The morning in Kathmandu is very good time for sleeping. Especially, if you've just returned after the mountaineering expedition. To sleep with some dreams... But all has been broken by the phone call... in 5 a.m.
I waked up as in the army, shaking by heat, and understood, that I'm in hotel room, needing rest and being very hungry.
- Hallo, who is here?
- It's Bogomolov.
- Serguey! Wow! - in any case I was extremely glad to meet him. - Where are you?
- Can you come to reception, Denis? I am waiting here...
The first I thought, that he's leaving for home. But when we embraced I didn't see any ready backpaks around. He wasn't fine also. And behind of his shoulders I recognized our friend Nima Nuru Sherpa - the chief of tourist agency "Cho-Oyu Trekking".
- Sorry, Den, - told Serguey. - We got a very big problem. Inaki Ochoa is very near to die now.
- Oh, yes. Basque. On the South face of Annapurna.
In few minutes I put my gear into the bagpack, and we jumped together in Nima's car. By the way Serguey tried to explain me some details, but after so difficult and nervous wake I understood bad. The most incredible fact was that our friend Inaki Ochoa is in camp on 7400. So high!
The plan of Serguey and Nima was to organize rescue party for him. We decided two climbers can start immediately, with oxygen bottle and some necessary medicine. And later to support them by the big rescue team of Sherpas and other climbers. That moment it was the best decision. Especially, that Don Bowie called us from Pokhara - he wanted to join us.
Only on May, 21 midday we flow by the small helicopter from Kathmandu. In Pokhara we landed and took Don. He looked very serious, and his tall figure was bent under weigh of backpack. I asked Serguey about Don later, and got the answer, that Bowie is very friendly person and strong enough as a climber. It seems true.
I didn't take anybody of Kazakhstan climbers from our Makalu expedition. I supposed, that they are too much tired. Also they hadn't enough high-altitude climbs yet, and could be ill or exhausted at carrying out of salvage operations above 7000 meters. Participation of Don became the nice surprise for me in that reason.
- Sorry, today is possible to fly only to ... - told as helicopter pilot. And landed in the village between bananas on 2200 m. In the afternoon clouds have captivated the gorge - as fishes in a fishing network. The rain began.
- Look, there is South Annapurna, - showed me Serguey, - there is... sorry... could be Machapuchare in view.
We had minimum information that time about the situation on Annapurna. Some of it we got from Russia, some from Kathmandu. But Serguey, Don, and me knows exactly, that Inaky still was in Camp 4 with his mate Horia. But it was very difficult to get and understand other news about their condition or other climbers Ueli and Simon. The third day nobody had news about Alexey Bolotov, who tried to reach Annapurna summit. Where was our friend? Ueli and Simon ascended till Camp 3 on 6900, but hadn't hi-altitude boots for the further climb... We was extremely nervous.
- Serguey, I took one walkie-talkie, and I have two like this. We can connect every two hours.
- If we'll be able to fly, - contented experience Russian. - Helicopter pilot doubts about the possibility to take all three of us. Only two probably...
- Till what altitude?
- Base camp - certainly. But in Camp One... there is 4800 m and not so good place...
- We'll ask him. Me and Don will start together, and you can come later with any other rescuers. O-key?
From this expedition Serguey flew directly to Kathmandu hospital because of frostbites and heart problems. And now still had serious problems with his health.
Me and Don Bowie shared all necessary equipment. Oxygen, medicine, one sleeping bag for two of us, light ice-axes, two bottles of gas, light clothes, crampons. We took minimum gear, only to be able to work. Nothing more.
- Don, - I told, - Inaky has only one possibility to stay alive now. If you and me can cross all the way to Camp Four in two days. It would be the hard job. What do you think, is it possible?
- We have to try, - smiled Don.
Under the first sun-light we were already on legs (May, 22). Unfortunately, clouds still to close sky in the morning also. By the small bird-machine we tried to broke clouds, tried to turn around, move up, but every steps of mountains were covered by the deep fog. The helicopter landed again in our small village. It was the show for trekkers.
One hour later helicopter pilot informed us, that he needs to fly back. Because there is some other work for him - in Makalu region. Great surprise for our trio.
- Look, there is Russian helicopter in Pokhara, - he said - It can reach the higher altitude, that me. Probably, it can fly above the clouds.
- The other rescue team should come from Kathmandu by plane, - informed Serguey after telephone talk. The big group is arriving... four climbers and four sherpas. To Pokhara.
- Do they have acclimatization? - I interested.
- Yes. Some of them are from Makalu, Dhaulagiri and other expeditions. Probably we need to join. Nima is deciding now for big Russian helicopter, and we can fly all together.
- O-key, - Don has shrugged shoulders. - We need to fly back to Pokhara.
- O-key, - Serguey and me have exchanged glances. - Nothing to do here.
Helicopter was unwrapped by a tail to mountains. And we again appeared among blossoming trees. There was too warm there. Especially, that I felt flame into myself. Especially, that I was able to amaze how cold is on 7400 at this time.
Valery Gubanov leaded the Russian helicopter crew. He was looking younger than his 40 years. Since many years I heard many heroic stories about him, but we met only first time. And he was a good friend of Inaki too.
- Why? Why only now? - he cryed. - Probably it was possible before, one hour ago. But look now...
He has nodded aside mountains. All was in black colours there. With dark failures between clouds.
When other eight members arrived, we put all loads in MTV-heli and flew again to mountains. Our team included now four Sherpas, Serguey, Don, me, Polish climber Robert, and two Romanians Alex and Mihnea. Everybody had lot of determination to do their best. Everybody wanted to help our friend on huge altitude. But... Weather still to be against us...
I never forget this. Gorge sides run fast behind glasses of the helicopter. Rocks and snow longs were piled up by ledges higher and higher, sank in clouds. The machine was vibrating from a pressure, hardly not clinging the screw for mountain ledges. And having made a circle in the extremely narrow place, has rushed back, downwards - to the valley.
- There's no way, - has cried out Bogomolov from a helicopter cabin. - Tomorrow we shall return again in the morning.
- Stop! - I have risen. - Serguey! It's necessary to land me with Don. Anywhere... where is possible. We need to go!
- What for?
- If tomorrow the same weather will be again? Somebody should to start now... - I turned to Bowie. - Don! We have to walk! Are you agree?
Canadian has nodded to me, and has lifted a hand, speaking "O-key". Helicopter, following the Serguey's words, sharped the air above few meters from rocks, and moved to Machapuchare Base Camp. Just after it in little hole of clouds Valery landed, and left Don and me on the grass. Looking to the machine, disappearing in clouds lower us, I felt myself cut off from all other world. The altitude was 4000 meters only. And time was as 11.00 am - too late. But we were free and were able to act.
In Annapurna Base Camp we got some information from Nansy. She was a trekker, and help in rescue organization. That time Alexey Bolotov descended to Camp 3 on 6900, and changed boots with Ueli. Swiss climber immediately went up alone, because his mate Simon felt not so good. About Alexey they told by radio, that he had a pulmonary edema, and was so seek.
I breathed light with that news about Bolotov. So... it was important to know he still to be alive. He continued his descend to Camp 2. And Don and me continued our ascent...
I carried oxygen bottle and mask, some medicine, gas and food. After Makalu expedition I hadn't any time to rest. I felt tired, and muscles refused to work in full power. Don was so big, that for each two of his steps I needed to make three. He leaded ahead, as experienced in this area. Some time it was difficult to recognize the direction. The way took us by morenas to the slopes at the right side of valley. We crossed some short digs and went on snow just near to Camp 1. The time was about 16.00 pm.
- Nansy, is the tent in Camp 2? - asked Don by radio. - Fine. We don't need take tent from here.
Weather still to be bad, becomes worse every hour. I didn't saw any orienteer around, wasn't able to understand our location. In camp 1 we met Sherpa Mingma, melting water. Don and me had short rest here, and continued way with Mingma.
I decided to take him to Camp 2. Following information from C4, there we should to meet Alexey Bolotov, who was completely tired after high altitude, and had pulmonary edema. It'd better for him to start to descent with the partner - on icefalls there were too many dangerous crevasses and seracs. In that reason I asked Mingma to leave hi-altitude boots of Simon and Ueli in Camp 1, don't carry them upper. That time Simon already got seekness, and wasn't able to go up from 6900m, and Ueli had changed boots with Bolotov - he went up.
Deep fresh snow covered the glacier. We moved between seracs, using rope. In fog around it wasn't possible to understand something. The dotted line of old traces escaped in grey infinity, and Don, failing knee-deep, broke ahead of our company, laying a track. On the steep ice slopes above glacier I had to teach Mingma use crampons and jumar on fixe-ropes. It was his first experience on difficult parts of mountains. He had so strong wish to help in rescue of Inaki, that having squeezed a teeth climbed forward.
The darkness covered us much before Camp Two. That time I worked ahead, making track, and we saw two lighting points on slopes of Annapurna just near Camp 3. That time Horia went down from Camp 4. Ueli changed him near Inaki. During all day we heard talks between them and Nansy and Simon. Hope still to be in our hearts. Don and me still rush by deep snow.
About 21.00 pm we arrived to tent on 5900.
- Alex! - I shouted. - Is so nice to meet you here. How do you feel? Seek?
- Nothing, - he answered. - Completely tired, but feel well.
- Tomorrow with Mingma you have to go down...
- Don't wait, - he has sniffed. - Tomorrow I shall go upward with you. It is necessary to pull out Inaki.
He was looking happy for our coming. As I know him, he couldn't leave anybody on mount without help. He was ready to go up alone despite weariness. By radio we corrected our plans with Horia and Simon. They supposed to descent tomorrow, and Ueli still to be in 7400 with Inaki. Don, Alex, Mingma and me just eat some, and about eleven o'clock lied to sleep.
At 03 of morning of May, 23 our trio waked up, and prepared for start. Don took sleeping bag, stove, one bottle of gas and medicine. I bring medicine also, food, gas and oxygen. We had to hurry, and at 05 o'clock we went by glacier between crevasses. Mingma stayed in Camp 2 with order to prepare place for helicopter.
First time I met Inaky in Everest Base camp at 2001. Some time we spend together with his team. I got invitations as a guest for dinner. Inaki carefully and accurately spilled on plates soup, transferred it to clients, flavoring a supper easy jokes and stories about the uncountable mountain adventures. He was a merry fellow. Every expeditions he joined around many friends or visitors. His smile drew people, gave that charm which is capable to support a difficult minute. He never left anybody in loneliness. It seemed, that Inaki was a magnet around of which most energy of collective turned. He was necessary for people... So occurred on Nanga-Parbat, on Broad peak, on K2, Manaslu - expeditions, that we spend together. Ochoa de Olza was my friend, and I had been pride for that.
At the 6100 meters we met Horia and Simon. It was difficult to recognize Romanian - so his face was nacket.
- Today it is necessary to reach Inaki, - he has whispered to me. - You should make it today. Tomorrow would be too late.
"It is good, that you have not died, guy," - has thought I, seeing off his sight.
On the route to Camp 3 there was a lot of fresh snow. I rushed it ahead, and amazed, how difficult was here for climbers. Since two months they worked in this snow bog, and every day wind covered their job by new tons of snow. Avalanches felt twice from upper slopes, strike me and Don. Only fix-ropes supported us from that deathly hits. Alex followed us two-three hundred meters below.
At once I began to hear helicopter engines. It was impossible to see mechanic bird between clouds below, but I understood, that Valery tried to land between huge seracs on glacier. It was so dangerous and heroic, that I was able only to pray for brave pilot and everybody in heli. Twenty minutes later my walkie-talkie become alive and informed by Serguey's voice about success of flight. Four Sherpas and two Romanians climbers was dropped in Camp 1. Serguey and Robert were now in Camp 2 on 5900 now - with Gamov-bag, medicine and oxygene. It almost no limits for Russian helicopter...
I has signed in memory our incredible efforts in deep snow between Camp 1 and Camp 2. But... if today also there was a bad weather, and the helicopter would not arrive?
- Only thirty meters more, - told Don at once. He breathed so hardly and falteringly, therefore I could understand him only from second or third attempt. Before seracs he changed me on track, and leaded. - Only thirty meters till camp three...
Into the milky fog it was difficult to understand anything. And we make that trip in 30 meters five times before reached the tent. It was hidden into the deep bergshrund. We crept there as in the rabbit hole, and tried to calm breath. Was 10 o'clock of morning.
So... we drank some water. Almost every time Don Bowie make it. He was very strong on the route, and make everything best on bivouac. He was very friendly. Some time it seemed for me, that I know him since many years. But now he was completely tired, I understand also.
- Sorry, Denis, - he told, - I need to stay here, in Camp Three. Is too high for me now without enough acclimatization and I can't continue today.
I understood. And wasn't able to press him. We make so long job, and almost didn't slept since two nights before. If something could happened with Don on 7400 - it could be terrible ...
- That strong headache also, - Don smoothed forehead.
- I see. I have to go alone.
12.00 o'clock. By radio I informed base camp about our situation. Packed bagpack, and has dragged it to an exit from a snow cave. I took only oxygen, medicine and food. It was enough for first help. I wanted to take sleeping-bag from Alexey, because it was light, but looked out of cave and didn't saw my friend. "All right, - I think, - it's possible to be without it. It's no time to wait Alex". From Camp 3 to Camp 4 I planned to climb till the end of sunlight. It was possible to cross the distance in 6-8 hours. I was waiting for Sherpas and other climbers on next day.
Don still talked by radio when I prepared. He stood on the exit of bergshrund, and tried to understand some words form Ueli - from Camp 4. I come to him. That moment his face become as a stone, and eyes have died out. He turned to me.
- Inaki dead.
- What? - I didn't believe.
- Ueli informed just now. Inaki dead, - by broken voice has exhaled Don. - No breath, no pulse...
The silence was established. Even radio for some time has broken off... Nothing. I turned back, has leaned a forehead to an ice wall and has begun to cry... It was a moment, that everybody of us can amaze in those stupid days, but couldn't believe to. The silence has established on slopes of Annapurna. I heard only my pulsing heart and crying oppress. I groaned together with the wind... And I sobered, trying to appease a nervous treacherous shiver, beat a fist in an ice wall and whined itself... We were late.
* * *
Next day (May, 24) on 7100 Don and me met Ueli Shteck. He descended alone throw the snowfall. Some avalanches felt on us from his feet. We hang on ropes as fishes. But we was very happy, that this brave Swiss climber found the way down and join us. Inaki still to lie on 7400 meters. His hard flame heart become as a piece of his Dream-mount ice.
Since five days in Annapurna region I saw the mount only three times by 15 minutes.
Central Sport's Club of Kazakhstan Army
CAMP, La-Sportiva, SIVERA