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Alan Arnette: Drones to the Rescue

As the weather has improved in the Karakoram, there have been all sorts of developments.

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There were multiple summit attempts underway this last weekend on Pakistan’s 8,000-meter mountains. The poor weather that hampered acclimatization and setting the routes gave way to almost perfect climbing conditions but the snow, along with high winds, are expected to return late this week. However, one story stands out from this past week, that of using a drone flying at 27,500 feet to aid in the rescue of a world-class climber.

Big Picture

Ten days ago, the 2018 season was looking a lot like 2015 and 2016 with difficult weather and snow conditions that prevented anyone from summiting K2 and only a few made the other peaks throughout Pakistan.

However, as is usual with the weather, just when you think you have it
figured out it changes and the last week was excellent for most of the teams. The forecast of heavy snow on Thursday never materialized but the snow that had already fallen did stop progress, at least on Broad Peak. 150 miles away on Nanga Parbat, some of the world’s best climbers and adventurers abandoned their efforts but a few remained and summited.

Drones to the Rescue

This is quite the story. One of the world’s most accomplished climbers was injured on Broad Peak, believed dead, but then found alive and is now at base camp—mostly unhurt.

Broad Peak climber, David Roeske, posted on Instagram that a lone climber was reported lost on BP, but a drone with a camera onboard spotted him. They were at Camp 3, about 23,000 feet, when they received a radio call asking if they could investigate a climber in trouble:

“He had fallen off an ice cliff, and been solo on the mountain for 36 hours without a stove to melt water. The climber had been presumed dead until a drone pilot from K2 basecamp spotted him still moving and off route. We
headed first down then up the mountain with rope, water, and medicine looking for him and were later joined by Tenji Sherpa from Summit Climb. With the help of the drone pilot we were able to eventually locate him in very dangerous terrain—a fall would’ve taken him either down a crevasse or all the way to the base of the mountain—and the three of us got him down and into a tent at camp 3 just as it was getting dark. Then the Summit Climb team took over.”

The drone was controlled by Bartek Bargiel, the brother of Andrzej Bargiel. He has been flying the drone throughout the area in preparation for his brother’s ski descent from the summit of K2. Bartek posted, “My brother Bartek Bargiel flight his drone up to 8400m! Is that some kind of world record?”

Climbers on Broad Peak. Photo: Alan Arnette.

NEAR Death

Well, there is more to this story than just a “lone climber” in trouble. Summit Climb’s leader, Dan Mazur, made a cryptic post that read: “Rick Allen disappeared at 8000m/26,000ft on his way down from the summit of
broad peak, the world’s 13th highest mountain. He was reported dead by his team mates who took his sat phone and descended.”

After a lot of digging, I’m happy to report that Rick Allen is alive and mostly well. He was on a small private team including Casper Tekieli, Sandy Allan, and Stanislav Vrba attempting a new route on Broad Peak. It appears Rick made a solo attempt on BP, slipped and fell. His teammates assumed he was dead. Dan Mazur updated his post to include, “At 8am Japanese basecamp cook Ferman saw a backpack laying on snow at 7500m/24,000ft. Ferman went to Polish camp to look telescope. Ruckack is alive and moving!”

Sandy Allen provided more details on his blog:

“Sandy and Rick are now both back at Base Camp following a couple of days making a summit attempt. Sandy returned back to camp himself after deciding to descend due to high winds. The rest of the team stayed at Camp 3 and considered their options for the summit. Rick made a summit attempt on 9th July after climbing all day and night. Rick was missing from the group and feared injured from 9th July until he was spotted by a drone, piloted by climbers at K2 Base Camp on July 10th.

Sandy, with help from Andrej Berdel, his brother Bartek and their drone, was able to coordinate climbers that were already on the mountain to reach Rick at around 7.30pm. The climbers brought Rick back to camp 3 in the darkness. Rick returned to Base Camp today (12th June) safely thanks to Dan Mazur and his sherpas. After being examined by a doctor at basecamp, Rick is okay all things considered and has a few superficial cuts and some frostnip.

Sandy and Rick would like to express their sincere thanks to Kacper, Stan, Andrej and Bartek Bargel, Piotr Pablus, Dan Mazur and team, Frekrik Strang, David Roeske, Major Ramzan, Captain Kaddar and Dan’s sherpas.”

Of course, in 2012 Sandy Allan and his climbing partner Rick Allen completed an amazing climb of the previously unclimbed Mazeno Ridge—the longest in the Himalayas—on Nanga Parbat. He appears to be lucky to have survived this incident on Broad Peak.

K2—Late July Summit?

Dawa Sherpa, of Seven Summits Treks, says they are targeting a summit bid after 20 July, but hints as early as the 17th. This implies the ropes will be to C4 and then they will fix to the summit as they make their summit push. I expect most of the other teams to follow closely behind. It may be busy around the 20th!

Climber Witnesses Fall

Jason Black has an excellent update after six days at C1 and C2 on K2. In addition to his own experiences, he writes about something no person ever wants to or should see:

“It’s the 7th July and 5am with a reasonable weather forecast giving the team a head start with a crisp underfoot up that 40% grade wall leading to camp 1. It’s a serious approach and your pretty committed but you’re also surrounded by the most beautiful range of mountains with Broad Peak to the fore. However, just after 4 hrs of climbing, sadly, K2 took its first life, living up to its title as the Savage Mountain. A comrade mountaineer and a guy I was eating butterscotch sweets with just two days prior, tumbled passed us, falling 1000 meters to his death….I was shook to my core, looking down seeing his lifeless body below…RIP Serge.”

Broad Peak—Summit Bid Underway

Furtenbach Adventures has their second attempt underway: “Leaving Broad Peak basecamp today [Saturday, July 14] for another try. Conditions look promising. Hopefully we can post a summit pic here soon.” It appears there will be multiple other independent climbers and teams trying to go together including Fredrik Sträng,  David Roeske, Carlos Garranzo, Jake Meyer as well as Mingma G Sherpa—who may well be the key to getting everyone to the summit this time around.

Broad Peak. Photo: Alan Arnette.

Gasherbrum—Summit Bid Underway!

Barcsai Nikolett with Kalifa gave me an update on Hungarian climbers Dávid Klein and Szilárd Suhajda. She said they plan to set off to reach the summit of Gasherbrum I on July 15.

Adam Bielecki and Jacek Czech are at Camp 3 on GII and expect to summit on the 16th. They have teamed up with the Kazakh Boris Dedeszko and the German Felix Berg. Masha Gordon, Helias Millerioux and Yannick Graziani continue to acclimatize but should soon start their G1/G2 traverse soon unless their plans have changed.

Nanga Parbat—Summits

Mike Horn,  Alex Gavan, Tunc Findik and Maya Sherpa—all exceptional strong climbers—chose not to risk the dangerous conditions on NP this year. However, two climbers, Niels Jespers from Belgium and the Korean Kim Migon, both supported to some extent by Karakorum Expeditions, said they summited. A Czech team remains on NP hoping to summit before the end of the season. They are on the Kinshofer route.

Missing Sherpa

Pemba Sherpa is missing, assumed to have fallen into a crevasse on the Saser Kangri, the highest peak at 7,672 meters (25,171 feet) in the Saser Muztagh, the eastern-most subrange of the Karakoram range, located in India. According to this report from Dream Wanderlust, he was with a team of climbers led by Basanta Singha Roy from West Bengal and another team from Pune, India. While descending from the summit Pemba fell into a crevasse before reaching Camp 1 on July 13. Other sherpas including his brother Pashang have tried to rescue him throughout the day but failed to trace him. The search will continue.

Previous Deaths

The Canadian Nathalie Fortin has left base camp with the body of her team’s fallen leader Serge Dessureault: “Took the same plane as us to Islamabad the day after Skardu. Official papers are now signed. He is now waiting for a place on a cargo plane to join us in Quebec.” Also, this past week saw the death of Italian climber Maurizio Giordano lost his life on Gasherbrum IV. His Italian military teammates reported he was hit by falling ice while on rappel. They were attempting the Bonatti-Mauri route. The third death this season was when the Austrian Christian Huber died in an avalanche on Ultar Sar.

Adam Bielecki, who was on K2 this past winter, said the death of Maurizio Giordano has caused his team to change its plan for an attempt on GIV. He noted in an interview:

“For now, we focus on GII. But from what we have seen, it seems that it would be very problematic to approach the eastern wall of the GIV, due to the large amount of snow on the so-called Italian icefall. Unfortunately, the Italian climber Maurizio Giordano died there (as a result of the serwa breaking up – news ) – this of course had a depressing effect on us. Taking this into account, it seems to me that our next goal will be GVII.”

Alan Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer’s Advocate. He has completed over 30 major expeditions including four Everest climbs with a summit in 2011. He completed his 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s project to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research. Find out more at

Also Read

Alan Arnette: Yet Another Death in the Karakoram

Alan Arnette: Death on K2

 Alan Arnette: Karakorum Season Update

Alan Arnette: K2 Season Begins

Ultar Sar: An Avalanche, a Death and a Rescue in the Karakoram

K2 Remains Unclimbed in Winter: Polish Expedition Calls it Quits