K2 Climbing Ends, Mystery-Solving Begins

8000ers K2 Karakorum
A storm-wrapped K2 yesterday. Photo: Graham Zimmerman

Bad weather has settled into the Karakorum, with snow burying the hopes that some teams still had for a final go at their respective goals. Garrett Madison had delayed his departure, hoping that better weather might allow his team to try Broad Peak this week. Ian Welsted and Graham Zimmerman patiently waited for some dry, cold days, essential on a difficult mixed route like K2’s West Ridge.

“We had dinner together yesterday, and I think they are heading home soon,” Madison told ExplorersWeb.

Search ends. Now, what happened?

Madison Mountaineering’s Sherpa team was the first to spot the bodies of Juan Pablo Mohr, Ali Sadpara, and John Snorri, who died on K2 last February. The Sherpas reported the find immediately but no one “touched or moved the bodies”.

The bodies’ location, marked on a photo by Elia Saikaly. Photo shared by The Karakoram Club

“Ali Sadpara was cut loose from the rope, lowered down to near Camp 4, and buried in the snow by Sajid Sadpara and Bolivian Hugo Ayaviri,” Madison said. “J.P. Mohr was found near Camp 4 and buried in the snow as well; Snorri, as far as I know, is still clipped onto the fixed line.”

Saikaly confirmed that Sajid Sadpara moved and buried his father’s body, then performed a religious ceremony. Sajid also buried Mohr and took some personal belongings to return to his family. He also reached Snorri, who was higher up the mountain and not as easy to move.

“He also searched our dear friend John Snorri’s lifeless body for clues and evidence of a winter ascent,” said Saikaly. “It was an incredibly dangerous search just beneath 8,300m. John Snorri was the highest of the three climbers, attached to the winter K2 safety lines installed by the Nepali Sherpas.”

Devices retrieved from Snorri’s remains: A Garmin, a Samsung mobile, and a GoPro.

They were going down

“John, Ali, and JP were all on the descent,” Saikaly added. “Ali Sadpara was a few rope lengths below and Juan Pablo a significant distance away near Camp 4.”

The main question is whether they reached the summit or not. It’s not just idle curiosity: The families have stated that this point is important to them. So we presume that they gave Sadpara and Saikaly, who is filming a documentary about the tragedy, permission to retrieve and use the audiovisual material found on the deceased climbers’ devices.

“Sajid was unstoppable, fueled by a determination only a son can have for his fallen and missing father,” Saikaly said. He also spoke of the effort from two days spent in the so-called death zone and five on the mountain. They were “let down by both of our high-altitude porters and forced to carry their responsibility on our backs,” he added.

The team is currently trekking back to Skardu and starting to view the images from the fallen climbers’ devices. Among them is the only image currently retrievable from John Snorri’s GoPro, shot during their summit push on winter K2.

The only frame obtained so far from Snorri’s GoPro. Photo: Elia Saikaly

Few clues so far

“This is the only piece of visual information that we have at the moment. A single frame of video which is corrupt [and] will need further analysis,” he said. “The date is incorrect, logged as February 7, 2019.”

Saikaly has shared the image and wondered where that image could have been shot. He mentioned that the “heroic Nepali Sherpas who summited K2 in winter would recognize this rope, as they installed it.”

NIrmal Purja immediately answered on Saikaly’s Instagram that he knew exactly where that pic has been taken. “Chat later,” Purja wrote.

On social media, opinions are divided between those hoping to see the mystery solved, and others suggesting that sharing details and images from the deceased climbers is disrespectful. We have indeed omitted some details posted on Instagram and will not publish some sensitive images. But research may eventually explain what happened to Sadpara, Snorri, and Mohr on winter K2. This is of public interest and may bring some peace to relatives and friends.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Jay
Jay
2 months ago

Angela, just want to say that your articles are brilliant. I check the EW site daily and treat it as my go to for mountaineering news. Keep up the good work.

+14
OldHikerDude
OldHikerDude
2 months ago
Reply to  Jay

I’ll back that up. I’ve been coming to Explorers Web, in various forms, for many years, and you and the rest of the crew are doing a great job running this site. It is now the “Go To” Adventure News site for many of us. You should all be proud!

+8
mona
mona
2 months ago
Reply to  OldHikerDude

I cannot agree more. This has become my GoTo site for mountaineering and adventure. Thanks EW team for timely and resposible journalism!

+3
Tadeo
Tadeo
2 months ago
Reply to  Jay

Totally agree, bravooo

+2
Pawel
Pawel
2 months ago

Hi Angela, just to let you know that the photo with bodies’ location wasn’t created/taken by Elia. It was made by IG 8000ers.news and after copied by others.
The orginal photo is from Madison Mountaineering, taken few years ago.
https://www.instagram.com/p/CR_dW6jjIh7/

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Walter Rott
Walter Rott
2 months ago
Reply to  Pawel

It is not the same photo; the one Angela posted showing body locations is indeed a real/original photo taken by the Ukranian climber Valentyn Sypavin, …but you are right on, it was not taken by Elia.

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Pawel
Pawel
2 months ago
Reply to  Walter Rott

No, the original photo by Valentyn is different. If you check the IG post there are 4 photos, including this one and the one taken by Valentyn as well.

+1
Walter Rott
Walter Rott
2 months ago
Reply to  Pawel

Ok, yes, I see now

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Rudy
Rudy
2 months ago

I believe Ali summited…

+1
Jenny
Jenny
2 months ago

It would be interesting to know what Nims knows regarding the GoPro photo

+2
Last edited 2 months ago by Jenny
Jahan
Jahan
2 months ago

Ali and John were without O2s. Could the outcome have been different, had they used O2? There seems to be a consensus that they summitted and froze to death on descent.
One must give kudos to the search mission team for bringing Ali’s body down to C4. Its hard to believe Sajid was able to bring Ali’s body from bottleneck through the traverse down to C4 with the help of Hugo. Any idea how he was able to do it?

+4
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Jahan

Elia Saikaly likely has film, but we will have to wait for that. Probably one of the few times a rescue mission like this has been filmed.

+3
Hasan
Hasan
2 months ago

I have now read in more than one place that Saikaly (and presumably Sajid and PK Sherpa, too) were “let down by our high-altitude porters.” What exactly does this mean? Were they unwell? Unqualified for the task? Uneasy about going up in conditions they deemed unsafe? Are they expected to carry gear just because the expedition is paying their salary? Do they have agency? What are the stated (contractual) and unstated (moral/ethical) considerations here? Also, in fairness, EW should get their side of the story, too. Shimshal has cell-phone coverage and WhatsApp, too. And please refer to them by name.… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny
2 months ago
Reply to  Hasan

That too may get covered in Elia’s film

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Last edited 2 months ago by Jenny
Victor
Victor
2 months ago
Reply to  Hasan

It’s a bit of a cryptic message, but this is from Elia’s instagram (the comments below the picture from Snorri’s camera):

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5189E517-9712-4AFA-AFD9-5F29963B6593.jpeg
F v
F v
2 months ago
Reply to  Victor

In another comment someone is suggesting one had a back injury. The other had probably also an “underlying issue”. Thank god PK, Elia and Sajid were in perfect shape to complete the mission and even managed to reach the summit.

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Yasir
Yasir
2 months ago

There is a possibility, that jp mohr changed his mind for summit and went back from bottle neck ( his body is at quite distance from others)while ali and snorri attempted for summit, sajid said last time he saw his father above bottleneck ( although i wish they had all submitted). The state of their bodies do not suggest that they were hit by avalanche or any other accident and it is also very strange to believe how they all experienced mountaineers froze to death atleast one could have escaped in this circumstances…why they all died when did not face… Read more »

Khizer
Khizer
2 months ago
Reply to  Yasir

Some of the best have frozen up there before as well. Nardi and Ballard were found sitting outside their tents.

0
Federica Masante
Federica Masante
2 months ago
Reply to  Khizer

No, they were still attached to ropes when they were spotted by rescue helis

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Don Paul
Don Paul
2 months ago

I dont think they were ever spotted by the helicopter searches. Madison Mountaineering found them while climbing the route six months later.

+1
Federica Masante
Federica Masante
2 months ago
Reply to  Don Paul

I was referring to Nardi and Ballard…

+1
Khizer
Khizer
2 months ago

They were spotted through a telescope by the rescue party which included Txikon and Sadpara, not from a heli. You can see Nardi in red, Ballard in blue, and their tent in orange.

https://www.castellinotizie.it/2019/11/29/daniele-nardi-e-tom-ballard-resteranno-sul-nanga-parbat-sospese-le-operazioni-di-recupero-dei-due-alpinisti-morti-lo-scorso-febbraio/alpinisti/

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Walter Rott
Walter Rott
2 months ago
Reply to  Yasir

I don’t think JP changed his mind when it comes to summiting K2 that day. Knowing that he was the only one of the three climbers accustomed to not using O2 and also very strong and fast on the mountain (it’s not just a matter of JP being faster becuase he was younger ..but mostly because he was really gifted, Juan Pablo still holds the speed record for the Everest/Lhotse double header.. beating the legend Anatoli Boukreev’s previous record, with no O2 and without sherpa support, JP was really very strong on the mountain ). What I do think happened is… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Walter Rott
jams
jams
2 months ago
Reply to  Walter Rott

Very good explanation, makes a lot of sense. Very sad, especially as JP was not so far from safety. RIP three heros.

+2
Yasir
Yasir
2 months ago
Reply to  Walter Rott

Your opinion really make sense Walter Rott. I do not have much info but I would like to know, how much stormy conditions on such high altitude affect tenperature, survival etc? I still strongly believe, even in Walter’s scenario chances for JP survival were higher, he was away from bottleneck and near camp 4.

+2
Twinkletoes
Twinkletoes
2 months ago
Reply to  Yasir

Without wind, it is cold enough to freeze people to death if they stay too long, even with all those layers. It is enough to freeze their fingers if they take off gloves for more than an instant. With storm winds, it will be much worse. That is why the short-term goal would be to get out of the wind – hide in the ice or a tent. Freezing do death a bit slower, one may ride out the night. But you also have to escape the altitude. Assuming Ali&co were still thinking straight, they knew that the weather would… Read more »

MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Walter Rott

Snorri and Ali Sadpara were a team (Snorri hired AS) and would have climbed more or less together. Ali S. started later because they knew Snorri was slower, but they planned to meet up at some point to continue together. But JP Mohr was not part of that team, he just ended up climbing the same day. So unless there is GoPro or Garmin data showing the three climbing together there is no reason to assume that they did, or that JP would even know if Snorri or Sadpara had problems because he could have been ahead of them on… Read more »

Walter Rott
Walter Rott
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

What you point out is a possibility, I agree; As you say, it is very likely that JP went up first (since John and Ali no longer had oxygen, and they weren’t exactly non O2 climbers) and made it to the top sooner to then be the first to start the descent and not even have known what happened later to John Snorri and Ali Sadpara… but there is also Sajid’s account that day in which he refers to the “three” in relation to JS AS and JP climbing at a “good pace” and “together” through the bottleneck, in fact the… Read more »

Khizer
Khizer
2 months ago
Reply to  Walter Rott

Wait, you are saying that JP “was the only one of the three climbers accustomed to not using O2″……? “Ali no longer had oxygen, and they weren’t exactly non O2 climbers”….? You’ve said that multiple times here and I’m surprised that no one has corrected you. You clearly don’t know who Sadpara was, what he has done, and how he climbed. Maybe look up the first winter summit on Nangaparbat ever? Or maybe the other 11 times he’s climbed an 8000er without O2? I’m not here for a measuring contest but JP wasn’t the real contender up there. PS: Also,… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Khizer
Khizer
Khizer
2 months ago
Reply to  Khizer

I’ll rephrase that to ‘the prime contender’.

0
Don Paul
Don Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  Yasir

They must have been buried in snow, though. People searched for a week or more, using airplanes and satellite photos, and the climbers were dressed in bright colors. They could never see any trace of them, even though all three were still clipped into the rope, and in different places. JP Mohr was so close, and Sajid was right there waiting for him only a few hundred yards away. Sajid should know the weather conditions, but it looks like all three were buried in snow, which blew away after six months, exposing the bodies. Or perhaps they were still buried… Read more »

Federica Masante
Federica Masante
2 months ago
Reply to  Don Paul

But there was no camp 4 in winter so Sajid would have been waiting at camp 3, which is not a few hundred yards away. Also, visibility was bad on the following days and the rescue helicopters could barely reach above 7000 km so it is not surprising that they could not see them even if they had not been buried deep in snow.

+3
Not a mountaineer
Not a mountaineer
2 months ago
Reply to  Don Paul

Check out the interview from Allen Arnette of Madison that is on youtube. The period of high winds just before their climb probably exposed them. Elia apparently tried drones but nothing was visible? It is discussed in the interview.

+1
Helen
Helen
2 months ago

Where is John Snorri Thuraya phone?

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Last edited 2 months ago by Helen
Jenny
Jenny
2 months ago
Reply to  Helen

Sajid said they had no radio or sat phone, although he had a device which he contacted base camp with from camp 3: https://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2021/02/07/winter-k2-update-summit-push-update-8/

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Last edited 2 months ago by Jenny
Helen
Helen
2 months ago
Reply to  Jenny

From Elia Saikaly on Facebook: “I filmed the scene as Sajid searched John Snorri for 4 items: a Garmin, a satellite phone, a Samsung mobile and a 360 GoPro.” https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=323752195928933&id=100048824656559 John Snorri planned to call his wife from his satellite phone at the peak: https://www.ruv.is/frett/2021/02/19/mountaineers-declared-dead-but-may-have-reached-peak “The thorough investigation that followed the climbers’ disappearance discovered that Snorri’s Thuraya satphone had apparently tried to make a call at 7:17 pm that day at the altitude of Camp 3 — not right on the tent’s location but closer to the Cesen route. Just in case, the helicopters made sure to search that precise… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny
2 months ago
Reply to  Helen

Thank you Helen.
I really hope that the content on the found devices and Elia’s documentary (pre and post tragedy) contains information that can help answer the questions on what happened that night. Fingers crossed.

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Helen
Helen
2 months ago
Reply to  Jenny

Yes we have wait for updates on the findings from Elia, I just hope he is supported, safe and well.

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Samson Simon Sharaf
2 months ago

Yesterday, I was there to greet the Bolivian Climber Hugo Ayaviri and his wife and pay thanks for his role in retrieving the body of Pakistani Leapord Muhammad Ali Sadpara. He spent 33 hours in the death zone after his summit. A heroic beyond his call of duty. May he be blessed with more succeses

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago

I looked online for more info on Hugo Ayaviri, who is an IFMGA certified guide with rescue training. He has done many climbs in South America, but I couldn’t find any info on his climbs on 7k or 8k peaks. If this was his first, or one of his first 8k climbs, it makes his no-02 Broad peak+ K2 ascent +and his high-altitude efforts helping Sajid recover his father beyond impressive, it makes them practically super-human. And most important of all: what a human being and what a role model for mountaineers and the rest of us. There should be… Read more »

Rebe
Rebe
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Any idea why Saikaly is leaving JP Mohr out of his “mission”? I really dislike the fact that we are going to wait for a movie to find out answers and JP is not even going to be part of it…

+2
Not a mountaineer
Not a mountaineer
2 months ago
Reply to  Rebe

Hugo Ayaviri doesn’t seem to be mentioned either.

0
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  Rebe

Elia Saikaly and PK Sherpa were on the team with the Sadparas and Snorri for Winter K2. Saikaly was supposed to film their climb. But there was some screwup by their outfitter that left Saikaly at a lower camp (2?) without O2 and possibly other equipment. (As you may recall, this was one among many, there were enormous logistical and supply screw-ups for that climb.). So as a team-mate of Snorri and Sadpara, Saikaly feels an enormous responsibility for supporting their families. It is not clear what Snorri’s family wanted (other than recovery of some personal items, which they did… Read more »

Federica Masante
Federica Masante
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

100%.

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Lynx
Lynx
2 months ago
Reply to  Rebe

His body was occasionally discovered by Valentin Sypavin. Maybe this did not fit into the movie.

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Russell A Brown
Russell A Brown
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

This guy is a true hero.

0
Don Paul
Don Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

General Sharaf, now I understand why you know so much about helicopters. One of my facebook friends just posted this interview of you talking about the Taliban press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eycy_L_CqsA

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