Gasping at almost 20,000 feet, Zoe Hart carefully belayed me over gaping crevasses toward the summit of Mount Bullock Workman, nestled in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan. The cone-shaped snowcap above had seemed benign, but lumps formed in my parched throat as we now realized it was precariously cantilevered over a vertical-rock north face.
As we got closer, I probed each step deliberately and quickly slid my skis over gaping cracks, trying not to glance at the rock below. Forty feet later, I halted suddenly – my stomach clenched with an intuition too churning to ignore. This would be our final step, I declared. We had both lost friends to cornice failure, and weren’t interested in becoming another mountaineering statistic.
Weeks of work had now become a dream come true and we would soon begin a first descent. We celebrated by having a look around. K2 and the Ogre, peaks of my childhood climbing dreams, watched us protectively as they held the clouds of a predicted storm momentarily at bay. To the south and down the Biafo Glacier, our next ski goal Koser Gung popped into view, standing at just over 21,000 feet yet strikingly without snow.