Latok III, Attempt. The members of the expedition were Alexander Odintsov (leader), Sergey Efimov, Alexander Rutchkin, Yuri Koshelenko, and Michail Bakin, the expedition doctor. Our Base Camp was established in a morainal pocket less than two hours from the wall on the shore of a lake fed by rivers. After an acclimatization ascent, we established ABC right under the wall. Later, this camp would suffer greatly from an air-blast as the result of an icefall from Latok’s slopes.
By a three-to-one vote, we agreed on a route suggested by Rutchkin: a diretissima on the left side of the face. I reluctantly agreed, but hoped for the possibility of correcting the line during the ascent. This route necessitated a capsule-style ascent with a large amount of gear, aid climbing, and time (and a great likelihood of bad weather).
We tried to start our ascent each day for a week, but snowfall at night prohibited us. We spent one of these days digging out our haulbags. On July 19, during a brief pause in the bad weather, the four of us (Bakin remained in BC) began the route. Climbing ice/snow couloir took two days. From the bergschrund at 4900 meters to the beginning of vertical rock sections at 5600 meters, we climbed about 25 pitches; snow/sleet didn’t hamper us. Avalanches scoured the bottoms of the couloirs.
On the third day, one look was enough to see that the inside corner of our intended route was dangerous due to rockfall. My suggestion to descend two pitches and outflank the dangerous section by ascending the left buttress received a cool welcome. The next day was characterized by heavy damage to our portaledges, a broken helmet, and a traumatized head. Nevertheless, the decision to continue the route prevailed. The next two days, which were full of snowfall and wet snow avalanches, changed nothing. On July 25, Rutchkin and I worked with fixed ropes. A rock knocked off by Rutchkin and Efimov hit both my hands where they were holding the jumars. Odintsov established the fracture of both my thumbs.
On July 26, leaving behind some gear for another attempt, my friends began to bring me down. For the first time in two weeks, it was really sunny.
The lower couloir was the most dangerous because of the speed of the avalanches, which had been rushing by like subway trains. In some places, the couloir was too close to the rocks and we had no choice but to descend. I had waited for the next pause and rushed across the couloir. The next avalanche started when I was one pitch below the belay station. I saw only Odintsov. He stayed in his place without moving. There then appeared a wet Rutchkin without his rucksack and Odintsov. They yelled that Efimov had been swept away by an avalanche. I saw that Efimov sat on an avalanche cone 300 meters below us. He seemed to be alive. The avalanche had torn Efimov and the rucksacks from the belay station. Rutchkin was almost suffocated by the snow and ice that packed beneath his helmet. As we found out later, Efimov came to after the shock, radioed Doctor Bakin in BC about the avalanche, and told him that the other members of the expedition were probably dead.
A rescue effort followed. Efimov had been lucky, surviving with one terribly broken leg. The injuries to his ribs, the other leg, and his forehead were trifles in comparison. After we put Efimov’s legs in a cast, the mountain sent us a last greeting: a huge rock fell from the summit and slammed into the avalanche cone 20 meters away.
Doctor Bakin, Odintsov and Rutchkin spent several nights with Efimov on the glacier. There was a lot of work with the loads. I began to forget about my fingers. Alexander Rutchkin had three broken ribs and an injured neck. On July 30, a helicopter arrived and took Efimov and Doctor Bakin to Skardu.
Yuri Koshelenko, Russia