Holecek and Groh turn around on Masherbrum

Marek Holecek (l.) and Radoslav Groh (r.) in their tent on Masherbrum
Marek Holecek (l.) and Radoslav Groh (r.) in their tent on Masherbrum

To 7,300 meters and not a step further. “We had no choice but to turn back,” writes Marek Holecek on Instagram. The 47-year-old Czech and his 33-year-old compatriot Radoslav Groh had tried to open a new route on the rarely climbed Masherbrum in alpine style.

“Everything higher was already beyond our skills. The conditions offered to us beyond the western edge can be described as catastrophic. As we climbed from the north side to the east side, the snow turned into non-sticky powdered sugar. Loose, dried white stuff that sticks in the groove and on the rock, just for some mysterious reason. As soon as you touch it, it falls over 2,000 meters down to the glacier in big cakes.”

They still tried to climb a few dozen meters through a gully toward the summit ridge. “It went very badly. No ice, firn, or belaying, just crumbly rock, non-holding snow stuff – and horror in the eyes. When we calculated our chances, only one thing came out, this is out of our reach.”

Dangerous descent

Masherbrum (in 2004)

Holecek and Groh are now descending: “We are disappointed, sad, but reality is always hard.” This harsh reality also includes the dangerous way back down. “Not one of the steps must be wrong,” Marek writes. “Hopefully we will make it until Tuesday, when a longer period of bad weather is expected to arrive.”

The two Czechs shouldn’t fret either, just like their team partner Tomas Petrecek, who had to give up due to severe toothache. Failure is simply part of true alpinism – which is about exploring new things and pushing limits in a clean style. Only four Masherbrum expeditions ended at the summit. The almost eight-thousander has been unclimbed for 37 years – also because it was not tied down with fixed ropes.

Update 16 August: Holecek and Groh have returned safe and sound to base camp. “We have not made a visible mistake anywhere. Nevertheless, we burned like paper, and the dream of the top suddenly disappeared into nowhere,” Marek sums up. “So what was all the martyrdom for? Simple. We gave it a valid try and it didn’t just stop at bullshit.”

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