The Mess on K2: Interview With Antonios Sykaris

Details have begun to emerge of the mess that greeted climbers at 7,400m at Camp 3, a few hours before Ali Sadpara, John Snorri, and Juan Pablo Mohr went missing on K2.

In an interview with Bulgarian radio from his hospital bed in Skardu, a frostbitten Antonios Sykaris describes 25 people in too few tents, a steep section without ropes, and the fatal fall of Bulgarian climber Atanas Skatov.


Antonios Sykaris: Atanas was very strong — he went straight from Base Camp to C2. We met in C2 and he told me again that he had a bad feeling about this expedition. I told him that everything was fine because he was very strong and technically competent.

On February 4, we went up from Camp 2. I saw Atanas and his Sherpas reach Camp 3 at 7,440m.

The big problem for all of us was that there were no tents. We were told that there are three [buried?] tents and stakes, and we need to find them. We never found a tent. In the evening, the temperature was about -40 degrees, incredibly cold. We all stayed outside and tried to figure out how to survive. I tried to get into one tent and people told me there was no room.

In the morning, I spoke with Atanas. Then he said that we were going down. He left with his Sherpa. I remember Atanas on the descent. Already at the beginning of the descent from C3, there is a rather steep slope, and there were no fixed ropes. More precisely, there were, but they were buried under snow.

I saw him go down without an ice ax. I knew that he was technically very good and he felt confident to go down without an ice ax. All this time Atanas was in my line of sight because we were going down together.

Suddenly — I cannot forget this moment — Atanas disappeared. The Sherpa came back to me and looked at me. He said: “Antonio, Antonio, Atanas has fallen, Atanas is gone. We lost him — he fell.”

Atanas was very strong, technical, and experienced. Most importantly, he was a very good person. The problem was the ropes and the winter. You are outside, it’s -40˚, imagine how weak you are.

Because of the cold, you are hungry, you are drained. It is very easy to make a mistake.


Some considerations:

  • In January, climber Ralf Dujmovits told ExplorersWeb that on K2’s upper slopes, it is essential to mark the tents’ locations properly, because drifting snow may bury them completely and they won’t be found. Dujmovits was referring to Camp 4 in summer, but the current Camp 3 (7,300m) was similar. A video from climber Noel Hanna at C3 just before they all went down shows the scene.
  • In a recent post, Colin O’Brady also notes the missing/buried ropes below C3 where Skatov fell.
  • For those who wonder why Skatov was not using an ice ax or had it packed away, many climbers have that habit, even on 8,000’ers, when on fixed ropes. Skatov was probably intending to use his on the Bottleneck and beyond, but may have felt confident enough descending from Camp 3, at least in that particular section.
  • Sykaris’s eyewitness report contradicts leader Dawa Sherpa’s Instagram claim that the accident occurred when Skatov was “changing his safety from one rope to the other” — in other words, unclipping from one fixed rope and clipping to the next.