Three climbers missing on remote Pakistani peak

The search for three missing climbers on a remote peak in Pakistan was called off yesterday when rescue teams could find no trace of the men. The trio was last seen on March 9 as they made their way toward the summit but what became of them after that remains a mystery.

Veteran climber Gerfried Goschl of Austria, along with Swiss mountaineer Cedric Hahlen and Pakistani guide Nisar Hussein were attempting to make the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I, the 11th tallest peak in the world at 26,509 feet. On Thursday, March 8, they used a satellite phone to call their support team to inform them that they were just 1475 feet from the top. The climbers sounded optimistic about their chances as weather conditions improved around them and they put the more technically challenging aspects of the ascent behind them. Unfortunately, that was the last time that anyone ever talked to them.

The following day a second team of climbers made history by becoming the first to successfully climb Gasherbrum I in the winter. While on the summit, those climbers reported seeing Goschl, Hahlen and Hussein on the move and still trying to reach the top. It would be the last time that anyone would ever see the men alive.After the team failed to appear back in camp, other climbers on the mountain organized a search and rescue operation. Their efforts were hampered by poor weather conditions, however, and it was several days before helicopters could arrive on site to help them look. The search was ultimately abandoned when it failed to turn up any evidence of the whereabouts of the three men.

The Karakoram mountain range, where GI is located, is amongst the more challenging environments for climbers on the planet. Those challenges are only amplified further during the winter when the mountains are frequently buffeted by hurricane force winds and temperatures routinely plunge below -50ºF.

Goschl, Hahlen and Nisar spent nearly three months in that environment only to have their efforts tragically end this way.

[Photo credit: Uwe Gille via WikiMedia]

Climbers summit world’s second highest unclimbed peak

Way back in July we told you about an expedition to climb Saser Kangri II, which at the time had the distinction of being the worlds second tallest unclimbed peak. Two months later, we can now remove that qualifier from the mountain’s description, as a three man team successfully reached the summit in late August.

Located in a remote region of northern India, Saser Kangri II stands 24,665 feet in height and offers a significant technical climbing challenge to go along with the difficulties that are typically associated with high altitude. It was because of these challenges that the mountain remained unclimbed even into the 21st century, when most of the big Himalayan peaks have been conquered.

In July, climbers Steve Swenson, Mark Richey, and Freddie Wilkinson began their expedition by first traveling to northern India, then trekking three days to Base Camp. After spending a couple of weeks scouting the mountain, acclimatizing to the altitude, and establishing two camps, the team started their climb on August 21st. Over the next three days they made an alpine style ascent, overcoming a tough 5577-foot rock face in the process, to stand on top on the 24th.

Their adventure was far from over at that point however, as Swenson, who had developed a sinus infection on the climb, had his health take a turn for a worse. The infection grew into a serious respiratory issue, which could have been life threatening at high altitude, and he had to be evacuated from the mountain via helicopter on August 26th. He spent the next few days recovering in a local hospital, where he was later joined by his climbing partners, before the entire team made its way home.

With Saser Kangri II officially climbed, Labuche Kang III, a 23,786-foot tall mountain located in Tibet now has the distinction of being the second tallest unclimbed peak. It is likely to be a popular destination for future climbers looking to get their names in the history books by making a first ascent. As we noted in the original story, the tallest unclimbed mountain in the world is the 24,836 foot Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan. That peak is considered sacred ground however, so climbing is strictly forbidden there.

Climbers summit K2 for first time in three years

K2, arguably the world’s toughest mountain to climb, was conquered for the first time in more than three years earlier this week, when an international team of three men and one woman reached the summit. They were the first people to stand on top of the mountain since the tragic 2008 climbing season, during which 11 people lost their lives.

Located in the Karakoram mountain range, K2 straddles the border between Pakistan and China and stands 8611 meters (28,251 ft) in height. It is the second highest peak in the world, behind only Mt. Everest, although it is orders of magnitude more challenging to climb. While each year more than 500 people summit Everest, the top of K2 is rarely visited at all due to its extreme technical challenges and notoriously bad weather. In fact, K2 has earned the nickname “the Savage Mountain” because of its high level of difficulty and the fact that for every four climbers who have successfully reached the top, one has died trying.

On Tuesday, Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, along with Polish mountaineer Darek Zaluski and Kazakhs Maxut Zumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov ended the three-year drought on K2 by reaching the summit from the Chinese side of the mountain. Climbing for nearly 18 hours, the team endured waist deep snow and -25ºF temperatures on their way up, although the winds were mercifully light and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That afforded them some great views from the summit, but the exhausted group didn’t linger for long, as they still had a long trek back to their high camp below.
The successful summit earned Kaltenbrunner the distinction of becoming the first woman to climb all fourteen of the world’s 8000-meter peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen. While most high altitude mountaineers wear an oxygen mask and tank to help them breathe in the thin air, she did it using just her own lungs, which puts her in a very elite squad of climbers.

The team has now descended back to their Base Camp, where they are collecting all of their gear and are preparing to head home. After spending two months on K2 preparing for this summit push, they are no doubt more than ready to get back to their friends and families, not to mention a few creature comforts. I’m guessing a warm shower, a comfortable bed, and their favorite foods all sound pretty good about now.

[Photo credit: Kevin Mayea]

Expedition to climb the second highest unclimbed mountain

An group of three American climbers have traveled to the Kashmir mountain range this summer, where they will attempt to become the first team to successfully summit Saser Kangri II, the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. The mountain, which stands 24,665 feet in height, is located in a very remote region of northern India that is only accessible during the summer months.

The team consists of climbers Freddie Wilkinson, Mark Richey and Steve Swenson, all of whom are very experienced high altitude mountaineers. Richey and Swenson made an attempt on Saser Kangri II back in 2009, reaching as high as 22,500 feet before turning back due to bad weather. They’ve decided to return to the mountain to finish off what they started, and asked Wilkinson to tag along for the climb.

Saser Kangri II is the second of four summits on the Saser Kangri massif, and as mentioned above, is the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. The highest unclimbed peak is a mountain named Gangkhar Puensum, which is located inside Bhutan, and is 24,836 feet in height. Many of the inhabitants of Bhutan believe that the tallest mountains in their country are sacred ground, and as a result, the government has banned mountaineering on any peak above 6000 meters or roughly 19,685 feet. In other words, no one can climb Gangkhar Puensum, so mountaineers looking for the next big challenge give Saser Kangri a try instead.

The team set out for India earlier in the week, and it will take them a number of days just to trek into Base Camp, located at about 17,000 feet on the mountain. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be scouting the route they hope to take to the summit, while slowly acclimatizing to the altitude. If everything goes as scheduled, they’ll be making their attempt at the summit in early August, and with a little luck, become the first men to stand on the top of the mountain.

[Photo courtesy of Steve Swenson]