Since the 10-person team of Nepali climbers completed the first winter ascent of K2 (8611m) on January 16, there have been two confirmed deaths and three climbers–Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto (Chile), Muhammad Ali Sadpara (Pakistan) and John Snorri Sigurjonsson (Iceland)–have been missing since February 5, when they were last seen near the Bottleneck at approximately 8200 meters. They are presumed dead. So far there have been multiple helicopter searches while search teams on foot have been halted by adverse weather.
Sajid Ali Sadpara, Muhammad’s 22-year-old son, was with his father and Snorri Sigurjonsson and Mohr Prieto when they left Camp 3 (ca. 7300m) on February 4 to make a summit push during a narrow break in a pattern of cold, turbulent weather. Sajid turned around at the Bottleneck because he wasn’t feeling well and was having problems with the regulator on his bottled oxygen. He waited at Camp 3 for their return, but with more high winds in the forecast and with his oxygen supply running out, he descended to Base Camp after a brief search in the vicinity of Camp 3.
Later, back in Skardu, he told Arab News Pakistan, “I hope for a miracle, but as a climber I doubt the possibility. Today is their third day above 8000 meters since they lost contact, so the possibility of their survival seems remote, but we pray they may come back…. My father and the other climbers were climbing with full strength, so I think they would have ascended.”
Alan Arnette, a blogger who has been covering the winter K2 expeditions, reported that when Sajid left the group there was no radio or satellite phone among them.
A February 5 post on Snorri’s Facebook page reads: “Dear friends, we regret to inform that we have not received any new news from John, Ali, and Pablo after the night. The only news we have is that Sajid Ali is descending safe from Camp 3. We are grateful to the Pakistani army that has activated a helicopter rescue team and the Icelandic ministry of foreign affairs for their great cooperation. Thanks for all your support, we keep faith.”
On February 9, Seven Summit Treks Director Chhang Dawa Sherpa announced on Instagram that the company was leaving Base Camp, ending their expedition. Some of the expedition staff is remaining behind to support the climbers who plan to continue searching when the weather allows.
Muhammad Ali Sadpara was among the most experienced winter mountaineers on the mountain, having completed the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat with Simone Moro and Alex Txikon in 2016. In a February 8 article for Rock and Ice, Arnette reported that Sadpara had recently gained sponsorship from the Pakistan government after proving himself so many times on the big mountains. (A profile of Sadpara by Amanda Padoan, with translations from Urdu and Shina by Rehmat Ali and Ghulam Muhammad, was published in Alpinist 62, 2018.)
Arnette reported that Mohr Prieto had climbed five 8000-meter peaks without bottled oxygen: Annapurna, Manaslu, Everest, Lhotse and Dhaulagiri. Snorri Sigurjonsson was on his third K2 expedition; this was his second winter attempt, having climbed it on his first attempt in summer. He has also climbed Lhotse, Broad Peak and Manaslu.
On February 5, the same day those men where last seen heading for K2’s summit, Bulgarian climber Atanas Skatov (Bulgaria) died when he fell while descending from Camp 3. Planet Mountain reported Chhang Dawa Sherpa saying that it appears the accident happened while Skatov was transitioning from one fixed rope to another. His body was recovered later that day.
Dawa Sherpa’s Instagram post on February 5 reads in part, “Atanas, a good friend of [mine], who climbed 10 x 8000m peak. [He] was…very appreciated…by all other members of the expedition. Deep condolences for his family and friends. We lost [a] great mountain friend today.”
The first death on K2 this winter happened low on the mountain on January 16, the same day the 10-man team summited, when Sergi Mingote (Spain) fell while descending from Camp 1. Dawa Sherpa posted on Instagram that Alex Gavan (Romania), Tamara Lunger (Italy) and two other unnamed Polish climbers in Advance Base Camp were the first to reach Mingote, but he soon died of his injuries. Planet Mountain reported: “The expert Catalan had climbed seven 8000ers without supplementary oxygen at a mind-boggling speed: Broad Peak, K2 and Manaslu in 2018, Lhotse, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri in 2019, as well as Everest from Tibet in 2001 and from Nepal in 2003.”