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Grave fears for mountaineers in K2 disaster -

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ELEANOR HALL: To the ice fall on the world's second highest peak that may have killed as many as a
dozen climbers.

Everest might get all the headlines, but to experienced mountain climbers K2, in the Himalayas, is
the most brutal peak on earth.

More than a quarter of the people who try to scale it die in the attempt.

In the latest disaster, an ice ledge gave way near the summit of the mountain, causing an avalanche
just as the climbers were about to begin their descent.

Simon Santow has our report.

SIMON SANTOW: The world's best mountaineers know just how deadly K2 can be.

Shaped like a pyramid it's often compared to a death trap and known by locals as Chogori or King of
Mountains.

Volatile weather patterns make it a peak for the patient and for the highly skilled.

CHRIS BONINGTON: K2 it's a completely different ball game from Everest. It is a very serious
mountain from beginning to end.

SIMON SANTOW: Briton Sir Chris Bonington is familiar with K2's pitfalls.

CHRIS BONINGTON: Even when you get to the top camp from which you make the bed for the summit, the
actual descent from the top camp also is dangerous and avalanche prone. So if the weather changes
and there's heavy snowfall then there can be a lot of avalanches coming down, maybe it was ice,
maybe it was a serac that collapsed.

SIMON SANTOW: Most reports say the 25 strong party hit trouble when as many as a dozen of them were
caught out in a collapse of an ice ledge just beneath the summit at a place known as the
Bottleneck.

3 South Koreans, 2 Nepali's, a Dutch national, a Serb, a Norwegian and a Pakistani are reported
dead and another Pakistani, a French national and an Austrian are missing.

Reinhold Messner is also a veteran of K2; he holds fears for others in the expedition.

REINHOLD MESSNER: If they now to reach the other side of the mountain, the Chinese side where there
is another expedition and if this expedition could have bared the way up to the summit, there is a
chance for them to survive, otherwise I don't see they will be saved.

SIMON SANTOW: Andrew Lock is one of only 3 Australians to have conquered the mountain; and a
climber who has knocked off 13 of the 14 peaks which soar over 8,000 metres. He's not so
pessimistic.

ANDREW LOCK: As far as I understand it some of these climbers have managed to climb down over the
technical difficulties back to their high camp at Camp 4. It's just a matter of focusing and
climbing very carefully and very steadily.

The problem will be for them if this particular year there's less snow on the face and more exposed
hard ice, and it's very difficult to penetrate the ice with your ice axes and the points on your
boots and so it makes it a very tenuous grip on the mountain.

SIMON SANTOW: How difficult is it for these climbers given that they have reached the peak? They've
got to the top; they know they've got a job ahead of them to get down, but they must feel
presumably very exhausted at this point.

ANDREW LOCK: Oh look it's exceptionally difficult, I couldn't describe for you the physical
exhaustion that they'd be going through at the moment. They would have put all their focus into
getting to the top with the confidence of having the ropes below them to help them get down
quickly.

Now they have no tents, no sleeping bags, no food no stoves, they would have carried just a litre
of water and a Mars Bar or two and that would have been it. So to be caught out at that altitude
and having to climb down in that exhausted state is extremely difficult.

Their fingers would be freezing they'd be dehydrated, it would be very hard to focus because their
cognitive function would be really stretched out for not using axillary oxygen and for having been
trapped up around 8,300 metres for at least a night longer than they had planned.

SIMON SANTOW: Would you say that they have been unlucky? Or the victims of a very, very brutal
mountain?

ANDREW LOCK: Oh both I suppose, they've been unlucky to have this serac sweep down and take away
their ropes because it's a relatively stable serac and avalanches very rarely, it is a very brutal
mountain.

But I can assure you that the climbers on this particular peak are not inexperienced climbers in
the way that you might find guided non-climbers on Mount Everest. These are highly experienced
climbers who just had an unlucky experience on what is the hardest mountain on earth.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Australian mountaineer and K2 veteran, Andrew Lock speaking to Simon Santow.