Thursday, September 04, 2008
Adventure Examines K2 Tragedy
A month after the unfortunate events that took place on K2, and we're still trying to sort through what exactly happened up there. Today, National Geographic Adventure asks that very question, with an excellent post in their Adventure Blog.
Author David Roberts looks at comparisons between K2 and the events that went down on Everest back in 1996, and essentially feels that the two incidences are not very comparable. On Everest, you had a case of over crowding on the way to the summit, brought on by the commercialization of that mountain, with the relatively inexperienced climbers making the situation all the worse. On K2, the climbers were not only experienced and prepared, but many of them had been on the mountain before or had already topped out on other 8000m peaks. Roberts concludes that for the most part, this was a situation where the mountaineers were in the wrong spot at the wrong time, and it was only a matter of bad luck that really caused the entire situation, something that I've said for some time.
The article also quotes a number of well known mountaineers, such as Ed Viesters, who have climbed K2, and have some insight into the mountain. They talk about the serac that collapsed on to the Bottleneck, taking the fixed lines down the mountain, and how it was a shadow that constantly loomed over that portion of the mountain. Viesturs called it "The Motivator", as in 'it motivates you to get out of there'. But the serac had been there for decades and showed no signs of being unstable. Was that huge chunk of ice another victim of global climate change?
Another interesting aspect that Roberts points out is that climbers have become quite reliant on fixed lines to help them get to the top. He notes that: "Ten or fifteen years ago, climbers on K2 would have been roped together and carrying ice screws. With the fixed ropes stripped from the Bottleneck, the stranded climbers could simply have set up rappels". This is something that I hadn't thought about, and goes to show how that as techniques evolve, they may not always remain the best way to approach a climb. Then again, this was a very rare set of circumstances that led to the tragedy to begin with.
I'm sure we'll be seeing more stories like these in the days ahead, but finally we're starting to get some analysis of the situation. This one doesn't look to point fingers, it just looks at the circumstances, which in this case, seems to be the real culprit. A series of unfortunate incidences that ended badly.