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Alpine Club recognise Nanga Parbat rescuers with Spirit of Mountaineering commendation

On the 21st September the Alpine Club recognised the action taken by expedition leader Krzysztof Wielicki and four climbers Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Piotr Tomala and Jarosław Botor earlier this year on Nanga Parbat. As part of the K2 panel session held this year at the 23rd Ladek Mountain Festival, Victor Saunders presented our Spirit of Mountaineering commendation to all five for their involvement in the rescue of French climber Elisabeth Revol and attempted rescue of Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz.

Elisabeth Revol and Tomek reached Nanga Parbat’s summit on the 25th January earlier this year. However during the descent it became clear that Tomek was suffering from severe frostbite, snow blindness and altitude sickness. With Tomek’s condition deteriorating, the difficult decision was made for Elisabeth to go on alone. After calling for a rescue, Elisabeth secured Tomek in a sleeping bag inside a crevasse at 7280 meters and continued to descend for help. 

Photograph by Piotr Kaleta

Over on K2, members of the Polish Alpine Association had heard of the rescue request and four of the team (Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Piotr Tomala and Jarosław Botor) were airlifted to 4900m by the Pakistani military. 

“Nanga Parbat was no ordinary rescue”, wrote Victor Saunders who presented the accolade, “it involved the participation of many elements; the climbers, the Pakistani helicopter pilots, the Polish Embassy in Islamabad, and the truly amazing crowd funding initiative in Europe. Without any one of those elements the operation would have failed.”

Early on the 28th January, Adam and Denis made contact with Elisabeth suffering from severe frostbite and assisted her down to camp II. After administering first aid and a night in camp, they continued the descent to camp I and Elisabeth was later air-lifted to hospital in Islamabad. Given the worsening weather, Tomek’s already poor condition, and the physical exhaustion of the rescue team, the difficult decision was also made to not continue higher to attempt to rescue Tomek. 

In light of the actions taken on Nanga Parbat by the PZA climbers, the Spirit of Mountaineering recognises the selfless efforts of Krzysztof Wielicki, Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Piotr Tomala and Jarosław Botor who in going to the aid of Elisabeth and Tomek put their own summit attempt on K2 at risk.  

Speaking about the recognition, Piotr said, “we did not do this thinking about accolades. We wanted to save people, that was our goal. Everyone from the base volunteered to the rescue mission, the team leader selected the four of us.” 

Photograph by Piotr Kaleta

This commendation is one of two being given this year. The second is being presented at a UNESCO event in Paris on the 25th October to the Pakistani pilots involved in the rescue mission on Nanga Parbat, Latok I and Ultar this year. Whilst not a formal rescue service, the willingness of the ‘Fearless 5 High Altitude Squadron’ personnel to respond to often dangerous situations has seen many lives saved. 

Speaking about the recognition, Alpine Club President John Porter said that the Spirit of Mountaineering “reminds us that our passion for alpine climbing can inadvertently put others at risk, but there will always be those willing to aid those in need.  That is what is meant by ‘the Spirit of Mountaineering’”.

Our Spirit of Mountaineering commendation “acknowledges and thanks those who, in the true spirit of mountaineering, have unselfishly given exceptional assistance to those in need of help in the mountains.” Established in 2009 by Norman Croucher and Doug Scott, the first recognition went to Simon Anthematten, Horia Colibasanu, Ueli Steck, Alexey Bolotov, Don Bowie and Denis Urubko for going to the aid of Inaki Ochoa who had fallen ill on Annapurna’s summit ridge in 2008. 

Our thanks go to Alpine Club members Frank Cannings, Victor Saunders, Françoise Call and Mick Fowler who were involved in proposing and organising this year’s two presentations. Thanks as well to Ladek Mountain Festival for hosting us and a number of other Alpine Club members over the weekend; including Sir Chris Bonington, Brian Hall, Clive Allen and Lindsay Griffin. The festival is dedicated to the late Andrzej Zawada, an honorary member of the Alpine Club.