Elisabeth Revol recovering after Nanga Parbat ordeal

French alpinist Elisabeth Revol is recovering in Sallanches hospital in the Haute Savoie region of France (near Chamonix) after returning from her ill-fated expedition to climb Nanga Parbat with Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz. Revol is due to give a press conference in Chamonix on Wednesday 7th February, and we expect to glean further details about what happened in the hours after the pair’s summit success on the ‘Killer Mountain’. In the meantime, here is what we know so far…

On 25 January 2018, what started out as summit success, ended in heroics as well as tragedy. Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz and French climber Elisabeth Revol were attempting to summit Nanga Parbat (8,126m) in winter without the use of supplementary oxygen. This was Tomek’s seventh consecutive year attempting a winter summit of the ‘Killer Mountain’, with only one other winter summit, completed the year prior by Simone Moro, Basque Alex Txikon, and Ali Sadpara. The pair reached the summit, but had only a moment before beginning their retreat. Tomek was suffering from altitude sickness, snow blindness, and frostbite. The two spent the night in a crevasse but by morning Mackiewicz’ condition had deteriorated. Revol called for a rescue, and then made the heartbreaking decision, at the request of rescuers, to leave Tomek and continue descending on her own. The pair had ascended the Messner-Eisendle-Tomaseth route, but alone she headed down the Kinshofer route – unfamiliar and conditions unknown. On the way down, she was forced to spend a cold night alone in a crevasse without proper equipment or food, having left most of her gear with Tomek.

On K2, the Polish Association of Alpinism winter K2 expedition had already began their ascent. They didn’t hesitate to agree when called upon to attempt a rescue of Mackiewicz and Revol, and on the 27th at around 1.30pm, two helicopters picked up four members of the team and the necessary equipment from base camp – Jarosław Botor (high altitude paramedic), Denis Urubko, Adam Bielecki, and Piotr Tomala. The team was dropped at camp 1 on Nanga Parbat (about 4,900m). Urubko and Bielecki were the most acclimatised and set off around 5.30pm while the other two set up camp. Climbing the Diamir Face at night would not be an easy task, and the mountaineering community stood by watching their GPS tracker and marveling at their progress. At around 2am on the 28th, the pair made contact with Revol after climbing 1,100m. Revol’s hands and left foot were frostbitten. Based on Revol’s account of Tomek’s state when she left him, the impending weather, and the fact that they were unable to fly a helicopter to drop the rescuers at camp 3 as originally hoped (meaning a much longer climb to reach Revol, and making it impossible to continue climbing to reach Tomek in a state of exhaustion), it was sadly decided that they would not be able to save Mackiewicz. After a four hour bivouac, the three headed back down to camp 1 where the others awaited their arrival. By 1.30pm, Revol had been picked up by helicopter and was transported to Islamabad for treatment. 

Back in France, Revol has shared her experience, giving more insight into Mackiewicz’ final hours and her own ordeal. She confirmed that they had indeed reached the summit, but shortly after, Mackiewicz complained that he couldn’t see.  He was also having trouble breathing and removed his face protection – that’s when his nose started to turn white, along with his hands and feet. By morning his condition had worsened and he had blood streaming from his mouth. She also described how her own frostbite occurred – hallucinations caused her to imagine that people were bringing her hot tea, and that she had to give them her boot to thank them. After five hours with no boot on her left foot, she developed severe frostbite, and with wet gloves, her hands were frostbitten as well. Doctors are currently assessing whether she will require amputations to her hands and left foot. She indicated that she will continue to climb, saying, “I need this” when asked. She has also said that she would like to visit Tomek’s children when she is released.

As for K2, the expedition is still on, with the four returning to base camp. Whether or not they achieve the summit, they will certainly go down in mountaineering history for one of the most dramatic, and committing, rescues ever attempted. And Tomek Mackiewicz will remain on the mountain that he was so passionate about.

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