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K2 climber describes desperate scramble

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Dutch survivor of an ice avalanche that killed nine climbers atop the world's second-tallest mountain over the weekend described a desperate scramble for self-preservation, with panicked mountaineers abandoning one another in the search for a way down the steep rock face.

Some of the victims were swept away by a column of ice that snapped near the summit of K2 in northern Pakistan near the Chinese border, widely regarded as the world's most treacherous peak. The falling pane of ice severed fixed ropes used mostly for descending the near-vertical portions of slopes, leaving other climbers cut off at an oxygen-thin elevation known as the "Dead Zone."

"People were running down but didn't know where to go, so a lot of people were lost on the mountain on the wrong side, wrong route, and then you have a big problem and then things like that happen," said Wilco Van Rooijen, an expedition leader.

Two other climbers fell to their deaths on the way up the mountain, Pakistani officials said.

Van Rooijen was one of two Dutch climbers rescued after the accident. He slept two nights on K2 without a sleeping bag, food or water, but was plucked from the mountain by a rescue helicopter after making his way down from the icy upper reaches of the peak.

He described passing three South Korean climbers who chose to wait for rescuers and who are believed to have been among the dead. Other climbers fell to their deaths while trying to cross the gully where the safety ropes had been severed, according to a spokesman for the Dutch expedition who had been in contact with Van Rooijen by satellite phone.

News reports also said at least some of the trapped climbers froze to death after being forced to spend the night near the top of a peak that rises more than 28,250 feet.

The accident occurred after nightfall in a perilous gorge known as the "Bottleneck," the last major obstacle on the way to the summit. Climbers became scattered and scrambled to save themselves, Van Rooijen said.

Van Rooijen, 40, who had attempted K2 twice before, said climbers ignored his pleas for calm.

"They were thinking of using my gas, my rope," he said. "Everybody was fighting for himself, and I still do not understand why everybody was leaving each other."

>>fast facts

About K2

K2's peak is at 28,251 feet, second only to Mount Everest's 29,028 feet.

K2's summit was first reached by Italians Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni on July 31, 1954.

About 280 people have reached K2's summit. More than 2,000 have topped Mount Everest.

At least 75 people have died trying to reach the summit of K2, compared with 179 who perished on Mount Everest.

McClatchy Newspapers

K2 climber describes desperate scramble 08/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 10:17am]
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