Vlado (left) and Dodo in Pakistan (click to enlarge).
Vlado Plulik update: a family's search for truth about the Baltoro Express

Posted: Jan 20, 2009 05:15 pm EST
(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) He got an ExWeb award but soon clouds began to mount over rising star mountaineer Slovak Dodo Kopold. First there was Shishapangma and the death of a fellow climbing mate. Then came the Baltoro Express.

Following the accident on Broad Peak last summer, Vlado Plulik's family have done a tremendous job piecing together the events leading to his death, posting on Vlado's website a number of interviews with climbers and experts. Here goes a summary.

Gasherbrum 2

It was supposed to be a Karakoram triple header, led by the young but already fairly experienced 8000+ climber Dodo Kopold. On the team; Ales Mrkva on his first 8000er and Vlado Plulik; back in Himalaya 10 years after previous climbs.

On Gasherbrum 2, the expedition kicked off to a bad start. Ale Mrkva wrote in his diary how the trio, apparently without much acclimatization, left ABC at 11 pm.

Following a 15 hour climb to around 7000 meters (24,000 ft), Ales was told by Dodo that he was too slow and then left to fend for himself. With no other choice, the next morning Ales started down on his own, without matches to boil water or proper belay gear.

His ordeal turned into a five day solo nightmare in which he cut loose old rope with an old knife, and descended with frost bitten fingers alone down the crevassed slopes and through the treacherous icefall to BC.

Above, Vlado aborted the ascent 300 meters below the top while Dodo claimed summit. According to Ales, Vlado had to lead most of the climb and was not happy about it. Ales left the expedition shortly after.

Gasherbrum 1

Next came Gasherbrum I. Only four climbers were on the peak at the time; Vlado, Dodo and Italian veteran climbers Marco Astori and Roby Piantoni.

Leading the summit push; Roby and Marco stated that they topped out, and met Dodo and Vlado below the ridge on descent. (Dodo claims he summited shortly after the Italians, Vlado stated on his website that he summited alone later).

The Italians reached their camp 3 around 1 pm. Dodo was with them, but not Vlado. "We expected him to come in an hour, max 2," Marco said. By 5.30 pm, Vlado had still not showed and Dodo put his crampons on.

The Italians expected that Dodo would look for his partner; instead they noticed that Dodo was descending. Roby and Marco said they told Dodo to stay put with them and wait for his friend. Vlado turned up at 6.30 pm, exhausted after he had lost his way. The men made him tea and descended to camp 2, with Vlado arriving last again.

Dodo told Vlado's family that he descended because he wanted to cook for Vlado in the lower camp, and that it was the Italians who wanted to go down.

Then came Broad Peak; where Vlado ran out of luck.

Broad Peak

What exactly happened on Broad Peak only Dodo knows. It's clear though that the info he provided has been spotty and contradictory to other climbers' testimonies.

Kopold said that he and Vlado climbed fairly close to each other on the headwall leading to the Rocky Summit until around 8pm where at about 7900 m Plulik dug a snow cave. Kopold continued to the summit and claimed that Vlado must have descended to at least 6500 meters; Dodo said he saw Vlado's tracks leading to camp 2 the next day.

To support his claim, Dodo said that a Belarusian team watched through binoculars from BC. "They saw me at the summit he reportedly told media (in spite of his alleged after dark top-out) adding, "they saw Vlado digging the hole."

Neither the Rocky Summit, parts of the summit ridge or the main summit are visible from BC and Belarusian expedition leader Viktor Lutov had another version, corresponding with that of Valery Babanov, also in place at the time.

Both state that they saw Dodo and Vlado reach around 7800 meters at about 5 pm on the day of the summit push. About one hour later they spotted Vlado descending to about 7600 meters where he stopped until darkness fell. The following day, Lutov and Babanov saw only one person descending; Kopold was spotted at around 6400 meters at 9 am.

Shisha Pangma flashback

Dodo has confirmed to ExWeb that at the time of the summit push Vlado had no helmet, no headlamp, no radio and no satellite phone (Dodo had all of the above except for a radio). Among a number of iffy summit claims and disparate statements, two facts seem clear at this point.

1. Ale Mrkva was left to descend alone and without adequate gear from around 7000 meters.
2. Vlado Plulik was left alone and without adequate gear at 7800+ meters.

A similar situation took place on Shisha Pangma in 2007, with yet another climbing partner of Dodo Kopold - Marek Hudak.

Following a Cho Oyu ascent (Dodo claimed summit, Hudak aborted below) the two climbers ascended Shisha Pangma south face with no sleeping bags and no tents. The two made a second bivy at 7200 meters, from where the summit push commenced.

According to Dodo, Marek turned back below summit, descending along old, fixed lines. After summit, Dodo said he descended in Marek's tracks until 7600 meters, where on a fixed line anchor-point he found Marek's ice axe and no more footprints. "I searched around C2 and found his torn glove, and what seemed like traces of self arrest, Dodo wrote in his debrief.

Whatever happened on Shisha, it seems clear that also Marek was left to descend alone, without adequate gear, close to 8000+ meters.

After the accident

Following Vlado's death on Broad Peak, Igor Koller, chairman of JAMES the Slovak Mountaineering Association - wrote in a personal entry on Vlado's website:

"Kopolds responses on the web are aggressive, and in some places are similar to the anonymous ones he himself has denounced. Now and then vulgar expressions can be found, and no expert is apparently good enough for Dodo to understand what Dodo experiences when climbing mountains eight thousand meters high not even those who have climbed the same mountains [...] The guilty party for everything is, according to Kopold, the journalists and noise in the satellite phones."

Vlado's family state that when asked if a rescue action had been organized for Vlado on Broad Peak, Dodo told them it was too dangerous and that no one would go there. The family was forced to contact the Belarusian expedition, Peter Hámor and Valery Babanov on their own.

When ExWeb asked Dodo why he didn't call for several days after the summit to raise alert for Vlado, he claimed no network on his Thuraya. When asked how come he attended parties in K2 BC while the others were looking for his partner on Broad Peak, Dodo dismissed the question as "tabloid reporting."

Criticism

When asked by ExWeb if there are there any lessons he has learned for the future, Dodo stated that the accidents were inevitable results from "a philosophy of clear and elegant style of climbing."

Not surprisingly, veteran climbers were critical to Dodo Kopold. In his email to Vlado's family; Marco Astori pointed out how he and Roby always climb together and wait for each other, especially in dangerous terrain, or when one is more tired than usual. Piotr Pustelnik told ExplorersWeb a similar standpoint in an interview shortly after Vlado's fate became known. "If the Italians were not there, Vlado may have perished already on GI," Piotr Morawski told Jana Plulikova.

The Slovak Mountaineering Association deemed Dodo's G1 and BP summit evidence "inaccurate and misleading" and his description of events related to Vlado's fate "a grave violation of the ethical and sport performance principles of the mountaineering association." The alpine club went a step further, declaring that "from both ethical and human character points of view, such actions are unacceptable and condemnable."

The law

In all three cases, the climbers were far less experienced than Dodo Kopold and pushed to abnormal climbs. What happened to them is not common in Himalaya but not entirely unusual either; and the behavior seems to be on increase.

Climbers should be aware that apart from being "unacceptable and condemnable" - leaving inexperienced and exhausted people without adequate gear in an obviously dangerous situation such as the deathzone can be illegal. Involuntary manslaughter, sometimes called criminally negligent homicide in the United States, is a homicide where there's no intention to kill or cause serious injury, but death is due to recklessness or criminal negligence.

Recklessness, or willful blindness, is defined as a careless disregard for the known dangers of a particular situation. Involuntary manslaughter is when the individual was aware of the risk of injury to others and willfully disregarded it.

Choosing friends and guides

While no one will be prosecuted for trying to save his own life first; it is clear that people need to think twice before leaving humans at great risk in mere pursuit of their own goals. Marek's and Vlado's fate is sealed, but their legacy could serve as an example to others.

Above all, mountaineers have to be prepared at all times to take responsibility for their own climbs. Climbers should further choose guides and friends wisely when entering the death zone.

Choosing good companions is a tricky task as there's a thin line between great personalities and psychopaths. Still, there are pretty good early signs to look for. In a classic profile of the Sociopath are described traits such as superficial charm; arrogance; grandiose sense of self; pathological lying; and lack of remorse, shame or guilt. It could pay to study a full description here.

Silver lining

In cases such as this, families are often accused of being vengeful and refusing to accept facts.

Vlado's family wrote: "We are not looking for a culprit; we are seeking the truth the truth about Vlados death. We have not found it. Because Dodo Kopold has provided no information, misinterpretations, or purposefully biased information, all we have are questions."

"I am really very sad as I observe all this, because this story cannot have and does not have a happy ending," ended Igor Koller his entry. "I am sad that instead of a dignified farewell to Vlado Plulík, we have to deal with a distasteful search for the truth the truth which should be so simple and clear in the mountaineering world."

Although this story does not have a happy ending, there is a silver lining: all the climbers who volunteered to provide Vlado's family with the answers they had - and the Slovak mountaineering association, so clearly standing up for the victims and the true spirit of alpinism.

Go to vladoplulik.sk in the links section below the image for the full reports and interviews.
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