A desperate search for missing climbers on ‘Killer Mountain’

ISLAMABAD: Search team leader Alex Gavan wept uncontrollably after a helicopter dropped him at a Himalayan base camp on June 28, certain an avalanche had killed the two men he was searching for as they tried to conquer Pakistan’s “Killer Mountain”.
Gavan, a Romanian climber, had abandoned his own efforts to scale the world’s ninth-tallest mountain a week earlier to lead the search for Alberto Zerain from Spain and Mariano Galvan from Argentina.
Detailing the desperate search for Zerain and Galvan for the first time to Reuters, Gavan said he had even spoken to them over a satellite phone just a day before they went missing on June 24, when they stopped responding to calls.
The two experienced climbers had chosen a daring route to ascend the 26,660 feet Nanga Parbat via the treacherous 13 km Mazeno Ridge, which had been scaled successfully only once before.
However, Gavan became desperate after June 24 when Zerain and Galvan lost radio contact near the ridge, realising that the two men had run out of food.
Rescue efforts were called off after a final helicopter flight over the ridge on July 1. Photographic evidence suggests an avalanche had struck some time in the preceding eight days.
“Just where the avalanche debris is was their last GPS location,” Gavan said, speaking of their last known signal on Mazeno Ridge.
“In the photos you see the tracks of the climbers… suddenly end at the avalanche fracture line and do not appear anywhere after the fracture line,” he said.
Geographically, Pakistan is a hot destination for climbers, but climbing deaths are also common.
It rivals Nepal for the number of peaks over 22,966 feet and is home to the world’s second-tallest mountain, K2. In all, it has five of the world’s 14 summits higher than 26,247 feet.
However, Pakistan offers other challenges for climbers. In 2012, gunmen dressed as policemen stormed the 13,780-foot Nanga Parbat base camp, killing 10 foreign climbers and a Pakistani guide. Galvan and Zerain both loved climbing. — Reuters