One of the boldest and most challenge climbing expeditions in recent memory has come to a tragic end. The Russian on K2 have lost one of their teammates, and have called a halt to their climb. A message posted on the team’s website says that climber Vitaly Gorelik has died in Base Camp, where the entire squad is now assembled, and are preparing to head home.
According to the brief post, the weather has been “extremely bad” over the past four days and as a result, no helicopters can get in or out of the mountain. We know from an earlier post last week that Gorelik had been suffering from frostbite on several fingers and that the team was waiting for an evacuation helicopter to pick him up and take him back to Skardu and then eventually home. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible in these conditions, and while its not clear exactly what caused his death, there are some unconfirmed reports that it may have been a heart attack.
I have no doubt that the loss of one of their teammates has taken the fire out of the entire squad. They had climbed all the way up to 7200 meters (23,622 ft) and were in the process of establishing their Camp 3 before the bad weather set in, forcing them to go back down to Base Camp. They had hoped to wait out the weather and return to working the route sometime this week, but obviously that won’t be possible now. According to the expedition website, they are now simply preparing their gear to be shipped back down the mountain and waiting for an opportunity for the helicopter to resume flights.
My condolences to Vitaly’s friends and family, as well as to his teammates still on the mountain. While I called their expedition an attempt at the impossible when it was first announced several months back, I have been cheering them on and hoping for the best since they officially got underway. It is sad to see it end like this, and while we all know the dangers of climbing K2 (in winter no less!), it is still a harsh reality when we actually see the results of those dangers.
Savage Mountain indeed.