Rescues and Tragedies

Each of the highest peaks of the world has its own list of fatalities and tragedies. In the annals of Czechoslovak expedition mountaineering Huascaran and Makalu figure particularly prominently.

In 1970 at Huascaran following a devasting earthquake and avalanche, all members of the Czechoslovak expedition died. Among the 14 victims were Cervinka’s friends, including Vilem Heckel. Cervinka, who was also invited by Heckel to join him on that expedition, declined due to a previously made commitment to participate as an experienced climber on the unsuccessful Haramosh expedition. 1970 was undoubtedly one of the most difficult years in the history of Czechoslovak mountaineering, but also for Cervinka himself.

Despite triumphs, Makalu also casts a long shadow on the history of Czechoslovak expedition mountaineering. During the first expedition to the world’s fifth highest peak in 1973, following a malfunction with his oxygen equipment, Jan Kounicky fell and suffered a fatal spinal injury. Following dramatic attempts to first lower Kounicky to safety followed by efforts to ease his suffering, the climber succumbed to his injuries a week later at nearly 8,000 meters. Makalu claimed a second Czechoslovak victim in 1976 when Karel Schubertdid not make it down after having summited the formidable mountain.

The memories of some of these climbers lost in the mountains live on not only in stone memorials, but also in other ways tied to expedition history. A rhododenron has been named for Vilem Heckel. Throughout his half century of pioneering research in the area of high altitude parasitology, Dr. Milan Daniel, has also named species after climbers, including those fallen during expeditions, such as Jan Kounicky who is memorialized in a species of chigger mite referred to now as Neotrombicula kounickyi. For the Sherpa Ang Kami, who was Daniel’s field assistant and close friend in Makalu in 1973, only to be killed later during an expedition on Pumori, another species of chigger mite is now referred to in the scientific world as Leptotrombidium angkamii.