Rescued French climber recalls horror descent on frozen feet

Philippe Desmazes, AFP | French mountaineer Elisabeth Revol talks to journalists at a hospital in the French Alps, days after her dramatic rescue from Pakistan's Nanga Parbat.

A French mountaineer who was rescued in a dramatic night-time operation on Pakistan's "Killer Mountain" has described how she had to leave her weak and bleeding climbing partner and descend the peak alone in darkness.


Elisabeth Revol returned to France this week after she was rescued on Sunday from Nanga Parbat mountain, the world's ninth-highest peak at 8,126 metres (26,660 feet).

The mountaineer is now being treated at a hospital in France’s Haute-Savoie region, where doctors are assessing whether she will require amputations due to frostbite on her hands and left foot.

Speaking exclusively to AFP from the hospital, she described how rescuers urged her to leave behind Tomek (Tomasz) Mackiewicz, a Polish national, a decision she has described as “terrible and painful”.

It was Revol's fourth attempt, and Mackiewicz's third, to scale Nanga Parbat – nicknamed the “Killer Mountain” – during the winter season, when they ran into trouble amid frigid temperatures and high winds.

An elite group of Polish climbers managed to reach Revol but were unable to get to Mackiewicz, who was stranded further up the mountain.

‘Blood streaming from his mouth’

Revol, who weighed just 43 kilogrammes following her ordeal, left France on December 15 and began her adventure with Mackiewicz on January 20.

She said they "felt good" when, a few days later, they approached the summit. By early evening they finally reached the peak – making Revol the first woman to scale the mountain in winter, without oxygen or sherpa. But their joy was shortlived.

"Tomek told me 'I can't see anything anymore,'" Revol recalled. "He hadn't used a mask because it was a bit hazy during the day and by nightfall he had ophthalmia [an inflammation of the eye]. We hardly had a second at the top. We had to rush to get down."

Mackiewicz clung to Revol's shoulders and they began the long, difficult descent in darkness.

"At one point, he couldn't breathe," Revol said. "He took off the protection he had in front of his mouth and he began to freeze. His nose became white and then his hands, his feet."

They huddled overnight in a crevasse, trying desperately to shelter from the biting wind. But Mackiewicz no longer had the strength to continue the descent and by sunrise, his condition had deteriorated further.

Revol recalls that he had "blood streaming from his mouth", a sign of oedema – a build-up of fluid in the body and the ultimate stage of acute mountain sickness, which can be fatal without urgent treatment.

The mountaineer alerted everyone she could that they needed help but certain messages were lost in transmission. Eventually, instructions came through from her rescuers, urging her to continue the descent alone.

"They told me, 'If you go down to 6,000 metres, we can pick you up, and we can get Tomek at 7,200 metres,'" she said, adding: "It wasn't a decision I made, it was imposed on me."

To Mackiewicz, she remembers simply saying: "Listen, the helicopter will arrive late afternoon. I must go down, they'll come to get you."

Sending her GPS coordinates to rescuers and convincing herself that she would survive, she took nothing with her for the remainder of her journey – "not a tent, not a duvet, nothing".


Revol had thought the rescuers would arrive late that afternoon but when they didn't turn up, she was forced to spend another night down a crevasse.

But despite her dire predicament, she remained optimistic. "I knew I was getting out. I was in my hole and I was freezing cold but I wasn't in a desperate situation. I was more worried for Tomek, who was much weaker."

It was then that she began to have altitude-induced hallucinations, imagining that people were bringing her hot tea – and that to thank them, she had to give them her shoe. She was barefoot for five hours and developed frostbite.

Exhausted at 6,800 metres, Revol decided to stay put to preserve her strength and keep warm. Her hopes were raised by the whirring noise of a helicopter overhead, but the wind was gathering strength and the rescue team was unable to land.

The French climber said she started to question whether she would survive the ordeal after realising she would have to spend a third night in the open. She added that she did not receive a message sent by the Polish climbers telling her they were coming.

Mustering the last of her strength, she began her final descent with wet gloves and frozen feet, and managed to reach one of the camps at around 3am.

"And then I saw two headlamps arriving. So I started to yell. And I said to myself, 'OK it's going to be ok,'” she said. "It was incredibly emotional."

Revol was later flown to Islamabad and on to Switzerland on Thursday, before being transported across the border.

Asked whether she would ever climb again, she said: “I think I will.”

She added: "I need this."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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