Co Down mountaineer Noel Hanna has said he doesn't regret being unable to reach the summit of the world's second highest mountain in winter - but that staying safe was his main priority.
Five climbers who were with Mr Hanna died on the treacherous expedition on K2, a notorious Himalayan peak on the border between Pakistan and China.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after 10 hours of trekking on the way from base camp, Mr Hanna said the expedition is now making its way off the mountain.
He said he's "disappointed" he didn't make the summit but said safety was most important.
"It's the same as climbing any mountain, if you don't make summit you're disappointed," he said. "But getting back off the mountain with all your fingers and toes is number one and getting a summit is a bonus."
The 54-year-old conquered the 8,611-metre mountain in 2018 and was the first Irish person to achieve the feat. He had hoped to be one of the few to say they had completed a winter ascent of the 'Savage Mountain', with fewer than 350 climbers making it up and down its slopes successfully.
Speaking yesterday he said: "There were 19 or 20 on the expedition when we walked in and there's five members walking out because some were thrown out through illness, sickness or frostbite. Then five died on the mountain."
Three of the climbers who died were well known to Mr Hanna. A man from Spain died from a fall on January 16 and two other men, who were Chilean and Pakistani, died on February 5 as they attempted the summit. An Icelandic man also died that day while a fifth, from Bulgaria, died "about 20 feet" in front of Mr Hanna when he fell 2,000 metres to his death.
The deaths have been "difficult", said Mr Hanna. "Probably some could have been avoidable if they had turned around rather than continuing on.
"It's an individual thing, I was up at high camp for summit push and thought it was too cold and the weather window was too short to make summit and be back down safely. It was an easy decision for me just to abort my summit attempt," he said.
"You have to know your ability, the weather, your speed on the mountain. Others in our expedition went up and shouldn't have, and now they're probably looking at losing six or eight toes."
Mr Hanna, who is from Ballynahinch, said when he returned to base camp he had some Hinch whiskey from his hometown to unwind, sharing the three or four bottles he brought with his fellow climbers.
The Co Down man said he will not attempt K2 again but said he would attempt Everest again in winter, saying it was a "personal goal". Mr Hanna and his wife Lynne, CEO of Clarins South Africa, would also like to attempt Everest without oxygen or an unclimbed peak in the Himalayas, he said.
For now, he is focused on the end of the expedition, with only two more nights to spend in the tent. "When you're spending 45 or 50 nights in a tent and it's minus 25 every night, it's not comfortable for seven weeks," he said.
The expedition is heading for Skardu in Pakistan and will then fly to Islamabad on to Doha in Qatar and then back to South Africa after receiving a negative PCR test.
Mr Hanna said he himself hasn't felt any negative side effects from the climb. "I'm feeling excellent," he said.