2008 K2 disaster
The 2008 K2 disaster occurred on 1 August 2008, when eleven mountaineers from international expeditions died on K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth. Three others were seriously injured. It was the worst single accident in the history of K2 mountaineering.
- 1 Expedition goal: K2
- 2 Events between the Camp IV and the summit
- 3 Rescue operation
- 4 List of fatalities
- 5 Climbing on K2 since the disaster
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Expedition goal: K2
K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth after Mount Everest. With a peak elevation of 8,611 metres (28,251 ft), K2 is part of the Karakoram range, not far from the Himalayas, and is located on the border between the Pakistani Gilgit-Baltistan region, and the People's Republic of China's Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County of Xinjiang Autonomous Region. It is regarded by mountaineers as far more challenging to summit than Everest, and is generally looked upon as one of the most dangerous mountains in the world.
The climbing season at K2 lasts from June to August, but in 2008 adverse weather prevented any groups from summiting during June and July. At the end of July, ten different groups were awaiting the possibility to reach the summit, some of them having waited for almost two months. The months preceding the summit push were used for acclimatization and preparing for the camps higher on the mountain, the highest of them, Camp IV, just a little short of 8000 m above sea level.
Events between the Camp IV and the summit
With the end of July approaching, weather forecasts indicated improving weather, and several groups had arrived at Camp IV on 31 July in preparation to try the summit as soon as weather would permit.
Friday 1 August
The Sherpas and Pakistani high-altitude porters (HAPs) started to prepare fixed lines upwards before midnight. They were joined by Spanish climber Alberto Zerain who had come up from camp III during the night and decided to continue his summit push rather than stay at camp IV. However, the most experienced HAP, Shaheen Baig (from the Serbian team), had to go back down with symptoms of high altitude sickness. His experience was missed and in the confusion, ropes may have been left behind or placed too far to the right side of the Bottleneck.
When the groups started upward at 3 a.m., the Sherpas and HAPs had prepared lines from the shoulder, where they were not needed, up into the Bottleneck (a steep couloir–a gully–leading to the summit slopes), and then had run out of rope for the traverse just above the bottleneck. This forced them to take rope from the lower portion of the route and use it to prepare the lines above the Bottleneck, causing an unplanned delay. At this point the American group decided to abort the attempt and return to the lower camp. It should be noted though, that traditionally, the Bottleneck and ensuing traverse were climbed without fixed ropes. It has been suggested[by whom?] that the climbers of the 2008 K2 summer season were perhaps depending too much on the fixed ropes.
At 8 a.m. people were advancing through the Bottleneck. Dren Mandić decided to attend to his oxygen system and so unclipped the rope to let other climbers pass. Mandić lost his balance and fell, bumping into Cecilie Skog. She was still clipped to the rope and was only knocked over. Mandić however, fell over 100 m down the bottleneck. Some climbers claimed that he was still moving after the fall. People in Camp IV saw the fall and sent a group to help recover his injured or dead body. Swede Fredrik Sträng stated he took command of the recovery operation.
When Sträng reached the body, Serbian climbers Predrag Zagorac and Iso Planic and their HAP Mohammed Hussein had already arrived. They had found no pulse and judging by the severity of his injuries, Mandić was pronounced dead. The Serbian climbers decided to lower the body down to camp IV and Sträng assisted them. They were joined by HAP Jehan Baig (from the French-led independent expedition). He had fulfilled his assisting duties and had been allowed to head down. Several people later indicated he may have been suffering from high altitude sickness, since he had displayed questionable behaviour in abseiling down the bottleneck. Sträng also noticed that he was incoherent, first offering to help in the rescue, later refusing to help, only to return moments later to assist them again. Jehan Baig lost his footing, bumping into Sträng who then urged him to let go of the rope attached to Mandić harness, before all four climbers would be dragged down. Baig finally let go of the rope, but to Sträng and the others' surprise, he did not try to stop his slide by using the self-arrest technique. Jehan Baig fell to his death. It is unclear why he did not try to stop his slide. Sträng decided to descend without the body of Mandić. The Serbian group wrapped the body of Mandić in a flag and fastened him to the mountain before aborting and starting to descend.
These delays, together with the traffic jam in the Bottleneck, resulted in most people reaching the summit much later than planned, some as late as 8 p.m. (the typical time for summiting being between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.). All together, 18 people summited that day. On the descent, the Spaniard Alberto Zerain, who had topped out first and alone at 3 p.m., managed to pass through the Bottleneck without trouble. But at 8:30 p.m. when the Norwegian group — including Lars Flatø Nessa and Cecilie Skog who reached the summit two hours later than Zerain — had almost negotiated the traverse leading to the Bottleneck, a serac (a large block of ice) broke off from the ice field above. As it fell, it cut all the fixed lines and took with it Rolf Bae (Cecilie Skog's husband), who had abandoned the attempt only 100 m below the summit and was descending at the front of the group. Lars and Cecilie continued descending without the fixed lines and managed to reach Camp IV during the night.
As a result of the serac fall, the climb in the Bottleneck became steeper and more technical. Chunks of ice lay scattered around the route, and the mountaineers above were stranded in the so-called death zone above 8000 meters. Since the climbers were counting on the fixed lines, they were not carrying additional ropes and fall protection devices, forcing the climbers to "free climb" the descent through the notorious Bottleneck. There were still multiple climbers above the Bottleneck, and according to Dutch mountaineer Wilco van Rooijen, panic broke out among them. Some tried to descend in the darkness, while others decided to bivouac and wait until morning before descending.
Pemba Gyalje descended in the darkness without fixed ropes and reached the Camp IV before midnight. Sherpa Chhiring Dorje also free-climbed the Bottleneck with "little" Pasang Lama (who had been stranded without an ice axe) secured to his harness. "I can just about imagine how you might pull it off," writes Ed Viesturs in K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain. "You kick each foot in solid, plant the axe, then tell the other guy to kick with his own feet and punch holds with his hands. Don't move until he's secure. Still, if Pasang had come off [i.e. 'fallen'], he probably would have taken Chhiring with him. Talk about selfless!"
Two members of the Korean expedition, Kim Jae-soo and Go Mi-Young, also managed to navigate the bottleneck in the dark, although the latter had to be helped by two Sherpas from the Korean B team, Chhiring Bhote and "Big" Pasang Bhote, who were supposed to summit the next morning. The men had climbed up around midnight with food and oxygen and found Go Mi-Young stranded somewhere in the Bottleneck, unsure of which route she had to take. They guided her down safely.
Meanwhile, Dutchman Cas van de Gevel and Frenchman Hugues D’Aubarede had also decided to manoeuvre the bottleneck in the dark. As he reached the bottom of the Bottleneck, Cas van de Gevel witnessed a climber falling to his death, a story corroborated by the two Sherpas Chhiring Bhote and "big" Pasang Bhote, who also had witnessed one or two objects falling from the mountain. This climber was likely Hugues D'Aubarede, whom van de Gevel had passed just above the Bottleneck in the dark on the way down. D'Aubarede had run out of bottled oxygen hours before, and when van de Gevel had passed him, he had looked tired and insisted van de Gevel descend before him.
Marco Confortola, Wilco van Rooijen and Gerard McDonnell bivouacked above the traverse, as they could not find the fixed ropes leading across the traverse. Confortola claimed that during the bivouac, he heard screams and saw headlights disappear below him after a roaring sound came from the serac field. At that point, 8 people were still above the Bottleneck, stranded in the death zone.
Saturday 2 August
The rescue efforts started in the base camp as a group was sent upwards with ropes to help those still stuck in the Bottleneck. The group included Tsering Bhote and "big" Pasang Bhote, who had previously helped Go Mi-Young down the Bottleneck and now went to search for their relative Jumik Bhote. Jumik was left stranded with the remaining climbers of the Korean expedition somewhere above the Bottleneck.
Early in the morning above the traverse, van Rooijen gave up the search for the fixed ropes and descended alone. His vision was deteriorating and he feared he was going snow blind. He needed to get off the mountain fast. Marco Confortola and Gerard McDonnell did not follow him immediately. Later, van Rooijen reached the remaining Korean climbers (Confortola claims one of them was Kyeong-Hyo Park) and their guide Jumik Bhote. The men were tangled in several ropes and had clearly been hanging there, some upside down and bloodied, for quite a while. But they were all alive. It is unclear what exactly happened to them. It is believed the men were the victims of a second serac fall, an avalanche or perhaps a regular fall leaving them tangled in the ropes. Some sources mention only two Koreans and Jumik Bhote, whilst other reports indicate three remaining Koreans (one near death). It could be that this was the event Confortola had witnessed during the bivouac the previous night. It could also be that this was the second object Tsering Bhote and "big" Pasang Bhote saw falling off the mountain. There is however, little evidence to support both claims. Wilco van Rooijen handed Jumik Bhote his spare pair of gloves, but was unable to help them any more. He claims Jumik Bhote informed him a rescue mission was under way from camp IV. Van Rooijen decided to descend farther.
Marco Confortola and Gerard McDonell reached the three men somewhere in the morning. They worked for several hours trying to free them. It is unclear what happened next. Confortola claims McDonell, after working with Confortola for at least 1.5 hours, suddenly climbed back up the mountain, leaving him with the three stranded men. Confortola assumed McDonell had succumbed to high altitude sickness and was growing delusional, believing he had to climb back up. Left alone, Confortola did all he could for Jumik Bhote, giving him his own equipment. They had managed to get the Koreans back into at least a comfortable position. Confortola says he was able to radio with Tsering Bhote and "big" Pasang Bhote who were on their way up to rescue the men. Confortola had spent at least three hours with the entangled men and was exhausted. He continued down.
Several people dispute Confortola's version of the events. Wilco van Rooijen, who had seen Confortola and McDonell helping the stranded Koreans and their guide from below, believes McDonell did not climb back up the mountain. Gerard McDonell must have climbed up to the highest anchor supporting the three stranded men to try to transfer the load. He then may have returned to the three men and spent another several hours alone helping free the men from the ropes. In his book "Surviving K2", van Rooijen provides some photographic evidence for these claims.
Confortola has claimed that some time after he left the three men, an avalanche struck just feet away from him. In the rubble of this avalanche, he spotted the remains of one climber. After investigating them, he suggests these were the remains of McDonnell.
Just after noon, Tsering Bhote and "big" Pasang Bhote had reached the bottom of the Bottleneck. There they found Marco Confortola crawling on his hands and feet. The two Sherpas radioed Pemba Gyalje and Cas van de Gevel to come up for Confortola so that they could continue the search for their relative Jumik Bhote and the Koreans. "Big" Pasang Bhote later radioed Pemba Gyalje with more news. He had met Jumik Bhote and two members of the Korean expedition just above the bottleneck. Apparently they were freed after all. He also radioed in bad news. A fourth climber, climbing behind the two Koreans and the two Sherpas on the lower parts of the traverse, had been swept away by a serac fall and was dead. The description of the climber matched Gerard McDonnell's red-and-black down suit. This would suggest Confortola was mistaken in identifying the remains in the avalanche as McDonnell's and supports the theory that McDonnell freed the two Koreans and Jumic Bhote before perishing in a different serac fall. Tsering Bhote, from his position at the base of the Bottleneck, has also claimed to have seen a serac fall strike the rescue party as they were descending near the top of the bottleneck.
Here, another mystery of the 2008 K2 disaster reveals itself. There was one other climber still unaccounted for: Hugues D’Aubarede's Pakistani HAP Meherban Karim. He was last seen returning from the summit with D’Aubarede in the later hours of 1 August. He and D’Aubarede must have gotten separated in the dark, as Cas van de Gevel encountered only D’Aubarede above the Bottleneck. Wilco van Rooijen, in his book "Surviving K2", supports the theory that Meherban Karim bivouacked even higher on the mountain than van Rooijen, Confortola and McDonell. Again he provides photographic evidence: What looks like a climber can be seen above the serac field on the morning of 2 August. In a later photo, the figure looks to have disappeared with a trail leading down the seracs. Wilco van Rooijen and others, such as McDonnell's partner Annie Starkey, believe this figure to be Karim. Disoriented from spending the night at such high altitudes without an oxygen mask, he must have gotten lost and stumbled onto the serac field, where he fell or got swept away by an avalanche or part of the serac breaking. He might have actually caused one of the serac falls. Hence, it apparently was Karim's remains Confortola had found earlier in the avalanche rubble.
Graham Bowley, in his book "No Way Down", is unable to refute the evidence presented by van Rooijen, but still finds the photos to be inconclusive at best. He is joined in his analysis by writer Michael Kodas. Both men edge towards the testimony of the only living eyewitness: Marco Confortola. In the photos taken by Pemba Gyalje, individual climbers can not be made out. In fact, some of the figures assumed to be climbers could very well be rock. Marks that look like trails are everywhere on the mountain.
Another possible explanation to the mystery is an error in "big" Pasang Bhote's observations about the colour of the down suit, meaning the last climber could have been Meherban Karim, who was wearing a pure red down suit. If so, Confortola had indeed identified McDonell's remains in the avalanche earlier. This is of course speculation.
Minutes after "big" Pasang Bhote had radioed in the news that he had found his relative Jumik Bhote and two Koreans, another avalanche or serac fall struck. It swept away the four men. Tsering Bhote, who had climbed more slowly than fellow rescuer "big" Pasang Bhote, had not yet reached the top of the Bottleneck. He miraculously survived the avalanche, as did Pemba Gyalje and Marco Confortola at the bottom of the Bottleneck. The death toll had now risen to eleven.
Meanwhile, van Rooijen was making his way down the mountain alone. He had climbed down a new route to the left of the Cesan route, bypassing Camp IV. Van de Gevel and Sherpa Gyalje descended from Camp IV to Camp III after they had heard van Rooijen was still somewhere on the mountain. Van Rooijen had managed several satellite phone calls that may have helped pinpoint his location. He would have to spend a second bivouac out on the mountain.
Sunday 3 August
Van de Gevel and sherpa Gyalje made contact with van Rooijen on the Cesan route early in the morning; the three managed to get down to the base camp at 10 p.m.
Monday 4 August
Van de Gevel and van Rooijen were evacuated from base camp by helicopter to Skardu. Confortola reached Camp II, the advanced base camp. Pakistani authorities released a list of names of those killed and injured.
Wednesday 6 August
Confortola was evacuated from Camp II to Skardu by helicopter.
Gerard McDonnell's family established a charity to sponsor the children of four high-altitude porters who died on K2.
Wilco Van Rooijen authored a book in Dutch and English entitled Surviving K2. 
Marco Confortola authored a book in Italian entitled Days of Ice. 
Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama's intersecting lives were profiled in Buried in the Sky. . The book won the National Outdoor Book Award (history/biography), the 2012 NCTE George Orwell award, the Banff Mountain Book Festival's Mountaineering History Award. Chhiring Dorje Sherpa was honored for his heroism with the Tenzing Norgay Award at the Explorers Club Annual Banquet in March 2013.
The Pakistani military started a rescue operation early on 4 August 2008, using two helicopters. They rescued two injured and frostbitten Dutch climbers from the base camp, located approximately 5,000 metres (16,400 ft) above sea level. Four climbers, including an Italian, were making their own way down the mountain. The four were flown to Skardu for treatment. Van Rooijen was found using GPS coordinates sent out by his Thuraya satellite phone when he used it to call his brother.
List of fatalities
|Name||Nationality||Location of death||Cause of death|
|Dren Mandić||Serbia||Below the Bottleneck||Fell during the ascent|
|Jehan Baig||Pakistan||Fell while trying to recover Dren Mandić's corpse|
|Rolf Bae||Norway||Bottleneck||The first serac fall|
|Hugues D’Aubarede||France||Above the Bottleneck||Fell in descent during the night|
|Karim Meherban||Pakistan||Either the second serac fall or the third serac fall.|
|Gerard McDonnell†||Ireland||After helping the injured Koreans, he was hit by either the second or third serac fall.|
|Kyeong-Hyo Park||South Korea||Above the Bottleneck||The fourth serac fall|
|Hyo-Gyeong Kim||South Korea|
|Dong-Jin Hwang||South Korea|
One of the three Korean casualties either perished during the incident that caused their original fall and tangling in the ropes, or the morning after before the others were freed. Some sources claim there were three Koreans tangled in the ropes whilst McDonnell and Confortola were trying to rescue them. Others have the number at two Koreans and Jumik Bhote. What is certain, is that only two Koreans were alive to encounter Pasang Bhote before the last serac fall.
Climbing on K2 since the disaster
The summit of K2 was not reached again until 23 August 2011, when Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (Austria, 14th eight-thousander), Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov (Kazakhstan, both 14th eight-thousander) and Darek Zaluski (Poland) topped out K2 via the North Pillar. There were no summits in 2009 and 2010, during which season renowned skier Fredrik Ericsson fell to his death in the bottleneck. According to AdventureStats, the last 17 fatalities on K2 have all occurred in, around or above the bottleneck, once again proving the deadly nature of K2's upper slopes.
|Wikinews has related news: Death toll rises to eleven in K2 mountain avalanche|
- 1986 K2 disaster
- List of deaths on eight-thousanders
- The Summit (film), a 2012 documentary film about the disaster
- everestnews.com. "K2 2008: List of climbers who passed away released". everestnews.com. Archived from the original on 6 August 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
- "Eleven climbers feared dead on K2". BBC News. 2008-08-03. Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
- The most deadly climbing season on K2 was in 1986, when thirteen climbers died in seven separate accidents. See Curran, Jim (1995). K2: The Story of the Savage Mountain. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 183–207. ISBN 978-0-340-66007-2.
- PDF (253 KiB)
- Jerome Taylor (2008-08-05). "The Big Question: What makes K2 the most perilous challenge a mountaineer can face?". London: The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
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- Bowley, Graham (2010). No way down : life and death on K2 (1st ed. ed.). New York: Harper. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-06-183478-3.
- Wilkinson, Freddie. One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story of Tragedy and True Heroism on K2. New Amer Library, 2010. 320,332. Print.
- Nizza, Mike (August 5, 2008). "Tales of Chaos and Survival on K2". New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
- "Day Sixty-six: SUMMIT PUSH– The Final Cost". www.nickrice.us. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2008.
- "K2 2008: List of climbers who died released". www.everestnews.com. Archived from the original on 6 August 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
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- International Herald Tribune
- XSAT USA plays role in recent K2 mountain rescue
- List of K2 Fatalities 2008 K2 and Broad Peak Dispatch
Book: "Surviving K2" by Wilco van Rooijen (one of the survivors). Publisher: National Geographic. See: www.survivingk2.com
- Death zone – Blog entry in Watershed News including the picture of the Bottleneck and a line of climbers. The picture was taken 1 August 2008 by Nicholas Rice.
- Mountain at 10am Aug 2 – Photo from Explorersweb.com of the situation around the bottleneck in the morning of Aug 2. Photo taken by Sherpa Pemba Gyalje.
- Expedition photographs from the Dutch Norit K2 team.