What Price a Summit? Update on Pobeda and Khan Tengri

Alpine style Climbing
Mehri Jafari. Photo: Facebook

There have been four deaths on the two neighboring peaks in the last few days, maybe more. A few tried to help. Others turned off their radio so they could go for the summit without interruption.

We reported this week on the fatal accidents on Pobeda Peak (7,439 m) and on neighboring Khan Tengri (7,010 m).

First, a lawyer and London-based activist of Iranian origin, Mehri Jafari, died in a fall from 6,300m.

Jafari originally went alone to Pobeda. She was experienced in that region: In 2008, she became the first Iranian woman to climb Khan Tengri. But she knew that she was not technically prepared to climb Pobeda alone. Her plan was to join other climbers and go up via the normal fixed route.

On July 22, she wrote on Instagram that she was expecting a group to arrive from her home country of Iran, and that she would try to join them. So she went with the four Iranian climbers on their summit push.

However, during the ascent, she was continually slower than the other Iranians. It was clear that she needed a more moderate pace, so Base Camp asked her to turn back.

She did. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong ridge to go down. She slipped off the ridge and fell onto the Diky (“Wild”) Glacier.

The treacherous Diky Glacier, where Jafari fell. Photo: Peter Vitez and Albert Kovacs

We are still unclear about the height of her fall, but it was at least 100m. Some Hungarian climbers nearby who saw the accident were unsure whether the fall killed her, but that section of glacier lay in a slide path and was full of snow-covered crevasses.

As we saw, the four Iranians refused to help search for her. They switched off their radio and continued toward the summit.

It took a few days for a helicopter to arrive, by which time she had perished and been buried under the constant avalanches. The helicopter searched three times. On the third try, Mehri’s friend Alex Stone was on board, along with the two independent Hungarian climbers who witnessed her fall, Peter Vitez and Albert Kovacs.

Peter Vitez and Albert Kovacs.

The helicopter dropped them at 6,000m on the glacier. The three searchers were risking a lot because the terrain was very, very dangerous. Crevasses yawned under their feet constantly. Only their rope kept them safe.

They found only her sleeping bag and concluded that the constant avalanches had already buried her. If the Iranian team had looked for her earlier, they may have found her.

The second fatality

As the Iranian group approached the summit, a young Iranian named Reza Adineh made a fatal mistake. Sources state that some other mountaineers who were in front of their party advised him to attach himself to the rope. Adineh replied that he’d do it shortly, when he was on the summit.

Moments later, he fell into the void. Some Ukrainian and Israeli climbers descended 60m onto the Chinese side to look for him. From their perch, they could follow his track 100m to a cliff, when it disappeared. The fall was impossible to survive.

As of yesterday, the retrieval of his body remained uncertain because of insurance issues. His body is on the Chinese side, complicating matters further.

The third fatality

Bottom right, the cornice that Valentin Mihailov fatally fell through.

Some Russian climbers also had problems on Pobeda at 7,000m. One member of the rescue team dispatched to help them, Valentin Mikhailov, fell through a cornice and also died. He was an experienced climber who had moved onto a seemingly safe section without a rope in order to help other climbers descend a difficult pitch.

Meanwhile, on Khan Tengri

Khan Tengri. Photo: Rick Wilton

On neighboring Khan Tengri, more fatal incidents occurred.

As we reported, a man died at 6,800m, likely of altitude sickness. His wife refused to abandon him, but she was eventually rescued.

Avalanches also raked Khan Tengri, devastating the route from C2 to C1. British climber, Rick Wilton, who later was evacuated by helicopter from Base Camp, said that he heard news of several missing climbers. We have no further details, and this has not been confirmed.

Most climbers hopped aboard the helicopter with Wilton and left Base Camp. Today, the two Hungarians who are pursuing their Snow Leopard project — the same ones who helped search for Mehri — returned to BC to begin another summit attempt on Pobeda. Albert Kovacs and Peter Vitez had hoped to summit on August 17-18.

But after moving up five kilometres, they reached their depot and discovered that someone had stolen one of their crampons. “This day belongs to the devil,” they said. They do have other crampons, but they have lost a day returning to Base Camp for them.

The Hungarians’ plundered depot. Photo: Peter Vitez and Albert Kovacs

What price a summit?

It is nothing new, unfortunately, that robberies occur on mountains and even in base camps. Vital gear goes missing. Sometimes the climbers can proceed, sometimes not.

The conclusion about these recent events in the Tien Shan is somewhat bitter. Punctuating these fatalities are careless safety practices and not even an attempt to help a stricken fellow climber.

Several weeks have passed since what happened to Kim HongBin on Broad Peak. I remember how Vitaly Lazo denounced how some 15 climbers passed without helping the stranded but still much alive Kim. Maybe those “project-climbers” had no idea how to help? Maybe they just weren’t technically competent?

But on high mountains, every climber needs to know basic safety measures, such as how to use extra ropes to save somebody. Lazo himself, a well-prepared and experienced climber, descended to Kim and tried to help him, putting himself at risk. Unfortunately, his attempt was in vain, but he tried. And he knew how to help.

This may seem obvious to experienced alpinists, but in this era of bought summits, we have to ask: Are these climbers prepared enough? Are they able to help in emergencies? Are they aware of the danger on these projects that are really beyond their capabilities?

Finally, how much should others put themselves at risk in order to try to rescue or search for someone? What is the limit? Are the “project-climbers” selfish or just incompetent? Trying to help without knowing what they’re doing might only worsen matters by getting them in trouble.

Hopefully, these deaths on Pobeda and Khan Tengri will prompt the climbing community to address these questions.

+11

About the Author

Kris Annapurna

Kris Annapurna

@KrisAnnapurna reports about outdoor activities, current expeditions, and stories related to the history of mountaineering in the Karakorum, Himalaya, Tien Shan, and other ranges.

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leon
leon
2 months ago

terrible all around

+3
Marie
Marie
2 months ago

I think that in order to get a climbing permit from the authorities, one should be obliged to prove that one has (within the last few years) completed a climbing course with an established institution or professional guide, comparable with a driving license OR passed a test with the same institutions/guides. This course/test should include techniques of rock and ice climbing, jumaring, rappeling, handling of equipment, use of medicine and oxygen, getting out of crevasses, building a bivac, rescuing onself and others and so on, but also questions of ethics and teambuilding. This would also be an extra source of… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Marie
Disgruntled Pigeon
Disgruntled Pigeon
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Your sentiments are admirable, but a course taken ‘shortly before climbing starts’, delivered by someone who almost definitely speaks a different (first) language will have almost no benefits other than giving a false sense of security. How long do you suggest this course lasts that people will be able to perform rescues, at altitude, with any degree of success? If you’re going to set entry barriers, there is no substitute for experience, and lots of it. Altitude makes things hard enough even when they’re second nature. This was the article that should have been written in the first place rather… Read more »

Marie
Marie
2 months ago

This course should take as long as it needs to take for the individual climber, maybe 10-14 days or more, depending on your level of skill that you exhibit during the course. If you do not pass the intermediate or final test(s), you have to repeat sections of the course, and if you fail again, you cannot apply for a permit and have to train for the duration of another year. You are right in saying that there is no substitute for experience, but at least you make sure that people know how to use their ice axe when they… Read more »

Disgruntled Pigeon
Disgruntled Pigeon
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Apy and Pawel have already responded excellently to this, but to pick back up on your idea of what a course would cover, if climbers don’t know how to self arrest or even what gear to bring then they should have stayed at home.

Using handouts and pictures to teach the absolute basics as a qualification before sending people unassisted onto a dangerous mountain sounds like a litigation nightmare to me.

+2
Marie
Marie
2 months ago

I did not say that people should only be taught the absolute basics with the help of handouts and pictures. I said that they should take a practical climbing course on a mountain of 10-14 days depending on their individual skill level (assisted by pictures and handouts) and not get a permit if it becomes apparent during the course that they are unable/unfit/not skilled enough to climb this particluar or any technical mountain. Of course it would be better if only experienced and skilled people climbed these mountains, but it is unrealistic to think this will ever happen, so to… Read more »

Disgruntled Pigeon
Disgruntled Pigeon
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Accepted you didn’t say teach only the basics, but the two examples in your previous post were something you should learn before doing winter hillwalking, not serious mountaineering. Unfortunately we are in an era where anyone with a few social media followers is a self proclaimed ‘professional’, which seems to bring a sense of entitlement. The 8k circus probably hasn’t help matters, it used to be that you’d need references and experience to even be accepted onto a team but those hurdles seem to have been replaced by throwing more and more support staff to carry climbers to the summit… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Disgruntled Pigeon
Marie
Marie
2 months ago

Fair enough, but there will always be climbers that choose not to join a guided expedition – in order to climb new routes, previously unclimbed mountains, alpine style, or simply do it alone or in small groups. Many of them are the people that make mountaineering fascinating, but how do you want to make sure beforehand that they are experienced and skilled? How do you propose to bar someone from climbing a mountain if there is no requirement to provide proof of his or her skills/experience? If there was a training-/test-based certification system (like a driving license), people would get… Read more »

Disgruntled Pigeon
Disgruntled Pigeon
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Are you selectively reading? I haven’t opposed a mechanism to prove you are capable, I actually promoted it. I have opposed an absurd short course giving this certification.

Generally the things that kill you are down to decision making which can’t be taught in a couple of weeks. That’s before we consider that most of the tall peaks are in dirt poor and/or corrupt countries where cash is king, I don’t doubt you could pay your way to passing said course without too much difficulty.

0
Marie
Marie
2 months ago

I am not reading selectively. You wrote: “A stricter system requiring solo climbers and unguided teams to prove a requisite level of experience (…) would be far more effective (than a course)”. I just wonder how you expect climbers “to prove a requisite level of experience” to the permit-granting authorities. Should they hand in their bios as well as pictures of themselves on top of mountains X and Y? This procedure just calls for cheating. Whereas, when you had certified, licensed instructors, you could actually subject them to regular random checks to see if they accept bribes in return for… Read more »

Disgruntled Pigeon
Disgruntled Pigeon
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Proving a requisite level of experience could be a certification if that’s the way the industry goes, I’ve not really thought about it. It was your suggestion after all. Are you aware of the time committment to get a guiding qualification? It’s a significant time commitment at its quickest taking months, and requires experience of the majority of things in your original post. Something similar as a qualification to access mountains could work, sure. Again, this should be validated at the point of a permit being issued, without the possibility of loopholes. Does it matter to me if the team… Read more »

MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Marie, have you noticed that all of the 7k and 8k peaks are in countries quite desperate for tourist income and foreign currency (except China)? These countries will NEVER impose restrictions that reduce the income these tourists bring. It just will not happen. You think that required training courses will bring in more income, but it will also just make climbers go somewhere else with fewer rules and restrictions. Look at how Everest operates: China (the only country not so desperate for this tourism income) imposes rules, so climbers go to the Nepal side. And I hate to say this,… Read more »

Marie
Marie
2 months ago

By the way, companies like Madison Mountaineering already train their clients on neighboring peaks beforehand.

+2
Apy
Apy
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

What Madison and other big commercial outfitters do is to never leave their clients alone. For example on the recent ascent of K2, 4 paying clients were surrounded by 5 Western guides , 9 Nepalese sherpas and 3 Pakistani High Altitude Porters !!! Accidents are very rare even if the clients do not have much experience. But this comes at a cost…

+3
climber
climber
2 months ago

I have completed months long alpine course, that included everything mentioned + more. Also drilled in practice. However years have passed and i can recall only techniques i use constantly, for example i cant remember how to rig system to pull someone out of crevasse. I was taught and i constructed it and used it, but its gone from my memory. So, its about people that are reasonable enough to practice, practice, practice, rather than getting such license and that’s it. Also i suspect without super physical shape under duress mind starts to get quite foggy, so there also is… Read more »

Pawel
Pawel
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

I will be cruel, but unfortunetly Mehri Jafari was that incompetent climbers, and she is the only one responsible for her dead. why? She arrived to Peak Pobeda SOLO! Without anyone that she could tie up by rope and climb together Attempted summit push without proper acclimatization. Teamed up with random people that had better acclimatization so they moved much faster and she couldn’t climb with them Decided to climb very serious and technical mountain (it is not true that Peak Pobeda has fixed ropes on Normal Route, just few hard sections) despite very bad hand injury: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CShx49wARZW/ WTF she was doing… Read more »

Elena
Elena
2 months ago
Reply to  Pawel

I agree with you! I am extremely sorry for Mehri Jafari, but I think she acted rashly! How can you go to the mountains with people you see for the first time?!
Very often the life of a climber depends on the team! Mr. Kim Hong Bin would not have lost the route and would have survived if he had a friend next to him!
I think this is a feature of our time when a random person found via the Internet becomes a fellow traveler.

+4
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Elena

Elena, another contributor to Hong-bin’s death was the fact that his HAP helped Anastasia Runova, and then had no strength left to rescue Hong-bin. Every rescue puts someone else in danger, always the rescuer and often another person who doesn’t get help because rescuers are tied up helping someone else.

+3
Elena
Elena
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Unfortunately this is the case. We are all human and our powers are limited!
Mr. Kim’s case is special. A man without all fingers on his hands could come to terms with his fate and live his life without undertaking anything more risky than leaving the apartment. But Mr. Kim turned out to be a tough guy and lived a bright, eventful life! I admire his willpower and regret it ended this way_

+1
jams
jams
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Having no fingers means no alpinism. Insane to go on a peak while unable to hold an ice axe. A competent alpinist would have easily climbed up from the ledge. Different story with no finger ffs.

+2
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Pawel

Hi Pawel and Elena, I fully agree with you that it was probably unwise to team up with strangers and attempt to climb such a technically challenging mountain with a hand injury as bad as this. BUT: Mehri attempted to summit PROVIDED THAT SHE WOULD DO IT TOGETHER WITH OTHER PEOPLE. That means: She would not have attempted to do it alone, and both the Iranians and she knew that she COULD NOT do it alone. They could have refused to let her accompany them, and probably SHOULD HAVE, but once they included her in their team, letting her sleep… Read more »

Elena
Elena
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Marie, you are very kind! There are people with a high degree of compassion, but there are vice versa_ and no ‘a code of ethics for mountaineers’ will help in this case. That is why it is important to be close to those who care about your life (at least because of the call of duty). I do not in any way support the men from the team that Mehri has joined. I have never understood the “summit” through dead bodies. But when you join strangers you cannot be sure that you will be supported in difficult times. Perhaps if… Read more »

Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Elena

Thank you for your kind words, Elena. If such a code of ethics was connected to real consequences for breaching it, it might still be efficient. So one could say: If you demonstrably refused or failed to help a fellow climber in need even though you had the means and ability to do it and did not risk to lose limb and life in the process, you will be banned from climbing mountains for (say) 2 years and obliged to take a course in ethics, do something for the local community, etc. It would have to be decided if this… Read more »

J Ham
J Ham
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Marie, rather than refuting all of your proposed solutions, including suing people for not helping, I will simply say that it’s obvious that all of your numerous proposals are ideas, or ideals, that are suited for a theoretical world rather than a practical world. Almost every solution doesn’t take into account the real world, particularly the economics at play and regional socieconomic discrepancies and are very easy to type from behind a keyboard. Your analysis is also very subjective, for example you say the Iranians should have helped and you said they would not have endangered themselves if they did… Read more »

Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  J Ham

Hi J Ham, I am fully aware that countries like Nepal are in desperate need of money and will oppose changes when that means that income is taken away from them. However, the only solution to the “fatalities due to unchecked high-altitude tourism” problem seems to be more regulation – which one should (regardless of the said need for money) at least try to effect somehow. Naturally, governments like Nepal’s must also benefit from it to a certain extent in order to be motivated, and how this can be accomplished is still open to debate and negotiation. But if you… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Marie
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Marie, unless you were there you don’t know what was said between the Iranian team and Mehri. You are assuming that the Iranian team did accept her as part of their team, but there is no actual evidence that. There is only Mehri’s message that there was an Iranian team arriving soon and she planned to join them. But you can’t stop someone from climbing at the same time as your team. And that problem has actually caused disasters in the past, even when climbers were told that they were not part of the team and should not try to… Read more »

Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

This is an audio recording of two members of the Ukrainian team in which they report that Mehri slept in the Iranians’ tent at least at camp 2 and 3, and left the camps together with them. In my reply to another comment of yours, I will explain why I think that this does not even matter. https://z-p42.www.instagram.com/tv/CShEH6zir8T/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

0
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Pipe dream. Won’t happen. So better to focus on measure that actually could be implemented and save lives. Requirements that everyone on the mountain have a working radio (or SOS/locator beacon), and that radios be kept on. Better training including certification for local guides and HAPS. Requirements for expedition operators regarding safety and rescue plans. A significant deposit for each climber/expedition that gets refunded only if there are no accidents and no rules broken.

+1
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

I am glad that you came forward with ideas and solutions that might be more practical than mine, even though to implement them might still not keep inexperienced/unskilled climbers away from technically challenging/high mountains. I also hope that a few decision makers will start to think in this direction. As to Mehri, I would like to add one more thing. During the past few days I have read a lot about and by Mehri Jafari and come to the conclusion that she was a remarkable, admirable, courageous and amicable woman. She fought for human rights, gender equality, better wages for… Read more »

S R
S R
2 months ago

You can’t expect tourists to have rescue skills. It would be OK to expect that from high-altitude porters and guides. Where was Kim Hong-Bin’s guide? He surely had a guide because he had no fingers and needed help with everything.

+1
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  S R

IIRC, Hong-Bin’s guide completely exhausted himself rescuing Anastasia Runova, and had no strength left to rescue Hong-Bin. Which raises another point: Every rescue puts someone else at risk. Valentin Mihailov, an experienced, very competent climber, died trying to rescue other climbers. More rescues by the inexperienced climbers populating these peaks could actually lead to more deaths. And when multiple climbers are in trouble, who gets help? Hong-Bin’s HAP helped Runova but had nothing left for his client; he tried to get other climbers to help but no one would. And worst of all, since there was no report of Hong-bin’s… Read more »

Tourist Guide
Tourist Guide
2 months ago

This is just a massive clusterf***k. I wouldn’t be surprised if these kind of incidents become more common on 8000m tourist peaks. Hopefully that’ll keep the tourists at home.

+6
J Ham
J Ham
2 months ago
Reply to  Tourist Guide

As someone posted before, on tourist peaks each tourist has multiple helpers and they benefit from fixed lines, which they even may have help pulling themselves up, so it is unlikely.

0
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Tourist Guide

Unfortunately the opposite seems to be the case. Every tragedy is just more publicity, and publicity attracts the tourists.

+2
Pawel
Pawel
2 months ago

On high mountains is very hard to organize any rescue mission specially with limited helicopter support, do not matter how skilled climbers are, so to improve safety incompetent climbers should stop attempting goals that are too hard for them! I will be cruel, but unfortunetly Mehri Jafari was that incompetent climbers, and she is the only one responsible for her dead. why? She arrived to Peak Pobeda SOLO! Without anyone that she could tie up by rope and climb together Attempted summit push without proper acclimatization. Teamed up with random people that had better acclimatization so they moved much faster… Read more »

Apy
Apy
2 months ago

If anybody is interested in seeing how a real professional is handling an attempt at Podeba, I suggest you check Jon Gupta’s social media
https://www.facebook.com/jon.gupta.18
or
https://instagram.com/mountexpeds?utm_medium=copy_link
Jon is a professional guide who has guided on many 8000ers including recently on K2 with Madison.

+1
Apy
Apy
2 months ago
Reply to  Apy

Furthermore his posts are very well written and inspiring.

+1
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Apy

… if you like to see mankind divided into tigers and sheep, that is…

+1
Lalena
2 months ago

Hi Kris! Great article! You ask a right questions. And… It’s a shame for smbd, who’ve stolen the crampon from the depot…

+2
Mikael Funch
Mikael Funch
2 months ago

What a circus! 🎪

0
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Mikael Funch

I have not seen 3 people die in the circus yet within one week.

+1
Apy
Apy
2 months ago

The post in Saed Mirzaei’s celebrating his success has now been taken down and replaced by a black screen with an inscription in farsi. The text in googlenglish is not very understandable except that he offers his condolences… Delayed remorse, hypocritical regrets ? Comments or clarification by anybody better versed in understanding googlenglish or farsi would be welcome.

+1
Apy
Apy
2 months ago
Reply to  Apy

Read Saeid Mirzai’s IG

0
Rodrigo
Rodrigo
2 months ago

Apparently these latest accidents on the mountain point to human failures, however I am surprised by the lack of values among colleagues that only some still have them

+2
Apy
Apy
2 months ago
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Apy

It is really strange as the Hungarians said that they saw Mehri descend very slowly and fall on the 4th, that they informed Basecamp immediately of it and that the BC manager informed the Iranians right after that, which prompted them to turn off their radio. So how could the Iranians pretend in the morning of the 5th that they thought that Mehri slept in the Ukrainians’ tent? I think that even the Ukrainians were informed of Mehri’s fall shortly after it happened. Another question: Who told Mehri to turn around – the Iranians or the Basecamp manager? She was… Read more »

Apy
Apy
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Definitely a very sad story. Even sadder is the fate of Valentin who died because he tried to help others.

+1
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Apy

This is very true. I think that Valentin should be honoured in some way in the broader mountaineering community.

0
Apy
Apy
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Yes, I agree. Lots has been written about Mehri, the cowardly attitude of the Iranians and the lack of ethics in the mountaineering community. But the story of Valentin’s bravery who, though tired after having summited Lenin Peak and Chan Tengri did not hesitate to go to Pobeda to help some of his compatriots in difficulty, merits to be told (maybe in an article on the site?).

+1
Marie
Marie
2 months ago
Reply to  Apy

His friend says that he has 2 children and elderly parents in need of support. Some people have started a fundraising campaign, here are the details: http://www.mountain.ru/news/last.php?news_id=24946

0
trackback

[…] has been a dangerous, tragic season on Pobeda, where three climbers fell to their deaths — Iranians Mehri Jafari and Reza Adineh and Russian Valentin Mihailov. Nevertheless, Albert […]

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Apy
Apy
2 months ago

Full details on the ill-fated rescue attempt by Valentin and why ill-prepared climbers risk the lives of their rescuers.

http://www.mountain.ru/article/article_display1.php?article_id=9671&fbclid=IwAR2Rc9Nsw-rVGjwtR47kb8883W1BRVhuLx32Gk65SqmNNut8leV1YkmCX_8

+1
Apy
Apy
2 months ago

More details on the incident on Pobeda and the rescue effort that led to Valentin’s death
http://www.mountain.ru/article/article_display1.php?article_id=9673&fbclid=IwAR32qwGngkZshm2cI_nmG5bwuyhKkBKJ0pH01vbEB78R8IkAN5AQu80HluA

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