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K2, an end and a never ending story

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Italian mountaineer Marco Confortola has been transported by helicopter down to valley. People are now slowly beginning to think about what happened during these last few days on K2.

It seems as if the drama on K2 has now come to an end. Marco Confortola's return to Base Camp and flight to hospital in Skardu seems to have put to an end these final, dramatic last 5 days... Because all that remains now it the atrocious (how else could one define it) outcome of 11 dead. What remains is the drama of the families of those who will no longer return and also that of those who survived.

It is difficult if not impossible to forget those terrible days. Difficult if not impossible to brush away the nightmares and ghosts of this drama. All the stories and tragedies which inevitably intertwined up there on the highest mountain in the world, perhaps the most beautiful and without a doubt one of the most difficult and dangerous (and possibly because of this) and sought after mountain.

Now, slowly but surely thanks to the statements by Marco Confortola, Wilco van Rooijen and Cas Van de Gevel, we are begining to understand what really happened. What "occurred" during the night between Friday and Saturday now seems somewhat clearer, in that no man's land (in the sense of being fit for no one) between the much-feared Bottleneck and the summit situated above 8000m, The statements are fresh. In certain terms (and it could be no different) quite simply terrible.

These are witness accounts of those who escaped the drama and, as such, confused. And due to their very nature they are partial, in the sense that they are limited. Reconstructing what really happened to so many people on such an immense (and we repeat difficult) mountain is no simple undertaking. On the contrary, with the hindsight of K2 1986 and Everest 1996, it's highly likely that we will have to wait a long time before a complete reconstruction and analysis of events will come forward. And even then, experience unfortunately shows that not everything can be clarified.

In the meantime there are talks of inadequate gear (used to fix the Bottleneck). Of insufficient route flags. Of disorganisation and (perhaps for some) inadequate preparation. What seems certain - apart from the drama which is real and must be respected - is the large number of people who at the end of a day of perfect weather conditions all attempted the summit of one of the most difficult mountains in the world

There are talks about the lateness of the hour. And the serac fall which swept away the fixed ropes (inadequate? insufficient? placed incorrectly?) which “raised a drawbridge" which probably revealed itself as being unsurpassable. What is certain though, what has been repeated for years, is that a mountaineer, is that all mountaineers must make decisions when on the mountain face.

Continue, return, select a more suitable line... at times these are extremely difficult choices which implicate awareness and a capability to make decisions independently. These may be correct or incorrect but what is important is the deeprooted knowledge and awareness that, for good or bad, mountaineers must be capable of accepting the consequences, especially on the 8000m peaks. Their lives depend on this... as does their happiness.

These reflections are in no means a judgement of what happened (we would like to remember lest some have forgotten that the history of mountaineering is full of dramas but also of happy moments) but simply a repetition of what mountaineers have always known, above all when climbing a mountain such as K2. In the mountains, and on this mountain in particular, climbers must be aware of and respect the difficulties and dangers and, at times, know how to relinquish and turn back.

It cannot be put down to chance that extremely experienced mountaineers such as Romano Benet and Nives Meroi needed 12 years to climb K2 (even if three attempts were from the north), while Hans Kammerlander succeeded after 4 expeditions, returning twice due to terrible conditions at the Bottlenck and finally summiting via the Cesen route together with Frenchman Jean-Christophe Lafaille.

These are just two examples. One could name many more, obviously both positive and negative. We repeat: we are talking about the awareness of (difficult) choices which mountaineers are faced with before, during and after the ascent. And all this, it is worth underlining, has nothing to due with rescues which, if at all possible, one must carry out to help mountaineers in need. Here too history teaches a lesson - just think about the tragic epic of ascents on the North Face of the Eiger but also on Mont Blanc during the Bonatti era.

Talking about rescues... and remembering. There is another certainty of these K2 days : of those who helped rescue (other than American  George Dijmarescu who climbed up to Marco Confortola and the others who helped) one must not forget the shining example of the Sherpa and high altitude Pakistani porters (for the record, are these to be considered mountaineers or simple labourers?). Some of these lost their lives attempting to rescue others.

Others, such as the great Pemba Sherpa - one of the "survivors" - who rescued Marco Confortola and together with Cas van de Geve rescued Dutch expedition leader Wilco van Rooijen, acted like true heroes. They must not be forgotten. Just like one must not forget that, once again, the time has come for mountaineers to rethink about the sense of their mountaineering, the mountains and life in general.


Pemba Gyalje Sherpa
According to the information posted on the internet site of the Dutch expedition he was working for, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa was born on 20 February 1973 and has an extremely impressive Himalayan curriculum. Noteworthy are his 6 summits of Everst, 3 summits of Cho Oyu, numerous sumits of Ama Dablam, Baruntse and Lobuche and a long list of other mountains ranging between 6000 – 7000m. (see curriculum)


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