Russian mountaineer Alexander Gukov (42) has been safely returned to base camp following a dramatic ordeal on the North Ridge of Latok I (7145m). Gukov's climbing partner Sergei Glazunov (26) fell to his death while abseiling above 6000m on 25th July, leaving Gukov stranded in harsh weather conditions. Poor weather continuously hampered rescue efforts on the mountain, but after 6 days without food or water and no communication by sat phone since the 28th, Gukov was rescued today by pilots of 5th Pakistani Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron and is reportedly in good health with no frostbite.
Initially, it was unclear which of the climbers had fallen. Details of the expedition and rescue were posted on Mountain.ru by Editor Anna Piunova, who assisted in coordinating the rescue. The pair had started their expedition around two weeks prior to the accident and were running low on supplies at the time of the accident. Having discarded heavy gear at 5512m on 25th July, they continued towards the summit with five days worth of food and no bivi gear. Other members of their expedition team were climbing a different route on the mountain and kept in contact with the pair. Low visibility and snowy conditions prevented the pair from reaching the summit and the other team members arranged a flyover, which spotted the pair and dropped food and gas supplies. Gukov and Glazunov had been witnessed Dulfersitz abseiling - body abseiling without a device - by the flyover team. Around three hours later, Gukov sent an SOS to Piunova:
"I NEED HELP," followed by "I NEED TO BE EVACUATED." Via Iridium, he sent: "Seryoga fell. I'm hanging on the wall without equipment."
Last year, Gukov was part of a team that reached the highest point on Latok I's North Ridge since 1978. He received a Piolet d'Or in 2015 for his first ascent of the direct Southwest Face of Thamserku (6618m) in Nepal with Alexey Lonchinsky in 2014.
UKC received real-time rescue updates by Paris-based Pakistani climber Shamyl Sharafat Ali. His accounts are posted below. We would like to thank Shamyl for keeping us informed.
[25/07] Developing situation on Latok-I.
Two Russian climbers 1. Mr. Gukov Aleksander & Mr. Glazunov Sergei in trouble on Latok-I (7145m). They got into trouble last night and asked to be rescued.
2 x Écureuil B3s were involved in a search and rescue mission and a formation took off from Skardu AAB at 0950 and reached the spot on Latok-I. The helicopters landed at the Base Camp and picked up a climber from the same expedition who was at the BC to pin point the exact route taken by the climbers. They were at a height of 6400m AMSL and were spotted after 30 min of search. There was no landing spot in the vicinity unfortunately; so supplies were dropped in the vicinity.
The helicopter pilots instructed the climbers to come down to a spot where the B3s could land. The helicopters then returned to the base awaiting further instructions. Unfortunately during the descent, one climber fell down. We are not sure at the moment if he's injured or dead. Unfortunately the weather has moved in; although the helicopters are on stand-by for rescue in case the weather improves.
Mission is being planned (once the weather improves) to pick four HAPs from Broad Peak BC (or another team near Ashkolé) and to drop them at Latok-I Base Camp so that they could go up and rescue the two climbers. No landing spot available in the vicinity so the only way to rescue the climbers is to get other acclimatised experienced climbers to them ASAP.
[25/07] UPDATE-II LATOK-I: Bad weather at Skardu means that B3s are still grounded at Skardu AAB. Today's cutoff time is over now; so the mission has been called off for tonight. Mission planned for tomorrow morning.
Four HAPs will be picked up and brought as high as possible to Latok-I tomorrow morning, weather permitting.
[26/07, 12:02] UPDATE-III LATOK-I: A rescue mission was launched again this morning by 5th Army Aviation Squadron to get to the stuck Russian climbers on Latok-I. The climbers are Gukov Aleksandr (Piolet d'Or 2015) & Glazunov Sergei; one had a steep fall yesterday during the descent and his body hasn't moved since then. The survival chances of the fallen climber are extremely slim. The formation (2 x Écureuil B3s) took off at 0630hrs from Skardu AAB for the mission. Unfortunately the weather report given by a Russian member of the expedition (Viktor Koval) from Latok Base Camp wasn't accurate. The pilots discovered low clouds on Latok-I when they arrived there with major visibility issues. Unfortunately the pilots couldn't spot the Russian mountaineer in distress. Because there is no landing zone in the area where the climber is stuck, the pilots had attached a fixed sling on B3 to get the climber to safety. The helicopters pulled back once they couldn't spot the climber because of low clouds.
ATP has managed to get hold of Adam Bielecki (POL) and David Goettler (GER) who are at G2 Base Camp. They will be brought to Latok Base Camp today. All the renowned HAPs are somewhere between base camp and Ashkolé and it wasn't possible to locate them quickly enough.
[26/07, 12:02] UPDATE-IV LATOK-I: The Russian climber who fell down while rappelling during descent is confirmed to be Sergey Glazunov. His partner Aleksander Gukov (Piolet d'Or 2015) is stuck around 6000m. Low clouds on Latok-I at the moment not allowing any further rescue work.
[26/07, 12:14] UPDATE-V (Latok I): A formation of Écureuil B3s is shortly taking off from Skardu AAB to pick up Adam Bielecki (POL) and David Goettler (GER) from IHEC Army Camp (near G2). They would be dropped at Latok Base Camp via Paiju.
[26/07, 12:30] UPDATE-VI (Latok-I): After discussion about this particular rescue mission at IHEC, Adam Bielecki has been replaced by Hervé Barmasse (ITL). Both David and Hervé have extensive experience of rescue operations. Thus the climbers being picked up are David Göttler (GER) and Hervé Barmasse (ITL).
The pickup sortie has been delayed because of bad weather being reported at IHEC. Scheduled for today, weather permitting. The formation is on standby.
[26/07, 15:26] UPDATE-VII (Latok-I): Bad weather remains at IHEC and today's cutoff time is over now.
The rescue mission has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning.
[26/07, 20:05] UPDATE-VIII (Latok-I): More details from the rescue operation launched by the 5th Army Aviation Squadron this morning to rescue Aleksander Gukov (Piolet d'Or 2015). As reported this morning there were low clouds on Latok this morning which prevented the mission. This is a very tough rescue operation at very high altitude with no landing zone in the vicinity.
Below you'll find the pics clearly showing the low cloud cover as well as visibility issue this morning on Latok-I. Gukov is reportedly stuck around 6100m. His partner Sergey Glazunov fell while rappelling down yesterday afternoon.
Tomorrow morning, weather permitting two climbers will be lifted out of IHEC and dropped at Latok Base Camp. Fingers crossed!
[26/07, 20:28] UPDATE-IX (Latok-I): Just wanted to address the weather issue this afternoon when the 5th Army Aviation Squadron wanted to go and pick up David Göttler (GER) and Hervé Barmasse (ITL). The formation refueled at Paiju and wanted to pick up the two seasoned rescue climbers from IHEC. Unfortunately the conditions changed drastically at IHEC as bad weather moved in. The low clouds and bad weather was reported from IHEC. The pilots decided not to go inside with these low clouds and rain at IHEC and pulled out.
[26/07, 22:45] Green point is the approximate position of Aleksander Gukov stuck on Latok-I. Rescue mission to be undertaken early tomorrow morning. The next two days' weather isn't looking good at the moment...
[27/07, 07:11] UPDATE-X (Latok-I): Bad weather remains at IHEC and surrounding areas once again this morning. No takeoff possible for the formation from Skardu AAB. The formation is on standby waiting for the weather to improve.
Nothing to do but wait for weather improvement unfortunately...
[28/07, 19:39] UPDATE-XI (Latok-I): Lack of news does not mean nothing has been going on concerning the rescue of Aleksander Gukov, who is stuck at around 6200m on Latok-I. As reported earlier, he lost his partner Sergey Glazunov three days ago while rappelling down.
Unfortunately no rescue operation was possible yesterday as well as today given the weather conditions on Latok. Low clouds and low visibility is hampering any progress on the rescue mission. However, the 5th Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron is on standby for this particular mission since the last couple of days. They are operational from 0430hours but nothing can be done in the face of adverse weather.
Alex has run out of food as well as any charge on his Iridium.
Weather permitting, the Fearless Five will be attempting a fixed line rescue at 6200m early tomorrow morning. This rescue mission would be pushing human as well as machine limits at this high altitude. The mission would also be dependent on weather conditions like visibility, wind, air temperature etc. The courageous pilots will try to free air hover at 6200m without any ground effect to help them and stabilise the helicopter at this altitude long enough for Alex to attach the fixed line to his harness. The pilots are doing as much as they humanly can to come to help of a mountaineer in distress. This is an extremely risky and hazardous operation and I wish them best of luck.
[29/07, 17:37] UPDATE-XII (Latok-I): Quite an eventful day on Latok-I. The 5th Army Aviation Squadron was at standby at 4am and ready for the rescue mission. The elements were supposed to be clement on Latok today but that good weather never materialised sadly. Today showed the dedication and motivation of pilots of the Fearless Five who risked their own lives in engaging in a very risky and hazardous rescue mission. Despite the fact that the rescue mission wasn't successful today, they will be back early tomorrow morning to keep on attempting to rescue Alex through fixed line.
It snowed a major part of the day at Latok. The clouds were low (around 4500m) and visibility quite reduced early in the morning. During the day, the clouds started going up and good conditions were expected around 3-5pm.
Nature, however, had other plans. Despite the bad weather, the pilots of 5th Army Aviation Squadron decided to fly in these rough conditions and arrived around 1420hrs at Latok. The two Écureuil B3s were on an observation run and initially went up Latok-I to have a good look at the clouds. The clouds were around 5500m at this attempt. They made various attempts to go up the mountain inside the clouds but the visibility was really atrocious. After these attempts, they pulled out and landed at Latok Base Camp to brief Victor, teammate of Alex Gukov and Sergey Glazunov (the deceased climber).
It started snowing again when the helis landed at the Base Camp. Given the weather conditions there was no point in staying at BC. The formation then took off and made for Broad Peak to evacuate casualties at the Base Camp.
After the evacuation mission, the formation landed at Jhola Camp and lightened down the helis. Expecting a weather improvement, the B3s were back at Latok at 1700hrs. They started going up the mountain once again (with around 40 litres of fuel) but hit the same situation as earlier. This time the clouds had gone up to around 5700m. The Écureuils took turns going up the mountain inside the clouds but each time they had a major visibility issues. They had various incidents of whiteouts during these attempts. They attacked numerous times and managed to hit an altitude of 6035 meters up the mountain. The pilots could not see anything at this altitude. Unfortunately that wasn't enough as Alex is at around 6200m.
The Fearless Five will be back early tomorrow morning to carry on their attempts to rescue Alex. As expected, it's an extremely difficult mission given the circumstances and location. As explained before, they are free-air hovering (without any ground effect helping them). The conditions are supposed to be better tomorrow.
I salute the courage of these pilots who have attempted the rescue multiple times.
[30/07, 16:46] UPDATE-XIII LATOK-I: THE MALEDICTION OF LATOK...
Monday was supposed to be the best forecast day of the last five days; and in reality the day was exactly like yesterday, even worse.
In Baltoro and Biafo glaciers we had a beautiful blue sky and intermittent clouds; on Latok there was nothing but low clouds and snowfall... One has the impression that this bowl like structure attracts the clouds of the whole area and clings to it.
The weather improved late in the morning and the formation took off at 0945hours from Skardu AAB. Passing by Jhola Camp (to lighten the helis) they arrived at Latok-I. Before landing at BC, they went up the mountain to go as high as possible. Unfortunately the weather didn't allow the pilots to go higher than 5000 metres. They had a complete "whiteout" situation as soon as they went past 5000 metres. After various attempts, they landed at Latok BC at 1100hrs and stayed there for 1300hrs, waiting for the weather to improve.
The conditions, however, refused to cooperate with the pilots and thus they were forced to pull out and head to Paiju, once again waiting for the weather to improve. The B3s then went to Concordia to evacuate Spanish casualties and repatriated them back to Paiju.
By around 1445hours Latok's weather was reported by the Slovenians to be improving and the B3s took off again and were back at Latok by 1505 hours. Unfortunately the weather hadn't much improved by the time they arrived and had actually got worse. The pilots once again took the helis up Latok-I but this time they couldn't even hit 5000m because of "whiteout" conditions. After numerous attempts they landed at Latok BC and waited for the weather to improve. Instead of improving it started heavily snowing... The weather changed quickly at 1615hours when the clouds descended till ground level and almost blocked the exit of helis from Latok! The pilots scrambled and valiantly fought their way out of the clouds to reach Jhola Camp.
Alex is waiting up at 6200m and nature isn't allowing the brave pilots of the 5th Squadron to do anything about it...
The struggle continues tomorrow...
[30/07, 16:59] This is just to give a rough idea of the cruel joke Nature is playing on Latok. Please look closely at this video and look at the clear weather in the East and then the scary conditions on Latok:
[30/07, 17:06] Trying to communicate what the pilots are going through running this rescue mission. Pulling out of Latok, their exit was almost blocked by the rapidly descending clouds. The valiant pilots had to manœuvre their way out of the labyrinth of ground hugging clouds. Bravo once again to their commitment!
[31/07, 06:49] UPDATE-XIV LATOK-I: PILOTS VS NATURE!
After persevering and putting their lives in danger for two consecutive days, the pilots of 5th Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron proved once again that they are amongst the best by rescuing Alex Gukov through sling operation at 6300m. Nature finally backed off...
The weather cleared up during the night. This morning it was mostly blue skies with some clouds hanging around Latok. And this is what tilted the balance in favour of the brave pilots of the Fearless Five. However they had to fight strong winds at 6300m during the sling operation.
The formation (2 X Écureuil B3s) took off from Skardu AAB at 0455 hours and arrived at Latok BC around 0530 hours. They passed by Jhola Camp to lighten the helis. At Latok BC, the pilots decided to first run a search mission to identify the exact location of Alex. The fixed line was connected to the B3s at the BC (but the sling was kept inside the heli) and the helis took off for the mission at around 0545hours. Fuel was taken off at BC to lighten the helis and make a fuel depot at the BC to be used later for rescue attempts during this operation.
The Écureuils went up the mountain and flew for around 45 minutes at 6300m before spotting Alex on a narrow ridge. Due to heavy snow, the orange tent was covered.
The plan for the first attempt was to spot Alex and recce the terrain before coming down to BC and then going back up again for the extraction mission with the right fuel load. However, once Alex was spotted, the B3s had enough fuel left to attempt one sling operation. The pilots decided to go for it.
The weather was good but the strong winds were constantly creating turbulence for the B3s. It was difficult free-air hovering with these strong winds at that altitude. However, for once Nature was helping them out. The outside temperature was -8 degrees and this helped them free-air hover at 6300m (according to their calculations, ideally they needed -10 degrees). In the last couple of days, the temperature was much higher.
One heli threw the sling hovering close to the ridge. The other B3 was hovering right behind him giving adjustment instructions to the lead heli. Thus the two B3s worked in tandem. After trying for 15 minutes, Alex finally managed to get hold of the sling and connected the D ring to his harness. The heli flying back confirmed the safe engagement and instructed the lead heli to pull off with Alex attached. The fuel level was getting critically low by then. However, it was touch and go as Alex had forgotten to remove his anchor to the mountain. Thus he found himself connected to the sling of the B3 on one end and Latok to the other as the mountain refused to let him go. The pilots were extremely lucky as Alex's Latok anchor finally gave away releasing him. The B3s pulled out and brought Alex to safety at the BC from where he was taken directly to CMH Skardu.
He is in good, strong shape and doctors at CMH are taking good care of him.
Rest in peace, Sergey! He'll stay in our heart and prayers.