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Asia, Pakistan, Gasherbrum II Attempt and Tragedy

Gasherbrum II Attempt and Tragedy. Our expedition was not the only one to experience tragedy in the Gasherbrum group. A Mexican climber succumbed to pulmonary edema on Hidden Peak and a French monoskier fell 1200 meters to his death on Gasherbrum II. After I departed, another Frenchman died of pulmonary edema at the Gasherbrum Base Camp. But the loss of Gary Silver was a crushing blow for me. Our expedition consisted of Gary Silver, Dr. Chip Woodland, Phil Boyer and me as leader. Our plan was to climb Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I) by the original American route. We had unexpected delays of 16 days (!) with the Ministry of Tourism. About halfway up the Baltoro, we experienced a porter strike, settled by paying them 30% more than we had planned. Shortly after reaching Base Camp, Boyer developed pulmonary edema. Though his condition was never terribly serious, Dr. Woodland thought it was best to evacuate him and so the two returned to Rawalpindi and the United States. In addition, the liaison officers in the area told us that the American route was off limits because of a 100-man army base at the start of the ridge. We tried to negotiate with the army, but apparently their orders were firm from higher-ranking officers: no climbing! After three days of fruitless negotiation, we gave up Hidden Peak and opted for Gasherbrum II. It was just Gary Silver and me trying for an 8000-meter peak, but the French had fixed ropes, so our task was infinitely easier. Gary and I established Camp I on June 24. We made a few carries over the next days and were well provisioned by the 26th. Then the weather turned poor and we remained at our 19,500-foot Camp I until July 2. Since Gary wasn’t feeling well, I decided to take advantage of the weather to climb Gasherbrum II solo. We already had made a carry to Camp II and had food and a tent there. I reached the area of Camp III on July 3 and used a half-destroyed French tent for shelter. I set off for the summit on July 4. I climbed to about 26,000 feet but was forced back from the actual top by exhaustion and concern about the weather. The next day, my concern proved well founded. As I began my descent in strong winds, two young Swiss started for the summit. At 23,000 feet, I met Gary Silver and a Canadian member of the Swiss expedition, Roland Willenbrock. They had agreed to team up and looked fit and strong. By the time I reached Camp II, the weather had deteriorated into a full-fledged storm. The Swiss joined me at Camp II after making a surpisingly fast summit climb. The following day, we returned to Base Camp. Roland and Gary were trapped at Camp III. Over a meter of snow fell. Gary was having problems, probably the initial symptoms of pulmonary edema. When the storm temporarily abated on July 9, the pair began their descent. Gary collapsed at the level shoulder at 23,000 feet. Despite my attempts at persuasion over the radio and Roland’s heroic attempt to get him lower, there is little that can be done when your partner lapses into a coma at a high altitude in a storm. At six RM., Roland opted to save his own life and started his descent to Camp II, which he reached at two A.M. During the ordeal, he suffered third-degree frostbite in all his fingers. I teamed up with Dr. Dave Bong and Ethan Van Matre of the Portland Mazama group and the two Swiss and climbed back to Camp I. We met Roland that evening, July 10, and he was given emergency treatment for frostbite. Both Roland, a heart surgeon, and Bong agreed that Gary could not have survived the night. Given the avalanche conditions and the fact that Gary was unequivically dead, I made the most difficult decision of my life: not to climb to the shoulder and bury his body. Instead, I asked an all-women’s expedition which was attempting the route please to put his body in a crevasse. The Japanese women agreed, although I have not heard if they found his body or if they got high on the route.

Gary Speer