While its a dangerous game were playing, theres nobody here with a death wish, states Trey Cook.
Currently on K2 and teaming up with sky-skier Fredrik Ericsson, the American climber reflects on the circumstances that brought Bulgarian Petar Unzhiev to get sick and die in C2, with nobody else in tents around to notice. He also tries to explain how, after a moment of thought, all characters currently on the "Savage Mountain" stage just go on with the show.
Hours away from setting off towards the summit, Trey had a story to tell about risks, consequences and, in the end, priorities in life. Here is goes:
I didnt even know that there was a Bulgarian in BC
Dead man in Camp 2. Bulgarian. Lakpas news was such a surprise that we had a hard time believing it. For one thing the last three days of warm sunny days and nights without a breath of wind couldnt have been more perfect. No, it couldnt be true. I didnt even know there was a Bulgarian in base camp.
Just the day before Frippe (Fredrik Ericsson) and I had been descending from Camp 3 at 7,100 meters. Base camp is a small community and news travels fast. It seems as though Petar Unzhiev arrived in BC less than a week ago, parking up with the ATP crew whose permit he was on. Like every other climber he saw the extraordinary good weather and couldnt resist getting up the mountain.
Too high up, too fast
Within three days of arriving in base camp, Petar, along with his HAP went directly to Camp 1 on the Abruzzi rather than making the usual stop at advanced base camp. The next day, instead of following the normal rules of acclimatization and returning to the lower elevation of base camp, the team climbed to Camp 2 at about 6,700 meters (21,982 feet) where others on the route reported that Petar began experiencing problems. However, they assumed the HAP was watching out for him.
That night, those whose tents were pitched next to Petars heard labored breathingnot uncommon at 7,000 meters. Again, they assumed that the HAP, who they believed to be in the tent with Petar, would call for help if needed. As it turns out, after pitching the tent and brewing up, the HAP had returned to base camp without telling any of the others at C2.
It is believed that Petar most likely died from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). As explained in the three high-altitude medical books that he had with him, but apparently hadnt gotten around to reading. HACE is a swelling of the brain commonly caused by climbing too high too fast.
Summit push starts tomorrow
Petars death is a tragic loss yet Frippe and I are already planning our next trip up the mountain. If the weather cooperates, we will leave base camp on the 24th and hopefully make our summit push on the 27th.
I can already imagine the sanctimonious outrage in forums and message boards across the Internet labeling us foolish, selfish, irresponsible and suicidal.
As a person who is heading back up the same mountain that just killed Petar perhaps I can provide some insight into what makes us want to put ourselves at such risk.
Why are we here?
While theres certainly no question that this is a dangerous game were playing, theres nobody here with a death wish. Quite the contrary, you could say that Frippe and I have a life wish, meaning we want to squeeze every bit of life out of every second of every day. For sure its sad when people die, but its something thats going to happen to every single one of us. In the end, all that really matters is what you do with the time between the day you were born and that inevitable day of departure. Which is why we are here.
Attempting to make the first ski descent of K2, without supplementary oxygen, Sherpa or HAP support, climbing in good style with respect and admiration for the power and beauty of the mountain, Fredrik has the chance to do something truly extraordinary in his life and Im not simply talking about the first descent. Im talking about the incredibly rare opportunity this man has to pursue his wildest, most heartfelt dream. Is that worth the risk? In the end, there is only one person whose answer to that question really matters.
Postscript: Petars death is a sad loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. We hope in time they take solace in knowing that he died doing something he loved in one of the most beautiful places on earth. As one climber told us after he came down from Camp 2, It looks as though he died peacefully. It looks as though he diedhappy.
Bulgarian climber Petar Georgiev Unzhiev, member of ATP International K2 Expedition 2010, passed away of high altitude sickness in Camp 2 on K2. Petar had attempted Manaslu twice.
Hoping to become the first person to ski the worlds three highest mountains, Swedish ski mountaineer Fredrik Ericsson is now returning to K2, teaming up with American alpine journalist Trey Cook.
Ericsson attempted to climb and ski K2 last year--the expedition came to a sad end when his mate Michele Fait fell to his death while skiing down from C2 on the Cesen route--the same line Ericsson plans to climb and ski down.
Fredrik Ericsson has completed ski descents on Peak Somoni, Shisha Pangma, Gasherbrum 2 and Dhaulagiri.
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