It was no surprise, following last week's K2 disaster, that Bainbridge Island climber Ed Viesturs should be quoted in The New Yorks Times ' story>"/>
It was no surprise, following last week's K2 disaster, that Bainbridge Island climber Ed Viesturs should be quoted in The New Yorks Times' story on the subject. Eleven people perished on the Pakistani peak, second highest in the world to Everest, about which Viesturs said, “There is no easy way to climb K2.” He should know, of course, having climbed the peak in 1992 (without bottled oxygen) as part of his ultimately successful quest to summit all 14 of the world's 8,000 meter peaks in that purist fashion. (With him on that hairy climb was local guide Scott Fischer, who would later perish in the famous Into Thin Air storm of 1995.)
Then, in this weekend's NYT, there's an op-ed that will remind those outside the climbing community of another, more important Seattle link to that notorious, seldom-climbed peak...
In contrast to the panic and every-man-for-himself fever that struck on K2 when the fixed lines were sundered by icefall, trapping climbers in the Death Zone at an hour long past the turnaround time a seasoned, conservative climber like Viesturs would've observed, writer Maurice Isserman reminds us of the famous 1953 American expedition on K2. Rather than risk the life of a team member who fell ill, the party abandoned its attempt on the unclimbed peak and tried to lower the incapacitated Art Gilkey down by rope. Someone slipped, and the whole rope team began to slide toward certain death. Then, Isserman writes,
"But at that moment of impending doom, Schoening saved them all. In his effort to belay Gilkey down a rock cliff, Schoening had jammed his ice ax into the snow behind a small boulder, wrapping the rope once around the ax and then around his waist. When he saw the others fall, he instantly put all his weight onto the ax. The nylon rope stretched and tightened on him — but it held, and Schoening held."
Schoening was the late, great Seattle climber Pete Schoening (1927-2004). Part of his legacy was that, as Isserman writes, "The K2 expedition became legend among mountaineers, its members honored for the gallantry of their conduct under extreme conditions." And "the belay," as it is still known today, will forever be associated with Schoening's name, and with K2. (The Seattle Times has a nice obit here; the NYT here; and see here from the UK's Guardian.)
And, full disclosure, the famous wooden ice axe Schoening was first purchased through REI and then loaned to him by my father, Tom Miller, who along with Schoening and Fred Beckey made many important climbs here in the North Cascades.