Mountain climbing is a potentially treacherous hobby, but when the proper precautions are taken, it can be a fun and challenging sport. When those precautions are thrown out the window, or unexpected events occur, disaster strikes. This became clear with the infamous K2 disaster of 2008 when 11 people, including both visitors and guides, perished while ascending and descending the mountain together.
On average, approximately one person perishes on the K2 mountain for every four who reach the summit, but what happened on K2 in 2008 became known as the most fatal climb of them all. Several international expedition groups had been waiting all summer for the weather to clear at the mountain on the border of China and Pakistan and started their expedition together on August 1. What followed is both a tragic and sobering reminder that adventure sports can be as unpredictable as they are exciting, and require careful planning.
Many people still have questions about what went wrong and how 11 people lost their lives during the 2008 K2 climb. A 2013 Sundance documentary, The Summit, recalls the events of that fateful day, but the details of what actually happened remain a mystery.
The group of climbers who banded together got a very late start on their climb to the summit because gear was being used improperly and one of the guides had to be replaced at the last minute. When they reached the very steep and icy pathway known as the Bottleneck, Serbian climber Dren Mandic unclipped himself from the group's rope and fell. At the time, he was adjusting his equipment and passing another climber.
Mandic tumbled down hundreds of feet, and although some climbers said he initially stood up, he instantly toppled over again and stayed down that time. Unsure if Mandic had survived, several climbers set off to attempt a rescue. In the end, though, Mandic was found to have perished in the fall.
Jehan Baig was a Pakistani porter who had initially been hired to help the Serbian team but was dismissed for unknown reasons. A French climber, Hugues d’Aubarede, hired Baig at the last minute and he joined the group heading up the mountain.
Baig was said to be suffering from altitude sickness, and while the team debated the odds of successfully rescuing Dren Mandic after he fell, Baig decided to descend after him. Unfortunately, he slipped, and he did not have an ice ax to stop himself from plummeting. Baig slid dozens of feet before dropping off the side of the mountain.
A group of Korean climbers was among the collaborative explorers summiting K2 that day. No one knows what happened to them, but three of the climbers were found hanging among tangled ropes the next morning.
Climbers Wilco van Rooijen and Marco Confortola separately passed by the Koreans during their descent, but felt they could not offer major help since they were fighting for their own lives. Confortola said there was blood all around, and van Rooijen only saw one of them move.
The one person who may have made a serious attempt to help the Korean group was Irish climber Ger McDonnell. As he and Marco Confortola descended past the Korean explorers who had mysteriously become tangled in ropes off a mountain ledge, McDonnell went to help and did not return despite Confortola's warnings.
McDonnell was caught in an icefall and the avalanche consumed both him and those he may have been trying to rescue. Confortola, shocked to spot his friend's boots in the snow, said Ger "was in pieces."