Ascent by Chris Bonington

Ascent by Chris Bonington

Author:Chris Bonington [Bonington, Chris]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

Chapter Thirteen

K2: End of an Era

It’s a sound I will never forget: a moan turning to a penetrating scream, rising out of the darkness below me. Then, just as suddenly, it was quiet again. I tugged at the ropes and found they were still tight, a sure sign Doug was still attached to them. A moment ago I had been staring around at the mountains, the fierce black teeth of the Latok group, the powerful triangle of Muztagh Tower. To the south-west the sun’s afterglow lingered on the bulk of Nanga Parbat. I was content, the frustrations of earlier gone in the satisfaction of the summit. Then came that scream.

Doug had led off on the first abseil, straight down from the summit block, then tensioning across some wet slabs to a couple of pegs I’d placed earlier to make the next abseil easier. Yet in the night air, dampness on the rock had become smears of ice and Doug’s boots skated off it. He swung in a sickening arc, turning and spinning, his legs raised just in time as he smashed into the opposing wall, fracturing both just above the ankle. Had he struck his head or body, the damage would have been far worse. Ignorant of all this, I tugged again on the rope. Was he unconscious? I wondered how I would reach him, how I could abseil down with his weight on the rope. Then he called out.

‘I’ve broken my bloody legs.’

I felt a flood of relief.

‘Can you get your weight off the rope?’

‘I’ll try.’

Doug managed to get himself onto a ledge and the rope went slack, allowing me to abseil down. I felt full of anxiety but knew I had to sound positive.

‘What ho, mate!’ Perhaps that wasn’t quite the right tone.

It was now nearly pitch dark and we didn’t have torches. A few metres below I could see a snow ledge that looked wide enough for a bivouac.

‘We’ll just work at getting you down,’ I told Doug, still trying to sound cheerful. ‘Don’t worry, you’re a long way from being dead.’ The idea hadn’t even crossed Doug’s mind.

Once on the snow ledge, having pulled through the ropes, he tried to stand, but there was the distinct sound of bone scraping on bone and he howled with pain, dropping to his knees. Then he crawled over and started helping me to dig a ledge. We had no food or drink, no extra clothing, and we passed the night as best we could, tucking our stockinged feet into each other’s crotches, doing the best I could not to cause Doug pain while massaging his toes. All I could think of was the prospect of reaching the snow cave and drinking something. I nodded off briefly and then realized Doug was massaging my toes, which I took as a hint. Because of his injuries, the risk of frostbite was much greater. Slowly dawn came around and we prepared to escape, getting Doug’s boots back on as carefully as possible. Then we started abseiling down the summit block, four rope lengths in all.


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