- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) | A helicopter plucked two frostbitten Dutch climbers from K2 on Monday after an avalanche and exposure left at least 11 people presumed dead on the world’s second-highest mountain. An Italian who also was stranded made his way down the slope with a rescue team.

One of the rescued men, Wilco Van Rooijen, blamed mistakes in preparation for the final ascent - not just the avalanche - for one of mountaineering’s worst disasters.

“Everything was going well to Camp Four and on summit attempt everything went wrong,” Mr. Van Rooijen said by phone from a military hospital, where he was being treated for frostbitten toes.

K2, which lies near Pakistan’s northern border with China, is regarded by mountaineers as more challenging to conquer than Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. K2 is steeper, rockier and more prone to sudden, severe weather.

Mr. Van Rooijen said several expeditions waited through July for good weather to scale K2 and decided to go for the summit when winds dropped Friday. In all, about two dozen climbers made the ascent, officials said.

But Mr. Van Rooijen, 40, said advance climbers laid ropes in some of the wrong places on the 28,250-foot peak, including in a treacherous gully known as “the Bottleneck.”

He said those who went on reached the summit just before nightfall. As the fastest climbers descended in darkness across the Bottleneck, about 1,148 feet below the summit, a huge serac, or column of ice, fell. Mr. Van Rooijen said a Norwegian climber and two Nepalese sherpas were swept away. His own team was split up in the darkness.

The Ministry of Tourism released a list of 11 climbers believed dead: three South Koreans, two Nepalese, two Pakistanis and mountaineers from France, Ireland, Serbia and Norway.

The Irish climber, 37-year-old Gerard McDonnell, on Friday became the first person from his country to reach the K2 summit. He is believed to have died on the way down.

The reported toll was the highest from a single incident on K2 since at least 1995, when seven climbers perished after being caught in a fierce storm.

Mr. Van Rooijen said after the avalanche there was a “whiteout” on the mountain - meaning cloud had descended, making it virtually impossible to see the precipitous route down. But he pushed on as he was starting to suffer snow blindness.

On his descent, he said he passed three South Koreans. They declined his offer of help. It was not immediately clear if they were the same three Koreans who died. Two other Koreans made it back to the base camp, which lies at about 16,400 feet, an organizer of their expedition said.

The Italian climber, Marco Confortola, descended to 20,340 feet but bad weather forced officials to abort a helicopter rescue Monday, said Shahzad Qaiser, a top official at the Tourism Ministry. He was climbing down on foot, despite frostbite, assisted by a support team from a base camp. Another attempt to rescue him by helicopter was planned for Tuesday, Mr. Qaiser said.

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