August 5, 2008
Climber’s Accident Saves His Life on K2
By Larry Altman
If it wasn't for a mistake, Hermosa Beach resident Nick Rice might be among the dead climbers on K2 in Pakistan.The 23-year-old adventurer who attended Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach was boiling water on Friday and spilled some of the liquid on his socks.
It meant he had to stay behind to let them dry and catch up later with the rest of the expedition in the bitter cold.
Eleven of his colleagues attempting to reach the 28,250-foot summit of the world's most dangerous mountain died in an avalanche over the weekend.
"After I dried my socks, I started off toward the (area known as the) Bottleneck, but after around an hour, I realized that my hands weren't about to warm up, and I wasn't ready to lose any fingers for the summit of K2," Rice wrote in a dispatch posted on his Web site Friday.
"I realized, since I was feeling quite strong, that I COULD summit K2 without oxygen, however if I wanted to keep my fingers and enjoy a normal adult life, I needed to turn around and not let my ambitions get the best of me."
Rice's parents, Tom Rice and Wendy Knowles of Hermosa Beach, have tracked their son during his more than two-month journey up the mountain in Pakistan, talking to him on his satellite phone and over the Internet. They are relieved he's still alive.
"It's a tragedy and we all feel terrible about it," Rice's father said. "He was going to go up with those guys and he was boiling water for drinking water and he spilled it on his socks. You don't go up in those kind of elevations with wet socks. That was one of those things that made a difference."
Pakistan's Ministry of Tourism said the 11 believed dead in one of mountaineering's worst disasters included three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis and climbers from France, Ireland, Serbia and Norway.
Mountaineers consider K2, which straddles Pakistan and China, more challenging than Mount Everest because its ridges and slopes are steeper and more prone to avalanches and sudden storms.
The K2 journey was Rice's fourth straight expedition in Pakistan and his seventh 8,000 meter expedition.
"He's been mountain climbing since he was 16," his father said. "He's always talked about K2. It's not as high as Everest, but much more difficult."
On his Web site, Rice describes himself as an "extreme high- altitude mountaineer" who has climbed two of the 14 highest mountains in the world.
"I think he wants to be an international playboy," his father said. In his dispatches Sunday and Monday, Rice spoke of the grim mood at base camp.
"Base camp is quite somber thanks to the enormous loss of life in such a short time," he wrote Sunday. "At this point, I am quite resentful of the people who have decided to give up hope and raise the 'confirmed' death toll to include the still-missing climbers."
Rice, who attended Rolling Hills Country Day School in Rolling Hills Estates, wrote that he sorted through his e-mails from news organizations on Monday and spent the day questioning people who knew what had happened.
"Most people in base camp are quoting rumors, or relying on what they may have seen through the telescope," he said. "Thanks to the Internet, these lies and twisted rumors are being published as fact, and people are being given hope when none exists, or being misled to believe that their loved one is missing, when in fact they are safe in descent or in base camp. (This was the case for me, as I was reported missing twice)."
One of the survivors, Dutch mountaineer Wilco van Rooijen, told The Associated Press that up to 10 of the group's fastest climbers were in a steep gully known as the Bottleneck when a huge chunk of ice crashed down from above, sending a Norwegian and two Nepali sherpas to their deaths.
The ice swept away some of the ropes, making it even more dangerous for those caught above, he said.
Van Rooijen, among the stragglers, said he spent the night huddled in the snow with Gerard McDonnell, an Irishman, and Marco Confortola, an Italian who was making his way down the slope on Monday.
By the morning, clouds made it impossible for the climbers to locate each other.
Some suffered fatal falls in an attempt to escape the gully.
Confortola's brother, Luigi, told Italian news agencies that he had spoken with his brother on the phone.
"Up there it was hell," the Italian mountaineer was quoted as telling his brother. "My hands are fine, while my feet are black from frostbite. Anyway, I can walk and I want to descend to the base camp."
In the aftermath, Rice made his way to a base camp and contacted embassies of the men who did not survive.
"It's a very big tragedy for him," his father said. "He's a sensitive guy. He's packing up stuff for people that didn't make it."
Rice will make his way to Scardu and then to Islamabad for his trip home to the South Bay in the next week.
"My wife and I are very proud of him getting up as high as he did," his father said. "He did that and did it well."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
ON THE WEB
For more information about Nick Rice's K2 climb, go to nickrice.us.
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