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K2's double tragedy - blowing out candles for scoops and fame

Posted: Aug 03, 2008 07:14 pm EDT
The year was 1996 and the world was awash with news from the greatest tragedy in Everest history. We were in camp 2 and sent a message with one of the descending climbers to a fellow climber in BC, asking him to call our parents and say that we were OK.

Instead, the next morning a media report said that we were dead. Our families fell apart. Source; the climber, in repeated calls to mainstream media claiming to be leading rescues on Mount Everest while in fact hanging out in BC.

Three days later, we came down the icefall. Only then did the climber actually haul out the small piece of paper with a phone number to our parents and called to say that we were alive. Later, in his tent, he charged us 10 bucks for the call.

K2 2008

August 1st this year, a number of climbers set out on a K2 summit push. A whole bunch got stuck on the higher slope after a chunk of ice buried the fixed ropes. Several have been coming down since, one was found alive only 12 hours ago.

Yet this morning from K2 BC, Swedish Fredrik Strang has declared 11 people dead on the peak to world media such as latest CNN. His expedition leader, Mike Farris, did the same, all published on EverestNews. International media is filled with stories about Strang carrying climbers, dead and alive, down the slopes on his back.

At the time of this writing, the Norit team which has been leading not only the climb but also the information flow from the peak, has only one confirmed dead and a number of "unlocated" climbers.

Speculations about deaths; no word on rescues

Through this inferno, relatives and embassies are calling and mailing to ExplorersWeb. Do we know anything - are there any rescue attempts going on, they ask?

"We don't have much information about what's going on the Abruzzi route," the Norit expedition webmaster told ExplorersWeb about ten hours ago, stating that his team focused on getting the survivors down - Marco from C4 and Wilco from C3.

On our question to Mike Farris about this, he replied - "tell the family that we presume Gerard is dead, but won't know until the next 24 hours." Not a word about any rescue attempts.

While his statement on EverestNews clearly says; "up to 11 climbers lost their lives," fact is, that Farris has no idea.

A dance for scoops and fame on peoples' graves

To declare someone dead in normal life, you need a coroners' report or a judge. In the mountains, lacking proper authorities, you need an eyewitness or for sufficient time to have passed.

Mountaineering history is filled with examples of "ghosts" walking into Base Camps. Only on K2 this weekend, one of the 11 "dead" climbers was found alive less than half a day ago. Several climbers are still reportedly coming down the Abruzzi ridge, their identities unknown.

The summit push was early morning Friday August 1, today is Sunday August 3. There is a real possibility that the unlocated climbers have perished. But there's also a chance that some are still alive waiting for assistance that will not arrive, due to fellow climbers declaring them goners while busy in BC creating heroic stories about themselves, and EverestNews - in a frantic hunt for scoops - seconding this shameful game, with its latest headline reading "K2 2008: The list of dead on K2."

In all our years of sleepless nights and phonecalls with desperate relatives at ExplorersWeb, and through all our own climbs in the Himalayan mountains, we have never seen anything like it.

So let's check what is really going on:

One climber has been confirmed dead. The only "new" news since yesterday is that Wilco, Cas and Pemba have arrived in K2BC, assisted down from C3 by a support group including Roeland and Jelle. Norit reports they were given medical assistance by an American doctor - possibly the same Mike Farris who only this morning declared "11 dead."

Italian Marco Confortola reported he was about to start descending from C4 by dawn. A fly-by is planned on the upper flanks. At this time of speculations about names and numbers of dead, these are the only details about rescues going on high up.

This editorial was written by ExWeb editor Tina Sjogren. The name of the climber on Everest in 1996 is withheld due to his death in a climbing accident some years later.

Recap

On August 1 at 1 am local time, Norwegian, Dutch, French, Italian, Serbian, Korean, Pakistan and Nepali climbers started their summit push from camp 4. Going well ahead of schedule, a few hours into the ascent a Serbian accident held the Dutch up somewhat.

The Norwegians and French Hugues dAubarade reportedly summited before the Dutch and Irish Gerard (it's unclear yet who used supplementary oxygen) and were coming down at the time of the Dutch summit at around 8 pm. Around 17 people were reported in the summit party.

On descent, a big piece of ice fell below the summit, taking a large part of the fixed lines with it. About 12 people, including Wilco, Gerard, Marco and Korean climbers got stuck either above the traverse or above the Bottleneck.

Rescue efforts

Cas and Pemba Sherpa downclimbed to C4 without fixed ropes, where Mark Sheen was holding for a summit bid.

K2 BC could see 5 people climbing down the Bottleneck and 2 above. Wilco and Marco were located in a bivouac above the serac at 8300 meters above the Bottleneck, which they left at around 11 am local time. The group of people descending the Bottleneck came to a halt, reportedly due to an injury suffered by one of the climbers.

Two HAP's were sent up to assist from camp 4. Dutch Norit Base Camp manager Roeland hurried to the Korean expedition tent to organize a joint rescue effort. A group of at least six climbers were supposed to climb from there towards the Bottleneck with rope.

Cas - who descended without fixed ropes with Pemba earlier - intended to move back up from C4 with Mark Sheen and two Americans, but the climbers were forced to descend.

Survivors

On August 2nd, Marco Confortola was located in camp 4.

A satphone call made on August 1st from the peak by Wilco was tracked via a GPS position acquired from Thuraya. The position put Wilco's call to between camp 4 and camp 3 on the mountain. Later, a climber in an orange suit was also spotted moving slowly between C4 and C3 on the Cesen route.

Early morning Agust 3d (local time), Wilco Van Rooijen was caught up by the descending Cas and Pemba Sherpa and brought to camp 3.

Missing

Unlocated at this point are Irish Gerard, French Hugues, Norwegian Rolf Bae, several un-named Koreans along with a number of high altitude porters and Sherpas. A group of unknown climbers were reported still stuck in the bottleneck as last as yesterday.

The number of currently unaccounted for climbers from the August 1 summit push ranges between 8-10. Surviving climbers seem to be descending at this point, with the bulk of other mountaineers located in BC, where helicopter sweeps are being coordinated.

The missing mountaineers are very seasoned, many are Everest summiteers and some were on their second, even third attempt on the mountaineers' mountain.


Links to K2 teams in Pakistan:

Wilco van Rooijen's Norit K2 expedition
Serbian Vojvodinean expedition
Gerard McDonnell's dispatches
Marco Confortola's updates
Singapore expedition
Cecilie Skog's updates
Nick Rice's dispatches
Mike Farris expedition's website
Hugues d'Aubarede

Zerain's team blog.





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