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ISLAMABAD: Engulfed in a blizzard at 6,000 metres, Denis Urubko screamed into the vast darkness on Pakistan’s “killer mountain” — then, through the wind came a woman’s faint reply, setting up a daring late-night rescue.

Urubko and climbing partner Adam Bielecki scrambled toward the cry, hoping to encounter stranded French mountaineer Elisabeth Revol and Polish alpinist Tomek Mackiewicz.

They would only find one, forcing them to make the type of choice that has haunted past expeditions, fuelling books and films in which climbers and their loved ones struggle to come to terms with fatal consequences of their drive to scale the world’s greatest peaks.

Knowing there was little margin for error, the duo cut through howling winds and heavy snow towards the sound of the beleaguered climbers, who had become stranded during a disastrous descent on Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat.

“I thought `yes Adam, we are very close’,” Urubko said in his first comments to media following the rescue in late January, which made global headlines.

“I was approaching first and I saw this lady in (the) very weak light of my head lamp.”

In the bid to save their fellow climbers Urubko and Bielecki had dashed to Nanga Parbat from K2, the world’s second highest mountain, briefly abandoning their own historic attempt to become the first to summit it in winter.

The pair flew from K2 on a Pakistan military helicopter, arriving on Nanga Parbat in the evening where they began scaling the mountain at an incredible pace.

They covered more than 1,000 metres in about eight hours — at times climbing without ropes, at others using only their ice picks or clinging to the remnants of lines left behind by previous expeditions.

`Terrible and painful’

When they reached Revol, she had already spent two nights above 6,000 metres without a tent.

She had been forced to separate from Mackiewicz, who was suffering from snow blindness and was coughing up blood, a sign of oedema, or acute mountain sickness.

Exposed to harsh winds and blistering subzero temperatures, Revol began experiencing altitude-induced hallucinations. At one point she removed her shoes for five hours and developed frostbite on her hands and feet.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2018