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High Crimes, Chapter 11
Kodas climbing Everest. [Photo] Michael Kodas
Excerpted from High Crimes by Michael Kodas. Copyright (c) 2008 Michael Kodas. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.
Don made it to Camp Two in a couple days, where he waited out a storm, passing the time with food, fuel, and a coffee table book salvaged from the trash left by other expeditions. When the weather cleared, he climbed on to a point just below Camp Three, at 7,000 meters—23,000 feet. But he recognized that the fresh snow had created serious avalanche conditions. Climbers on K2 he spoke to over his radio reported that storms were about to slam the weather window shut. And the rescue a week earlier had weakened him far more than he realized. Don gave up on reaching the summit and headed back down the mountain fast. Fresh snow and avalanches had buried the fixed ropes, and digging them out further drained the already exhausted climber. He was rappelling down the rope below the last camp on the mountain when he happened to look over his left shoulder.
"I caught something in my eye and immediately stopped," Don said.
The rope had been cut. He was within three feet of sliding off the end of his line and falling down the mountain.
"What the hell is going on?" he thought.
Maybe an avalanche or rockfall cut the line, he hoped, optimistically. Don got out his ice ax and downclimbed to a rock tower where he remembered that the next set of ropes were anchored. When he got on top of the pinnacle, he peeked over the edge. The rope and all the anchors that kept it in place were gone. In all, some 1,600 feet of rope had been taken from one of the most dangerous parts of the route. And like Marcin, Don was certain that the thieves knew they were likely killing the climber still high on the mountain above them.
Below, a thin layer of ice covered the steep gullies and vertical faces. If he didn't die in a fall when some piece of the mountain gave way, the rocks coming loose and tumbling down the vertical bowling alley would probably take him out. But it was the only way down. Don scrambled into the gully with no safety line.
The first rock to hit him, the size of a baseball, put a hole in his pack, smashed some gear, and nearly knocked him off the mountain. Even with his helmet on, it probably would have killed him had it struck his head.
"The very first one I took was a death blow," he said. "I thought my chances of falling or getting knocked off by rocks was pretty high. I was really surprised when I got down to lower sections of rock and mixed rock and ice that I had not been hit at that point any worse than I had."
It took two and a half hours for Don to downclimb a section that would take about fifteen minutes to rappel. He staggered away from the mountain, so exhausted that he was falling over, and having to sit and rest after each hundred meters he walked. He tried to remain vigilant; he didn't want to die on horizontal ground after making it through a downclimb that by all rights he shouldn't have survived. When he got to the alcove where he had stashed his food and equipment, he found what he expected: All of his supplies were gone.
The following month, the Alpine Club of Pakistan issued a press release.
The Alpine Club of Pakistan has taken a serious note of theft incidents which occurred on K2 and Broad Peak recently, and has decided to set up an Inquiry Committee under the Chairmanship of renowned Pakistani mountaineer Col Sher Khan to investigate into the allegations, identify the culprits, and recommend suitable remedial measures for the avoidance of such like incidents in the future.
On September 7, at the Ministry of Tourism in Pakistan, an Inquiry Committee from the Alpine Club of Pakistan searched and questioned a porter who had been working on K2 when the series of thefts occurred on that mountain and Broad Peak next door, but found none of any team's missing gear. No further investigation of the thefts that plagued the 2005 climbing season has been reported.
Don Bowie learned for himself how effective law enforcement was in the high peaks when, two years after his desperate retreat from Broad Peak, he reached the summit of K2 during his second trip to the Karakorum mountains. He and two teammates rescued a collapsed climber as they climbed down from the top. But when Don went to continue his descent the morning after he reached the summit, he discovered that someone had taken his crampons—theft would again threaten his life. With no way for his boots to find purchase on the steep ice as he descended from the high camp, Don eventually fell and would have slid off the mountain if he hadn't crashed into a snow bank, tearing several ligaments in his leg. Fearing he had broken his ankle, Don crawled down the mountain, pleading for assistance from more than a dozen climbers who literally stepped over him rather than help. He eventually threatened to impale passing climbers with his ice axe if they didn't drop a rope for him to continue his descent.