8/22/13                                                                                                                                                         contact john here

Below is a sample chapter of the  book which relates the tragic events on our Broad Peak Expedition.  Be sure to check out  the accompanying video.  You may click the book jacket for a purchase link or go to www.temptingthethroneroom.com 


Tempting the Throne Room

Surviving the Karakoram's Deadliest Climbing Season 2013

by: John Quillen


6/30/13  Crossing the Palace Moat


It takes a full hour and a half just to get to the base of Broad Peak from our base camp.  You must cross the glacial river several times, weave through penitents (penitents are ice formations like the “ships” that are much smaller) and climb up and over several snow mounds before negotiating a big, rocky hill to reach the base of K3.  It is really quite treacherous just reaching the start of the fixed line.  You will get lost if not following someone there first time and after that, the route changes as the very few wands get knocked down by moving ice.

 As we depart that morning around 9 am, I had a fully laden 50lb pack.  The rebound from my illness imparts a great feeling of strength that was to be short lived once I reached the exertion of the icefall crossings.  Brian had already climbed to camp one during my illness and had some advance acclimatization.  It was evident as I huffed through this labyrinth.  Soon I came to a dead stop.  Confronting me was a three foot crevasse with heavy flowing water which started 10 feet down.  I barely had time to consider this obstacle when I hear Brian shouting, “Wait till you get to this sucker!”  I peered across my portion of the course to witness Brian atop something that looked really out of place. I reared back and jumped this now seemingly insignificant chasm to witness how my partner would negotiate the “real” problem of the day.

My knees trembled at the sight of that rickety edifice.  It was draped over a tunnel of smooth blue ice so perfectly polished no hand could have ever wrought such geometric perfection.  Flowing through was water so cold and clear with the occasional chunks of jagged ice being the only hint of the speed with which that slide would carry anything that fell victim to it.  And we, standing one at a time six feet above on four bamboo poles no thicker than 4 inches a piece.  Lashed together with climbing rope  from God knows when;  none of the pieces were long enough to fully bridge the 9 foot span.  Anchoring them to the gravel which signified the top of the glacier were bags of pebbles.  From basecamp side the “bridge” sloped downhill significantly.

Brian’s placed one foot forward and then back.  He then placed the other foot forward and retreated back to the sacks of spilling gravel and stone.  It was a death bridge hokey pokey that we both would play.  Going downhill across this log flume with full 50 lb backpacks was our introduction to K3.  Danger lurked around every corner.  Brian grabbed the old climbing ropes attached to the ground.  Pulling up on them meant placing more force on the bamboo death bridge.  Once committed, he sprinted safely across.  Then it was my turn.

 Repeating the same motion, same dance, I employed a dishonorable alternative, sitting down and scooting across.  If I was going to fall in, then my butt would be closer to the drink.  I had the sense to disconnect all the pack straps just in case.  Having made a few deep passages in the Smokies, I had learned to make crossings that way, lest the pack become an anchor.  Brian laughed but I secretly knew he wished to have considered this.  My “schooching” got me downhill to the other, also leaking, bag of gravel.  As I transitioned from that position to standing there was an uncertain moment.  I maintained a grip on the rope and jerked myself and 50 lbs clean up and over the adjacent buttress to which that portion of bamboo was attached.  I was safely across and, like our bus ride through the Karakoram highway, spent the remainder of this climbing rotation with something else to dread upon our return.

 Turns out our fears were more than justified.  A very nice German woman named Dana, whom I was to meet higher on the mountain, lost her footing while crossing this bridge shortly after we met at camp 1.  It was said that the backpack entangled her and she was swept immediately down the ice flu and disappeared from sight.  She was irrevocably lodged underwater and beyond the assistance of her male companion.   Rescuers spent 5 days trying to extricate the body from that underwater tomb.  They used rope pulleys and had to chip away significant chunks of ice in a process that went on well beyond what they ever imagined.  Each afternoon, the Pakistani rescuers would come to our mess tent and decry the difficulty of that chore.  One of the guys had ice chunks in his hair.  Part of me wanted to go down there and see this but a larger part of me did not.  The rest of our team seemed un affected by this “anomaly”.  Ron and I were definitely keyed in.

 It wasn’t until one month after the expedition that Ron informed me that Afi, while returning to basecamp, also fell victim to that bridge of death.   He apparently tumbled while climbing the uphill side from Broad Peak.  According to Ron, Afi was able to use his ice axe to arrest himself and climb out before meeting the same fate as Dana.  He came into basecamp dripping wet and close to hypothermic.  I don’t know exactly how far he was swept down that vortex into hell.  Thank God he made it out of there.  Considering what he had been doing up there for his friends, it would have been a tragedy on top of tragedy.