Noel recounts deadly climb

Noel recounts deadly climb

17 February 2021

DROMARA mountaineer Noel Hanna has told how a climber fell to his death just 10 feet away from him in the Himalayas.

Now safe at home in Johannesburg in South Africa with his wife Lynne, Noel also revealed that at least one of the climbers on the recent international K2 winter expedition needed to have toes removed due to frostbite.

Noel and several other climbers made the wise decision not to try for the ascent of the 8,500 metre high peak on the Pakistan border ten days ago.

But they tragically lost one of their group during their long descent back to a high-altitude camp.

The 52 year-old former police officer told the Recorder he was relieved once he got back to camp and he how he advised three missing climbers, now believed to be dead, not to go on their ascent.

While Noel hopes to return to scale Mount Everest again in the summer, he is unsure of whether he will ever attempt a winter ascent of K2, having become the first Irishman to climb the feared mountain in 2018.

“I would never say never but I won’t be rushing back,” said Noel, who was reunited with his beloved Alsatian dog Buddha.

“There’s been no further word of the three missing climbers. They won’t be found alive now. Even 24 hours after they were missing, there was no chance of them being alive.

“Of the ten people who had to be taken off the mountain, three had serious sickness and three had frostbite.

“One of the guys with frostbite flew out of Islamabad with me last Friday night and I think he will lose four of his toes. The toes of a tent mate of mine have also started to turn black but they will wait and see for a few weeks before deciding what they will do.

“I came back home all in one with all my fingers and toes and was glad to have a nip or two of whiskey from my sponsor, Ballynahinch distiller Hinch Distillery, when I got back down to camp,” said Noel.

Several climbers from Nepal managed to summit the peak, known as the ‘Savage Mountain’, having benefited from a three-day weather window. The Nepalese climbers had arrived earlier on the mountain and were fully acclimatised.

However, Noel said several of them have since reported frostbite on their toes and that their oxygen apparatus stopped working at the high altitude.

“When they made their ascent, they reported 10kmph winds but we had only one day for a summit. As we were going up, the weather was changing with winds of 20kmph from midnight to 8am and after that they were increasing to 30kmph at the summit which was just too much,” explained Noel.

“It was probably the worst cold I’ve ever experienced on a climb. Even in our tents at camp one and camp two, it was probably minus 30 or minus 40 degrees at night”.

Noel said that a weather forecast he received the day before he tried to summit forewarned of the worsening weather ahead.

“For the three who are missing, they had the choice of turning around too but the problem is that people get summit fever and they just want to make it to the top at all costs,” he said.

Noel said it was his experience of already having made the ascent of K2 that gave him the vital information to know that a safe summit was not on the cards for him.

“I knew the difficulty of the climbing to summit and we knew how long it takes during summer conditions to summit and that it would take longer in the winter.”

He revealed that out of the team of seven climbers he was with, one made the fateful decision to go ahead and is now one of the missing climbers, while a Bulgarian national fell to his death as they made their descent.

“We don’t know what happened him, he fell at around 7,000 metres, perhaps he didn’t clip onto the rope or he slipped, but he fell 2,000m to his death. He was only about 10 feet in front of me when he fell,” said Noel.

“It happened about one and a half hours into a 12 hour trek down. You have no other option but to continue. If you stay, you are going to die. I warned some of the climbers who were with me inthe tent not to go out as it was too cold but they went out for two to three hours and now have frostbite,” said Noel.

“You have to know when it’s out of your reach. I wasn’t prepared to lose any fingers or toes over making the summit. We just didn’t have the weather window.”

Noel said what when his gas stoves stopped working due to the extreme cold, he was fortified by a salt and vinegar nut mix he developed with Portadown brand Acti-Snack.

He is due to go to Mount Everest in April or May, travel ban permitting, and Denali National Park in the United States over the summer before attempting an unclimbed peak in the Himalayas in the autumn.