K2: Search Resumes at Dawn; Climbers Begin Telling Their Story

K2 Winter 8000ers
A dark night at K2 Base Camp. Photo: Elia Saikaly

Some of Pakistan’s top politicians, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Qamar Bajwa, the Army’s chief general, have taken a personal interest in the events on K2.  They have ensured that helicopters and more personnel will be deployed to Base Camp right at dawn, just a few hours from now, Ali Saltoro told ExplorersWeb.

The search began on Saturday with an aerial reconnaissance. Two experienced Pakistani climbers, Imtiaz Hussain and Akbar Ali, landed at Base Camp and started on foot for Camp 1. Here, they are spending the night before searching the Abruzzi Spur route.

In John Snorri’s base camp, photographer Elia Saikaly and assistant Pasang Kaji (aka PK) Sherpa are caring for a devastated Sajid Sadpara. Sajid is physically okay but is in shock after having to leave his father Ali missing on the upper slopes.

Saikaly arrived in Base Camp barely two weeks ago, intending to accompany Snorri and the Sadparas as far as he could and to film their attempt on K2. Two years earlier on Everest, Saikaly witnessed the infamous summit day when climbers lined up for hours at the Hillary step, waiting their turn to summit. Some perished on the way down after their oxygen ran out. Saikaly described that scene as “death, chaos, and carnage”. Now he finds himself entangled in another mountain nightmare.

Despite their lack of acclimatization, Saikaly and PK, on O2, followed Snorri and the Sadparas almost to Camp 3. “Here,” he says, with evident frustration, “we learned there was a serious miscommunication about the extra oxygen we had purchased which, unacclimatized as we were, was our lifeline, so we descended to Japanese Camp 3 and spent the night listening to the brutal radio communications of climbers sandwiched into tents at high Camp 3.”

Elia Saikaly, taking a “selfie on O2” yesterday high on K2. Photo: Elia Saikaly

Saikaly knew that in their unprepared state, they were in serious danger without enough oxygen, so in the morning they began to climb down. “While descending, a Bulgarian climber, Atanas, flew off K2 right over our heads and plummeted to his death,” said Saikaly. “I saw it all and yelled in horror.”

Saikaly says that all he can do now is pray that the three missing men have managed to hang on to life somehow. The helicopter pilots and the brave Balti climbers who will face winter K2 in seriously worsening weather hope the same, as they set out in a few hours to search for a miracle.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Nemo
Nemo
7 months ago

Slim odds now. We can but hope that they have hunkered down in Camp 3 and waiting for a window to get down. Keeping fingers crossed for those bold men.

Serious questions to be asked of SST.

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Seb Baxter
Seb Baxter
7 months ago
Reply to  Nemo

Indeed. Totally agree Nemo. Once this is over, whatever the outcome, the questions of SST must be asked and the community of mountaineering professionals and fans must discuss the way forward. Seems nothing has been learnt since the 1996 Everest tragedy. We pray for the three and the rescue team, and of course for the families.

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steve
steve
7 months ago
Reply to  Seb Baxter

These were not adventure tourist, they are elite climbers. There was never any doubt that some of the people going to K2 in winter wouldn’t be coming back. Most of seven summits clients were there to get experience, not to make higher camps. The ones that were making the attempt were elite. They all turned back.

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Dan
Dan
7 months ago
Reply to  Nemo

Snorri and the Sadparas weren’t part of SST… not sure what serious questions need to be asked of SST.

Very unfortunate situation for all involved but anyone thinking that Winter K2 wasn’t going to be extremely dangerous with multiple fatalities is delusional.

Wishing all of the best to those 3 on the mountain and those risking their lives to try and rescue them if they can be found.

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Debra
Debra
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan

I think they are maybe referring to the fact that there were two tents at camp 3. One was Snorri and Sadparas which they then had to share with many SST members and therefore could not get the rest they needed before the summit push.
My heart aches for Sajid and the families of all 3 of the missing men.
My thoughts are with them and the brave rescue team.

+1
Dennis
Dennis
7 months ago
Reply to  Debra

Correct, and the second tent belonged to JP Mohr which he and Tamara Lunger carried up there personally (not using sherpas). It seems like the SST sent 20 people up there (majority of which had no business being on a winter K2 expedition in the first place) with no tents at all, hoping that the tents they left there a week ago would still be there after a week for 100-150km/h winds. That’s borderline criminal negligence on SST leadership’s part. Not to mention the fact that nearly all of the Sherpas on SST team are reported to be suffering frostbite.… Read more »

Debra
Debra
7 months ago
Reply to  Dennis

The whole situation is tragic. I have also been following K2 on Alan Arnettes site, the day they left BC he expressed huge concerns about the amount of people and the fact that most camps are incredibly small. I agree that the missing men are elites and knew the risks of winter K2 and I am sure SST are doing all they can to help right now, but I agree questions need to be raised to prevent future such situations. No one knows events that have unfolded since their last sighting at the bottleneck. Let’s just hold on to the… Read more »

Mary
Mary
7 months ago
Reply to  Debra

The situation is just horrendous and my heart aches for the climbers, their families, the rescuers and everyone else affected. The thought of Sajid spending a night at camp 3 alone and having to come down without his father is almost unbearable. I am continually refreshing various pages in the hope there will be a positive update soon. However, I do feel that at this moment in time, it isn’t for us to speculate as to exactly what led to the lack of tents at camp 3. Furthermore, as people have said, no one knows what happened after Sajid turned… Read more »

Debra
Debra
7 months ago
Reply to  Mary

Absolutely agree. The thought of Sajids night alone was heartbreaking.
I am also continuing to refresh pages in the hope of good news.
Prayers 🙏

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Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago
Reply to  Mary

I really think that the lack of tents and the missing/cut ropes are a result of sabotage via the only people who could’ve done it were the Sherpas who were the only ones successful in getting up and definitely wouldn’t want their spotlight stolen not to mention the fact that translates into a lot of dollars if they are the only ones who make it up there. I have heard some really disturbing things online about them and they could have easily planned this kind of sabotage. I hope that isn’t the case but let’s all look at this with… Read more »

Mountain lover 1980
Mountain lover 1980
7 months ago
Reply to  Dennis

SST has a track record of at the minimum ten people dying every single year on their high altitude expeditions. Nothing new. And their Sherpa guides also have a history of lack of experience, and getting into trouble all the time. This tragedy in part is definitely SSTs making. It’s shocking that inspite of their terrible track record year in year out they are able to put together such big teams.

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Kimura
Kimura
7 months ago

At least one of the clients have started posting postwinterK2-posts on instagram, makes me sick. Totally inappropriate.

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Abbas Reza
Abbas Reza
7 months ago
Reply to  Kimura

Totally agree with the comments above. I also feel there has been an error in judgement at the bottleneck when Sajid started descending, if they were already at 10am there (3 hours behind the Nepalese team’s equal time, and considering the Nepalese team summitted at 5pm), Ali JP and Snorri would summit at 8pm? .. is that even achievable .. or is that even something they had agreed on trying? it just baffles me .. i hope its not the cold getting to their brains and summit fever got the best of them .. The only other unfortunate thought that… Read more »

Nitazoxanida
Nitazoxanida
7 months ago
Reply to  Abbas Reza

I am thinking that maybe Nimsdai and the Nepalis have taken off the ropes, and maybe JP, Ali and Snorri tryied to summit anyway… So sad. I agree that tent shortage is unacceptable and SST would have to face trial, if it is true. We have to be careful because competition among the climbing companies mais savage and they spread a lot of fakenews about the others. Lets hope they could make a bivouac and still alive!

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Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago
Reply to  Nitazoxanida

I completely agree!!! I just came across your post and this is what I have been saying since I heard about the cut ropes and the tents. They didn’t want anyone else ascending and why? They didn’t want the spotlight stolen from them and being the only ones to successfully summit would translate into huge money for them. I believe criminal activity led to the deaths of these poor climbers who were doomed before they started! I agree they should all stand trial when all the evidence comes in and it becomes apparent that all that stuff wasn’t a coincidence… Read more »

Bill Bones
7 months ago
Reply to  Kimura

Thats the only reason anyone climbs it, summit photos on FB&instagram its a ego thing, life’s beautiful, its a gift, we’re supposed to look after it, there’s no need for anyone to risk their lives just for bragging rights

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Uttam
Uttam
7 months ago

Just saying at the minimum ten people climbing under SST’s banner are dying every year is meaningless, statistically speaking. Give us official statistics, with names of the deceased by year, including how many climbed under SST’s banner every year since year 1 of their operation. If you can’t put your money where your mouth is, just shut the f*&k up! It’s become too easy to blame, spread misinformation and conspiracies over social media and the internet without ‘evidence’ like Donald Trump and his minions did before, during and after the US election.

+2
Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago
Reply to  Uttam

The Sherpa team didn’t want anyone else making it to the top, stealing their spotlight. Motivators: greed for money and fame. Did I mention money? Lots of money to be made for the only team to make it to the top don’t you think? If it weren’t for the cut ropes and missing tents I don’t think there’d be so much “misinformation”. It’s not misinformation, It is a fact that the ropes were tampered with and if that is the case they should be on trial for murder! Not celebrated for sabotaging the attempts of their fellow climbers all for… Read more »

Bill Bones
7 months ago
Reply to  Jodie

Don’t talk rubbish, there’s an unwritten rule in mountaineering, and that is we help each other whenever possible, even if it includes forfeiting one’s own attempt to get to the summit, this is a superstition that runs deep in the veins of all those who risk their lives going for the summit, we never know who’ll succumb next so we do whatever we can to insure it’s not oneself

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Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago

I believe the Sherpas/SST Sabotaged anyone else from getting up that mountain. Cut ropes and missing tents aren’t all a big coincidence. And way high up on the mountain who knows what foul play went on because who was going to be around to prove it? Obviously we don’t have all the answers yet but I have a feeling the story is going to start to come together and reveal some very disturbing truths about this whole tragedy.

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Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago
Reply to  Debra

I think the Sherpas who made it to the top first intentionally sabotaged anybody else from coming up that mountain. By cutting ropes they essentially condemned those other climbers to death. I believe a criminal investigation at least should be done to rule out as best as possible any foul play. Problem is it’s very hard to prove since no detective is going up on the mountain but we can definitely rely on photographic evidence of cut ropes / missing tents. That’s totally reeks of sabotage and maybe even of outright murder. How far would the Sherpas go to ensure… Read more »

Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan

SST/the Sherpas group might have to answer for the missing ropes cut ropes etc. reported along with no tents forcing the other climbers to share theirs and get terrible rest. Overcrowded tents and no ropes?! Definitely a recipe for disaster and I wonder if the Sherpas who got up top first might have actually planned it that way so that the spotlight wouldn’t be stolen from them. Don’t take much to cut a couple ropes on the way down just to make sure nobody can get up the mountain. Could be they wanted to be the only ones in the… Read more »

Jen
Jen
7 months ago
Reply to  Nemo

I think the Sherpas might have even sabotaged the attempts of the other climbers not wanting the spotlight to be stolen from them. Burying and cutting ropes and tents that mysteriously vanished really make u wonder.

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Farukh Ali
Farukh Ali
7 months ago

The night is filled with grief and sorrow. Please guys, come back.

Ali Sadpara once said, ‘if I ever get lost in the mountains, I will take shelter in the ice but I will never imagine to give up.’

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Twinkletoes
Twinkletoes
7 months ago
Reply to  Farukh Ali

I fully believe those guys wouldn’t give up, but I guess once the tank is empty, your body stays behind even if your willpower keeps going.

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Andrea
Andrea
7 months ago

Poor Sajid… how sad!

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chuchofreeman
chuchofreeman
7 months ago

isn’t Mohr with them two up there?

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Naveed
Naveed
7 months ago
Reply to  chuchofreeman

Of course JP Mohr was there. Not a part of Snori/Sadpara team, Mohr Joined Snori team after his teammate Tamara decided to turn back at C3.
According to Sajid, all four got to bottleneck but Sajid was sent back by his father bcoz of a faulty Oxygen regulator.
Last we heard about them was that they are at 8,300 m, means they were through the bottlenck at 8,200 m.

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Semaj
Semaj
7 months ago
Reply to  Naveed

Well of course,said Mr. Ed the horse…good ole Mohr,is in store….to find out that death,can come within any breath….and that mountain climbing in all reality,breeds complete insanity….so good ole Mohr better watch out up there,for what awaits anywhere….awaiting around every corner,is the grim reaper 😐

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Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago
Reply to  Naveed

Maybe he was sent back because as father saw that the ropes had been cut by the sherpas? And maybe after the missing tents fiasco, to then come across that might have rattled this father who sensed something very much off and saved his sons life yet felt compelled to go on thinking these Sherpa are not going to sabotage me.

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Sid
Sid
7 months ago

The tent space issue has happened before on K2. In 1986, Kurt Diemberger et al spent a whole day at high camp on K2 in perfect summit conditions because the night before, no one got any sleep, because a few climbers didn’t bring tents. The ones that had tents shared with the rest. The next day, still good weather, they summitted, but then they had to hunker at high camp as the weather window closed. Of the seven, only 2 survived. In many ways, mountaineering is different from other sports in that there are no rules. People do as they… Read more »

Michèle
Michèle
7 months ago
Reply to  Sid

I don’t understand going through all the expense, time, training and preparation, knowing the danger and risk involved, and then proceeding up to Camp 3, in winter, without a tent? I don’t understand this at all. How can one take that gamble and just assume, or hope, that there will be a tent available?

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David
David
7 months ago
Reply to  Michèle

I agree Michele, its basic risk assessment. What is the likelihood of the tents being blown off the mountain and what is the consequence if they do? With the numbers going up this would be even higher. At the very least they could have hedged and brought at least one tent up. As others have said though we don’t know all the facts that led up to this. Prayers for all those involved.

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Abbas Reza
Abbas Reza
7 months ago
Reply to  David

Michele .. i’ve read SST is so commercial they are sometimes not prepared enough .. and i’m not sure what their marketing pitch was to the K2 winter climbers – this was not child’s play in summers, let alone winters .. the Nepalese sherpas who summitted are a different breed altogether – they’re stronger than the elite by genetics or something ..

You can’t over sell this expedition .. madness!

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Susan
Susan
7 months ago
Reply to  Michèle

Other people took their tents.

+1
Dennis
Dennis
7 months ago

Chhang Dawa Sherpa should pack a backpack full of O2, gas and methamphetamine, get dropped off by helicopter as high as possible and head up to C4 at least. Winds on Sunday are projected to be around 60km/h on summit. These winds are considered survivable by elite Himalayan climbers. And with summit temperatures ONLY -33C (compared to -45 on Friday), the wind chill values on Sunday are actually going to be lower than Friday. Chhang is by far the most experienced climber on the mountain, and considering that he’s at least partially responsible for this disaster, it’s the least he… Read more »

Blabla
Blabla
7 months ago
Reply to  Dennis

You are delusional. How would you know who’se tents were still intact in camp3? What’s your source of information? Don’t you think all SST sherpas have the same equipment as the one Sherpa that summited not too long ago?
Yes, a commercial expedition on winter K2 is madness, but when these 3 people left camp 3 for the summit, they were well aware if something goes wrong, help isn’t coming. Their fate is on their own hands.

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Susan
Susan
7 months ago
Reply to  Blabla

Why didn’t SST have their own tents?

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Uttam
Uttam
7 months ago
Reply to  Dennis

Why is this Dennis guy playing the omniscient God and breathing down poor Chhang Dawa Sherpa’s neck relentlessly and blaming him for this and that without any rhyme or reason? Dennis’s gotta be one sicko dude. Get off Chhang Dawa Sherpa’s back!

+2
Swede
Swede
7 months ago

Been following these K2 winter expeditions here and through Alan Arnette. Like someone else mentioned, Alan was very concerned about too many people and how small the camp were. 10 people summited and made it down safe, law of average will always find its way. That being said, people think SST should be held accountable, the people who signed up to climb K2, knew what they were getting into. It is not Everest where you have a 2% death rate.. this is K2 where 1/4 people die. If anything, they should rethink who they issue permits too, if any again… Read more »

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Swede

It’s actually not SST who are at fault, it’s the governments issuing permits. While Nepal has the excuse of being a tiny, badly organised nation, which has only recently entered the modern world, and hence they are desperate for the cash from permits, Pakistan do not. Also permits shouldn’t be all treated the same. K2 and Nanga Parbat are much more dangerous than the other 3 and should be limited to elite climbers in winter at least. There also need to be stricter rules and probably government officials permanently station at base camp to enforce them. Oxygen bottles should be… Read more »

Swede
Swede
7 months ago
Reply to  John

I never said that SST was responsible. Just read alot of of comments saying that. That being said, I agree with you 100%

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sangeeta s bahl
sangeeta s bahl
7 months ago

The experienced climbers broke the essential rules of mountaineering and that was the turn back in time.

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Semaj
Semaj
7 months ago

No they broke the most important cardinal rule of being just,a human being….of not turning insane enough, and becoming a mountain climber….and that unveils a really important saying….they are dead,and so wht,what the hell ever!!!!!!!!!!!😎

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K2 mountaineer fan
7 months ago

Prayers for three missing climbers, hoping to see them retuning with brave Pakistani rescue climbers. So sad for sajid.

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Seb Baxter
Seb Baxter
7 months ago

This is it now… just past noon at K2. If there is no sign of them descending from camp 3 then I’m afraid there’s no chance. Praying for them…

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Ron
Ron
7 months ago

I am surprised Mr Fazal Ali (aka Mr K2, record K2 summits and one near summit) wasn’t dispatched for the rescue.
If theres a person left at BC who has the sheer strength plus familiarity with K2, its him. He knows this mountain in his sleep.

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K2 mountaineers fan
7 months ago

2nd rescue mission by Pakistan Army 5th Karakoram squadron using Ecureuil helis has launched. Keep praying. Sources

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Jeffrey Waddell
Jeffrey Waddell
7 months ago

Its not all about summitting,…. its about getting back alive.

+1
Martin
Martin
7 months ago

RIP Atanas Skatov! From some personal posts it seems that there was indeed a shortages of tents at C3 therefore SST clients could not get the rest necessary for their recovery. It seems also that its the fact that they did not get that rest had to start ot the way down and were very tired. Atanas had problems with his ropes and fell down to his dead. Prayers for the missing climbers and their families hope slim chances are they took shelter and wait on window to get down.

+1
Bill Bones
7 months ago

K2 is certainly living up to her reputation, i knew there’d be a disaster, it never ends well when so many are on that mountain, there’s a slim hope they’ll be found alive but they’ll be in a terrible condition due to frostbite, but its been 48 hours, i fear the worse

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Semaj
Semaj
7 months ago

Well….life can be a real bitch,but hell….at least they died doing what they must have loved,and if they fall….well,that must have been one hell,of a flight,right on down,into that abyss😎

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K2 mountaineers fan
7 months ago

Army rescue mission suspended. Ali ‘s son sajid said in media interaction that now hope of survival is next to none.

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Fran
Fran
7 months ago

This article is confusing,ill-written and presumptuous.

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Fran
Fran
7 months ago

This article is confusing, poorly written and presumptuous.

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Jodie
Jodie
7 months ago

Why didn’t they have things like sat phones? Backup trackers? Extra O2 just in case?? It beggars belief! And if SST seriously put the trios life in jeopardy by forcing them to share tents because they didn’t ensure their own were accessible and ready to use then it’s almost criminal! I think after the Sherpas achieved the ever elusive goal of summeting on K2 in winter, all rational thought went out the window.

“I’ll best that by doing it w no oxygen..” that is a terrible kind of dangerous / unclear thinking.

+1
Jen
Jen
7 months ago

I think some serious questions have to be asked of the Sherpas that got up top first. Missing/buried ropes, tents that had vanished just too many weird coincidences that really leads to questions that have to be asked. Would they go so far as to openly sabotage anybody else from getting to the top? I’d hate to think it but it really does look like it’s possible. Too much doesn’t add up.

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