Winter expedition of Polish Mountaineering Association to Broad Peak (8,047 m) 2012/2013

Posted by Administrator (marek karnecki) on 29.03.2013

Press Release

19th March 2013

The expedition was organized within the “Polish Winter Himalayan Mountaineering 2010-2015” sport program. All information concerning the program may be found at www.polskihimalaizmzimowy.pl and in particular in “Press Releases” section.

The expedition succeeded in conquering Broad Peak 8,047 m in Karakoram, Pakistan, for the first time in history in winter on 5th March 2013.

A team of climbers consisting in Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski and Artur Małek started the summit attempt from camp 4 at 7,400 m on 5th March at dawn (5:15 AM). The time of set off was determined by very good conditions, equally good weather forecast for the following days and a classic rule according to which one should not set off at night in winter. Another important fact was that the day before the climbers had reached camp 4 quite late (the went there directly from camp 2) and needed to rest for an appropriate number of hours. On they way to the summit, the climbers passed three crevasses – the most difficult one was secured with a fixed rope. Adam Bielecki and Maciej Berbeka interchangeably led the way to the pass. The climbers reached the pass and the ridge at approximately 7,900 m at 12:30 PM in the following order: Bielecki, Berbeka, Małek and Kowalski.

There were four climbers, but they climbed in two teams: Bielecki-Małek and Berbeka- Kowalski. From the pass to the fore-summit Rocky Summit (8,027 m) they were tied with a rope in two separate teams due to difficult terrain. Bielecki-Małek climbed as the first team.

The time that the first climber needed to summit the mountain from the pass that was reached at 12:30 PM was longer than assumed in a summit attempt plan. The main reason has been technical difficulty before Rocky Summit that does not occur in summer. The climbers reached Rocky Summit 8,027 m at approximately 4:00 PM. Both Adam Bielecki and Maciej Berbeka contacted the base camp and the leader, Krzysztof Wielicki. They decided to continue the attempt.

They reached the summit (verified times, earlier other times were provided):
- Adam Bielecki at 5:20 PM
- Artur Małek at 5:50 PM
- Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski at 6:00 PM

The climbers separated already on their way to the summit and the time difference before the first and the last one amounted to 40 minutes. Having summited the mountain, they started to descend immediately and did not wait for others. At this altitude it is not possible to wait for others in winter conditions – hypothermia and other harmful for one’s health consequences being the reasons. Waiting makes it more risky for an entire team. None of the climbers reported any signs of weakness during the ascent. Also going up again in order to support slower companions in winter conditions at this altitude after a summit attempt lasting for several hours is very difficult and incredibly risky.

Despite the late hour and the fact that one of the conquerors reached the summit (the main objective of the expedition was reached – the mountain was summited), the attack continued, although it might have been interrupted according to a “let’s stick together” rule. The climbers could decide to continue as the conditions and weather forecasts were exceptionally favourable. Temperature was between minus 29 and minus 35 (at night) degrees Celsius, there was almost no wind, there were no clouds and visibility was very good. Chances for success in such a perfect conditions for climbing in winter were huge.

Unfortunately, having reached the summit Tomasz Kowalski suffered probably from sudden and symptomless exhaustion and rapid pathological changes associated with high altitude and low temperatures. He was not able to descend. It took him 12 hours to get to the pass, where he probably remained; normally it takes an hour. Tomasz established radio contact for a couple of times. There was no contact with Maciej Berbeka since he had reached the summit. Maciej and Tomasz did not descend together and it was not clear whether they were close to one another even for a while. Maciej descended as the first one and was seen by Tomasz a couple of times. It may be assumed that also Maciej Berbeka has suffered from exhaustion and considering technical difficulties of the route, he could have fallen down or into a crevasse (on 6 th March in early morning hours after an extremely difficult night spent without any bivouac equipment at 7,700 m, where he was seen the last time).

Adam Bielecki returned from the summit to camp 4 at 10:10 PM (verified time), whereas Artur Małek was there at 2:00 AM. Both of them did not establish any radio contacts due to technical problems (frequency changed in Adam’s radio and Artur could not turn on his radio).
Having rested, Adam Bielecki left the tent the same night and went upwards to meet Artur Małek and the descending climbers. Ha managed to climb several meters and had to return due to physical exhaustion caused by summiting the mountain. In the morning, after a rest, Artur Małek also decided to attempt to look for the remaining two climbers. Equipped in liquids he started to ascend towards the pass. Similarly to Adam Bielecki, he climber several meters and returned to camp 4 due to exhaustion.

On 6th March, a Pakistani climber, Karim Hayat, set off from camp 2 to inspect slopes above the pass and continue the search. He reached the crevasses at 7,700 m. Despite good visibility, he did not notice any traces of Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski.

The next day Krzysztof Wielicki, the leader of the expedition, assumed that two climbers, who spent two nights without any bivouac equipment in extremely difficult conditions, had no chances for survival.

The expedition was terminated on 8th March in the afternoon. After a symbolic last goodbye and a prayer for the deceased, the climbers started to descend to the valley. Medical matters have been described separately in a report made by Robert Szymczak, MD, PhD, who specializes in rescue and high-altitude medicine and is a member of Medical Committee of Polish Mountaineering Association and a distinguished Himalayan climber.

Opportunities of using a helicopter and other means supporting the search (satellite GPS) were described in another report available at the website of Polish Winter Himalayan Mountaineering program.

This material is of informative nature. Detailed analyses and final evaluation of the entire expedition are going to be prepared by a special commission of Polish Mountaineering Association.

Krzysztof Wielicki – leader of the expedition
Adam Bielecki – participant
Artur Małek – participant

Artur Hajzer – national co-ordinator, leader of Polish Winter Himalayan Mountaineering 2010-2015 program

Last changed: 29.03.2013 at 15:25

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