Text by Kirkpatrick Reardon
Photograph by Ed Viesturs
Clear skies and a new moon greeted Dutch mountaineer Wilco van Rooijen at the summit of K2 on Friday, August 1. That was before deteriorating visibility and an ice-avalanche turned that calm night into one of the deadliest in the history of the Himalaya, stranding van Rooijen with his climbing partners overnight at an altitude of 8,000 meters. Van Rooijen struggled slowly down the mountain face, and, incredibly, survived a second night at high altitude before reuniting with his team two days later. Van Rooijen recounted his struggle for survival with ADVENTURE on Wednesday morning.
Where were you when the accident happened?
I was on the way back from the summit. We were at the summit at 7 p.m. in the evening, which is much too late. It was completely dark. I decided to spend the night above the Bottleneck and the traverse. I never saw the accident.
Do you know what caused the avalanche?
It wasn’t a real avalanche. An avalanche is a lot of snow. It was a serac that fell down and that was the only explanation for killing three people. There was so much happening on the mountain. Some people died because they were lost and couldn’t find camp IV.
How did you survive on the mountain?
I spent two nights on the mountain. I got third degree frostbite on all my toes and both feet. My mountaineering experience let me be quiet and patient enough to wait for better weather where we were.
Did you sleep on the mountain? How’d you keep warm?
The sleep was not a problem. We were busy for 20 hours. If you sit, you fall asleep immediately. The only problem is avoiding frostbite. The only thing to do is to keep on drinking. If you don’t drink at high altitude, then you dry out very quickly.
- Nat Geo Expeditions