A Tragic Accident and Epic Descent: What Happened on Gasherbrum IV

Sergey Nilov has shared details about the tragic death of Dmitry Golovchenko on Gasherbrum IV. Nilov, now back home in Russia, explained how he miraculously managed to return to Base Camp alive; it is a terrifying story.

The accident occured on the night of August 31, one day after the climbers reported their latest position via sat-phone. After weeks of slow progress and bad weather, they reached 7,684m, a mere 250 vertical meters below the summit.

Golovchenko and Nilov were resting in their little tent, perched on a gently sloping ridge. The ledge was so narrow that they had to expand it with packed snow and stones, Nilov told Anna Piunova of Mountain.ru. But it was not enough. As they prepared to sleep, they felt the tent sliding. Nilov went out to level the terrain. This saved his life. Golovchenko remained in the tent, securing the gear inside.

Nilov heard a shout: “Sergey, I am falling!”

“Before he had time to understand what was happening, he saw that the tent with Mitya [Golovchenko] and his things sliding down the slope and falling down the couloir. In the place where the tent was, only a safety rope remained,” Piunova reported.

Sergey Nilov during the ascent.

Sergey Nilov during the ascent. Photo: Mountain.ru


The toughest descent

Sergey spent the rest of the night alone, in the open and without gear. He told Mountain.ru that the following morning he abseiled 15 pitches down to where Golovchenko had fallen. Nilov wrapped his dead companion in the tent and started down on his own. It took him five days to reach Base Camp, through difficult terrain, without gas or food. He slept in snow caves on the way, wrapped in two sleeping bags.

Although world-class climbers, the Russians were not professional sportsmen and traveled on a shoestring budget. Golovchenko made a living as a statistician. He was 40 years old and leaves a wife and two daughters.

Unparalleled climbing pair

Nilov and Golovchenko were climbing in pure alpine style on a completely unknown route up the southeast ridge of Gasherbrum IV.

Gasherbrum IV as seen from the South.

The south face of Gasherbrum IV and, to the right, the east face. Photo: Dmitry Golovchenko


They had teamed up as a climbing pair for decades. Together, they won two Piolets d’Or, one for their new route up the north face of Thalay Sagar in 2016 (with Dmitry Grigoriev) and one for the first ascent of the northeast ridge of Muztagh Tower (with Alexander Lange) in 2012. All their new routes featured high difficulty and commitment.

The two Russians were also well-known for their incredible effort on the southeast face of Jannu and their epic descent.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.