Climbers Recount Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

By Tom Foreman
Inside Base Camp
May 28, 2003

To elite rock climbers such as Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell, the sheer cliffs of Kyrgyzstan are the ultimate challenge. And in 2000, that fearless pair traveled to the former Soviet republic on the border of China to test their climbing skills.

But what was tested for Rodden, Caldwell, and their climbing partners was their ability to survive. One early morning, as they camped on a rock face they were ascending, gunfire shattered the dawn. Beth, Tommy, and their companions were taken hostage by armed rebels at war with the Kyrgyz government. During the six days that followed, these American climbers would be pushed to limits they never dreamed possible.

Although they are in their mid-twenties, they look much younger … like teenagers … as they walk into my studio. It is hard to imagine them, strapped into portable sleeping ledges, a thousand feet in the air …

Beth Rodden: We were woken by three gunshots that came very near to where we were sleeping.

Tom Foreman: People at the bottom of the mountain were shooting at you and motioning for you to come down.

Tommy Caldwell: We were looking through our camera lenses, and we could see them waving to us and they kept shooting at us. And they were getting pretty close, so John volunteered to go down.

Tom Foreman: You had two other people with you—John and Jason.

Tommy Caldwell: John volunteered to go down and see what was going on.

Tom Foreman: And in short order, he radioed back up …

Tommy Caldwell: He sounded very serious and just said, "I think you guys need to come down here."

Tom Foreman: When you got to the bottom, tell me what you saw.

Beth Rodden: There were three men in army fatigues, they had full beards, and rifles and grenades and handguns and knives.

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