Eric Meyer (in red) and Fredrik Strang climb toward camp 3 during the bid for the summit on K2. The pair reached 8100 meters but elected to turn back the same day 11 other climbers died on K2.

Courtesy photo

Eric Meyer (in red) and Fredrik Strang climb toward camp 3 during the bid for the summit on K2. The pair reached 8100 meters but elected to turn back the same day 11 other climbers died on K2.

Resident recalls K2 tragedy that claimed 11 lives

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— As he looked up the mountain in Pakistan a week ago, Steamboat Springs resident Eric Meyer saw more than 15 climbers moving slowly toward the summit of K2 and knew he had to make a choice.

"I had climbed to 8,100 meters when we decided to turn back," Meyer said in an e-mail sent to the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Thursday. "The climbers were moving too slowly through The Bottleneck couloir, directly underneath the overhanging and threatening seracs. We realized that we would be summiting too late in the day to safely descend back to camp 4. : One of our members, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, elected to continue on, and summited without oxygen."

Meyer said Dorje, who visited Steamboat Springs in the fall, reached the top of the mountain about 5 p.m. Aug. 1 and descended the same hazardous route that claimed the lives of 11 climbers. The disaster unfolded when a series of ice tower formations, called seracs, collapsed.

Early reports indicated that some of the climbers were swept off the mountain by the icefall. Two died on the ascent while nine others died returning.

"The ice (slides) cut or buried the fixed ropes, which are critical for descending the area," Meyer reported.

After abandoning their summit attempt, Meyer, Frederik Strang and Chris Klinke retreated back to camp 4, waiting for Dorje's return.

"Only Chhiring and five others were able to make it back before daybreak, with the other climbers ending up benighted up above, or perishing during falls," Meyer said.

Dorje and four others reached camp 4 at 1 a.m., but 14 other climbers remained in the thin air above, facing dire circumstances.

"Fred (Strang) and I climbed up to attempt to help a gravely injured Serbian climber, but he was dead when we reached him," Meyer said. "A Pakistani climber lost his footing and slid to his death during the ensuing body recovery. The ability to rescue someone above 8,000 meters is extremely limited, and even more difficult when there is no oxygen, extra rope, or visual sighting of the missing persons."

Helping the healing

Carole Krohn, a close friend of Meyer, was relieved to hear Meyer was safe.

"I received a text message that he was safe early Saturday morning," Krohn said. "Since then I've been through a whole range of emotions."

Krohn has faced many sleepless nights since Meyer left for the expedition June 4.

"I've been going to yoga and taking dance classes at the studio," said the Steamboat Springs attorney and retired ballet dancer.

She said she tried to escape last week's events, but despite her best efforts she couldn't stay away from her computer for dispatches from K2.

Meyer, an anesthesiologist in Steamboat, has been safe at base camp and helping to treat survivors.

Even as Dutch climbers WilcoVan Rooijen and Cas van de Gevel were making their way down the Cesen Route after the tragedy, others were preparing base camp.

Both climbers were rescued Monday and Meyer treated them along with Italian climber Marco Confortola, who walked in late Tuesday afternoon.

The three survivors later were airlifted to Skardu, which is an hour away from the base camp by air. Confortola walked with assistance into base camp, where he was treated before being flown out Wednesday.

"Mountaineering involves a lot of risk assessment and judgment, and nowhere is that more important than on a high, technically challenging peak like K2," Meyer said. "Sure, the deaths that have occurred here are a shock to everyone, but our team is proud to have made what we feel have been sound decisions."

When asked if he would return to K2, Meyer responded with caution.

"Possibly, under the right circumstances, with the right team, but I don't have any plans to come back yet," he said.

Meyer was expected to leave base camp today, Pakistan time, for the four-day trip out. He hopes to be back in Steamboat by the middle of August.

Meyer has climbed extensively in North and South America, as well as in the Himalayas. He summitted Mount Everest via the Northeast Ridge in 2004. He also is in-volved in developing world health care as a volunteer with Operation Smile, providing surgical care for children with cleft lip and palate deformities.

- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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