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Monday, August 04, 2008

The K2 Reports

Horrible news this weekend out of K2, where many climbers appear to have died after an avalanche hit the upper slopes while they were descending from a big summit push. A serac fall apparently wiped out the fixed ropes that safeguard a crux passage through the Bottleneck and across a delicate ice traverse at over 8,200 meters. Counting on those lines, many of the climbers had not carried their own rappel ropes, and apparently were not able to descend on their own, though a few managed to downclimb the steep ice and make it to safety, albeit badly frostbitten.

The young American climber Freddie Wilkinson wrote the best early analysis of the accident that I saw on Sunday morning at, of all places, the Huffington Post. Wilkinson provided a useful climber's perspective that stood out among the body-count "reporting" of the mainstream press. In general, the British media also seem to do a better job with stories like this than their American counterparts do, perhaps because of the long mountaineering tradition in the UK.

In my own reporting this morning, I was guided in part by the editorial stance of Explorer's Web, which chastised the media and mountaineers yesterday for racing to report deaths in the mountains. Explorer's Web's Tina Sjogren cited a very personal example to bolster her argument: In 1996, on Mt. Everest, she was in Camp 2 on her way down the mountain after the deadly "Into Thin Air" storm, and she and her partner were reported to have died. It was three days before they could get word out that they were OK. Mountaineering history is full of instances of climbers who were thought to be lost but somehow managed to survive. It certainly doesn't look good for the remaining climbers on K2, but the media, fellow climbers, and Pakistani officials ought to have shown more respect and restraint.

1 comment:

Guy McCarthy said...

Hi Dougald,

If you are interested, here are a few followups to the recent K2 deaths, supplemented with photos provided by Nicholas Rice and interviews with Phil Powers and Jim Curran among others.

Guy McCarthy
Redlands, Calif.