K2 - Against all odds - 2008 Tragedy

Select a point or use the arrows


1Camp IV
2Camp IV to Bottleneck
3Camp IV to Bottleneck
5Begining of the Traverse
6Unknown location
7Begining of the Traverse
10The Summit
12The Snowfield
13Camp IV
14Top of Serac
15Camp IV
17Camp IV to Bottleneck
19Camp IV to Bottleneck
21Top of Serac
22Top of Serac
24The Serac
25Camp IV
26Camp IV to Bottle neck
27Base camp and unknown location
28Unknown location
29Base camp

2008 Tragedy

K2, sometimes called Savage Mountain and located on the Pakistan-Chinese border, has the highest fatality rate of any mountain in the world. Approximately one in four climbers do not make it back alive. One of the challenges of K2 is its sustained technical difficulty; the face of K2 is characterised by 45+ degree angles with a rocky and icy surface, combined with sudden life threatening changes in weather conditions. Even in the face of such difficulties, each year, typically in between June and August, a caravan of climbers will assemble at the Base Camp to attempt climbing this majestic mountain. In 2008, in the worst single accident in the history of mountaineering, eleven out of twenty-nine highly experienced mountaineers died. Three others were seriously injured when eight international expeditions attempted to climb K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth.
  • "In the aftermath of the climb, with eleven men dead in shocking circumstances, there was a rash of newspaper reports, many of them critical of mountaineering in general and the unwarranted risk the climbers take, together with the suffering they occasionally oblige their loved ones to endure. Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb all fourteen 8000m peaks, and arguably the greatest of all high-altitude mountaineers, told the German N24 television news channel that ‘people are booking K2 package deals almost as if they were buying all- inclusive trip to Bangkok. Something like this is not professional; it is pure stupidity."
    (Sale, 2011, p. 172)
K2 is most often attempted in the style of climbing known as siege-style mountaineering. This involves setting up a fixed line of stocked camps along the mountain route. These can be accessed at the climbers’ convenience. This is in contrast to “Alpine” style climbing where climbers carry all their food, shelter equipment etc. with them. “Siege” style is also characterised by the use of fixed ropes, and climbers (along with the porters they frequently employ) will travel up and down the route several times in order to fix ropes and to set up camps. Alpine style disregards the use of fixed ropes, porters, and camps, with climbers usually climbing the route only once in an intense continuous push. On July 31st 2008, 29 climbers from eight expeditions gather at Camp IV to commence their final ascent. Please click through the unfolding events.
Cranfield School of ManagementUme†




Edited K2 TIMELINE FOR WEB - LATEST 30 January



July 31st after 05:30  The Summit Attempt Is Set For August 1st

On July 31st 2008, a total of 32 climbers are set to commence their final ascent of one of the most dangerous mountains on earth – K2. It has been agreed that an Advance Party will set off before the rest of the expeditions, leaving on July 31st at 22:00 from Camp IV. They will establish a lifeline of fi xed ropes and bamboo sticks to help orientation through the Bottleneck and Traverse.The leader of the South Korean Flying Jump expedition, Kim Jae-soo Kim, believes that his team should form this Advance Team because of their equipment and their experience. Joining them will be Shaheen Baig, as the nominated leader of the Advance Team, from the Serbian team, two Pakistani high-altitude porters (HAPs), the Pakistani Karim Meherban as well as Pemba Gyalje from the Norit team.

July 31st, around 22:00  A Plan Changes

At Camp IV, despite their excitement at the prospect of reaching the summit of K2 the next day, the climbers try to get some sleep. The calm is suddenly broken by a disturbance among some of the Sherpas who are claiming that some equipment had been forgotten. They discover that one of the HAPs has already made his way back down because he was coughing blood. He has taken with him a considerable length of rope destined for use by the Advance Team. The commotion eventually dies down. Despite the agreed 22:00 deadline, some climbers from the Advance Team have not yet arrived, among them its nominated leader, Shaheen Baig. Feeling unwell, he has remained in his tent. Time passes and those members of the Advance Team who have arrived make preparations to pave the way for the following climbers. They set off, already considerably late, without their nominated leader.


August 1st after 02:00  The Ascent

It is in the early hours of August 1st , a clear, moonless night. Alberto Zerain - a Basque alpine climber - sets off from Camp III and reaches Camp IV just two hours later, climbing without supplementary oxygen and with minimal equipment. Without having to rely on a mass of climbers, sherpas and high altitude porters, he had left Camp III oblivious of the change in plans unfolding higher up the mountain. The summit peak is still hidden in the darkness, but the weather conditions are excellent.


August 1st after 05:00  Preparing The Shoulder

The Advance Team is busy positioning bamboo poles with red ribbons to guide any climber back to Camp IV if visibility deteriorates. They soon realise that there are fewer poles than anticipated but quickly brush the problem aside. The mass of climbers is already on the move and the Advance Team needs to work on getting the safety of a single line of bolted ropes in place. This fixed rope will assist the climbers in the exposed areas of the Bottleneck and Traverse, which has angles of up to 70 degrees and a towering balcony serac. Many climbers have been saved from being swept away by being attached to such a fixed rope.

August 1st after 05:30  Surprise

The mass of climbers makes its way up the Shoulder, a broad, shallow-angled hump thickly covered by ice and snow, following the line of bamboo poles. The climb is not challenging but suddenly the climbers stumble across the first ropes fixed by the Advance Team. This is a surprise; the ropes seem to start far too soon. It is generally assumed, however, that the Advance Team has plenty of spare rope to fi x the more demanding stages, in particular for the Bottleneck and the Traverse.


August 1st after 06:30  The Danger Zone

The sun rises. In front of the climbers the awesome sight of the Bottleneck is revealed - a 40-50 degree narrow gully of rock, ice and snow. Above the Bottleneck the Great Serac, a glacier of ice and snow, towers over the climbers. In the past, icefalls here have led to casualties and fatalities. In the increasing light of day, unusual cracks become visible and it is important that this danger point of the overhanging icefall is passed as quickly as possible.

August 1st around 10:00 A Traffic Jam

Light on equipment, Alberto Zerain catches up with the Advance Team, midway the Bottleneck. Below, climbers are clustered together, making slow progress in moving outside the realm of the Great Serac. The view is not what he expected. They are scarcely moving and each individual climber’s pace is dependent on the one ahead of him and her.

August 1st around 10:30 The End Of The Rope

The Advance Team with the rest of the expeditions close behind, frantically fixes ropes. Suddenly, they stop. They have run out of rope, and they have not even reached the end of the Bottleneck or the following treacherous stage of the Traverse. Having run out of lifeline, they ask the climbers at the back to cut the ropes they have already fixed and hand them up to the Advance Team. Precious time passes and the risk of having to descend in darkness becomes more and more inevitable.

August 1st between 10:00 and 11:00 First Doubts

With the delays and limited progress, the climbers could be forced to return through the Bottleneck in the dark. Although eager to reach the summit some climbers make the decision to turn back and descend to Camp IV. Even so, one of the largest groups of climbers ever seen on K2 continues its ascent.


August 1st after 10:30   The Mouth of the Traverse

The first climbers reach the diagonal passageway. Alberto Zerain moves ahead and takes over fixing ropes. Below, the ascent through the Bottleneck has come to a standstill.


August 1st around 11:00    The First Casualty

Nervous about the slow progress, some climbers unclip from the safety of the anchored ropes and free-climb, attempting to bypass the single line of climbers. Among them is the Serb, Dren Mandic, waiting nervously at the top of the Bottleneck. Suddenly he slips and without the safety of the fixed rope, he tumbles down the Bottleneck.

August 1st after 11:30  One of Many Rescue Attempts

The Serb climbers, Predrag Zagorac and Iso Planic, followed by Muhammad Hussein, turn around and head towards Dren. The summit attempt by the Serb team is aborted and preparations are made to rescue their colleague. Frederik Sträng, having returned to Camp IV sees a body tumbling down the Bottleneck. He prepares himself to treat an injured climber and rushes towards the spot where Dren came to a standstill. Jehan Baig follows him to provide assistance.

August 1st around 12:45   A Strange Decision

Frederik Sträng reaches the group of Serbian climbers, huddled around an apparently lifeless body. Dren Mandic has succumbed to his injuries. Predrag Zagorac, Iso Planic, Frederik Sträng and Jehan Baig decide to slide the body of Dren down the slope, attaching it to a line of roped climbers. Suddenly, the body of Jehan Baig bounces into the back of Frederik. With Jehan still holding onto the rope in bewilderment, his weight threatens to drag everybody down the steep shoulder with him. The others urge him desperately to let go of the rope, which he does, but he quickly begins to slide again. In disbelief, Frederik watches Jehan approach a drop of three hundred metres before he vanishes from sight.


August 1st after 13:00   A Question of Turning Around

The attempt to bring down Dren’s body is now abandoned. Frederik Sträng, Predrag Zagorac, and Iso Planic return to their tents and the other teams are debriefed. As they are already considerably late, the prospect of descending through the night becomes a fact. More climbers decide to abort their summit attempt. These are Jelle Staleman, Nick Rice, Roberto Manni, Chris Klinke and Oystein Stangerland. Despite the tragic circumstances and painfully slow progress, the rest of the expeditions press on. The unease some climbers feel is quickly brushed aside by the reminder of how far they believe they have travelled since the start of their ascent.

August 1st after 14:00   Climbing The Traverse

All summiting climbers have finally entered the Traverse, clipping themselves to a single fixed rope with their karabiners. Some have been climbing for more than 24 hours. The pace remains painfully slow. Rolf Bea mentions that he is having problems and further ahead Karim Meherban is also concerned about the condition of his leader, Hugues d’Aubarède. Nevertheless, everyone continues.


August 1st around 14:30   Time Is Passing

Alberto Zerain, the Basque independent climber, has been spearheading everybody, fixing ropes on his way through the first sections of the Traverse. He urges the following line of climbers to increase their pace, but to no avail. More precious time is spent in the danger zone.


August 1st after 14:30 Light at the End of the Tunnel

The fi rst climbers reach the snowfield leading up to the summit. Rolf Bae, conscious of his physical state, tells Cecilie Skog that he will not make it to the top and that he will wait for her.


August 1st around 15:30   The Summit

Alberto Zerain reaches the summit of K2. He knows he is late and he turns around quickly. On his way back, he sees other climbers passing him, still full of excitement. The summit of K2 is in their grasp.

August 1st after 17:30  A Pyrrhic Victory

The summit. Pictures are taken, videos shot and climbers embrace each other in celebration. Many look exhausted. Some remain for a significant time at the summit to savour their success in reaching the peak of one of the world’s most challenging mountains.

August 1 around 20:00 An Emptying Summit

The sun is sinking fast. With the departure of the Dutch team, including Wilco van Rooijen, the summit has been conquered once more. Now, the most dangerous part of the climb, the descent, begins. This is in darkness so that the risk is multiplied. A long line of exhausted climbers now need to make their way back through a hazardous environment characterised by avalanches and icefall, in pitch black.


August 1st after 20:00  The Law of Probability Strikes

The Norwegians Rolf Bae, Cecilie Skog and Lars Nessa clip themselves onto the anchored rope leading down the Traverse. While they are making some progress, the Traverse is suddenly rocked by an icefall. Rolf Bae vanishes into the darkness. The Great Serac has taken a victim. Cecilie and Lars realise that the single anchored rope has been cut.

August 1st around 21:00   What To Do

Bewildered, Lars Nessa and Cecilie Skog wonder what to do. They take out some emergency rope and ice screws and scramble along the Traverse, down to the remaining pieces of the fixed line of rope.


August 1st after 21:00   Signs of Disintegration

Further up the mountain, climbing down the snowfield, Sherpa Chhiring Dorje tries to keep everybody together and guide them down towards the fixed rope. He is puzzled by the picture that turns conventional wisdom upside down. Individual climbers wander off , with no signs of cohesion. Jumik Bhote notices that the two leaders of the South Korean Flying Jump Expedition, Kim-Jae-Soo (‘Ms. Kim’) and Go Mi-sun (‘Ms. Go’), are rushing ahead towards the mouth of the Traverse. As they disappear in the fading light, he is left alone with the remainder of this team, two of whom seem to be increasingly despondent.


August 1st around 22:00   Making Sense Of The Inevitable

Eric Meyer and Frederik Sträng do not notice the arrival of Cecilie Skog and Lars Nessa at Camp IV. The quietness and emptiness of Camp IV concerns them however, and in particular the lack of radio communication bothers them. After the frantic and jubilant exchanges from the summit, radio traffic has been suspiciously quiet. Frequent communication is essential to establish what is happening and to co-ordinate activities in surroundings where visibility is restricted. Despite agreeing on a single frequency, not everybody carries a radio and some handsets do not always work at this altitude. In addition, the Koreans use radio to communicate in their own language and, as a result, other expeditions have switched to their own frequencies. Other climbers have simply left theirs behind. Puzzled, Eric and Frederik, (the only ones at that time capable of launching a co-ordinated rescue effort), are oblivious to the threat that is looming over the remaining climbers.


August 1st around 22:00   A Question Of Bivouacking

On the snowfield leading up to the summit, Marco Confortola and Gerard McDonnell are exhausted and decide to bivouac – without a tent, sleeping bag, food or oxygen. On top of the Great Serac, Karim Meherban and Wilco van Rooijen are desperately seeking a way down. They are lost. The four South Koreans, Hwang Dong-Jin, Park Keyoung-Hyo, Kim Hyo-Gyung and Jumik Bhote decide to continue and stumble ahead, oblivious of the severed life line further below or the emergency rope fixed by Cecilia and Lars.


August 1st after 22:30   Realization sets in

Three Sherpas, Chhiring Dorje, with Pemba Gyalje and ‘Little’ Pasang Lama, reach the Traverse and arrive at the end of the anchored rope. Chhiring Dorje radios back to Eric Meyer that the rope has been cut. Descending in the dark, exhausted, running out of oxygen, and hindered by a severed lifeline, it dawns on Eric Meyer and Frederik Sträng that they have a critical situation on their hands. The specifi cs of the unfolding crisis, however, remain unclear. Where is everybody and what state is each of the climbers in? Without such information a rescue attempt from the relative safety of Camp IV will prove to be a shot in the dark. In the meantime, more climbers reach the cut lifeline.


August 1st between  22:30-01:30 Free Climbing

Chhiring Dorje, Pemba Gyalje and ‘Little’ Pasang Lama, have noticed the cut rope but fail to detect the newly fixed emergency rope. They decide to short-rope their way through the Traverse. Connected by a six-foot long rope to Chhiring Dorje, any small slip could potentially result in the death of all three. With a sigh of relief, they all make it through the Traverse to safely reach Camp IV. They are met there by a concerned Eric Meyer and Frederik Sträng. Looking up the mountain, the headlamps of the remaining climbers indicate that they are continuing their way down the snowfield towards the treacherous passage below the Great Serac - the Traverse; still unaware of an almost insurmountable obstacle ahead of them.


August 1st around  00:00 Searching For A Needle In A Haystack

The Sherpas, Chhiring Bhote and ‘Big’ Pasang Bhote, who are due to commence their ascent that night with the second group of South Koreans, set out into the darkness to look for the missing Koreans and Tsering Lama’s cousin, Jumik Bhote. Loaded with spare rope, oxygen, food and sleeping bags they make their way towards the Bottleneck when they stumble across Kim Jae-Soo, the leader of the South Korean expedition, and ask what has happened and where everybody is. Unable to obtain many details from him, the two Sherpas continue moving up the mountain and looking out for the lights from headlamps.


August 2nd around  01:00 A Small Mistake

Cas van de Gevel moves step-by-step along the Traverse where he meets the leader of the French-led expedition Hugues d’Aubarède. Noticing that he is no longer with his high altitude porter Karim Meherban, Cas exchanges a few words with Hugues and then carries on. Continuing downwards, he suddenly notices a body to his left plunging head first into the darkness. No sound, no shout. Unaware of the loose end of the severed rope, Hugues d’Aubarède has abseiled off its end.


August 2nd after  02:00   Communication Breakdown

Chhiring Bote and ‘Big’ Pasang Bhote progress further up the Bottleneck. They hear a desperate plea for help and they stumble across Go-Mi Sun, the second leader of the Korean Flying Jump team. Unable to contact the remaining four Korean climbers due to a malfunctioning radio, they return and reach Camp IV at 04:30. Both Korean leaders have also reached the safety of Camp IV. It’s a clear night, and the two Sherpas begin packing again, planning to go out and look for those who have so far failed to return safely.


August 2nd after 03:00    An Entanglement

The four South Korean climbers, Hwang Dong-Jin, Park Keyoung-Hyo, Kim Hyo-Gyung and Jumik Bhote make their way down to the beginning of the Traverse. Suddenly, they stumble. One Korean tumbles down the short distance towards the steep edge, and disappears. Jumik Bhote and the three remaining Koreans get entangled in the ropes and their fall is halted. Three climbers are now trapped on a mountain, waiting for the others to notice and release them.


August 2nd around 03:00  So Close Yet So Far...

Above the entangled climbers, Marco Confortola and Gerald McDonnell try to stay awake. They dig a hole and move around to keep their circulation going. The lights of Camp IV can be seen and appear to be quite close. All their yelling, shouting and waving of their headlamps goes unnoticed. Suddenly, a figure appears, moving towards them out of the darkness. Wilco van Rooijen, who has struggled to get down the snowfield, has noticed their headlamps. The three climbers try a final time to attract the attention of Camp IV, without success. They settle down to wait for first light to help their further descent.


August 2nd around 06:00  Snow Blindness

At first light Wilco van Rooijen detects symptoms of snow blindness. He tells Marco Confortola and Gerald McDonnell that he should descend quickly. He soon loses his bearings however and, hampered by deteriorating eyesight and an incoming bank of fog, he struggles downwards feeling his way. Having left his lightweight GPS at Camp IV he takes out his satellite phone and, unable to read the electronic address book, he dials the only number he remembers - his own. His wife picks up the connection via Base Camp and Camp IV is alerted to locate his position. He does not know where he is and the only option for him is to continue downwards.


August 2nd around 07:00  A Gordian Knot

Wilco van Rooijen comes across the three stricken climbers. Given his deteriorating eyesight he continues his descent. Soon after, Marco Confortola and Gerald McDonnell, making their way into the Traverse, also notice the three trapped climbers. On this steep 30 to 40 degree incline, one is hanging down head first and the other one is barely alive. Jumik Bhote has lost his boot and a glove, his foot is now exposed to the unrelenting forces of wind and cold. They attempt to untangle the three climbers for three hours – an endeavour which is both risky and, given the state of the rescuers, a near impossible task. Marco Confortola decides to descend. Gerard remains and looks after the only conscious climber, Jumik Bhote.


August 2nd after 08:00  A Lone Figure

Karim Meherban from the French-led expedition, wanders aimlessly along the top of the Serac, zigzagging in pure desperation to find a way down. He wades through thick snow towards the lip of the Great Serac – and then falls.


August 2nd after 10:00  The Big Picture

Those who have remained at Camp IV now take stock. Wilco van Rooijen, Gerald McDonnell, Marco Confortola, Jumik Bhote, Hwang Dong-Jin and Park Kyeong-Hyo are still unaccounted for. Eric Meyer tries to contact anyone who is still up on the mountain, trying all possible radio frequencies, but to no avail. They would initiate a rescue if they could detect any signs of life. However, with only a single oxygen bottle and no spare rope, any rescue attempt at this stage would be a futile and excessively risky undertaking. By noon, most of the climbers at Camp IV decide to descend to Base Camp because of their deteriorating conditions. Only a few, among them Cas van de Gevel and Pemba Gyalje, stay to wait for their friends to return. Any help at Camp IV for those that are still high up at the mountain is gradually diminished.


August 2nd around 12:00 From Bad To Worse

The two Sherpas, Chhiring Bhote and ‘Big’ Pasang Bhote, move further into the Bottleneck as they notice a climber, Marco Confortola, crawling on his hands and knees. Pemba Gyalje sets off from Camp IV in an attempt to get him down safely. ‘Big’ Pasang moves ahead and to his surprise encounters Jumik Bhote, who appears to have freed himself from the entanglement. Their exhilaration is cut short but yet another icefall. They are both swept away. Pemba rushes towards a lifeless bundle of not one, but two climbers.


August 2nd around 15:00  In Pursuit Of Order

At Base Camp, Chris Klinke and Roeland van Oss are collating information about those returning to the safety of Base Camp. They also take stock of who is presumed dead. The treacherous route along the Black Pyramid and the House’s Chimney, poses additional challenges to the tired and distraught climbers who have just made it through the Bottleneck. Among those presumed missing is one who lost his way – Wilco van Rooijen.

August 2nd after 17:30    On The Wrong Path

Wilco van Rooijen has used his mobile several times. This makes it possible to trace his calls and pinpoint his actual location. His last two calls indicate an area near the Black Pyramid (please see www.K2againstallodds.com). Chris Klinke, however, spots a lonely figure near the Cesan Route. Unfortunately, it is once again getting dark.


August 3rd around 05:30  Another Night

Wilco van Rooijen spends another night in sub-zero temperatures. At fi rst light, Cas van de Gevel and Pempa Gyalje manage to locate him. They bring him to Camp IV and then, facing extreme diffculties, on to Base Camp. The last of the survivors finally makes it back.


August 4th Against All Odds

A sombre mood descends on Base Camp. Two days before, 32 highly experienced and technically skilled mountaineers set off from Camp IV to reach the summit of K2. The Savage Mountain kept 11 in its grasp. Is this just an unlucky occurrence or did the climbers collectively push the element of risk beyond the manageable?

It dawns on everybody that this climb is unlike any other. People do die in such environments. Climbing K2 remains a high risk undertaking. Before Base Camp is left to its surrounding elements, the Gilkey Memorial, which is positioned near the camp receives 11 additional plates to commemorate those who lost their lives in August 2008.