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The Unbridled Passion
his year did not start off on the best note, did it? On 2 January, I awoke to the terrible and tragic news that one of our brothers and good friend of mine, Ian Slatem, had been killed in a climbing accident on Table Mountain. The reports, stories and messages flooded social media and the newspapers. We, as climbers, were shocked to the core and deeply saddened at the loss of one of our kin. The rescue operations and the assistance offered by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway through the course of the night, while hundreds of tourists were stranded on top of the mountain were commendable in the very least. The camaraderie and solidarity amongst everyone was just amazing.
Over the past week I followed, with great interest and increasing sorrow and despair, the unfolding story of the plight of the French/Polish duo, Elizabeth Revol and Tomasz ‘Tomek’ Mackiewicz, during their ascent of the Himalayan giant, Nanga Parbat in winter (at 8 126 metres, the world’s ninth highest mountain). And of course, the many social media reports and accounts of the rescue operations that were put into place to save them from very high on the peak.
The two climbers ran into trouble, as they were descending, at around 8 000 metres. Mackiewicz had frostbite and snow blindness. It was impossible to continue and they started to retreat. Revol helped him down a few hundred metres, then set him up in a tent to provide some shelter from the vicious weather, while she continued to descend a little further to use a satellite phone to call for help, explaining Mackiewicz’s condition and their urgent need for a rescue.
A worldwide effort was immediately put into place to save the two climbers. A Go Fund page was created to raise the money it would cost to set up a rescue operation. Diplomats began making appeals. And a world-class Polish team, who were making a winter attempt on nearby K2 immediately volunteered to help. ‘We realised that we are their only chance,’ the team wrote in their public journal. ‘We are prepared, we have equipment, we are acclimatised.’
The Polish K2 climbers were choppered to Nanga Parbat Base Camp, at 4 800 metres. Two of the men, Denis Urubko and Adam Bielecki, began the climb up to the two stranded climbers, while the other two set up camp. And so, over the next few days a rescue operation unfolded on a Himalayan giant in winter conditions. An unprecedented feat of great courage and integrity, where fellow climbers are prepared to lay down their lives in an attempt, no matter the terrible objective dangers and perilous conditions, to save one of their brothers or sisters. There are no words to describe these incredible actions of humanity and bravery.
“To put things into vague perspective – unless you are an extreme alpinist who has climbed in severe winter conditions on a high mountain, you can have absolutely no idea of the harshness and appalling conditions, nor of the objective dangers and dire situations that are encountered over weeks and weeks at very high altitude, during a winter ascent of one of the world’s 8 000-metre peaks.”
In the end, the result was bittersweet – the two climbers climbers managed to reach Revol and assist her back down the mountain, but unfortunately the extreme conditions would not allow them to continue further up the mountain to get to Mackiewicz. They had no choice but to make the desperately painful decision to descend with Revol, which almost certainly meant the death of one of their countrymen. A decision that must be unspeakably hard to make.
There is an unbridled passion that climbers and mountaineers have for their chosen journey in life. An intensity of emotion, an unexplainable love for been in those places that few can understand or indeed justify. It is this deep love that pulls us together in the most perilous of situations where one would put aside the personal glory of a desperately sought-after summit, and put themselves at risk of death to save one of their comrades. Someone who shares the same deep love of the mountains. It is an unspoken law, an unwritten pact. It is what climbers do for other climbers.
Be safe in the hills
Alexander Huber and Fabian Buhl free
Sueños de Invierno (540m, 8a) on Picu Urriellu, Spain
by Alexander Huber
Escaping the rains of Catalonia
by Kai Fitchen
Training for Climbing – Should be hard but not difficult
by Hanna Vartia
by Gosia Lipinska
On Prometheus’s Mountain
by Matthew Holt
In Memory of Ian Slatem
by Tony Lourens
New CityROCK Opens in Cape Town
by Tony Lourens
BACK PAGE STORY
by Ant Hall