KARACHI: Efforts to rescue two mountaineers stranded on Nanga Parbat have been under way after mountaineers from K2 joined the search operation on Saturday.
A helicopter of Askari Aviation flew from Skardu to the K2 base camp where it picked up four Polish climbers including team leader Jaroslaw Botor, Denis Urubko, Adam Bielecki, and Piotr Tomala along with some gear on Saturday afternoon.
"The climbers have been picked up from K2 and were taken to Skardu where the helicopters will refuel before heading to Nanga Parbat," Alpine Federation of Pakistan Secretary Karrar Haidri told The Express Tribune, adding that bad weather had delayed the flight.
French climber Elisabeth Revol and Polish mountaineer Tomek Mackiewicz, who were attempting to scale the 8,126 metre “Killer Mountain”, got stuck at an altitude of 7,400m.
Mackiewicz, who has attempted to climb the ninth highest mountain in the world on six previous occasions, suffered snow blindness and frostbite.
Revol then had to bring Mackiewicz to a safe point before heading lower herself. According to her tracker, she was at 6,670m.
Climber Tomek Mazur posted on microblogging site Twitter that on Saturday morning, Revol had sent a message stating that the toes in her left foot were frostbitten. Her position was also confirmed by the Nanga Parbat base camp who spotted her on a telescope.
On Friday, word came that Mackiewicz was in critical condition while the duo was trapped at high altitude.
After two years, K2 relents
Janusz Majer, a Polish climber who is currently with a team of mountaineers from Poland currently attempting to make history of their own by attempting to become the first to scale K2 — the world’s second tallest mountain — in winter, wrote in a Facebook post that Revol and Mackiewicz got stuck at around 7,400 metres and had to spend the night there.
British mountaineer Masah Gordon, who is in touch with Revol’s family, later posted on Facebook that the French mountaineer had managed to bring Mackiewicz — who had suffered from snow blindness and frostbite and was in critical condition— down to at least 7238m on Friday morning. There were conflicting reports whether he was in a tent or not.
Revol, Gordon wrote, was continuing further down along the Kinshofer route to around 6670m — where she had last made contact with her team.
“The issue with her [Revol’s] descent is that she has no tent and is coming down the most direct route but the one they did not use on the way up,” Gordon said while referring to how there would not be any fixed ropes for them.
As Revol and Mackiewicz families and teams became aware of the situation on the mountain, they contacted local authorities to mount a rescue. However, the authorities require an upfront payment for the rescue effort.
“The upfront rescue cost is estimated at $50,000,” Gordon wrote on GoFundMe page, set up to raise money for the rescue.
The target was soon crossed and around 56,000 euros had been raised within six hours.
Polish team off to conquer K2 in winter
Separately, the Polish government said that it had mobilised funds to rescue Mackiewicz.
“After receiving information about the terms of assistance provided by local entities, [Poland Foreign] Minister Jacek Czaputowicz — in agreement with the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki — decided to immediately mobilise financial resources to cover transport costs as part of a rescue operation,” read a statement issued by the Polish foreign ministry on Friday.
It, however, noted that the maximum height helicopters can reach is 6,000 metres — after which point the air gets too thin to fly.
Haidri was optimistic about the chances of the two climbers surviving even as he admitted that the weather was quite bad on the mountain.
"While there is less chance of an avalanche in winter, there is extreme weather to deal with such as extremely low temperatures and winds which can reach up to 100 km/h, which pose the biggest threat," he said, adding that in extreme weather and with little supplies, climbers had a survival window of 30-40 hours.
“However, this is not the case here. The climbers have food,” he reassured.
Mackiewicz has been attempting to climb the 8,126m mountain for nearly eight years, Revol has been trying for nearly five. Each time, though, the mountain has thwarted them one way or the other.
It has been particularly frustrating for Mackiewicz who has on five different occasions climbed to over 7,000m on the mountain, the highest point he reached being 7,800m – just over 300m short of the summit.
Last June, Spanish alpinist Alberto Zerain and Argentinian Mariano Galvan had gone went missing while attempting to summit the “Killer Mountain”. A search was launched for them but it was believed that they had been buried under an avalanche.
Army launch rescue operation
The Pakistan Army launched a rescue operation to find the missing foreign mountaineers at Nanga Parbat, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
Two Pak Army helicopters carrying four rescuers are undertaking the rescue mission.
In response to a request for rescue of two foreign mountaineers (one male one female), who are stuck in bad weather at Nanga Parbat, a rescue operation by Pak army is in progress #pakarmytotherescue— Dr Mohammad Faisal (@DrMFaisal) January 27, 2018
The operation is being carried out at the request of the concerned embassies to save the lives of the mountaineers.