Helicopter pilots on Tuesday miraculously rescued a stranded Russian mountaineer from the still unclimbed North Ridge of Latok I in Pakistan’s first such rescue at a height of more than 20,000-feet, ending his six-day ordeal, the military said.
This was the eighth attempt to rescue Alexander Gukov from the side of Latok I (23,442-feet), in the Karakoram range, following the death of his climbing partner, Sergey Glazunov, who fell to his death as the pair were descending the mountain last Wednesday. The pair began climbing on July 12, when a storm set in before they reached the summit forcing them to descend, which is when something went wrong during a rappel and Glazunov fell.
“Gukov sent out an SOS and was forced to wait in the hope of rescue, clinging to the wall without equipment to descend,” a spokesman said. “He managed to build a snow cocoon to shield himself from the elements and was able to stay in contact with rescuers via a satellite phone.”
The Russian has been airlifted to the nearest hospital in the town of Skardu and is said to be in good health, despite having gone three days without food, and suffered no frostbite. The military said snow clouds had hampered previous rescue bids.
A report of the rescue by Anna Piunova of www.mountain.ru, details just how perilous the rescue mission was:
One heli threw the sling hovering close to the ridge. The other B3 was hovering right behind him giving adjustment instructions about sling end with D ring to the lead heli. Thus the two B3s worked in tandem. After trying for 15 minutes, Alex finally managed to get hold of the sling and connected the D ring to his harness. The heli flying back confirmed the safe engagement and instructed the lead heli to pull off with Alex attached. The fuel level was getting critically low by then. However, it was touch and go as Alex had forgotten to remove his anchor to the mountain. Thus he found himself connected to the sling of the B3 on one end and Latok to the other as the mountain refused to let him go. The pilots were extremely lucky as Alex’s Latok anchor finally gave away releasing him. The B3s pulled out and brought Alex to safety at the BC from where he was taken directly to CMH Skardu.
Pakistan is considered a climbers’ paradise, rivaling neighboring Nepal for the number of its peaks exceeding 23,000-feet, but fatalities are common among the enthusiasts who flock there in summer. This month, Pakistani military helicopters also rescued two British mountaineers from Ultar Sar, another peak in the same range, after an avalanche killed their Austrian climbing partner.
Pakistan’s tallest peaks include K2, the world’s second highest peak, at 28,251 ft, and Nanga Parbat, known as “Killer Mountain”, for the numerous deaths on its treacherous slopes.