Polish climbers stage heroic rescue on deadly Himalayan peak
An elite, volunteer rescue squad postpones a K2 winter assault in an attempt to save the lives of two trapped climbers on nearby Nanga Parbat, known as 'Killer Mountain'
A French mountain climber trapped on Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat is expected to be helicoptered to hospital in Islamabad this morning, thanks to the heroic efforts of an elite group of Polish climbers who put their lives in danger and their K2 expedition hopes on hold for the daring winter rescue operation.
Two Polish climbers, Dennis Urubko and Adam Bielecki, rapidly climbed the infamous rock face at night in -40C temperatures after they were dropped off at the 4,900m level by a Pakistan military helicopter. They reached Elisabeth Revol, a French national, who is believed to have suffered severe frostbite to her toes and extremities.
“Elisabeth, nice to see you,” Urubko is reported to have said, when they finally met up with the 37-year-old Revol and began the process of bringing her safely down to base camp, before a fierce storm struck the mountain.
No further information is available for Tomasz Mackiewicz, 43, a Polish climber who accompanied Revol. It’s believed Mackiewicz was suffering from the effects of oxygen deprivation, severe frostbite and snow blindness.
Ludovic Giambiasi, a friend of Revol, told The Guardian: “The rescue for Tomasz is unfortunately not possible – because of the weather and altitude it would put the life of rescuers in extreme danger. It’s a terrible and painful decision. We are in deep sadness. All our thoughts go out to Tomek’s family and friends. We are crying.”
The pair had called for help on a satellite phone after being trapped near the 7,400 metre level on the Himalayan peak, also known as the “Killer Mountain” for its deadly history. At least 68 climbers have died on the icy slopes of the world’s ninth highest mountain, which stands 8,126 metres (26,600 ft.) tall.
Within hours of the dispatch, a Go-Fund-Me had raised over US$70,000 for the rescue attempt, while the Polish government also boldly stepped up with cost assurances. Once a deposit was arranged, only then would the Pakistan military launch the rescue operation — a standard procedure in this remote northern region.
The effort quickly garnered four volunteers from the nearby Polish K2 Winter Expedition, which halted its progress to help save the pair. The assault on K2 — a feat which has never been accomplished and holds high risks of its own — had already established a Camp II at 6,300m when the rescue call came.
Polish climbers Jaroslaw Botor and Piotrek Tomala also took part in the Nanga Parbat rescue, preparing a camp below and following up with more equipment as Urubko and Bielicki raced up the rock face in dead of night without a fixed rope, knowing the unforgiving Himalayan weather window was closing rapidly and a single mistake could cost them their lives.
Pakistani alpine expert Karim Shah, who was in touch with the expedition, was quoted by AFP as saying the rescue was unmatched in the climbing world. Shah said the distance the pair climbed on Nanga Parbat normally takes 2-3 days, and was instead accomplished in an astonishing 8 hours in total darkness.
According to Pakistan-Explorer.com, Revol and Mackiewicz were attempting the Messner 200o route made famous by Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner. It would be Mackiewicz’s seventh attempt to climb the mountain in winter.
“Crazy Tom,” as he was known by some for his reckless attitude, presented a throwback to vintage style climbing with “jaw-dropping low budgets,” that sometimes drew criticism from more senior climbers. Aside from his reputation as a relentless “ice warrior,” his singular obsession with climbing Nanga Parbat in winter was well known.
According to the website, he once survived all alone in a bivouac for more than a week on Nanga Parbat during bad weather … only to climb down later and startle rescuers who had already given up on him.