Gasherbrum IV: A Sad End to a Historic Climb

Sergey Nilov and Dmitry Golovchenko were one of the leading pairs in high-altitude, high-difficulty alpinism. They had already won two Piolets d’Or. Now they were set to write another golden page in the history of exploratory mountaineering on the southeast ridge of Gasherbrum IV. It is one of the most beautiful, yet rarely attempted, mountains in the world. We wrote that this could well be the best climb of the year.

Today, Sergey Nilov is preparing to return home to Russia, alone. His friend and climbing companion for years, Dmitry Golovchenko perished last week. His body will remain at nearly 7,000m on Gasherbrum IV for the foreseeable future. The aerial recovery operation has been called off.

“Nilov, who had initial treatment at the Combined Military Hospital in Skardu, has returned to Islamabad and is currently preparing for his travel home,” Karrar Haidri, Secretary of the Alpine Club, told ExplorersWeb. “He is now in better health.”

Haidri sent an image of himself and Nilov, who looks anything but healthy.

the two people stand in an office, Nilov showing exhaustion, sadness in his weathered face; his feet are covered in bandages and plastic bags.

Sergey Nilov, left, with apparently frozen toes, with Karrar Haidri of the Alpine Club of Pakistan today in Islamabad. Photo: Karrar Haidri


Exactly what happened remains unclear

“At the debriefing session held at the Alpine Club of Pakistan, Nilov verified the demise of Dmitry Golovchenko during the attempt to summit Gasherbrum IV,” Haidri confirmed. “He said that the Golovchenko family is trying to lower his body from the elevated camps.”

If the recovery happens, it will not be a helicopter operation. The aerial mission has been finally called off. A ground team might be able to climb to where Nilov left his friend’s body wrapped in a tent, but that is a risky (and pricey) option, and winter is just around the corner in Pakistan.

Only Nilov knows exactly what happened on Gasherbrum IV between August 30 and September 4-5, when Nilov managed to return on his own to the Base Camp. It is hard even to imagine his solitary descent down a highly difficult route, frostbitten and in shock, across two icefalls. Nilov’s survival shows what a truly world-class climber he is.

The images below from Golovchenko’s Instagram account show Nilov during a climbing day on Jannu, in 2019:

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.