extract from 'THE SUMMIT' Book
At 8,300 metres, Cecilie Skog was trying to manoeuvre her way to the top of the Bottleneck and onto the Traverse. It was approaching 10.30am. As the fixed lines were secured, the climbers had begun to pick their way along the ropes from the top of the couloir. Finally it seemed that the logjam of people below was about to be freed. The ice was blue underfoot on parts of the Traverse, requiring the climbers to use the front points of their crampons and ice axes to secure purchase on the crystalline, rock-hard surface while remaining tethered to the fixed ropes at all times.
Cecilie tried not to look up at the gargantuan Serac. Face to face with it, the climbers could see little else in their line of sight but the multi-storey blocks of ice and the deep crevasses of which it is comprised. Ahead of Cecilie were several South Korean team members and she could also see some of the trail breakers further along the line. Not long now, she thought. The heat of the sun warmed her as she stalled briefly so that others could pass her and move forward; several climbers were becoming frustrated by the pace of the ascent and, in their impatience, were trying to overtake the slower climbers.
Dren Mandic of the Serb team was a short distance ahead of Cecilie near the beginning of the Traverse, and he seemed agitated. The 31-year-old carpenter and amateur zoologist from Subotica in Serbia needed to replace his oxygen cylinder. The only safe place to do so was a small, flat outcrop of rock further back along the line near the top of the Bottleneck where his team-mate, Iso Planic, had already stopped to replenish his supply.
Dren needed to double back; trying to change his oxygen bottle while hanging from a rope and relying only on his crampons for grip on a near-vertical wall of ice would be absurd. Out of the corner of her eye, Cecilie saw Dren approach from just above her to the left. He wanted to pass by her to get back to Iso, and she pressed herself close to the frigid ice to allow him climb around her.
Moving adjacent to Cecilie, Dren unclipped his carabiner from the rope and was in the process of stepping around her in what should have been a relatively uncomplicated procedure. He tried to get a grip on the ice with his right leg as he manoeuvred. But, for a fleeting moment, Dren lost contact with the fixed ropes, his left boot skidding from under him. He had unclipped on one side of Cecilie, but he hadn't clipped on the other side. Then he slipped and took her with him. Cecilie was suddenly falling downwards and she shrieked in horror.
Within seconds, her jumar had pulled tight, holding her on the ropes. She spun round and came to a shuddering halt, her back now to the mountain, hanging there like a puppet on a string. In desperation, and with nothing connecting him to the ropes above, Dren reached out to try to bear-hug her, but he slid away at high speed and, without his ice axe, which had fallen, all attempts at self-arrest failed abysmally. There was nothing to hold onto on the slick-like ice. From the Bottleneck, Rolf Bae looked up and roared his wife's name, 'Cecilie! Cecilie!'.
Several metres away, Pemba heard a woman scream. He looked down just in time to see Dren slip from the line and pull Cecilie off her position on the fixed ropes; he saw her stop suddenly as her jumar engaged. The Serb continued to freefall like a stone, and Pemba thought he saw Cecilie trying to grab Dren as he plunged. 'Oh my God!' somebody shouted. Emitting a guttural wail, Dren plummeted further and further, passing right by those climbers still in the Bottleneck. Their heads turned like dominoes as they watched him rocket downwards.
Suddenly, Dren came to a halt a short distance below them and, within seconds, he bounced to his feet, like an unloading spring. Lars Nessa noticed him stand up. He waved, as if to say, 'I am okay, I am okay', and Lars felt relieved that Dren had survived the fall. But, immediately, the disoriented Serb flipped backwards in an awkward cartwheel motion and began to slide again at speed. He plunged a further 300 metres across the ice, his body hitting some rocks and coming to a halt several hundred metres below the Bottleneck. This time, he didn't stand up.
Dren's team-mates had seen him fall. Iso Planic and Predrag Zagorac, with Mohammad Hussein, their only remaining high-altitude worker, had been waiting to move across the Traverse. Predrag and Mohammad roared Dren's name as he hurtled past them and, within minutes, all three Serb team members were rappelling downwards, the other climbers moving aside to allow them descend: they had to rescue their friend.
Zooming in with the lens of his camcorder to create an improvised telescope, Fredrik Sträng quickly located a body splayed about 300 metres below the Bottleneck. 'How can someone fall on this perfect day?' he thought. 'No wind. It's bright, it's great. How is it possible?' As soon as Eric realised there had been an accident, he radioed the only American team member on the slopes above. 'He is still moving,' the doctor heard Chhiring Dorje say, 'and he needs medical help.'
Turning to his team-mate, Fredrik said, 'We have to do something. I'm going to save this guy'. His companions weren't sure what to do. Chris Klinke had just returned from the foot of the Bottleneck, discommoded by headache, and Roberto Manni was still suffering badly from the effects of high altitude.
Fredrik decided to consult with those at Base Camp; he knew that he and the others at Camp Four could be affected by hypoxia and cognitive problems brought on by being at a high altitude, and consequently handicapped in making a sensible decision. 'We were not as smart as the people down in Base Camp so we wanted their neutral suggestion,' said Fredrik, 'and when we got their approval after explaining our situation we started to arrange all the materials.'
Eric delayed no longer; he knew his expertise would be required and he rushed to grab a medical kit from his tent. Fredrik hurriedly assembled what he would need when he got to Dren – oxygen, water, a sleeping bag, a walkie-talkie. 'I'm going to save this guy. There's no way he's going to die, not this day,' he yelled. Having taken off his suit in the warmth of his tent, he quickly re-dressed and he and Eric set out from camp, the Swede ascending much quicker and some distance ahead of the Colorado medic.