The sudden disappearance of Americans Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson in Pakistan’s remote Karakoram range last month spurred a massive crowdfunding campaign that galvanized the climbing community to raise nearly $200,000 for emergency rescue efforts. But after nine days of searching by foot and helicopter in some of the world’s roughest terrain yielded no signs of the pair, their families made the decision Saturday to call off the search, according to one of Dempster’s sponsors.
Jonathan Thesenga of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment said in a statement Saturday that the renowned climbers left base camp on August 21 to ascend the unclimbed north face of Ogre 2, a steep and craggy 23,000-foot peak. Their Pakistani cook saw headlights halfway up the north face the following day, but the pair has not been seen or heard from since. A storm rolled into the region on August 23 and conditions remained cloudy and snowy for several days, hampering early search and rescue attempts after the men failed to show up at base camp, as planned, on August 26.
The weather finally cleared up this past Saturday enough for two Pakistani military helicopters to comb the area of Dempster and Adamson’s likely ascent, as well as the glacial basin between Ogre 2 and Ogre 1 and the northeast ridge where they had planned to descend. With the help of German climber Thomas Huber, who served as a spotter, the helicopters then made a second pass of all sides of the mountain from a higher altitude.
“In light of those extensive yet unsuccessful efforts, the search team and knowledgeable observers in Pakistan, the U.S. and Europe, assessed that there remained a very slim chance that any evidence of their passage would be revealed in subsequent sweeps of the mountain,” said Thesenga. Thus, Dempster and Adamson’s families called off the risky high-altitude search Saturday evening.
Both Dempster, 33, and Adamson, 34, hail from Utah and are well known in the climbing community. Dempster has twice won the coveted climbing award, Piolets d’Or, most recently in 2013 when he scaled Ogre 1. Adamson made several first ascents in Nepal and Alaska, and wowed the climbing world by finding ice-climbing routes in the deserts of Zion National Park. Together they’d hoped to become the second team to reach the top of Ogre 2 and the first to ascend it via the difficult north face.
The Ogre — also known as Baintha Brakk — boasts some of the hardest climbing in the world. Twenty-four years elapsed between the first ascent in 1977 and the second in 2001, though there were at least 20 unsuccessful expeditions in the interim, according to the Himalayan Index.
This was to be Dempster and Adamson’s second attempt at reaching the top of Ogre 2 via the north face after they nearly died trying last year. Adamson broke his leg near the summit after a 100-foot fall, and both climbers slid another 300 feet down the Choktoi glacier after Dempster’s anchor failed while abseiling on the tricky retreat.
“Fault in judgment and action call on the individual to own his or her mistake. I've apologized. I'm grateful to have learned. And because of that lesson, I'm now a safer climber,” Dempster reminisced in a poignant essay penned in the wake of the incident last year. “I count on seeing my future — all purpose is directed toward staying alive. After all, life is awfully fragile, and something as trivial as a tiny stick breaking in the woods can change its course.”