Battered and bruised, exhausted but alive, two Italian climbers rescued from one of the world's highest peaks have paid tribute to their friend who fell to his death on one of Pakistan's most dangerous mountains.
Simon Kehrer and Walter Nones arrived in Islamabad yesterday having spent 10 days huddled together against a raging storm thousands of feet up Nanga Parbat.
Dressed in T-shirts and shorts and with their faces scarred, the climbers expressed regrets over the death a week ago of their friend and expedition member, Karl Unterkircher. The renown-ed Italian climber perished after falling into a ravine.
His two friends said they were unable to help Mr Unterkircher, who had been attempting a new route up the mountain, and were forced to leave his body where it fell, covered in snow.
"[He was] a great friend and a great climber," said Mr Nones. As to their own condition, he added: "We are very, very tired."
The family of a British climber stranded on another Pakistan mountain said they were hopeful he too would be rescued after the Italians were flown to safety. The mother of 28-year-old Ben Cheek from Manchester said bad weather had also disrupted the efforts to find her son, who was on a five-day solo climb in the Shimshal Whitehorn range in the Hunza Valley. He should have returned eight days ago.
"We had hoped a helicopter could fly out early today but the conditions have not been favourable," said Heather Cheek.
"We are now praying the weather will clear by tomorrow morning and it will be suitable to fly at first light."
The two Italian climbers had been forced to huddle in their tent for 10 days, pitched at an altitude of around 19,000ft and wait for a break in the bad weather that had descended on them. They survived off supplies dropped to them by helicopter.
Describing the incident that robbed them of their leader, Mr Nones said: "We were at 6,400m [19,700ft] and the snow was soft. Karl went ahead very cautiously, sinking in up to his knees, and at a certain point we lost sight of him. He had dropped 15m into a crevasse, and a lot of snow came down on top of him.
"Simon went down after him right away, I made him secure, but he couldn't see anything. Then at a certain point Simon said, 'Maybe I've found something'. He had dug with his hands and had seen Karl, unfortunately he was no longer alive." The pair halted for a day, "to decide what to do" then decided to keep going. "We wanted to keep climbing right up to the high wall then come down slowly, but the bad weather stopped us," Mr Nones said. "As soon as a small window opened we went down like lunatics to try and arrive at base camp as quickly as possible.
"Our objective was still to bring Karl home. But when we were at around 5,500m the helicopter picked us up."
Sara Sottocornola of Everest-K2-CNR, the Italian-based group that organised the climb, said news of the rescue was welcomed by, "shouts of joy".
A legend within the mountaineering world, in 2004 Mr Unterkircher, 37, set a new record when he climbed both K2 and Mount Everest without oxygen in 63 days. Two years later he became the first climber to conquer the 20,500-ft peak of Mount Genyen in China.