While I was away at Winter Outdoor Retailer last week, one of the biggest stories in recent memory from a mountaineering aspect was unfolding on Nanga Parbat. The massive peak known as “the Killer Mountain” amongst alpinist was the backdrop for a dramatic rescue attempt that left one climber dead, while rescuing another.
When last we checked in on the winter climbing expeditions, Tomek Mackiewicz and Elisabeth Revol were in Camp 3 on Nanga Parbat waiting out poor weather conditions. They had planned to move up to C4 later in the week and then make an attempt on the summit on Thursday or Friday. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned and they found themselves in trouble when descending from the 8000-meter (26,246 ft) mark.
Eventually the duo were able to descent to 7400 meters (24,278 ft) where they huddled in the tent. It was at that point that Revol discovered that her climbing mate was suffering from severe frostbite and snow blindness.
Eventually, Tomek would slip into unconsciousness as well, leaving the Frenchwoman to make what was probably the hardest decision of her life. With things looking very grim, she made a call to inform their support team to the situation and began descending the mountain on her own. She had no food or water and had been high on the mountain for several days.
When the Pakistani government received word of the situation they contacted the Polish team attempting the first winter ascent of K2 to see if they could help. The rescue operation was delayed due to poor weather, but on Friday Denis Urubko, Adam Bielecki, Piotr Tomala and Jarek Botor were picked up by helicopter in K2 Base Camp and flown to Nanga Parbat to launch a rescue operation.
Urubko and Bielecki were the tip of the spear in that operation, setting off at lighting quick speed to go up the mountain in an attempt to bring Tomek and Elisabeth down. They flew up the Kinshoffer Route covering an astounding 1250 meters (4101 ft) in seven and a half hours. That is an amazing pace considering how technical the route is and the fact that they were climbing at night.
Eventually, Denis and Adam were able to locate Elisabeth, but the weather began to deteriorate at a rapid rate and they were forced to turn back down. She was suffering from frostbite and hadn’t had any water or food for more than two days.
But, they were able to get her safely down from the mountain where she was taken by helicopter to Islamabad for medical attention. Unfortunately, the poor conditions prevented anyone from being able to climb up to Tomek’s position, and the Polish climber is now believed to have died on the mountain.
One of the key aspects of this story is that the mountaineering community from around the world rallied together to raise the necessary funds to mount the rescue operation in the first place. Hiring a helicopter in Pakistan is not cheap or easy, and the Nanga Parbat expedition was a low-budget affair. But, when word of the situation reached the rest of the world, a fundraiser was launched to help with the process. That fundraiser is still going on, with the money now being directed to Tomek’s wife and three children.
This is a sad story all around. Tomek has been obsessed with climbing Nanga Parbat for the better part of the past decade, spending seven winter seasons in his attempt to reach its summit. Finally he is at rest on the mountain that he had spent so much time trying to crack. Elisabeth reportedly has severe frostbite on three of her toes and is in a weakened state, but is otherwise in good condition. She will likely fly home in a few days time, although she will no doubt be haunted by the experience for years to come.
The Poles on K2 put up a heroic effort and will now return to Base Camp on that mountain as well. They’l resume their expedition there and will continue the pursuit of the first winter ascent of K2 in the days ahead.
Our condolences go out to Tomek’s friends and family. It is a terrible loss and he will indeed be missed.
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