Update: On July 30, After six days wrapped in an orange tent on a small shelf at 20,630 feet, Alexander Gukov was rescued off Latok I and is reportedly in good condition. Two B3 helicopters working in tandem and operated by the Pakistani 5th Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron, pulled Gukov from the mountain using a long-line rescue technique where he was clipped to the helicopter and flown to safety.
Russian climber Alexander Gukov is trapped at 20,000 feet on Latok I, a 23,442-foot peak in the Karakoram range of Pakistan. Yesterday, July 25, Gukov and his partner Sergey Glazunov, began retreating down the mountain, having climbed to within 600 feet of the summit. Glazunov was rappelling while carrying the two climbers’ equipment, but something went wrong and he rappelled off the end of his rope, falling to his death.
Gukov is still on the mountain, but lacks the appropriate gear to descend, reports Anna Piunova, editor of Mountain.ru. A helicopter is on its way to attempt to retrieve him. It’s currently midnight in Pakistan and the rescue efforts will continue in the morning.
The North Ridge of Latok I is the grand prize of high altitude mountaineering—the route has yet to be completed, despite decades of attempts. Gukov and Glazunov’s high point of 22,884 feet is the highest any team has made it since Jim Donini, Jeff Lowe, Michael Kennedy, and George Lowe spent 26 days on the face in 1978. Kennedy and his team made it to within 300 to 400 feet of the summit plateau when Lowe became seriously sick, forcing the team to retreat. More than 30 teams have attempted the peak since.
In 2015, Gukov was awarded mountaineering’s most prestigious award, the Piolet d’Or, for his and fellow Russian climber Aleksey Lonchinsky’s ascent of the Southwest Face of Thamserku via their route “Shy Girl,” a 6,200-foot route in the Eastern Himalaya.
At the time of yesterday’s accident, the Russians had stretched their five-day supply of food for 14 days. According to Planet Mountain, after Gukov sent out his SOS, several climbers volunteered to help: “Poland’s Adam Bielecki and Andrzej Bargiel and Germany’s David Göttler all offered to join the rescue operation. Bargiel is currently at Skardu and Bielecki and Göttler are both in Gasherbrum II base camp, and as we write a helicopter attempted but failed to reach them in order to transport them to Latok I Base Camp. Weather conditions are unfortunately far from ideal.”
The forecast shows bad weather for the next three days, which, Donini says, “will reduce fly opportunities quite a bit.”