K2 survivors narrate the tragedy

Weekly Bang-e-Sahar Saturday, August 9—-August 15, 2008

By Our Correspondent
SKARDU: The survivors of the August 1 tragedy on K2, Dutch climber Wilco van Rooijen, and Cas van de Gevel, who were airlifted to Skardu where they received treatment at the Combined Military Hospital, are resting in a local hotel. Wilco, who scaled the Everest without oxygen had to spend three nights above camp 4 without food and rescue. Narrating the tragic climb Cas said that the members of the eight expedition groups were climbing from camp 4 on the last day of the expedition on August 1. They got to the summit at around 7 o’clock but on the way up a Serbian climber Dren Mandiæ fell to his death which made the team abandon the climb. Some of the climbers had already reached the summit by about 5 or 6 o’clock and they were descending. But the ice fall in which the Serbian died had damaged the rope. Because of that a Nepalese Sherpa and a Norwegian climber also fell to their death. “It was dark and I was descending with a little rope that was left and soon ended. Finally, I could reach camp 4 at about 2 o’clock in the dead of night. All the climbers were trying to get to camp 4 on their own. I did not know where the other climbers were. We spent 24 hours above camp 4. In the beginning, the weather was nice and I could see the light at camp four but after the summit the weather became cloudy and I could not see around clearly. The problem with the climbers was that there was no rope to go down with and most were stuck above camp 4. Next morning I went to look for other climbers. I saw Monko, an Italian, who is now at the base camp with frostbitten fingers,” Cas said.Wilco, the famous Dutch climber and leader of the Norit Expedition explained that they were the first among others who arrived at K2 base camp and planned to finish the climb in July. “We chose the Abruzzi route instead of the Cezen route which I had used twice before though not without accidents but both times I had reached the summit. This is my third success. But, this time we chose the Abruzzi route instead. “We waited for the good weather to start the climb but for three weeks there was no chance to go to the summit. In the meantime, all expeditions at the base camp decided to divide the responsibilities. The Dutch were to bring the rope up to 400 meters, which was a big job at 8,000 meters. For safety at Bottleneck, the Italians were to bring the rope up to 200 metres. So, it was all worked out.“Thus, we were working together. The thing which went wrong was that we had taken out ropes from the lower mountain where the rope was not necessary so that we could use them for the bottleneck that took a long time and every one was working behind schedule. Then finally a lot of people reached on the summit very late and a big chunk of ice fell down which damaged the fixed ropes and some people were hit by ice and some people was falling down and others could not go down easily,” he said. “When I was coming down from the summit it was completely dark, Cas went down faster with Pemba, the Nepalese sherpa. I wanted to go down to camp 4 but the problem was that I could not find it because I could not see any sign or flag leading to camp 4. Every one was finding his own way down. Some people were faster and some were slow. In this way, we lost each other. Cas had reached camp 4 with Pemba. I, together with Irishman Gerard McDonnel and Italian Marco Confortola, could not pick up speed and could not find the route any more. So we remained stuck somewhere above camp 4 where we spent the night. And then when next morning I opened my eyes, I could not see enough because I was getting snow blind. Then I realised that I have to go down at any rate because if I stay longer without drinking, without food then I would be snow blind completely. Therefore, I walked down. It was completely white and I could not see clearly. Therefore, I waited on the right side to see how I can go down again where the weather was going to be clear. “Next morning I got up and tried to go down. The weather was a bit clear and I saw the route. I could manage to go down crossing a big glacier along the way. Finally, by day’s end I saw that I was on the right side of the Cezen route. I could see a camp that I thought was camp 1 but later I realised that it was camp 3. Cas and Pemba were already there. After meeting them, they gave me something to eat which helped me to increase my energy. We were safe at last and could easily go down the Cezen route. “We arrived at base camp at 10pm, completely exhausted with frozen feet. There was an American expedition doctor at the base camp who took care of us with injections, and painkillers the whole night”, Wilco said. Explaining the ice-fall Wilco said “ice falls if small are not big accidents. But sometimes big pieces fall down as in this case which swept away the fixed ropes and caused the death of other eight members most of whom died in their hurry to get down as soon as possible making their own way. Some of them slipped and fell and some died of cold as rescue could not reach in time. However, three people died in the beginning, first the Serbian who fell down, second the Norwegian Rolf Bay and third a French climber who fell to his death. The others lost their lives because of fear, darkness and losing their senses. Describing the difference between a serac and avalanche, Wilco said, serac is an unpredictable thing. On all K2 routes the danger is always there. But on Abruzzi chances of an avalanche are more. On the upper part of K2, seracs are dangerous. You don’t know when a small or big rock is going to fall. There is continuous movement which can break a piece off in an hour or may take 20 hours or two years. If the serac is massive you can still move out of its way if you are fast enough but at 8,000 meters nobody can be fast, have control and balance and sense. But avalanches depend on snow condition. If it is too wet it comes down as an avalanche. In response to a question Wilco said, “I would continue climbing and wish to conquer all the 14 eight thousand meter high peaks of the world. This incident was not new for me as 30 years ago, I had an accident between camp 1 and camp 2 on the Abruzzi route. At that time a stone hit me on the head and at the same time one of my arms also got fractured and I lost sufficient blood, yet I did not stop climbing. I want to climb all the beautiful mountains of the world but one life is too short for it.K2 is called the mountaineers’ mountain. The mountaineers believe that climbing K2 is more dangerous and more technical than Mount Everest. This was the 24th accident on K2 heights claiming the lives of 262 mountaineers thus far.

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