Arjun Ramachandran

August 6, The Sydney Morning Herald

As he resolutely made his way down the world's second largest mountain after an avalanche swept away ropes needed to make the descent, Wilco van Rooijen discovered three fellow climbers in dire circumstances.

Van Rooijen, 40, was fighting his way to base camp - in what is being lauded as an epic survival story - when he came came upon the three Koreans amid K2's knife-edged ridges and steep, icy slopes.

"There was a Korean guy hanging upside down. There was a second Korean guy who held him with a rope but he was also in shock and then a third guy was there also, and they were trying to survive but I had also to survive," he said.

Three Koreans died in last weekend's mountain tragedy, although it's not clear if it was the same trio that van Rooijen encountered.

Speaking from his hospital bed in Pakistan where he is battling severe frostbite, the Dutchman - who led expedition team Norit - has recounted how tragedy unfolded on K2 after the avalanche last weekend.

The omens were bad early on.

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photo: K2 and, inset, Wilco van Rooijen after his epic climb down to base camp, where he was flown to a military hospital (SMH)