ISLAMABAD: This summer’s climbing season will go down in history not just for the dozens of success stories on the 8,000 metres-plus high mountains in the Karakoram but also remembering those who died trying to reach the top of the world.
The summer season 2013, which has come to an end, saw 22 causalities including the 11 climbers who were murdered at the Diamer base camp of Nanga Parbat on June 23.
Compared to last year when roughly two to three mountaineers died trying to summit some of the highest peaks, and a similar number of casualties the year before, this year was marked with a series of catastrophic incidents.
The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) attributed these deaths to overconfidence of the climbers, natural reasons such as avalanches and extreme weather conditions and absence of proper rescue services.
The ACP said unlike last year most seasoned climbers had aimed to summit not just one but two to three 8,000 metres-plus peaks in the Karakoram Range – all two to four times harder attempts than the Mount Everest.
“Few managed to climb two one after the other and lived to tell their stories. Others were not so lucky. Getting acclimatised is not the only challenge. Climbers have to be 110 per cent fit physically to take on two mountains one after the other,” said Saad Tariq Siddiqui, a former climber and secretary of the ACP, explaining how climbers seemed to have compromised on safety.
He also added how mountaineers risked pushing all the way knowing well that they were too tired and descending which was always harder and could be more challenging than ascent.
“There have been times, even this year, when cautious climbers, turned back from the peak a few metres away because they were too exhausted,” said Siddiqui.
A Czech mountaineer who had conquered Zdenek Hruby, eight out of the 14 8,000 metres-plus peaks, including Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I and II, fell roughly 1,000 metres because he had become too tired to go on when he was attempting to conquer GI from a new route.
According to the ACP, another example where climbers compromised on safety was when the three Iranians - Aidin Bozorgi, Pouya Keywan and Mojtaba Jarrahi - reached the top of the Broad Peak on July 16 but went missing above the death zone at 7,000 metres because they failed to flag the new route, a must for climbers to safely find their way back.
Odds were stacked up higher against climbers, especially when there were no rescue facilities for them. Siddiqui explained that the only way to rescue a climber was to send up high-altitude porters since there were the most acclimatised.
“Helicopter support is only available when climbers deposit a $10,000 mandatory fee in case aerial assistance is required. Helicopters are only available when they are not flying missions to the border. In some cases, climbers do not deposit this fee because they give it in writing that if they fail to return, their bodies should be left in the mountains where they belonged,” Siddiqui said, explaining how helicopters were used only to spot and not pick stranded climbers.
Col Manzoor Hussain, the ACP president, explained that launching rescue operations for the climbers stranded above 7,000 metres was as hard as launching a new expedition.
“It is a difficult decision but sometimes we cannot risk the lives of others to save one climber who cannot survive more than 48 hours in below zero temperatures, stormy winds, insufficient oxygen and without water,” he added.
Nonetheless, one of the most daring rescue efforts to have been launched in the climbing history was for the three Iranians this year.
German mountaineer Thomas Laemmle requested to hitch a ride with the army pilots. He volunteered to be slung from the helicopter, which the Pakistan army pilots turned down describing it too risky.
“But on my request, they flew those helicopters way beyond their ceiling at 6,500 metres roughly. They took me as high as 8,000 metres and the other flew at 7,500 metres on Broad Peak in search of the three Iranians. It got scary. But these were exceptional pilots who flew at record breaking high altitude search mission,” Thomas Laemle, who has summated 10 peaks above 8,000 metres told Dawn.
He explained that the last and the only time a Eurocopter, also used by Pakistan army in high altitude terrain, was flown this high was during its test flight in 2005 when a pilot touched down on Mt Everest at 8,848 metres.
The third reason, which possibly claimed the lives of some veteran climbers were avalanches and extreme weather.
The three Spaniards who went missing on GI on July 1, 2013 were team leader, Alvaro Paredes Izquierdo, Abel Alonso Gomez, and Javier Comez Gutierrez. The ACP believed that they were blown away by strong winds.
Similarly, Marty and son Denali Schmidt from New Zealand were blown away by an avalanche on K2. There were no summits on K2 this year compared to nearly two dozen in 2012.
Besides the sadness which overwhelmed this climbing season, there were eight summits on Broad Peak, three via a new route, roughly a dozen summits were reported on GI and more than 30 on GII.