By CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Feelings of triumph over the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum-1 by a Polish team were marred by growing concern Tuesday over the fate of three other climbers last seen high on the Pakistani mountain five days ago, battling temperatures of 70 below zero and ferocious winds.
The three — an Austrian, a Swiss and a Pakistani — were just short of the summit in the Karakoram range when they were spotted Friday by a Polish team that was descending after it had reached the top of the 8,611 meter (28,251 feet)-high peak.
Pakistan Alpine Club president Manzoor Hussain said he had hoped a helicopter would be able to circle the peak on Tuesday to try and locate the missing men. Cloud and high winds had made it impossible for any aircraft to get near the mountain since Friday.
But the weather remained bad, preventing the search mission, and Hussain said he feared the men were dead.
"Frankly, there is no possibility of them surviving a night or two up there," he said. "I feel we have lost them."
Mohammad Ali, the manager of the tour agency that helped organize the trip, said he hoped the men had managed to descend to a lower camp on the mountain and were still alive.
"They are very experienced," he said. "We very much hope they are OK."
All the climbers on the mountain, also known as Hidden Peak, were part of the same expedition, but were attempting different routes. The two Poles summitted early on Friday after besieging the peak along with several other climbers for more than two months.
Winter ascents of the world's 14 highest mountains are some of most prized achievements left in climbing.
The "eight-thousanders," as they're known since they all top 8,000 meters (5 miles), were all conquered in summertime long ago. Winter climbing is far more dangerous and difficult.
The success last week on Gasherbrum-1 means only three "eight-thousanders" have yet to see a winter ascent.
Hussain said there was no question of celebrating the first ascent when the fate of the other three climbers remained unknown. "This is terrible," he said.
A Russian team abandoned an attempt on K2, the world's second highest peak, last month after one of the climbers died.
Last year, three mountaineers climbed Gasherbrum II, the first winter success in the Karakorams, which is home to four of the "eight-thousanders." The range is further north than the Himalayas, where Everest is located, and thus sees harsher winters.