Broad Peak special: Interview with Piotr Pustelnik
(K2Climb.net) When Dodo's partner Vlado went missing on Broad Peak, a number of climbers sent pretty frantic emails to ExWeb from Karakoram. What was going on, exactly?
Dodo Kopold is now back home and ExWeb has shot over a bunch of questions to him. Meanwhile, who better to ask about tough spots and ethics on Broad Peak - if not Piotr Pustelnik.
2006 recap: an Austrian climber in feeble condition, another one ahead on the ridge, no longer alive
Although Annapurna would seem the cursed one; Broad Peak is quite an exceptional mountain for 13, 8000er summiteer Polish Piotr Pustelnik. Accidents on the peak had forced Piotr back over and over again when in 2006, his faithful climbing mates Slovak Peter Hamor and Polish Piotr Morawski hoped to crown Piotr's Himalaya career by bagging Broad Peak via a new route.
Yet as the three Polish friends made their final acclimatization summit push on the normal route of Broad the morning of July 8, fate intervened again. They found a climber from an Austrian expedition - Sepp Bachmair - in trouble high up on the trail. Sepp had summited the day before with his climbing mate Markus Kronthaler. Both climbers were exhausted after a night of desperately trying to cross the ridge to the foresummit. 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. That's where, by 10:00 am, Pustelnik, Morawski and Hamor stumbled across the frostbitten climber.
"Piotr Morawski, the strongest amongst us, got to the col first," Piotr Pustelnik wrote. "I was still below the pass when he looked over the rocks and I could see from the expression on his face - 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 doesn't look 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.”
“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.”
The picture was all too familiar to Piotr. This was his fourth attempt on Broad. He made his first bid there in 1998 with Eric Escoffier, until Eric disappeared on the summit ridge. Returning to the peak the next year with Mr. Park (Korea), at Camp 2, one of the Korean climbers fell to his death and the expedition was aborted. Last year, Piotr's third attempt ended with the rescue of Artur Hajzer.
But this time, Morawski volunteered to give up his summit to save the Austrian climber and give Piotr a chance to top out. "Go on up, I'll take him down," he told Pustelnik. "You carry on up and look for the other climber.”
Time had come for Piotr to bag Broad Peak - his 13th summit - at last. And so he did, through the normal route in his fourth attempt. "It’s not a lucky mountain for me, "he said afterwards, "I’m glad I don’t have to come back here for the fifth time."
Yet only two years later, Piotr announced his grand plan - it would involve a Gasherbrum and BP traverse, that is, after another Annapurna attempt - this time through the very hard Czech route on the north side. ExWeb caught up with Piotr to get his take on Broad Peak, and also the latest about the "Tres Pedros" climbs.
ExWeb: Tell us about the main rescues you have been involved in on Broad Peak?
Piotr Pustelnik: Broad Peak is a very special place for me. I’ve been there four times and each time there was an accident. In 1998 I was climbing with Ryszard Pawlowski: We were on the way to the pass between the main and the middle summit, when we saw two Frenchmen (Eric Escoffier and Pascal Bessier). By the time we got to the pass, they had vanished into thin air…
Overwhelmed by the tragedy, we decided to turn back. We still don’t know when and where they fell – there were no signs or clues as to what had happened. On the way down, just below C2, I clipped into an old fixed rope that gave way and I tumbled down the slope. (I was on my own; my partner was following much later!) I came to a halt after a few hundred metres on a pile of rocks, about 50-100 metres before a gaping abyss. Fortunately I didn’t break my legs but fractured my ribs. It took me six hours to crawl to C1. My friends, who learnt about the accident via walkie-talkie, helped me down…
A year later I was climbing with a Korean partner Park. We aborted the ascent when another member of the Korean expedition, climbing up on his own, plunged to his death off the traverse above C2. Similar circumstances to mine but he was less lucky…
In 2005 I turned back from the Rocky Summit (which, by the way, is neither “rocky” nor a “summit”) and joined my partner, Artur Hajzer, who was also retreating. A moment later he slipped and fell on the way down from the pass between the main and middle summit, breaking a leg. Luckily, after a three-day rescue operation and thanks to the efforts of members of our and other expeditions, Artur was safe in the BC.
A year later (in 2006), on the very same pass, we met an exhausted Austrian climber, who was led down to safety by Piotr Morawski while Peter Hamor and I had the depressing task of burying his partner who perished near the summit. Just my luck, isn’t it?
ExWeb: So which are the most dangerous parts on the peak, you reckon?
Piotr Pustelnik: In my opinion there are many dangerous places on BP because it’s steep right from the bottom up to the pass.
I reckon the lower part of the couloir leading up to the pass between the middle and the main summit is least dangerous as below there are many, relatively level snow fields, where with a bit of luck one may stop the fall – as Martin Gablik (Slovakia) and Kamil Bortel (the Czech Republic) had a chance to experience first-hand in 2005…
ExWeb: What are the most dangerous decisions on Broad Peak?
Piotr Pustelnik: I believe that the most dangerous decision is one deliberate to separate from your partners.
I thank God that in 2005 I didn’t have the guts to carry on climbing to the main peak. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to help Artur Hajzer after his fall. Sure, there were also other climbers around but I dread to think what might have happened if there hadn’t been… Unfortunately, sometimes climbers do choose to separate and one can’t blame all who make such decisions as usually nothing happens. Yet on some occasions, the results are tragic.
ExWeb: What should climbers do when their partners go missing?
Piotr Pustelnik: I don’t have a universal “golden rule” as to what to do when a partner goes missing. It all depends on circumstances but one thing is absolutely certain: the search must start straight away!
Everyone knows it though there’s something about human nature that prevents us from fearing the worse. We usually remain optimistic and perhaps it’s better this way. On the other hand, there’s human instinct and the most important principle of climbing: concern and care for those climbing with us…
ExWeb: Can climbers be rescued from 8000+ altitude?
Piotr Pustelnik: It is possible but it’s very difficult and requires combined efforts of many people, cooperation of the casualty, good luck and weather. We managed to do exactly that in 2005 but we had lots of luck :).
ExWeb: What should the first aid be?
Piotr Pustelnik: I always have a 1st aid kit with lots of really powerful drugs like dexamethason or adrenaline. Still, one can’t carry all the potentially useful drugs and successful first aid often happens more by accident (and luck!) than design.
ExWeb: What can climbers do in order to not get themselves into fatal situations on Broad Peak?
Piotr Pustelnik: Once again, there’s no “golden rule” that would help one avoid accidents in the mountains or on BP in particular. As always: be very careful and stick together!
ExWeb: What is your code of ethics in the mountains?
Piotr Pustelnik: I was brought up by the old climbing school so, for me, climbing is always linked with good partnership… Overall, I don’t believe in a separate code of ethics in the mountains. One should follow the same principles as in everyday life but even more rigorously.
Still, one has the right to make a fully conscious decision to climb alone and thus become responsible only for oneself. In fact many accomplished mountaineers do not feel they can climb with and care for a partner and that’s why they climb solo. At least they’re honest about it…
ExWeb: Do you feel that this code has been shared by other mountaineers in the past, and is it changing today?
Piotr Pustelnik: Some people argue that there no longer are young climbers who adhere to the “old ideals” but I strongly disagree with this claim. There are such young mountaineers and I know a few myself.
I also believe that “unethical” behaviour is not something that develops only in the high mountains – no matter how good an excuse this may sound like – it’s a feature of one’s character. Those who are prone to unethical behaviour in everyday life are prone to it in the mountains as well…
ExWeb: How do you feel about the latest Annapurna climb, what is the situation right now for your mates on the Gasherbrums, and when will you join them?
Piotr Pustelnik: How do I feel about Annapurna? Pretty dreadful. It was the most difficult Himalayan climb in my life and yet it wasn’t good enough to reach the summit. I ask myself: “What more can I do?” This profound feeling of frustration just won’t go away… Sure, I will try again in the future but I’m not thinking about it at the moment.
“Dos Pedros” have just bagged G2 but they’re tired after all the climbs this season so the rest of the “Himalayan Trilogy” has a question mark hovering over it. Thus currently I’m in limbo and we will discuss our options when they finish the Gasherbrums traverse.
Editor's note: In the latest update today, Maria Hamorova reports that the Peters have run out of time and are coming home. They will pack and leave Base Camp today.
The Himalayan Trilogy dream team (Piotr Pustelnik, Piotr Morawski and Peter Hamor) set up a grand plan to span over the next two years: the north-west face of Annapurna; a long G1/G2/G3 traverse; all Broad Peaks; a new route on the east face of Everest; the north face of Manaslu and...the north-west ridge of Rakaposhi.
The "Tres Pedros” organized the plot in the following sections:
Code name: Himalayan Trilogy - Reactivation
A. Ama Dablam (acclimatization)
1. Annapurna north-west face (Czech route)
2. G1-2-3: A long traverse from G1 to G2 and G3 starting via the original (first ascent) American line to G1, then to Gasherbrum La and on the ridge thru Gasherbrum East to G2 and G3.
3. BP - the entire summit ridge
Code name: Himalayan Trilogy - Revolution
A. Kantega or Baruntse (acclimatization)
1. East face of Everest - new route
2. North face of Manaslu - new route by Peter Hamor & Piotr Morawski - "not me, I'm too old :)" says Peter.
3. North-west ridge of Rakaposhi
The current status: Ama Dablam; check. Annapurna; close but no cigar. G1-2-3; G1&G2 bagged in a long, very hard Gasherbrum traverse (not the same as a double header) by Piotr Morawski and Peter Hamor - only the second ever of two 8000ers, after Reinhold Messner and Hans Kammerlander; a very difficult conquest that remained unrepeated for 24 years.
The Italians started on G2 and it took them 4 days from G2 top to the summit of G1 (and 7 days of total climbing). The Polish/Slovak combo started on G1 and it took them 11 days from G1 top to the summit of G2 (and 20 days climbing)
(Stats source: Rodrigo Granzotto Peron, Brazil.)
Further information at: http://www.k2climb.net/news.php?id=17410