Piotr Pustelnik's final Broad Peak debrief
(K2Climb.net/MountEverest.net) It's hard to believe, but after 16 years in the Himalayas, a series of amazing climbs and endless suffering, Polish Piotr Pustelnik says he has finally surrendered to Annapurna. “This mountain, which I tried to conquer for the third time, sucked up all my climbing skills, my humanity,” Piotr said, before turning back upwards for the last time - to climb his 8000er no 13: Broad Peak.
Two words echoed in Pustelnik's mind: It's over
Since Manaslu in 2003 where he reached the summit in hellish conditions, Piotr had hit the same wall again and again; retreat on Annapurna and Broad Peak.
The last Annapurna climb was dramatic. The four men including fellow Polish Piotr Morawski, Slovak Peter Hamor and Tibetan climber Lotse had to remain in the high camp for several days due to bad weather. When conditions finally cleared, their supplies had run out. Knowing it was now or never, the climbers made their way to the top. Hamor broke trail and reached the main summit. Behind him, on Annapurna's east summit at 8010 meters, Lotse went blind.
“Piotr (Morawski) and I told ourselves, we had two options: Behave like humans and stay with Lotse, or leave him and shoot for the summit,” Pustelnik said afterwards. “The second option would have never allowed us to look in the mirror again. We had to decide who we wanted to be. Today, I can speak calmly of it, but those conversations were not calm in the least.” Weakened from exposure and lack of food, the two men finally made it back to BC with their injured mate. Two words echoed in Pustelnik's mind: It's over.
Bitter-sweet memories from last 8000er
Heading straight over to Pakistan, Piotr said “I want to bid the mountains farewell in the Karakorum, where I started my climbing adventures." The third and last stage of his 2006 mBank Lotto Himalayan Trilogy expedition was for all three 'Peters' to reach the summit of Broad Peak together via a new and difficult route on BP's southern ridge in alpine style.
The trilogy now completed and a Broad summit behind him, Piotr Pustelnik looks back on his final 8000er with bitter-sweet memories. As they made their final acclimatization summit push on the normal route of Broad the morning of July 8, things went wrong.
Finding tragedy on the climbing trail
They found Sepp Bachmair high up on the trail. Sepp had summited the day before (July 7) at around 3:00 pm, half an hour before Austrians Markus Kronthaler who stood on the top at 3:30. Both climbers were exhausted after desperately trying to cross the ridge to the foresummit the previous night. Fatigued and dehydrated, Markus died in Sepp's arms on the summit ridge (8030 m) in the early morning hours of July 8.
Sepp continued down alone, reaching the col at 7,800m in a mere 3.5 hours after having been on the go for over 24 hours. There, by 10:00 am, Pustelnik, Morawski and Hamor stumbled across the frostbitten climber. Sepp initially wanted to continue to descend on his own, but thanks to Heigenhauser's persistence on the radio, he finally agreed to having a companion. Sepp later admitted that without Piotr Morawski's help he probably would not have made it down to Camp 3.
Here is Part 1 of Piotr Pustelnik's 2-part final debrief of what happened high on Broad:
The perfect days
“I must say that we had superb weather, a striking exception to my previous experiences on Broad Peak. Never before and probably never again, as I’m not likely to come back here, have I seen so many days of perfect, sunny, cloudless, and warm weather - for Karakorum and mountains in general.”
“Anyway, we began our climb to C3 very early in the morning to avoid the heat on the huge, snow-covered stretches that separate the two camps. We’d almost succeeded as we got to C3 at around 11a.m. The camp was full of other teams’ tents; including those of a massive 35-person strong expedition - but that is a topic for a separate story.”
“We pitched our tent and spent the entire day discussing our plans and preparing for the following day. We settled what time to leave in the morning, how much to eat and drink to be in the best possible condition the next day, etc. Peter H. wasn’t feeling too well that day, struggling with some sort of a stomach bug, just as I did last year, so I know how weakening it can be. Anyhow, we generally ate and drank, building up our reserves for the rest of the day.”
"I could see from the expression on his face that something was wrong”
“We began our ascent the next day very early in the morning, though not as early as we wanted: Slav people don’t seem to have the early-morning genes of the Swiss and the Germans. We only set off at 4:00/4:30 am. Below a huge serac we found two abandoned tents and a discarded backpack. We carried on along fixed ropes, which I recognized as those I put in with the Czechs last year. Piotr Morawski, the strongest amongst us, got to the col first. I was still below the pass when he looked over the rocks and I could see from the expression on his face: It was no longer cheerful - something was wrong.”
“He said something more or less along these lines: ‘Piotr, you’re not gonna like this’. But I still didn’t know what he meant. As I reached the col, still rather calm, I saw someone lying in the snow. Piotr M. said: ‘It’s not looking good.' It was an Austrian climber in a very feeble condition, but that’s not all. There was another one somewhere ahead on the ridge, probably no longer alive.”
Piotr M.: “I am the strongest, I will lead him down”
“Well, what can I say, my heart sank and I teared up - out of helplessness, or perhaps just generally. It was my fourth time on this mountain and each time something had happened and prevented us from making it to the summit. Obviously I didn’t use the word “prevent” in a literal way as when there is an emergency, it goes without saying that one needs to do the best one can do to help - but I just knew that something was wrong and that we were going to have to alter all our plans a lot.”
“It was very difficult to communicate with the Austrian, as he didn’t speak much English, but from what we could understand, he and his partner had made it to the summit. On their way down tough, his partner (the Austrian expedition leader) had most likely perished out of exhaustion. We did what is normally done in such a situation: We got in touch with BC and with the Austrian team, and started to discuss what needed to be done."
"It turned out that a Spanish (as far as I can remember) doctor was on his way up. So we started contemplating our options, and after a while Piotr Morawski, in a tremendously noble gesture said: “Listen, I’m the strongest of us all; I will lead him down. I will probably manage to go down and come up again. He needs to be helped down the ropes for the first 200 m but then I’ll walk him down. You carry on up and look for the other climber.’”
“So this is what we did: We gave the exhausted Austrian a large dose of Dexamethasone, which made him feel better, helped him up and he started slowly abseiling.”
”Everything felt different”
“Peter Hamor and I continued our ascent. It was apparent, however, that neither of us had the same physical or mental strength than before. Everything felt different.”
“The ridge seemed longer, more difficult, and unpleasant. We were expecting to see the other Austrian behind every little hill on the ridge. It took us a lot of time but after our ‘adventures’ on Annapurna, we were well-used to walk along a ridge, and it wasn’t a problem for us. Technically, it’s really easy – a fact that surprised me last year when I stopped at the Rocky Summit, there aren’t any significant difficulties between the Rocky and the main summit.”
”There was no snow, no stones, nothing to cover the body”
“Anyway, about 20 minutes below the main summit, on the top of the last mound we saw trekking poles wrist straps flapping in the wind and we knew that they would not be there on their own. This is where we tragically found Markus. We did all we could in such a situation to safeguard him against… well, against human eyes actually. It was awkward to do anything half-decent as the ridge was flat, and there was no snow or stones, nothing (to cover the body).
“We took from his pockets some of his belongings for his family. This will remain with us as our main memory of Broad Peak. The mountain is technically easy, but there’s always something happening there.”
“We summited together and this was our short-lived moment of jubilation. Then we started walking down and it was a long and careful descent. We got back late, just before sunset, feeling very tired. We found Andrzej and Kinga, who had climbed up by then, waiting for us. It was a very, very emotional greeting. I felt really moved.”
“And this is how my repetitious Broad Peak adventures are slowly coming to an end... It’s hard for me to talk about it all: On the one hand we reached the summit almost as a part of our acclimatization phase, but on the other hand we took part in yet another rescue operation.”
Piotr M.’s fair reward for a fantastic gesture
“It was great that the next day, when Peter H. and I started descending to BC and Kinga with Andrzej stayed in C3 to further acclimatize; Piotr M. began climbing up again, this time with the Slovakian team. I knew he was going to summit and thus get a fair reward for this fantastic gesture the previous day.”
“He got to the summit and returned without any trouble, and our only concern was to make sure that the Slovaks, who seemed to be moving slowly, also ascend and descend safely, which they eventually did the next morning.”
“The weather deteriorated badly so we returned back to BC: Our team, the Slovaks, the Spaniards - only two Italians remained up.”
“We had finished the first phase of the expedition, the phase which was supposed to be a simple acclimatization exercise, but ended up being yet another rescue mission. This is what is like in the mountains."
(Ed note: Story edited 11:06 am EST Aug 29, 2006 with details on Markus and Sepp's climb.)
Click here for Piotr Pustelnik’s BP Debrief Part 2, final: “It’s time to sum things up”