The merciless and ever-pouring Monsoons in the western Himalayas have brought an end to what can be easily described as one of the bloodiest climbing seasons in the history of Mountain climbing in Pakistan. Home of some of the highest and most dangerous peaks in the world, Pakistan is often the destiny of the most celebrated climbers and adventure seekers from all over the world. Despite of the sensitive security conditions Pakistan manages to attract a huge chunk of climbing expeditions owning predominantly to the treasure trove of skyline the country has been blessed with.
The US State Department like many other western countries has categorized Pakistan as an unsafe destination and renews its travel warning at the beginning of each year since the start of the War on Terror. Fortunately, majority of the climbing enthusiasts have overlooked these warnings and have dared to venture into far north of the country, relying mostly on the unblemished record of the Northern areas of Pakistan.
This year, however, their dreams were short-lived.
The summer climb in the country started with the gruesome massacre of 11 foreign tourists at the Base Camp of Nanga Parbat, which shook the entire climbing world leaving an irremovable stain on the history of hospitality and love of the Northern region. The local tourism industry, as small as it may have been, suffered a severe blow and many of the tour operators, mountain guides, trekkers and hoteliers were taken aback as they pondered over the horrific future of tourism in the region. But as it goes in the laws of the fearless and passionate mountain climbers, nothing could have possibly stopped them from travelling to the north, even at the cost of their lives. In total contrast to the widely held post-Nanga Parbat-massacre views, climbers tourists and adventure seekers thronged the Gilgit and Skardu regions, providing valuable subsistence to the local tourism industry of the region.
There were however, bigger challenges waiting for these enthusiasts far north. Challenges bigger than the mankind itself.
Gasherbrum-1 Artur Hajzer bows out !
The first tragedy struck at Gasherbrum-1 where the Polish climbing legend Artur Hajzer went missing in the Japanese Couloir along with his compatriot Marcin Kaczka. One of the ace winter climbers of the country, Artur was among the legendary pack of “Ice Warriors” Wanda Rutkiewicz, Krzysztof Wielicki and Jerzy Kukuczka who conquered the deadly Annapurna for the first time in winters. Artur also spearheaded the successful winter assents of Gasherbrum-1 just last year in the winters.
Search and rescue operations suffered consecutive halts due to inclement weather and Arutur was later declared dead by the Polish Winter Mountaineering. Artur’s demise is undoubtedly one of the biggest losses of all climbing community in the world.
The 8,047m Gasherbrum-1 was not done yet.
Gasherbrum-1- The Spanish Tragedy !
The next tragedy struck the sturdy Spanish Gasherbrum-1 Expedition on July 22nd when they attempted to make the final summit push in spite of approaching turbulence in weather.
Eager to bag the peak, the expedition started the final push in the early hours of 21st July from their last camp. Oscar Cadiach and Patxi Goni retreated from around 7000m due to changing weather. Alfredo Garcia and David Lopez also turned back shortly before the summit, while Xevi Gomez, Alvaro Paredes and Abel Alonso made it to the top-only never to be seen again.
The Search and Rescue Operations (SAR) continued relentlessly till the 26th of July followed by an official announcement that the troika is presumed lost and dead.
Kiwi duo declared Lost and Dead at K-2
And while G-1 was busy sketching fatal plans of its own, just at a stones-throw-away the Killer Mountain, “K-2” waited quietly for its prey.
Standing at a colossal 8,367m K-2 is known for its hostility towards the climbers lashing them with gale-force winds studded with a tricky layout of crevasses and massive avalanches. It was one of the corporate-commercial show down of some 21 sporadic climbers who started their attempt on July 24th but all retreated to BC in wake of bad weather. The Kiwi dad-and-son duo Marty and Denali Schmidt attempted to conquer the giant all by themselves.
The two continued their climb to Camp-3 on the Abruzzi Ridge. According to the last reports from the Alpine Club of Pakistan Press Release, the duo reached C-3 safely before the BC lost contact with them. High Altitude Porters and Sherpa were sent over to C-3 on 27th who later discovered that the camp was swept away by a massive avalanche and there was no trace of father and son.
The Schmidts were known to be excellent climbers and there loss will definitely create a big vacuum for the sports of mountain climbing in New Zealand.
Iranian Broad Peak Tragedy !
Then there were the fateful Iranians who made the dreadful mistake of climbing down the Broad Peak from the wrong ridge. At altitudes as high as 8000m in the merciless Karakorum, there are no second chances. Three climbers Aidin Bozorgi, Pouya Keivan and Mojtaba Jarahi attempted the new route and scaled the peak successfully only to fall victim of a slight variation in the descending route. They ended up stranded at an altitude of 7500m and made the SOS call through their Thuraya cell phone.
Thomas Laemmle, the famous sports scientist and high altitude physiologist who was on his way back to Skardu after successfully scaling and skiing Gasherbrum-2, when he received the call for a SAR operation. Utilizing two Ecureuil AStar AS 350 helicopter from the Pakistan army (the best high altitude SAR helicopters) Thomas attempted to locate and rescue the three climbers and made several attempts to track the only alive mountaineer who needed evacuation. Later the attempts were abandoned due to bad weather.
Thomas gave his expert opinion later in the press conference and said,
"I strongly believe none of the three Iranian climbers is alive anymore, due to the high altitude where they are now for one week and dehydration”.
He further added,
“There is no chance to evacuate their bodies because they are far away from the normal route in an altitude of minimum 7500 m. Helicopters will only evacuate people/bodies up to 5800m. Higher up everything has to be done by humans. There have been evacuations before in this altitude but only on the normal route. We do have two clues where the bodies might be:
1) last Thuraya phone call and
2) yellow spot on a photo.
Both locations are above 7500m off the normal route and 500m in altitude away from the summit and the normal route. No chance for evacuation!”
The climbing season in Pakistan has come to a sad end where many climbers and adventurers lost their lives in the ultimate quest of exploring and pushing the humanly limits of endurance. The winter season will kick off in the month of November where some of the best climbers in the world will attempt the only two remaining 8000ers in the world K-2 and Nanga Parbat for the first winter assent.