Montreal firefighter dies leading expedition on Pakistan's treacherous K2 mountain

Serge Dessureault, a Montreal firefighter and the Canadian leader of an international mountaineering expedition, fell to his death early Saturday on Pakistan's K2 mountain.

Serge Dessureault died early Saturday while attempting to scale 8,611-metre mountain

Serge Dessureault, a Montreal firefighter, died Saturday while attempting to climb the second highest mountain in the world, K2, in Pakistan. (Facebook)

The Canadian leader of an international mountaineering expedition has fallen to his death on Pakistan's K2 mountain, often considered the world's most difficult to climb.

Serge Dessureault, 53, had been a firefighter in Montreal for some three decades, confirmed Chris Ross, the president of the Montreal's firefighters association (Association des Pompiers de Montréal Inc.). He was captain of Station 19, located downtown.

Karrar Haidri, secretary of Alpine Club of Pakistan, said Dessureault died early Saturday while attempting to scale the 8,611-metre mountain in the Karakoram range in northern Pakistan.

Haidri said it wasn't immediately clear how Dessureault fell. 

Dessureault was leading the nine-member K2-Broad Peak expedition up the mountain, which is extremely steep and attracts notoriously bad weather.

Haidri said Dessureault's body was brought to the mountain's advance base camp and would be transported to Islamabad.

Black Pyramid slope known for rock slides

Dessureault's climbing party had spent the night at a camp located 6,700 metres above sea level on the North Ridge, according to a Facebook page dedicated to the ascent of Dessureault, Maurice Beauséjour and Nathalie Fortin.

The party's aim was to head up to 7,000 metres to acclimatize before returning to base camp.

"Maybe they will be tempted to step into the very difficult Black Pyramid before going down?" says the Facebook post.

The page describes the Black Pyramid Pass as a steep, rocky and icy slope known for rock slides and ice falls. It is 400 metres long and requires "a lot of technical skills as it is on rock, snow and ice."

On Saturday morning, that same page announced Dessureault's death with "indescribable sadness," saying he fell near camp 2 and his body had been recovered. 

The page does not announce any other injuries or deaths in the incident.

In a statement, Montreal's firefighters' association (L'Association des Pompiers de Montréal) said all 2,400 of Montreal's firefighters are stunned by the news of Dessureault's death.

"Serge had a reputation for being an experienced climber, very careful, always aware of the possible risks," the statement from the association's president, Chris Ross, reads.

He said Dessureault's passing is already creating an "unbearable void and incommensurable pain."

Remembered as 'happy' and 'courageous' 

"I am really without words," said Dessureault's friend and fellow climber, François Guy Thivierge, holding back tears as he spoke with CBC News Saturday.

"It's a shock for all of his friends and family. I am very sad today."

Thivierge met Dessureault eight years ago on a volunteer trip to Haiti to assist the local people. Both men have sucessfully climbed Mount Everest, he said, and they bonded through their passion for mountains.

Thivierge described Dessureault as a happy man who was both courageous and generous. Dessureault was a well-trained athlete who participated in ultramarathons, he said.

François Guy Thivierge described Serge Dessureault as a dedicated athlete who was experienced and careful. (CBC News)

"Serge was a very smart guy with a big heart," he said. "He was a very extraordinary man."

With its ice and rock falls, climbing K2 is risky and Thivierge said he will not be adding the mountain to his bucket list any time soon. The mountain has claimed dozens of lives, with only a few hundred successful summits.

Dessureault knew the risks well, Thivierge said, but the fire captain was careful and experienced. It was not his first time on the mountain as his 2016 attempt to reach the top was thwarted by avalanches.

"We don't understand how this accident happened," he said. "We want to know more about how Serge fell."

With files from The Association Press