08/04/2008 06:27 PM

'Just Pure Stupidity'

Eleven Climbers Die in K2 Disaster

Two Dutch climbers were rescued by helicopter from K2 days after the mountain claimed 11 lives. As one Italian climber continues to hope for rescue, climbing legend Reinhold Messner criticized the tour companies leading such expeditions.

Since an avalanche Friday night on K2, 11 climbers have died on the world's second highest mountain. Two Dutch climbers were rescued by helicopter Monday, while authorities continue to hope that they can make it to an Italian climber currently descending the mountain.

The trouble began Friday after about two dozen climbers ascended the 28,250-foot (8,610-meter) peak located near Pakistan's northern border with China. At least two climbers died before reaching summit, according to the AP. The rest of the climbers then continued on as it got dark to reach the summit.

After the climbers began their descent in the darkness, an ice wall reportedly collapsed at a steep gully known as the Bottleneck, taking with it a number of the lines the climbers were using. Although Pakistani authorities have reported 11 total deaths, it is not known how many died immediately after the avalanche or how many succumbed to the cold during the descent.

Among the dead reported by the Pakistani Ministry of Tourism were three Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistani high-altitude porters, and climbers from France, Serbia, Norway and Ireland.

Although it is not as high as Mount Everest, K2 is considered by mountaineers to be harder to climb owing to the fact that it is steeper and rockier and subject to worse weather.

The current tragedy has claimed the highest death toll for a single incident on K2, exceeding a 1995 event that took the lives of seven climbers. More than 70 mountaineers have died on K2, according to Reuters, while only approximately 280 have successfully reached the summit since 1954, when two Italian climbers first claimed that honor.

Mourning the Dead, Hoping for the Living

On Monday, a Pakistani army helicopter was able to rescue two Dutch climbers at a height of 5,500 meters (18,044 feet). After being flown to a military hospital, one of the frostbitten climbers told authorities that some of the deaths could be attributed to poorly placed ropes laid by advance climbers, including some of those at the Bottleneck.

"We were astonished," Wilco Van Rooijen told the AP. "We had to move (the ropes). That took, of course, many, many hours. Some turned back because they did not trust it anymore."

Van Rooijen also said that there was a "whiteout" on the mountain after the avalanche, meaning that clouds had descended to the level of the climbers, making it impossible to see the route of descent.

While there has been much relief concerning the fate of the Dutch climbers, authorities spent the day anxiously following the progress of 37-year-old Italian climber Marco Confortola as he made his way alone down the mountain in an attempt to reach a level where a helicopter could reach him. Under normal circumstances, helicopters cannot fly higher than 6,000 meters (19,700 feet) owning to the thinness of the air.

"People at the base camp are continuously monitoring his movement and praying for his return," Mohammad Akram, vice president of Pakistan's Adventure Foundation, told Reuters. Agostino Da Polenza, head of the Ev-K2-CNR mountaineering group, told Reuters that Confortola had reached the base camp by Monday night local time, where he will most likely spend the night.

'Just Pure Stupidity'

According to legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, bad weather and difficult terrain aren't the only things to blame for these and other deaths. "People today are booking these K2 package deals," Messner told Germany's N24 news station Monday, "almost as if they were buying some all-inclusive trip to Bangkok."

Messner added that the tour companies were allowing inexperienced climbers to join the trips, which can cost between €30,000 and €40,000 ($46,500 and $62,000). "But when there's demand," Messner lamented, "there's also going to be a market."

Regarding the climbers' decision to summit the mountain with darkness approaching, Messner added: "Something like that is just pure stupidity; that is not professional."



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