2 Dutch climbers rescued from world's 2nd highest peak

At 28,250 feet, K-2 stands about 785 feet below Mount Everest, but is a "phenomenally dangerous mountain."

k-2 mountain 88 (photo credit: )
k-2 mountain 88
(photo credit: )
A helicopter lifted two frostbitten climbers from the world's second-highest mountain, K-2, on Monday after an avalanche at more than 26,250 feet (8,000 meters) left at least 11 people missing and feared dead. The helicopter brought Dutchmen Wilco Van Rooijen and Cas Van de Gevel from K-2's base camp to a military hospital in Skardu, the nearest town, said Maj. Farooq Firoz, an army spokesman. He said Italian Marco Confortola, also believed to be suffering frostbite, was still struggling down the mountain on Monday. It was unclear when he would be low enough for a helicopter pickup. Thin air generally prevents choppers from flying above 19,700 feet (6,000 meters). K-2, which lies near Pakistan's northern border with China, is regarded by mountaineers as more challenging to conquer than Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. K-2 is steeper, rockier and more prone to sudden, severe weather. The reported toll from the avalanche was the highest from a single incident on K-2 since at least 1995, when seven climbers perished after being caught in a fierce storm. Shahzad Qaiser, a top official of Pakistan's Ministry of Tourism, said Monday that all climbers who had been caught on K-2 during the avalanche were now accounted for. Officials and expedition organizers said about two dozen people, mostly foreigners, in about eight different groups attempted to scale K-2's summit on Friday. As the mountaineers descended, the avalanche cut ropes used to cross a treacherous gully 1,148 feet (350 meters) below the 28,250-foot (8,610-meter) summit, said Nazir Sabir of the Alpine Club of Pakistan. Falling ice apparently swept some of the victims to their deaths and stranded others at a height where they would quickly succumb to exposure and exhaustion. The Ministry of Tourism released a list of 11 climbers believed dead: three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis as well as one each from France, Ireland, Serbia and Norway. At least two of them fell on the way up the mountain, before the avalanche. Sabir, a veteran Pakistani climber who helped organize one of the expeditions, also put the death toll at 11, including a Nepali sherpa and a Pakistani porter who died while trying to help others after the ice fell. The two Dutch climbers and the Italian managed to cross the treacherous gully, known as 'The Bottleneck.' Other climbers met them en route and helped them descend. Among the survivors were two members of the Korean group who also made it back to the base camp, which lies at about 5,000 meters (16,400 feet), an organizer of their expedition said. Chris Warner, an American who climbed K-2 last year, said the gully was the deadliest place on the mountain, with an unstable ice wall above and a fall of up to 9,000 feet (2,740 meters) below. "You can see how, for people who were exhausted, it would have been nearly impossible for them to descend without the ropes," said Warner. He said hope was fading for anyone still alive and separated from their group. "Once their hands and feet are frozen, they really are unable to move on their own power, and it takes other people to carry them down," he said. At 28,250 feet (8,610 meters), K-2 stands about 785 feet (240 meters) below Mount Everest, but is a "phenomenally dangerous mountain," said Alan Arnett, who climbed a nearby peak with at least one of the missing climbers. Compared with Everest, "it's more technical, it's steeper, the weather is more intense," he said. About 280 people have summited K-2 since 1954, when it was first conquered by Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedell. Dozens of deaths have been recorded since 1939, most of them occurring during the descent.