K2: Drama on 'the killer mountain'
Attempts by several expeditions to conquer K2 came to a dramatic end at the weekend. Eleven people died. By Arwen van Grafhorst*
Two Dutch climbers, Wilco van Rooijen and Cas van de Gevel, battled terrible conditions to reach the base camp. They sustained frostbite but are able to talk.
Expedition leader Wilco van Rooijen, Cas van de Gevel and Nepalese team member Sherpa Pemba only just survived their attempt to climb K2, an 8,611 metre mountain on the border of China and Pakistan. Irish climber Gerard McConnell, also a member of the Norit expedition, is still missing.
Michel Schuurman, expedition spokesman here in the Netherlands, explained what happened:
"At the moment the team reached the top, a piece of ice broke off in the bottleneck - a narrow, steep and icy part of the route. The ice knocked down the fixed ropes which would have been used for the descent, so when the team got there they found they had no safety ropes."This was shortly before dark. The Dutch climbers therefore decided to stay in an emergency bivouac and wait for first light before descending further.
"During the descent through the bottleneck, a number of people slipped and disappeared into the depths. Luckily others, including Wilco, managed to get through safely."
Michel Schuurman, who spoke to Wilco van Rooijen afterwards, relates how the three men were separated from each other during the descent:
"Van Rooijen told us by satellite phone that he was descending along the south wall. He sounded disorientated by the long period at altitude and by exhaustion. He finally made it to Camp Three on his own, some way further down the mountain. The people looking for him (Van de Gevel and Pemba, ed.) found him at Camp Three suffering from frostbite.
"The three men eventually reached the base camp at 5,400 metres, where a helicopter flew them to a military hospital in Pakistan. The Dutch climbers are exhausted and have frostbite in their hands and feet, but are not expected to suffer permanent injury.
Eleven mountaineers from other expeditions also climbing K2 at the weekend never made it down. An unknown number are still missing.
At 8,611 metres K2 is the world's second tallest peak. Mount Everest is around 200 metres higher. However, many climbers regard it as even more challenging than Everest. At least 66 people have died on K2 over the years, earning it the nickname "the killer mountain".
* RNW translation (imm)