A steady nine-day walk-in up the Gray Trail, heavily laden, got us to Kepier dans les Arbres and the talus field at the bottom of the route*. Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we figured we'd get a few pitches done. Big mistake: it would have been better to start fresh, and after four hours it was getting dark and we'd only done the first two pitches, which was kind of depressing. We set up the Portman Mk V wall-camp and tried to sleep, but the combination of altitude and disappointment kept us awake.
Next morning we got going early, and were on the fifth pitch (sixth in the old guide-book) by noon. The views were opening up, with the sun glinting on the majestic sweep of Fullers Mill Bend, four days' hike to the south (by the way, the "bear-proof" poles at Camp Wrist, just round the Bend, are not!). We felt we were going well, and would reach the classic bivouac site at Widow's Hole by nightfall.
J took the lead throughout the evening, but on pitch 12 (old 13) she started to run low on cams. Darlobint's Crack runs dead parallel, and she'd have needed about 20 size 4.5's to protect it adequately. We were carrying plenty of cams, but obviously in a variety of sizes. She decided to rapp back down and try another line in the morning.
This was much better, and we soared up another 11 pitches in a perfect day of big-wall climbing, without serious incident. It was beginning to look as though Kepier was do-able, after all! After our first day's experience, we decided to set up camp early, and save the last two pitches (three, if you avoid the crux by taking the KY Variation, of course) for the next morning.
Clouds gathered, and around midnight an electrical storm started, and then it began to snow. We must have taken about two feet of fresh snow on the wall-camp roof that night, and it was obvious when dawn came that we were in big trouble. The storm continued for three days and most of the next night, and when the clouds eventually disappeared it was so cold that the gas froze in the dependable old Gunk-Beta stove (and this was in August, remember!).
By dawn on day seven, the storm had abated, and we looked out of the wall-camp. Everything was choked with ice and snow, so we couldn't continue up the cracks, and rapping down to the ground wasn't an option, as we didn't have enough rope. There's obviously no point in trying to get help out there, and the ThinkPad batteries were almost flat anyway, so it was up to us. We took stock of supplies, and considered our position. As expected, the Kendal Mint Cake was inedible, but fortunately our Portman Mk V contained a full 5-liter (frozen) pea bottle, so we were OK for food, drink and the extra Vitamin C which is essential at these latitudes. We had some dry clothes, and our fingers were still functioning. The best plan we could think of was to take the infamous Wear Traverse, and somehow get over to the Thin Seam. Obviously that would mean abandoning the Portman wall-camp, but it seemed the only way.
We stuffed what we could into our packs, and exchanged a glance as I cut the wall-camp loose, using an old belay knife I'd found on Siula Grande. We made the delicate moves out onto the traverse, now dripping with meltwater, and I was within a handspan of the topmost Chuffing ring, just about to clip a krab, when my boot slipped, and I fell off in a huge pendulum, swinging towards the unforgiving rock...
I don't remember any more until the next day, when I awoke to find I'd dreamt the whole thing. Kepier's secret would be safe for another year.
There's a simulated photo on the (relocated) NMC website. As readers familiar with the area will know, photography is now banned at Kepier.
Now mainly of historical interest, the original essay "K2, or the Second Retreat from Kepier" by the late Col "South" Lefroy-Pardoe, BF and Bore (Retarded) is now available on the interweb thingy here; and an update from the 1980s here.