Mystery of tragic winter summit attempt on K2 still unsolved

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2 in the Karakoram (in 2004)

It seems like a puzzle that takes time to put together. And possibly it will never be completed. Even after the bodies of the three missing climbers Muhammad Ali Sadpara from Pakistan, John Snorri Sigurjonsson from Iceland and Juan Pablo Mohr from Chile were found on K2, the crucial questions remain largely unanswered: What exactly happened to them last winter? And were they really at the summit, as media reported, especially in the three home countries of the climbers who perished?

Canadian climber and filmmaker Elia Saikaly, who had been searching for the missing along with Muhammad’s son Sajid Ali Sadpara and Nepalese Pasang Kaji Sherpa, is cautious. “Our work continues here. We jump to no conclusions as we continue to put the pieces together and search for evidence of a successful winter ascent,” Saikaly wrote on social media.

Froze to death on the descent?

By all appearances, the trio was on the descent, at least that’s what the different locations where the bodies were found suggest. John’s body was a good distance above the “Bottleneck”. Muhammad’s body was discovered a little lower, but also still above the key point of the route at around 8,300 meters, Juan Pablo’s body much lower, almost on the shoulder at around 8,000 meters.

The Ukrainian mountain guide Valentyn Sypavin was, in his own words, the one who discovered and uncovered Mohr’s body in the snow. Later, he also passed the bodies of the other two climbers, both of whom were lying directly beside fixed ropes. Based on their position and posture, Sypavin suspects that all three climbers died of exhaustion or froze to death. “Snorri and Sadpara were definitely descending. There were no falls,” the Ukrainian summed up on ExplorersWeb. “They started the summit push from C3 (7,330m!). I think that if there had been a tent in C4, then JP (Juan Pablo) would have had chances to survive. JP is said to have moved quickly on the mountain. Most likely, he had already descended below the Bottleneck, was waiting for the others, and froze to death.”

The image on John Snorri’s GoPro camera

Did they come down from the summit or did they turn around below the highest point? According to Saikaly, on the Go-Pro camera that Sajid Ali found and took from John Snorri Sigurjonsson, there is only a corrupt file with one image. It shows a climber in a yellow and black expedition suit latched to a yellow fixed rope. Exactly where and when the image was taken has yet to be determined, Elia said. Nirmal Purja, who had been one of the Nepalese first winter ascenders of K2 in January, commented on Instagram that he knew exactly where the spot was and that he would let Saikaly know.

Bodies not brought from the mountain

The bodies of the three climbers who died will probably remain on K2 forever. Sajid Ali, with the help of Bolivian Hugo Ayaviri, brought his father’s body down to Camp 4 at nearly 8,000 meters and buried it there under the snow.

The bodies of the other two climbers still lie where they were found. The two climbers who died in the Karakoram this summer also remain on the mountain. Briton Rick Allen, who died in an avalanche on K2, was buried near the base camp. The search on neighboring Broad Peak for Kim Hong-bin, who had fallen to the Chinese side of the mountain, was suspended after the South Korean’s family requested it. There was no longer any chance of finding Hong-bin alive.

P.S.: You may be wondering why I have only just got back in touch. The Olympic Games in Tokyo kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to work on the blog at the same time. Now it’s a bit quieter again …

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