when no climber stands atop K2, and then there are seasons such as in 1986, when 27 summited and 13 died trying. Last August, a large column of ice collapsed, triggering an avalanche that swept 11 climbers to their deaths.
Zangrilli’s plan to lead clients onto K2, located along the border between Pakistani Kashmir and China, has stirred the alpine climbing community. Successful teams on K2 have been just that: teams. The commonly heard concern surrounding Zangrilli’s plan sounds like this: Uniting 10 strangers for a summit bid will be a challenge on an already-defiant mountain.
“It seems to me that . . . the greatest risk here is you end up with guys who don’t have or aren’t coming with climbing partners into an environment that demands real teamwork,” said Phil Powers, executive director of the Golden-based American Alpine Club. He has climbed on K2 twice, summiting in 1993.
Zangrilli is confident he has the right team and the right plan. He has an additional Pakistan permit to scale K2’s neighboring Broad Peak ” the world’s 12th-highest peak at 26,400 feet ” as an acclimatizing practice climb. He’s also climbed on K2 four times. By the end of this summer, he will have logged 51 weeks climbing K2.
“It is one of those mountains you are compelled to keep going back to,” he said.
Zangrilli was born in South Africa and moved to Massachusetts as a youth. At 13, he tied into a climbing rope for the first time at New York’s famed rock climbing area, The Gunks.
“That first day, I said, ‘ I am going to be a mountain climber,’ ” said Zangrilli, who has lived in Boulder since the mid-1990s. “It’s sort of pushed everything else to the wayside.”
Zangrilli’s strength and K2 expertise are what he provides to his clients. But beyond logistics such as enlisting porters to help haul 2 1/2 months’ worth of supplies to base camp and fixing ropes on portions of the ascent, clients aren’t expecting much more than supportive coaching from him.
“I do not have to micromanage this team, and they all know that,” he said. “I’m putting a lot of responsibility on the clients.”
The climbers will have to carry their own gear and be prepared to summit by themselves.
That kind of onus on the client can be problematic, Powers said. A repeat high-altitude client has developed a reliance on guides, fixed ropes, established high camps, porters and oxygen tanks.
Despite the critical worries, there is little question Zangrilli’s expedition will usher more commercial activity onto K2.
“I think that will happen, whether he is successful or not,” Powers said, noting that after the deadly 1996 season on Everest, when 15 climbers died while descending the mountain, the number of clients clamoring to reach the top of the world increased. “I hope for nothing more than his success.”
* Updates: Follow Zangrilli’s team at fabriziozangrilli.blogspot.com
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 or email@example.com