Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Karakoram Summer 2018: Stranded Climber Rescued From Latok I

Yesterday I posted an article that was suppose to be a wrap up for the Karakoram climbing season in Pakistan. Most of the teams have gone home and the monsoon season has arrived a bit early, bringing an end to operations there. But, one of the last things I wrote about in that story was that a Russian climber named Alexander Gukov was stranded on Latok I, a remote 7145-meter (23,441-ft) peak that is technically demanding and dangerous. At the time, Gukov had been on the mountain for several days and poor weather had prevented rescuers from reaching him. Fortunately, today we can report a happy ending, as the Russian has been successfully retrieved from the mountain.

The drama for Gukov began more than week ago. He and his climbing partner, Sergey Glazunov, were descending Latok I when Glazunov fell to his death, leaving Gukov stranded at about 6200 meters (20,341 ft). Worse yet, he apparently had very little in the way of supplies and equipment, surviving off of an old candy bar and a small bit of water. Without a way to descend, all he could do was sit and wait.

Meanwhile, back home Gukov's friend Anna Pulnova coordinated rescue efforts with the Pakistanis. As usual, helicopters were ready to fly to save the stranded Russian, but poor weather continued to hamper those operations. Over the weekend, heavy snow fell on on the mountain as well, keeping the choppers grounded even longer. As the days stretched on, things started to look grim.

But the search and rescue teams didn't give up and as soon as conditions improved today, they took flight to find Gukov. According to Stephen Nestler, once the weather cleared two helicopters raced to Latok I to look for the climber. They found him relatively quickly and lowered a rope to try to hoist him up into the air. It took the weakened man about 15 minutes to finally grab the safety line, but he was still anchored into the side of the mountain. The anchor gave way however and soon he was on the helicopter and headed towards a hospital in Skardu.

Gukov is reportedly in relatively good condition considering his ordeal. He is extremely weak of course, as well as dehydrated and in need of nourishment. But he did not suffer any frostbite. Considering the amount of time he spent stranded on the peak, that's fairly remarkable.

Apparently, the two climbers were attempting to open a new route on the mountain but turned back when they reached about 7000 meters (22,965 ft). The accident occurred while they were descending with Glazunov reportedly falling while abseiling down a cliff face, taking the rope and some of the supplies with him. All told, Gukov spent 19 days on Latok I, with the past week spent exposed and stranded at altitude. Fortunately, it appear that he's going to recover from this ordeal and eventually be just fine. For now though, he has a bit of a recovery ahead of him.

Glad we were able to get a happy ending for once.

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