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Asia, Pakistan, Karakoram, Latok III, West Face, Attempt and Tragedy

Latok III, west face, attempt and tragedy. A strong Russian team met with tragedy during their attempt on the unclimbed 2,000-meter-high West Face of Latok III (6949m). Igor Barikhin, Mikhail Davy, Sergey Khadzhinov, Alexander Klenov, Alexander Ruchkin, and Alexander Odintsov established base camp on June 22. This was the same site used by Ruchkin and Odintsov for their 2000 attempt (see 2001 AAJ). Subsequently, while waiting for some delayed baggage, all climbers made an acclimatization ascent of a small subsidiary summit of the Latok group, which they refer to as Latok VI. The party slept the night on the top.

The capsule attempt on Latok III began on July 7, the team spending two days climbing and hauling equipment to the top of the ice slope below the start of the big corner system. Realising that stonefall in the corner was no less dangerous than the previous year, the team decided to pursue a more sheltered line up the flank of the pillar to the left. By the night of the 10th they had established a portaledge camp half-way up this wall. Unfortunately, the rock was far from good, making solid protection difficult to arrange, and there was still a problem from stonefall. On the 10th Odintsov was hit hard in the back by a rock and although there were no breaks, he was badly bruised, making further climbing difficult. On the 15th, now some distance above their 2000 high point, the weather deteriorated and it snowed for the next one-and- a-half days. However, by the evening of the 18th the Russians had reached a prominent elongated snow patch situated below the upper pillar and christened The Tomahawk. The climbing to this point had not been excessively difficult but almost constantly dangerous due to poor rock and stonefall.

The following day they moved up to ca 6200m, a point estimated to be two days’ climbing from the summit. Barikhin was last man, jumaring the ropes and removing protection and belay anchors. As he ascended the last rope and the rest of the team were preparing a site for the night, a large rockfall suddenly cut loose from the summit ridge. Blocks flew past in all directions, but cowering close to the rock the five climbers at the proposed camp site avoided being hit. However, when calm returned, they realised the rope below had been cut and Barikhin had disappeared. The following morning the team abandoned the climb and descended, finding Barikhin’s body just 20 meters above the rimaye at the bottom of the face.

Mountain INFO, High Mountain Sports 234, and RISK