From her hospital bed, French alpinist Elisabeth Revol recounted to the AFP how she was forced to abandon her climbing partner Tomasz Mackiewicz atop the 9th highest summit of the Himalayas — also known as “Killer Mountain”.
Revol is currently being treated for frostbite on her two hands and her left foot at a hospital in the French department of Haute-Savoie. She was rescued by a Polish team after trying to climb the Nanga Parbat in Pakistan during winter without an oxygen mask.
Rescuers were not able to rescue Mackiewicz.
"At one point he couldn't breathe anymore"
“It was my fourth time, Tomek’s seventh time and the third time we were trying together,” said Revol.
The pair began climbing the mountain on January 20 and only a few days later they had reached the summit.
But soon after reaching the peak at 8,120 metres, Mackiewicz complained that "he could not see well".
“He hadn’t used a mask because it was hazy during the day and by nightfall, he had ophthalmia [an inflammation of the eye]," said Revol.
With Mackiewicz holding unto Revol’s shoulder, the pair started a “hasty but long descent” to the campsite, made more difficult by the night’s darkness.
“At one point, he couldn’t breathe anymore, he took off the protection that covered his mouth and he immediately started to freeze. His nose, his hands, and then his feet became all white,” recounts Revol who started contacting rescue teams.
Huddled overnight in a crevasse, Mackiewicz's health started deteriorating rapidly. “Blood was streaming from his mouth,” described Revol — a sign of edema, the penultimate stage of acute altitude sickness.
“It was not a choice I made myself, it was forced upon me”
Because rescue services could not reach the alpinists from where they were, Revol was forced to leave Mackiewicz behind.
Due to miscommunication, Revol thought rescue services would fetch her at 6000 metres and Mackiewicz at 7200 metres.
Revol communicated the information to the ailing Mackiewicz, telling him a rescue team in a helicopter would come for him in the afternoon, but that she would have to go down.
“It was not a choice I made myself, it was forced upon me,” noted Revol who was persuaded that a helicopter team would be able to rescue her friend.
After leaving Mackiewicz in his crevasse, Revol continued the descent alone but was forced to spend another night in the mountain — this time without any equipment.
Revol described to the AFP how she started having altitude-induced hallucinations. She started imagining that people were bringing her tea and that to thank them she had to give them a shoe.
After being without a shoe for five hours, Revol developed frostbite.
The next morning, Revol who still believed she would be rescued, heard helicopters outside her refuge but they were unable to reach her because of the strong winds.
Faced with spending a third night in the mountain, Revol began a final descent despite her wet gloves and frozen feet.
At 6300 metres, Revol finally reached the camp.
“I started screaming and I told myself ‘it’s going to be okay,’” she said.
Revol was then flown to a hospital in Islamabad and later transferred to a hospital in France on Tuesday.
When asked about her future plans, the French alpinist said she is focusing on getting better.
Doctors are currently assessing whether she will require amputations to her hands and left foot due to frostbite.
Once she is out of the hospital, Revol plans on visiting Mackiewicz’s children.
But will she go back to alpinism?
“I need it, says Revol, it’s so beautiful.”