It's not over till it's over
"Most accidents occur on the descent" - I don't know if this is true, but it's a phrase I have heard many, many times over my climbing career. Getting to the top of a route is often only half the battle...
Recently we reported on the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II. Simone Moro, Denis Urubko and Cory Richards summitted the mountain on the second of February and we had a celebratory report.
On the way down they were hit by an avalanche. Luckily all three climbers were relatively unhurt, but it could easily have gone the other way.
"What happened was what could've happened on any stormy day in winter, when you are tired and you do not do the normal things. It's not that we took too many risks, it was just the conditions were bad." explained expedition leader Simone Moro.
"To normally cross the dangerous zone underneath Gasherbrum V takes 15-20 minutes. Since we had to break trail due to the snow, we spent a lot of time there. A serac fell, and all the snow accumulated from the wind came down. As the avalanche stopped, I realised I was almost out of the snow. I immediately un-roped and I saw Cory's orange suit. I dug him out with my hands and then I went to dig out Denis. After 20 minutes, with visibility down to one metre, Cory fell into a crevasse. We manouevered with the jumars and pulled him out."
"Today has been very hard. The trail markers saved our life. We broke trail one after the other, and we worked as a team. It has been a long day; it took us 8 hours to climb down from Camp 1 to Base Camp. It normally takes 3 hours; after 6 days on the mountains, we did not have much energy left. As long as you are not back to base camp, it is not over. Today luck was on our side. In my backpack I was also carrying down a big bag of rubbish, so maybe the mountain appreciated and graced us."
In shock, American Cory Richards described the incident:
"We were walking underneath Gasherbrum V when a massive, massive avalanche hit all three of us, knocking us about 150 metres over one crevasse. We all ended up on top. I was mostly buried, but my face was out. Denis was mostly buried, but his face was out, and Simone was able to get out of the snow and come dig us out...Everything just went sideways today. We are all very happy and lucky and I think very grateful to be alive. Period."
The expedition was supported by The North Face