The Summit (2012) Full K2 Documentary Film
<i>what actually happened to our minds.</i> <i>8,000 meter, you’re in the death</i> zone. <i>There is a struggle.</i> <i>There is a fight in every breath,</i> <i>in every thought.</i> <i>Everything hurts.</i> <i>Every limb, every cell is screaming,</i> <i>”Oxygen, oxygen, oxygen.”</i> <i>You don’t feel the cold anymore.</i> <i>Time seems to stand still.</i> <i>There’s so many reasons to turn around</i> <i>and only a couple of reasons to continue.</i> <i>In one hand,</i> <i>people question us climbing a mountain like K2.</i> <i>In the other hand,</i> <i>they’re upset why people don’t go up</i> <i>and rescue people</i> <i>in this dreadful environment.</i> <i>Where you likely will be killed</i> <i>by doing so.</i> <i>There will be things we never will know,</i> <i>but the question you should ask yourself.</i> <i>”What would you do?”</i> Mind you, K2 climbers, huh? This is unbelievable.
There’s Nanga. K2? Nanga. Nanga. Nanga Parbat. – Yeah. – Oh, my God. And then we’ll show you K2, your destination, okay? We’re on our way in. – Up there. – Yeah? Whoop! You’re gonna have to run this bit ’cause there’s rockfall. Really? Yeah, they’ve been running it. Go. Go. Go. Shit. It’s good to be back here, and it’s nice to wake up to this sight this morning. <i>It’s my belief that everybody has the love of climbing.</i> <i>You know, the first thing a child Wants to do</i> <i>is climb something.</i> <i>The art of rock climbing is relearning</i> <i>what you knew intuitively as a child.</i> You get such a big respect for this mountain and all the climbers who did it before you. If you want to have a nice story on the birthday parties, you know, you climb Everest, but K2 is really, I think, for the real mountaineers. – Hello! – Hello. How are you? Good. Pretty good view, I reckon. I think it’s pretty hard to beat, actually.
There is quite different between people from Himalaya and from Western world. It’s quite different, because the Western people, they are more adventurer. They love more adventure. Our people also like adventure, but they love climbing. Where are we? Oh, we are now climbing K2. All right. Yes. The first man to climb K2 was from my valley, Achille Compagnoni. So K2 is our mountain. Everything is raw. It’s glaciers. It’s black mountains. It fills you with respect. K2 is absolutely the king. The higher it gets, the more interesting it gets. So when it comes to climbing 8,000-meter peaks, you want to do it, but at the same time, you have this fear.
This is serious. This is for real. If you make one step wrong, you’re history. Finally here. Such a relief. Fantastic job. Good job. Let’s get the tents up, the stoves going, and prepare for tonight. Good? Yes. For three months, we were on this expedition, so when we reached Camp Four, it was already a magic moment. The whole Earth is beside you. And then you look behind you. You see another mountain. And that’s K2. It’s a mountain on a mountain. Ger was coming. I was filming. I was asking Ger, “How are you feeling?” And, you know, he was almost crying.
Ah, so happy to be here, I could almost cry. ’06, we failed to get here. Here we are now, and it’s wonderful. You could hear his voice, you know. “It’s something what we already achieved,” you know? “It’s already something.” That’s what he said. We had a brilliant night. There were no clouds. There was nothing. And then we went to the summit. – Are you afraid? – No. – No? – I am. – No. – I’m scared to death. It felt, overall, like… like this was our day. So we moved up along the slopes above Four. Fred and I started out a little more slowly.
Both of us felt really strong, very positive. There were perfect conditions. I mean, we’re talking about a day in a million. There wasn’t a day like this that I can remember, because it was warm. Starting to get light enough to see the route up ahead. And I’m looking up, seeing a tightly spaced group of climbers moving extremely slowly. They’re not moving. What are they doing? We are way back in time. We are really late. I don’t know what the fuck we’re gonna do. Very disappointing. I was so devastated. You put in so much effort for months, and then you just realize that there is no way that we’re gonna be able to summit and come back down in daylight. We just went down. It was simple as that. Everybody thinks that coming down is the easy bit. It makes sense, but don’t believe it for one minute.
I went up in ’54 for my country, for Italy. At the time, it seems like suicide. No one knew what would happen to a human body or mind at that altitude. They tested us in a ridiculous manner for months. I didn’t care. Of the 11 climbers chosen for the K2 expedition, I, Walter Bonatti, was the youngest. I should have died on K2. But the thing that was to affect me most profoundly was after the climb. It was the story. Many of the other climbers there had been on Everest or other… other 8,000-ers before K2. I hadn’t been higher than 6,200. I just wanted to come along to see how high I could get. When we finally got to the bottleneck, there’s actually a- a traffic jam. The serac was the main danger. It’s probably almost 100 meters high, slightly overhanging. And it could crack any time. This very, very delicate place is notorious. Ice can drop at any time. It’s a Russian roulette. That’s what it is. The main tactic to avoid the dangers of the serac is to be fast, to minimize the time when you’re exposed to it.
It was not with a good feeling, waiting there. We had a lot of respect for the serac, yeah. We knew that that was a… A little monster up there. I put the ice screws in… You’ve got a lot of people coming behind with all the weight that’s on the rope, that’s pulling on the screws. Well, that was a worry. Above 8,000, you can only trust yourself. We wanted to traverse out to the right to have a rest outside of the fixed ropes.
It’s exhausting to be in a queue to wait. You can’t climb in your own pace. Several others also wanted to wait there until people had passed. The bigger the chain, the bigger the chance that there is somebody in this chain who is, you know, making a mistake. Dren, he unclipped his rope and tried to pass me. Aah! We were all shocked when he fell, but when he stopped, he stood up and waved. So we thought he was fine. He’s standing up. He’s okay. But then we saw him falling again and sliding further down.
Yeah, right there at the edge. – Yeah. – Yeah. – What’s happening? – What do you see? Yeah, Chhiring, this is Eric, Camp Four, over. I picked up my camera, and I zoomed in, trying to find him, locate him. How can someone fall at this perfect day? No wind. It’s bright. It’s great. How is it possible? Chhiring, I understood that you and Pemba are climbing. Are you in the lead, and has there been an accident? Over. Is he in the rock? He’s here. There is the rock. – Yeah. – Down. – Yeah. – Down this. – Yeah. – Chhiring says he’s moving. Wow. He’s still alive. We have to do something. Is everybody coming down? Ask the question. Chhiring, do you know if… if everyone is coming down at this point? Over. Of course, we had a discussion. Should we turn around, you know, to try to help? We talked about it, and then we said, “Listen. The Serbian guys are going down.” “We know the Americans are there, you know.” “I think it doesn’t make sense, you know, to go down.” There is a not big conversation each other about the accident.
After three, four minutes, they start climbing again. I was like, “I’m gonna save this guy.” “I’m gonna save him.” “There’s no way he’s gonna die,” “not this day, no way.” “It’s not gonna happen.” I just shoot up. He hit on the rock, lose control, keep falling for 200 more meters, and stopped. And then I started coming down. There were maybe two guys below me, so I came down pretty fast, maybe ‘IO minutes.
He was wrapped in rope and just giving no signs of life. Already very pale and gray, cuts on the head, black nose, broken, blood from mouth. – Finish. – Totally finished, almost. If I knew that Dren was dead, I would not have gone up. The Serbians, they want to take him down to base camp. I said that that’s impossible. “What we can do is that we can” “at least bring him down to Camp Four” “and give him a proper burial there.” Honestly, what’s the point of lowering a body from 8,150 meters to 7,800? 8,000 meter, you’re in the death zone. Every step is a burden. But when you have a dead body, it’s a hell of a load.
Okay, we have to go down like this, guys. – Yeah, yeah, yeah. – Whoop. You have to stay not so close. Yes. If you do fall, you release, okay? It’s-it’s-it’s- it’s our lives too, okay? – Yeah, yeah. – Remember. Jehan Baig, from Pakistan, suddenly started acting really weird. He’s coming down on my right side, holding onto the rope, which goes around my lower legs, and we are crying out…
Release the rope! Release the rope! He did not make one single move to stop his fall. Jesus Christ. Instead, he just let go, and he shoots off like a rocket straight out to the open air and just disappears. Oh, K2, it was full of surprises. The conquest in ’54 was much more complicated than we could ever have imagined. But believe me, we came prepared. We were 11 climbers. With us, 13 Hunzas and a battalion of Balti, the humble, extraordinary local porters. After endless months of preparation, it began with a fantastic march to the foot of the peak through an exotic, timeless landscape. We laid siege to the mountain for two grueling months. We established base camp and then started building camps all the way up the mountain, acclimatizing our bodies to the altitude, the unknown, preparing ourselves for the summit attempt- anything to help us survive. In memory of Art Gilkey, Dudley Wolfe, Pasang Kitar. 1954. Unbelievable. ’94. There are many people who just died on their way down from the summit. Yeah. Dying on… died on descent. Almost on everyone you can read it, “Died on descent.” Yeah. Here’s the original cross.
Everybody saying, all Western people, even our Sherpa community, they say to me, “Why are you going on K2?” “Because it is too dangerous” “and the accident rate is too high.” “Why you are going there?” If you climb on K2, you have to trust each other. Fully for 200%. Gerard said, “Hey, listen.” “It would be lovely if I can bring Pemba.” And Pemba is a Sherpa, but a lot of people are thinking about a Sherpa that he’s just an ordinary guy who is bringing up stuff up the mountain. But Pemba was a really… a different guy, you know? He was a professional climber like we were. You had a good trip, Pemba? Yeah, yeah. – Fantastic. – What’s your question? Do we have boil-in-the-bag rice? Take care of it. You know, yeah, it’s the one thing that I’m concerned about is that Pemba mightn’t be too used to freeze-dried food. Oh, no, but we have the original rice too. – Yeah. – Yeah. Action. Hey. I found a good companion in Gerard. He was a climber who had the same ambitions as me.
Then you are pushing the limits, you know, higher and, yeah, and then it ends up in the Himalaya. Whoa! – Hey. – Whoo! Hey! Ger was a very qualified climber, and next to that, he is a very social boy, more-more social then the average climber. The most important thing for all of these expeditions is to have a good time and have a good laugh with your friends. Thank you. There’s two people I’ve met in my life who could walk in a room and fundamentally change the energy in a room, and Ger McDonnell was one of them. He did lots of things, and he did it 150%, anything he chose to do. I had my sights set on climbing Denali, and Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. I was curious how I would react to the altitude.
Me and Mike up at top. Minus 20. Denali had that kind of certain mystic, magical power over Ger. That was the start of the- the big boys, the big climbs. 2003, I was the expedition leader on Mount Everest. We had a small team. Ger, he had a huge passion, and he burst full of energy. Ireland! My Ireland. He knew how dangerous, actually, mountaineering was. He knew over 8,000 meters, it’s not called “death zone” for nothing. Every blood cell in your body is being deprived of oxygen, which numbs your brain cells. Making logical decisions become harder. The longer that you’re up at high altitude, the more prone you are to your whole body disintegrating from inside. It creates mucus. It creates fluids. It actually starts to swell the brain, the lungs, till, eventually, you won’t survive. Within high-altitude mountaineering, there is an unwritten code. If it’s a case that someone is dying, and you know you’re gonna put your own life at risk, you should leave them. This 8,000-meter stuff was alien to me at this point, so I was just following direction, you know.
Descending, Pat was in a bad way and seemed to be moving exceptionally slowly and stopping to rest. And when I saw the look on Pat’s face… ah, shit. I was getting pulmonary edema, cerebral edema, thrombosis. I was being deprived of oxygen, and I started to die. There was… there was no energy there. And more than a lack of energy, there’s… actually, I think there was an awareness of a lack of energy, and I think there was also a knowledge that he knew that himself that he was in trouble. Pemba Gyalje and, in particular, Ger were the people that were encouraging me down. Yay! If my team members hadn’t helped on that day, I may very well myself be encrusted onto the rocks of Mount Everest for eternity, never to come back home to see my family. They say that the most important thing when you go climbing will be to select a good climbing partner or somebody that you’re compatible with.
I’ve been… I’ve been lucky, you know, really. There’s Speedy Gonzales, Mr. Pemba Gyalje. Pemba was the one person Ger wanted to climb K2 with, and they talked about it for years and years. He loved mountaineering. He knew he could do it. He loved that mountain. Ger wanted to climb K2. Is he in the rock? Chhiring, do you know if everyone is coming down at this point? Over. When the accident happened, Gerard was also asking, “Do we have time enough to reach the summit, huh?” “Aren’t we too late?” And Pemba said, “No, no.” “We can just reach the summit.” “There is time enough.” And then we said, “Okay.” “Then this is the decision, to move on.” So we just moved on.
We had a big Korean team ahead. Then you have your Norwegian guys, then us in the middle, with the Spanish guy in front. I carried on climbing. I didn’t wait. I didn’t see anyone else until I was going down. We were climbing, climbing, climbing, and then you see the first guys reaching the summit, and then you think, “Please let it be the end,” you know, because you are really, completely, you know, exhausted. At the last moments, you really live it fully. I knew the summit was waiting for me.
I had won it. Alberto was kind of a mythic figure. So I didn’t see Alberto close up at all until I met him when he was on his way down. And then I asked him how far it was. And he said, “Yeah, a little less than an hour.” One moment, you realize that it is in your reach. You’re going to feel that you’re going to make it. It’s only a matter of time to keep on going to reach the summit. Yeah! Gerard, Gus, Pemba… Over. We’re on the summit of K2! Whoo-hoo! Yo, yo, yo.
The light was exceptional, brilliant, you know. We’re at the end of the Earth, Heaven almost. You’re thinking, you know, “This is it,” you know? “It’s over. We’ve done it.” <i>It is definitely a place of extremes,</i> <i>but with those extremes comes extreme beauty.</i> <i>In many ways, those very extremes,</i> <i>they’re addictive.</i> We were all very strong.
We were normal talking. We didn’t have problems with the altitude. We were feeling very good. We were having good moment on the summit, and now we are going down. Marco was coming up. He said, “Somebody has to take pictures of me.” So I said, “Yeah, yeah, go up, up.” “Quickly. Quickly.” It was still clear. It wasn’t dark yet. But the sun was going down. Then you realize, “Fuck, we have to go down,” you know?” Now the surviving starts. <i>President McAleese has said her thoughts</i> <i>are with the family of a County Limerick man</i> <i>who is among nine climbers</i> <i>missing and feared dead in the Himalayas.</i> <i>Icefall on the world’s second highest peak</i> <i>that may have killed as many as a dozen climbers.</i> <i>With as many as a dozen of them were caught out</i> <i>in a collapse of an foe ledge</i> <i>just beneath the summit…</i> <i>Straddling the border of Pakistan and China,</i> <i>K2 is slightly smaller than Mount Everest,</i> <i>but its reputation has always been much larger.</i> <i>And another Pakistani, a French national,</i> <i>and an Austrian are missing.</i> They summited on the Friday, Friday the 1st of August.
I mean, come Saturday, just-the internet was rife with stories. You had the Fredrik Strang story about ’em pulling bodies off the mountain. One of the climbers, an American guy, Nick Rice, had his blog up on the Sunday, and he said that Ger refused to come down the mountain. I mean, he said, “Refused to come down the mountain.” Anyone that knows Ger knew what Ger was about. Something wasn’t right. Someone might throw some comment out on their blog about what they think might be happening or, you know, some rumor they heard and not realizing, like, “Hey, we are waiting for our loved ones.” We’re hanging on every single word and even how it’s written to get some kind of clue of what was going on. Those guys are making big stories, even when the tragedy is still going on, actually, on the mountain. <i>So coming down, you’re a bit clumsy.</i> <i>It’s… it’s not a matter of…</i> It’s always the same. The real heroes, you don’t hear. The stupid thing is, if we would have been successful, which we were, because we reached the summit, there was only such a small piece in the newspaper, you know? And now, because 11 climbers died, it went all over the world.
Everybody wants to know how it was possible. What happened to us was just a matter of misfortune, you know? It was such a successful story till we went to the summit. We were the first expedition on the mountain. We had a beautiful time, because everything was really organized. We had good food. We had good cooks. Every detail was planned and organized.
We are a very strong team compared to other expeditions. We were putting all of our fixed rope- everything we were doing by ourself. Bringing up those ropes to 8,000 meter, it’s a hell of a job. The first four till five weeks, every day fixing the ropes 100 meter by 100 meter by 100 meter, and then going back just by the rope, you know, going down to the base camp. Camp Two, base camp. Over. <i>The snow conditions and the wind-</i> <i>Weather conditions- are also really bad for you.</i> <i>And maybe ifs a good idea</i> <i>to postpone the project one day.</i> <i>Over.</i> No. Not possible. We have to be ready in July. We want to quit this expedition the end of July, because most of the accident happened in August. The humidity is getting bigger, you know? So more avalanche danger. But we said, “Okay.” “We wants to go the end of July.” That was the plan, and we were ahead of schedule.
And in that period, all the other teams were arriving, the Koreans… – Good luck. – Very, very cold. The Americans… – It’s the end of a hard day. – Yeah. The Serbian guys… – Peace. – Resting in peace? French guys… Perfect. And the Norwegian team. No, unfortunately not. There’s a lot of different cultures up there, Sherpas from Nepal, high-altitude porters from Pakistan. There were different approaches to the climbing. The South Koreans are the main big, like, old-style, big expedition. Sherpas, oxygen, a lot of rope, and many camps. Yeah, beautiful day. The Norwegian expedition, we were only four friends on the trip trying to climb K2. Time to break out the whiskey, so… Yeah. Yeah, it’s a good idea. I like whiskey. Gerard was visiting us a lot, and we visited them as well. And-and Ger and Rolf were friends. Both were the same kind of guys. When I met Rolf in 2003, I felt that I met a soul mate. In 2005, we went to K2 to try to get to know the mountain. We were there for 93 days. We only got to a little higher than Camp Three. So this time, I don’t think we really thought that we were gonna get to the summit.
Of course, you have to want that. Otherwise, you won’t make it. But it’s so much that has to be right for it to happen. What went wrong was the weather. For three weeks, it was snowing, snowing, snowing. It was unbelievable. 80% chance of snow today. Wind 8 kilometers at 8,000 meters. He was ready to come home. He said to me, “I can’t wait to have a good meal” “and a glass of red wine.” You know, he just… he was kind of ready. It was 60-something days by that point. But if you get a weather window, you take it. The end of July, the good weather came in, but then everybody wants to use this window.
So we says, “Let’s have a talk, you know,” “and let’s try to work together.” 300 rope for it to make. If you want to, more 50. 400 rope, we are fixing. We take 400 meters. Then the Italians got 200 meters for the traverse. So 600 meters is plenty enough. Maybe we need more. We don’t need more. 600 meters is plenty enough, I think. No, 700 would be better. 700? Okay, Kim says 700. We had a lot of meetings because if we are working together, let’s be clear. We are with a lot of people. We share all the workloads. And, you know, 80% chance that we will get to the summit without any problem.
First, leading, second, help them, third, making the bamboos. The ice? – Ice screw. – Ice crew? I always saw the base camp meetings as a vital key to success. It was our chance to get together and do this as one team. Not South Koreans, Americans, Serbians, Dutch- as one team. There is only one summit team… Yeah. From every group. The question is also, who is climbing in front, you know? We said, “Listen.” “Every team gives his strongest climber,” “and that’s the trail-breaking party.” Two good climbers and one, two porter… – Okay. – Who carry this fixed rope. Fixed rope. These teams start one or two hours before other member from Camp Four. – Okay. – Got it. We were thinking, if the strongest team, you know, go into this part and fixing the ropes through the bottleneck, we can just follow the ropes and go to the summit.
So it’s very- it’s really safe plan. I don’t know if you’re going with the summit party… It was obvious for me and Rolf that this was not gonna be as smooth as it’s planned. It seemed too easy for us. – There’s nothing to do. – Yeah, yeah, okay. 600 meters at the peaks. Yes. Our team’s thereto, uh, more… If you start sharing responsibilities with other people, I think that in the end, as humans we relax. We don’t really do what we should be doing. And K2 really demands knowing how to do things, giving the right answer, having an answer for everything. In a perfect world, everyone is responsible for everyone. Only the mountain attains perfection. That’s why you come to climb it. They would never have tried K2 without the knowledge and expertise of the locals. My unlikely partner was named Mahdi. He was the very best of the Hunzas. On the eve of the summit push, we were to take the last of the oxygen to the final camp and meet with the lead climbers, Lacedelli and Compagnoni.
The names are legendary now, the two men who ultimately conquered K2 for the first time in history. It could have been us with them, Mahdi and myself. We had agreed, if we were strong, we would go too, but we never found them. We climbed to the point of exhaustion to where they were supposed to be and began crying out for them. As the sun disappeared, the thin air began to eat away at us. As violent as a slap in the face, the first gust of snow hit us head-on. We were just thinking, “it’s just a matter” “of, you know, an hour, and then the wind will drop.” But it didn’t drop. It actually… it went…
It became stronger and stronger. That was like… Wind was go like that, and my tent in the moment was go up and me with the tent. It’s impossible to even look outside the tent. Quite critical situation. Oh, God. God. God. That’s it. Come on. In you go. They put me on the sleeping bag. I started shaking. I was in bad situation. You’re okay. All right, Wilco! Wilco, this is Ger here! We got a situation here. I heard Gerard talk with the Wilco by walkie-talkie. “Okay, Wilco, now we are going to bring him” “inside your tent because you have more space.” This is no time for bullshitting now. The Serbian guy… I don’t know… but if he would have knocked on my tent, I would have say, “Listen.” “Go down immediately,” “because I can’t have you in my tent now” “because I have to rest” “because I have to go to the summit.” We didn’t sleep all night.
Early in the morning, Ger was a little angry. I was not sure whether he was angry because of what happened with me or because of what happened between two of them. I was really pissed, so I had to make clear that this guy would not go with us. And I said, “Listen. There is just one.” “You have to go back,” “and I don’t want to see you in that camp,” you know? For me, I don’t know. I… myself, I feel…
I don’t know how I will continue with my life till I know to- somebody needed my help. Not too much-little help, and I didn’t want to give him. A lot of guys, they are thinking they can climb K2 without oxygen, without ropes, without bringing the right stuff, bringing the right team. You can’t climb an 8,000-meter peak alone. You-you didn’t bring any rope. How do you want to climb this fucking mountain? Mm-hmm. – It’s really irresponsible. – How did you do it 2006? Wilco is very direct and blunt. He’d lay his cards on the table. There’s no doubt about what he was thinking, you know? So I think, you know, Ger kind of liked that about him. Both Ger and Wilco, they really had the summit in their eyes. You could see it. The 29th of July 2006, I got a phone call from Ger. I can still hear him saying it to me. He says, “Jeez, JJ, this is so doable.” And he said, “I can’t believe it.” He said, “It’s so doable.” They were hiking up from…
I think it was advanced base camp, and they were gonna go up to Camp Two on the Abruzzi. Ger was going up, and what people say is, it was actually a rock avalanche. The phone rang. She said to me, “There’s been an accident on K2.” And I said, “How bad?” And she said, “Look…” “You’ll probably bring-bringing him home in a body bag.” It was just an act of God as such, like, I mean, a rockfall that caught him. And, I mean, the helmet he had on him at the time probably, possibly saved his life. But I knew-l always knew from that-from that night on, I knew that he was gonna try and do this again, like, you know. The bigger the dream, the bigger the risks, but, you know, the dream was there. From that moment, I knew we are coming back, you know, and Ger would go with me again. That’s why, when we reach Camp Four, it was already a magic moment.
Ah, so happy to be here. I could almost cry. When you love someone and they love doing something, you’re happy for them. Of course, it’s a dangerous mountain. Any mountain’s a dangerous mountain. But he knew he could climb it, and he knew he could climb it safely. And I think he wanted to go back. There are always things you don’t talk about and which you don’t expect, and one thing was that in this meeting, the leader of the high-altitude porters who are making, breaking trail, I trust this guy completely. Doing this… But what happened… He went ill. So no leader anymore. High-altitude porters of the Sherpas, they’re going to fix the rope, and the members from the Koreans, they’re going to countercheck the rope, that it is affixed properly on the mountain. The new plan was that a Korean leader, you know, he was the climbing leader of the big Korean team- he would check everything in Camp Four, but he didn’t. We have a plan.
12:00, the first party should move. But 11:00, Korean climbing leader is still inside the tents, keep smoking and smoking and… Then finally I said, “No, now we have to do it ourself.” So this Sherpa, Pemba, his face, I remember very clearly that night. He was the kind of person that transmitted safety, security, wanting to know who I was, how I got there in the middle of the night. I told him, “I am climbing solo”, “and I am hoping to go up with you.” The summit bid was delayed because people were wandering around like, “Hey, where’s the gear?” “Where’s the equipment?” “Where’s the rope?” We are way back in time. We are really late. Very disappointing. The high-altitude porters, they’re just starting to fixing the ropes, and Pemba was not that kind of leader who said, “Listen.” “We are going to do it like this,” you know? I was surprised that they were putting fixed ropes at areas which didn’t need it.
Just, like, 10 meters from the tents or something. There were ropes very, very early on. Suddenly, there’s no more progression, and people are just standing there waiting. And they yelled back that they’d run out of rope. We were thinking, “In God’s sake, how is this possible?” The only thing you can do is going back, cut the ropes, and bring it up, and that’s what we did. We were delayed with two hours, and that’s too long. You can’t catch up two hours on a summit bid. Even though there were perfect conditions, in the death zone, you’re just losing more energy. Those people, they are too optimistic for the summit, and that’s why they keep climb. They forget so many things about safety. Aah! People think that we’re mad. How can you continue if someone died? But if you drive a car, you see people crash. You see people die in traffic. You keep on driving, ’cause you- you think it’s not gonna happen to you. I see. Is he in the rock? – He’s here. – Yeah. – Yeah. – The rock. Yeah, right there at the edge.
If everybody turned back after the Serbian people fell down, then I think there was only 1 casualties on the mountain instead of 11. How are you? Good. But not a great day today. A hard day for me today. Yes. It was not a good day. He said, “You go.” “You feel strong. You are strong.” “You go to there… to the top with Lars.” And I looked back many times, and every time I looked back and if he was looking at me at the same time, he was, like, thumbs up and like, “Keep on going.” Rolf and me, we talk several times.
Then Rolf say, “Now, Pemba, I want to go back” “because these guys are very stupid” “because nobody talking each other” “about the timing.” “Really, I don’t understand the people.” – It’s so hard to turn around, and it’s so easy to just continue a little bit, just a half an hour to see. I could see Lars on the summit. He took Rolf’s rabbit hat on and danced on the summit. We had just a few minutes- took pictures. Even in our most crazy dreams, we wouldn’t have dreamt it to be that beautiful. With that shadow of K2 into China- absolutely beautiful. I enjoyed the view, but the only thing that was in our head was that we’re not gonna stay here for very long. We’re going back. We have to get back to the ropes before it gets dark.
We’re on the summit of K2! Whoo-hoo! Yo, yo, yo. Time passes by in a very strange fashion up there. What may feel like a couple of seconds could actually be a minute or vice versa. You know, it’s very hard to tell. He phoned me, and I was lucky enough that the connection was made. He was elated. He told me everybody was feeling good, that there was no problem. And then… yeah, I was just hoping to hear from him, you know, five or six hours’ time. When we ready to descend, and he’s saying, “Okay, now I don’t want to take the flags” “camera, sat phone,” “everything you have to carry.” And I took everything. You know that almost all the accidents in climbing happen on the way down, on the descent. You get exhausted. You relax. It gets dark. So that’s a factor that every climber know. We caught up with Rolf further down. He was so happy and congratulated us. And we decided to descend together, of course, down to the fixed ropes, slow, but efficient. It gets dark just 15 minutes after we get to the fixed ropes, so we put on our head torches.
When Rolf gets there, I ask him if he wants to go first, or if he wants me to go first. Do you want me to go first? – He said, “Lars, I go first.” – No, I go first. – “You look after my wife.” – You look after my wife. Yeah. That’s the… It’s the last thing he said. I don’t know if I heard anything, but I felt it. The ground was shaking underneath me. The last thing I saw was Rolf’s head torch moving. And then it was dark. You must think I’m crazy saying this, but… Suddenly, I could hear his voice. And it was so strong. It was, like, saying, “You have to get down.” You’re going down thinking, “Follow the lines, and there is Camp Four.” And in a few days, we would have big party with all the teams in the base camp.
The problem is, you are so exhausted, and you are not that concentrated. And everybody is going down in his own speed. We reached the Korean Sherpas and Korean team. Everybody, they come together, regroup. We have only one option. We put all people together on one rope, then try to bring down together. We were looking up the mountain every hour, and we were monitoring our radios all the time. And we were getting more and more anxious about their safety. We see these headlamps and thinking, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” “They’re not moving very fast.” “What’s going on?” We started feeling… Hopeless. The Korean completely stopped. It was impossible to bring them down with the same rope because they sit down. The whole thing was a little bit stuck, so it was not totally clear. One moment, you are not walking all together anymore, so you are a little bit separated, a few meters between you.
Everybody is just descending. We came at the point where the fixed rope should be, but it wasn’t there. Marco was looking. I was searching. But we couldn’t find it. I was convinced that this was the right way, but why wasn’t the rope there? The only thing you think is, “We must be on the wrong side of the mountain, or we must have lost the way.” My soul said, “Marco, stop yourself.” “Stop. Stop. Stop.” I called Ger. I said, “Ger, let’s stay here for the night.” We must stay still because it would be easy for an avalanche to get us. I expected by noon at the latest to hear from them. And the phone rang when I was at lunch, and I thought it was him, but it was another friend. She was like, “Have you heard from Ger yet?” And I said, “No. I’m really worried.” And then I went home from lunch, got immediately on the internet, and the first thing was “Trouble on K2.” First thing I thought of was, “Okay, when does the sun rise on K2?” “Because that’s when they’ll start moving again.” And, you know, “How many more hours do they have out there?” We were stranded above the death zone.
Mahdi was out of his head. I thought he was going to kill us both. By instinct, I digged a hole into the slope to get out of the storm. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, “I don’t want to die!” And that’s when I heard them above the howl of the wind. I don’t know whether it was Compagnoni or Lacedelli, but I heard a voice. “Do you want us to freeze for you?” “Leave the oxygen and go straight down.” For me, the descent is not a really big problem.
I’m so much fixed in the descending that I don’t really know who is in front of me or back of me. So only thing is, I know that I see light and I was coming close to the light. Then I saw it was Hugues, the Frenchman. Hey, Hugues. Hey, Gas. Y… you go past. You’re quicker than me. I pass him, and I go on descending. Take your time. Go. Go. And then I noticed something is not okay with the rope. If you sleep, you die.
I think Wilco heard our voices, so he came in our direction. We were not in a panic. We were- we were just sitting. We were just, you know, yeah, wondering why we couldn’t find the rope. But we were convinced that next morning, with the first light, we would find the rope again. The Korean, they sit down. I feel, it’s very, very sad, because I understand many people, they cannot reach a high camp tonight. 4:00. There is nothing, no ice anchor, no length, no rock anchor, no fixed line, nothing. Then I try to contact with the Korean Sherpa, but I couldn’t get them on radio because nobody switched on the radio. It was a big problem. Hmm. We could go. We could go up and… If we had people, we could do this. It was still nice and clear. We could see some of the climbers on the top of the serac. We were convinced that, with the first light, we would find the rope again.
And Gerard was going to the right, you know, to have a look over there. I was going to the left to have a look over there. Marco was looking somewhere. We couldn’t find it. And then I start to realize that I got problems with my view. I was getting more in panic, you know, because I knew- fuck, getting snow-blind at this altitude is finished. No helicopter are coming. The guys can’t do something with a body of 80 kilos. It’s finished. – Guys! So, I said, “Listen, guys.” “I have to go down. I have to go down.” I have to go down! So I started just going down without thinking anymore and just going down. Just one question. Here is base camp Serbian calling. Do you know some information about Gerard, the Irish guide, from Norit expedition? What I was hearing is “Jimmy,” but “Jumik and Pasang in trouble.” They were the Korean Sherpas. Yes. And then Rolf and then “Prenmaldic”? I didn’t even understand that other people had died, really. I was in shock. I remember a phone call I had to my father-in-law.
I was so scared to make that phone call. He was gonna be mad at me for not looking after his son. But instead, he said… “You have to get off the mountain.” “You have to come home.” Yeah. I didn’t want to lose my husband, but I lost, uh… Of course, my best friend… And my future like I was hoping it would be. I was just climbing down, and then, suddenly, those Koreans were hanging over there. I was just thinking, “What the hell are they doing here?” I didn’t understand anything about it. Gloves. I had some spare gloves, so I gave the gloves. I didn’t ask what happened.
Maybe they were hanging all night long, but at that time, I was… I was just, you know, shocked about it. I said, “Listen.” “I have to go down” “because I’m starting to get snow-blind.” And he said, “Yeah, yeah,” “but help is also on the way, so go ahead.” I’ll send help. They are all up there by themselves. They’re not moving anywhere. They’re just sitting still, just waiting to get help. The South Korean expedition leader, Kim, was arranging a rescue mission. But I just said, “Hey, guys”, “they’re not standing up, moving one meter,” “and you’re telling me that I should go up there” “when the ice is still falling down?” There’s no fixed lines. There’s no ropes. I mean, that is just insane. This is not a guided tour. We cannot physically pluck people off this mountain. Then American team, they said, “Because we don’t have enough manpower,” “we cannot go ourself, a rescue,” “because physically we are all so weak.” “Is still bottleneck, is very dangerous.” “Then, now we have to go down.” Copy that. Copy that. Most of the people, they are moving from- Down from Camp Four, moving down.
Then, uh… In our group, Mr. Kim insisted that we go for a rescue. We had no choice. We had to follow their instructions. They paid us, and they acted like they owned our lives. I was so thirsty, you know, and I knew I’m getting crazy in a few hours, because when you don’t have water at that altitude for such a long time, you won’t survive it. I looked up, and I saw that Marco and Gerard were with those Korean guys.
Which way? That’s it. It was the Korean climbing leader. But everything was smashed up with lots of blood everywhere. I have worked for 15 years in mountain rescue, and I have seen many things and many people. I knew this was a bad situation. Okay. Okay. You’re all right. You have to save yourself on K2. It’s the only way. I’ve never attempted to take the credit from Lacedelli and Compagnoni of conquering K2, nor would I. Yet Mahdi and I were written out of the story. Our sacrifice was completely omitted in the official records. Then it was lied about behind my back for decades. They said we used the oxygen to save ourselves. This is the oxygen, mind you, that Lino and Achille used to reach the summit.
For 30 years, I have been attacked, accused, provoked, and slandered all because I volunteered my own life in the service of my people and my country. Without Mahdi and I, K2 would have remained a dream. We worked together. I found a walkie-talkie under the Sherpa. I spoke with someone. I don’t know who it was who was listening. I spoke. I said, “I don’t speak English.” “I speak Tarzan English.” I said, “I am Marco. I am at the serac.” “There is a problem.” “Somebody has to come up. I am tired.” But then Ger, he went back up a bit. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t know if he wanted to pull down the Koreans still. I spoke on the radio, and then I started to descend. All I could think about was leaving, surviving. I had to survive. Called a friend. Just asked her if she’d come over so I wouldn’t have to be alone. She came to the door, and she grabbed me, and she said, “We are gonna will him off that mountain.” Okay, you must bring him down.
Mr. Kim says we must keep climbing higher and find the Korean team. He’s alive, but nobody’s- want to come with me. But everybody say, “No, it’s still dangerous.” Then finally, I… I start climb again. He wearing a green down suit. I knew that is Marco. If I don’t have oxygen, I cannot bring him down because I cannot carry him. After ten minutes, Marco is trying to move and trying to talk with me.
Go ahead, Pasang. I am here with the Korean team. They said, “We see Korean Sherpas” “and Korean team.” “Now we are trying to descend together.” Is there anyone else there? There was one other climber, but he was hit by ice and fell. What was the color of his down suit? Red and black. When they said, then I think that could be Ger. I don’t know who is the person rolling down. Then I reach there, and I saw two Korean body is ten meters far from two other Sherpas’ body. I know the rucksack and boots and down suit. Everybody wants to survive… doesn’t matter if you have a child or… or a wife at home. Yeah, there was the last moment I saw Gerard and these other Koreans, but I don’t know what happened with them.
Why are… me surviving? Yeah, it’s… it’s just a matter of… of stupid… yeah, be unlucky on the wrong time and the wrong place. Wilco, our expedition leader, is back up with the helicopter because he’s frozen his feet. And there’s a second helicopter for Marco. He froze his hands really badly, so he can’t use his hands to get the ropes anymore. <i>Helicopter carries the last survivor</i> <i>of a doomed mission to climb</i> <i>one of world’s most challenging mountains.</i> <i>Italian Marco Confortola was rescued from K2</i> <i>nearly five days after an avalanche</i> <i>swept some climbers away and stranded others.</i> <i>And badly frostbitten</i> <i>from trying to help save others in the group.</i> <i>Instinct, he says, makes you want to do that.</i> <i>Confortola says the expedition</i> <i>was plagued by inexperience and poor equipment.</i> <i>He says some ropes and spikes easily broke.</i> Different people were saying different things.
There was a lot of confusion. There was a lot of stories, but the Marco story became the story. We were all prepared, all alpine climbers. We were people who knew what we were doing, but it was K2, the most difficult of mountains. This guy had had a horrific experience up there. He was in pretty bad shape, both mentally and physically. I said, “Look, I need to…” “Find out for sure, you know,” “what went down up here, like, you know?” “I have to go to Pakistan.” It was really frightening, because we didn’t know what we were going in for. And, I mean, I guess half of me kind of still believed Ger was alive, and the other half didn’t believe it. Following day, we got to meet Wilco and Cas. I’m sorry. I’m just hoping he’s alive. But he’s saying he saw Ger fall, and his story… And in my heart, there’s still hope. – I know it’s ridiculous. – Yes, I understand. – So he’s-he is dead? – Yes, for sure. Absolutely, because that was what Marco told us directly. Wilco and Cas, they were obviously nervous because our brother had died, you know, and they were alive.
Why did we split up? Why didn’t we look to each other? The only explanation is because we were too- too long at high altitude. Marco’s account was, he was sitting there with Ger, and then there were three people ahead of them. And all of a sudden, those people disappeared. And so they took such a fright, they decided, “Let’s just sit here “and wait until daylight,” right? And then he says you came along, but then… then… No, no, no, that’s not correct, because we started together. So you were all… you bivouacked all together? – Yeah. – You never came along later? No. One thing that always took hold in my head and still does to this day was… how so many people on the mountain could have different stories about the same event. And then we come back in the night, and then after- and then the next morning, everything happens. They had their information about the little bit Wilco could remember and the little bit Cas could remember and what they heard Marco could remember.
And they drew a map for us, you know, the terrain where they thought things occurred. Marco’s a very emotional boy. He’s… Yes, and he’s totally… He was… at the end of… he was so tired. They didn’t know any more. Cas and Wilco had been airlifted off the mountain. There was no debriefing with the remainder of the team, and they actually didn’t know. He was just getting more and more confused. We needed more. You know what I mean? It wasn’t enough. For some reason, we felt we needed to talk to Pemba. Marco had left by the time we got there, but Pemba and the rest of the Norit team were hiking out, and that takes two days. Also, mentally, psychologically, Marco was almost mad. – Yeah. – Yeah. Because when I trying to give oxygen, he’s angry with me. “Why you came here to pick up me?” He is always talking negative, negative, always crying. And he’s saying, “You fucking guys,” “why you come here to pick up me?” – Yeah. – Yeah. – That is… – Not very understanding. – We say a head case. – Yeah. By the time Pemba got to Islamabad, Marco was gone, and all the major news people left too.
It never occurred to them that maybe he’d have something to say. What happened on K2, the story of the rescue, is that I tried for three or four hours to give help to those boys. It’s something that just came from my heart. It was after that that I paid the consequences. What Marco did on the mountain… nobody can take that away from him. He was a hero on the mountain. I mean, the family always- to this day, the family have said, “Marco did what he could do.” “He was a hero.” But the stories were changing from Marco from what he originally came outwith. He said that Ger was always ahead, that Ger abandoned him. Within a day or two, the stories were-were rife in the papers.
Marco was the last living witness to have seen Ger. So for to hear these stories that Ger was always ahead, he was hallucinating, his body was splattered all over the mountain- this was heartbreaking for us, like. He changed his story several times, which certainly didn’t help make things clear. And… and, you know, his story had a lot of clout because everyone else was gone, everyone else had perished. So you can say whatever you want. There’s no one there to contradict what you say, except for Pemba. See, all we have is a story to cling onto, and-and now all the stories are different. And it’s very hard, do you know? Every story’s different, and that’s all we have. We’ve no body. But why we are asking… because now I, what your story says is that you were a little bit lower than the body of Gerard, so…
Two fresh Sherpas forcing by Korean leader reach Korean, just top section of the couloir. And then they are descending together. I thought they were already dead, the three who were hanging, but probably they had been moving then. Yeah, then same time, three, four times, the serac fell down. Multi times serac… Pemba was the missing piece of the jigsaw. He held the key to a lot of people’s questions. Ger had given his camera to Pemba at the summit, so Pemba had (Bar’s camera coming down and all. And he continued to take pictures of what was happening. It was obvious, then, why Ger refused to come down the mountain. There was people in trouble.
Ger was never going to, never going to leave them after. It would have destroyed him to just leave the Koreans. It would have ate away, and it would’ve haunted him day and night, I think. At first, we weren’t told that Ger had gone back up. That came out a little bit later. When we met, Pemba knew something that we didn’t know at that point- that second radio call. Go ahead, Pasang. I am here with the Korean team. They met the Koreans at the top of the bottleneck. That means they traveled from where they were stuck, all the way across the traverse. Ger freed them. There was no one else there to do it. In our own team, we would have done everything for each other. But what did Gerard- not only in his own team… he… he… he fight for his life and even for the life of the Koreans. Had they made it down to Camp Four safely, it would be one of the most amazing stories in mountaineering history, you know? But instead, because they got hit by ice, it’s a tragedy, and then it becomes a controversy. Ger was true to his nature to the very end.
That’s who he- that’s who he was. <i>If it takes 100 years,</i> <i>the truth will have to be recognized</i> <i>by those to Whom the verdict of history belongs.</i> <i>Oftentimes, when somebody does lose a life,</i> <i>what went down is held, you know,</i> <i>up under the microscope.</i> <i>And some people might say, “They should have done this,</i> <i>and they shouldn’t have done that.”</i> <i>Just because you survive the mountain</i> <i>doesn’t make you an expert, and it doesn’t-</i> <i>I don’t think that it gives you any right to-</i> <i>to say that somebody made a mistake, you know,</i> <i>because you just- you know,</i> <i>when you Weren’t there, you don’t know.</i> <i>Only the mountain knows.</i>
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