Little hope now left for two of America's foremost mountaineers, missing in Pakistan

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 05/09/2016
The ca 1,400m north face of Ogre II. The 2015 attempt climbed the middle of the face almost to the shadowed notch left of the summit. Kyle Dempster
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Hope is now all but gone for two of the finest American mountaineers of their generation, missing on Baintha Brakk II (Ogre II, 6,980m) in the Pakistan Karakoram

On August 21 Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson set off up the unclimbed north face of Ogre II above the head of the Choktoi Glacier, a route the pair had attempted to climb last year.

On the evening of the 22nd their cook saw lights about half way up this vast wall of rock and ice, but the following afternoon a large storm moved in and conditions remained snowy and cloudy for more or less the next 10 days

Adamson and Dempster had anticipated making their ascent in a round trip of five days, so on the 28th friends and relatives initiated a search.

On the 31st a group of locals was despatched from the nearest village but it wasn't until September 3 that the weather was suitable for an aerial survey.

That morning two military helicopters left Skardu in clear weather and landed on the Choktoi Glacier.

Here, they picked up the well-known German climber Thomas Huber, who has been on the glacier hoping to climb the north ridge of Latok I, and flew up to the north face.

Having made a detailed inspection of the face, and taken digital imagery for analysis, they did the same on the northwest ridge (the Americans' proposed descent route), and the whole complex glacial basin that lies between the base of the northwest ridge and the Ogre.

They returned to Skardu to re-fuel, and then made a second search, this time at a higher altitude, and also of the southwest flank leading to the Biafo Glacier, in case the two had summited and bailed in that direction.

No trace of the two climbers was seen.

Given that the weather had remained thoroughly inclement for such a long time, and accepting the high risk of operating such helicopter flights, families made the difficult decision to call off any further missions.

Realizing that the two climbers' insurance would not come close to paying the expenses of such an operation, on August 31 a crowd-funding emergency rescue appeal was launched.

In what has been an extraordinary rallying of the world climbing community, reflecting the huge popularity of, and respect for, Adamson and Dempster, the appeal raised around $150,000 in the first day and a half, and after five days was a little short of $200,000.

In 2013 Dempster's third ascent of the adjacent Ogre (7,285m), via a new route up the southeast ridge and south face with Hayden Kennedy, was a awarded a Piolet d'Or, the second route by Dempster so awarded (the first, in 2010, being the north face of Xuelian West).

In 2015, on his sixth expedition to Pakistan, Dempster made the general observation that it was becoming increasingly difficult to forecast weather at a macro level.

That summer he and Adamson, both Utah residents, acclimatized during early July around the Choktoi before attempting the face on the 18th.

After two days they were close to the summit ridge, in the dark. Above, a massive dihedral, with a short overhanging section leading to low angled terrain, promised a way to the crest.

As Dempster noted a reading of 6,613m on his altitude watch, Adamson climbed through the overhanging section and onto the low angled terrain, where the rope began moving faster.

But then came a shout, sparks and a headlamp as Adamson took a big fall, stopping 15m below Dempster with a broken ankle.

The two began abseiling through the night, the rope sheaths becoming so torn that they ended up with two lengths of around 30m.

Close to the base of the wall, with about three or four abseils to go, and short on alternative anchors, Dempster made an Abalokov in a small patch of marginal ice.

With Adamson clipped to this anchor, Dempster had only abseiled four or five metres when the ice gave way and the two fell 90m to the glacier, very fortunately with no further injuries.

Writing in the American Alpine Journal Dempster said that during the following weeks and months he beat himself up about his mistake, caused by complacency, but the two were excited to "get back at it", when the time feels right.

Ogre II has been climbed only once. In 1983 a South Korean team climbed the northwest ridge from the col between Ogre II and the Ogre. In 2015 Marcos Costa and Jesse Meese attempted to the repeat this route alpine style, climbing for four days to around 6,700m, where they were stopped by steep technical rock and insufficient equipment either to climb or to protect it.



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