Tragedy and drama on K2
- Saturday 6th February 2021
A week of frantic activity on K2 has seen the summit hopes of virtually all remaining climbers dashed, helicopter evacuations for GI suffers, frostbite for multiple climbers, tragically – an additional death and, last but not least, the disappearance of three climbers from near the summit. The Savage Mountain, once again, lives up to its name!
Following the successful summit bid by the ten-man, Nepalese team on January 16th near continual bad weather has pinned the remaining climbers at Base Camp well away from the mountain. There have been some brief windows of better weather which have allowed some teams to attempt further summit bids but all the climbers involved were forced back and had since returned to Base Camp.
A week ago however, a more settled period of weather was forecast from then until 5th February. It was to be a narrow weather window however as the forecast for February 6th onwards was for high winds to return. The remaining summit hopefuls, from a variety of remaining expeditions, immediately began focused their efforts and finalised plans for renewed summit bids.
The plan was to repair the route, go fast and go hard and get up then down before February 6th. Central to the plan, several Sherpas from the Seven Summit Treks team would leave ahead of the bulk of climbers to ensure the ropes were fixed and the camps where both still in place after the recent storms and suitably stocked with oxygen and fuel. Originally, the route had been fixed up to Camp 1 by John Snorri’s team and from there up to Camp 4 by Mingma D’s team. Nimsdai, together with the other nine successful summit team fixed the ropes above Camp 4. Whilst Nims subsequently reported that he and his team had stripped their equipment off K2 as they descended the exact extent and condition of the fixed ropes wasn’t known hence why the SST Sherpas were going first.
The various climbing teams would then follow one or more days behind. Having fixed the route and stocked Camp 3 above the House Chimney, the SST Sherpas were then to drop back to Camp 2 to meet the other climbers. The intention then was that all the climbers would go up to Camp 3, rest and then launch their respective summit bids on February 4th from Camp 3 rather than the traditional Camp 4.
Whilst some had clear climbing partners and comprised mini-expeditions, there are numerous climbers operating under overall SST umbrella. John Snorri Sigurjonsson, Muhammad Ali Sadpara and his son Sajid were one such independent team; Jan Pablo “JP” Mohr Prieto was climbing with Tamara Lunger, Colin Brady and Jon Kedrowski were another partnership. Pasang Norbu Sherpa was also attempting a speed ascent of K2. It was known that several climbers, Magdalena Gorzkowska, Mattia Conte, JP, Tamara Lunger and Oswald Rodrigo Pereira, were not using supplementary oxygen; others however were.
Despite the planning a number of potential problems faced all the teams. Aside from the fixed rope issue already discussed above, there were risks associated with launching the summit bid from Camp 3. Whilst this saved the effort of stocking Camp 4 it would make the ‘summit day’ much longer adding considerably to both the ascent and descent. That might become a problem for some, not least if there were any adverse changes in the forecast weather. Secondly, given the short weather window, the high numbers of climbers, said to be c.30, being active at the same time could well exacerbate not only movement up and down fixed ropes but also accommodation at the camps. Thirdly, a significant number of the climbers aiming to summit hadn’t been higher on K2 than Camp 1; their lack of acclimatisation could therefore become critical. A number of climbers – especially, it seems, those on the SST team - had also been suffering from GI problems. Finally, and as with all mountaineering ventures, any detrimental changes to the weather window could wreak havoc on the climbers on the mountain.
By Wednesday February 3rd, several climbers – some climbing with/without oxygen and with/without supporting Sherpas - had withdrawn from their attempt and descended back to Base Camp. John Snorri Sigurjonsson, Muhammad Ali Sadpara and Sajid Ali Sadpara were at Camp 3. John Snorri ‘s team reported that he had been hit by minor rockfall during the climb up from Camp 2 plus he was suffering some frostbite on a finger but was otherwise OK. The SST team confirmed that they also had a total of 18 climbers/Sherpas either at Camp 2 or higher.
By Thursday February 4th reports were coming through confirming that a lot of climbers had made it up to Camp 3 and beyond. However, such were the numbers of climbers there were issues given the limited tents available. Online updates from Colin Brady’s team confirmed that as many as 12 climbers were at once stage crammed into just two tents making planned rest and eating etc. very difficult. Furthermore, observers watching GPS trackers believed that the random movements by climbers above Camp 3 suggested that the teams higher up K2 were negotiating the large crevasse which had caused problems for the original ten-man summit team. In total, a significant number - in excess of 20 – of climbers it was believed were high on the mountain at this point. For some Camp 3 was a high as they would get; soon afterwards – having abandoned their summit bids for a variety of reasons – they started to descend. Others on the SST team were to go higher – approaching 8,000m it is said, before giving up and then descending.
Friday 5th proved pivotal for many and tragic for the Bulgarian climber, Atanas Skatov. Having begun his descent from Camp 3 it was reported that at about 10:30 Atanas Skatov fell from the fixed ropes – apparently when transferring from one rope to another. His body was subsequently found and recovered mid-afternoon at about 5,500m and flown back to Skardu by a Pakistan army helicopter. Crucially, the Iceland/Pakistan team comprising John Snorri Sigurjonsson, Muhammad Ali Sadpara and Sajid Ali Sadpara had meanwhile teamed up with Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto (his partner Tamara Lunger having abandoned her summit bid) and left Camp 3 for their summit bid in the early hours (01:00hrs) of Friday. At about 10am that morning the four climbers were at the Bottleneck. Sajid Ali Sadpara however developed a problem with his oxygen regulator and had to return to Camp 3. His plan was to wait there until the rest of the Snorri team – his father included – returned, hopefully after their summit bid. Meanwhile, the remaining three climbers continued their ascent; at that point (noon Friday) they were all reported fine and proceeding towards the summit.
That was the position this morning (Saturday 6th). Since then two Pakistan helicopters, accompanied by two Pakistani Search and Rescue climbers, have searched up to 7000m on K2 looking for any activity. In the face of deteriorating weather the helicopters were forced to suspend their search of the mountain. There has been neither sign nor communication from the three climbers since they were last seen by Sajid Ali Sadpara when he began his descent to C3 at 10:00 Friday. The SST Team subsequently sent additional Sherpas up to meet Sajid Ali Sadpara has he descended from his vigil at Camp 3. The last report from the SST Team is that Sajid Ali Sadpara has now safely returned to Base Camp along with the SST Sherpas who were sent up to meet/assist him.
The latest reports confirm that Akbar and Imtiaz - the two Pakistani Search and Rescue climbers from High Altitude Porters – have been actively searching K2 for signs of the missing climbers. They are spending the night at Camp 1. These climbers, previously involved in the Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi rescue attempt on Nanga Parbat in 2019, were dropped at K2 by Pakistani army helicopter this morning. Two further HAP climbers, Ali Raza and Ali Muhammad - both from Sadpara - are said be still in Skardu but the will helicopter into K2 tomorrow to join the search and rescue mission. In sobering news, it has been said that a final search and rescue attempt will be made Sunday morning, weather permitting. The search and rescue was initiated by John Snorri and Ali Sadpara’s families.
Further news is being posted by various individuals on the various expeditions on K2 including Chhang Dawa Sherpa (@14dawa) the leader of the SST team, on Instagram here.