herald

Thursday 19 April 2018

Savage summit claims lives of one in four climbers

Gerard McDonnell on Denali in the US in 2005
Gerard McDonnell on Denali in the US in 2005
K2

LOCATED in the Karakoram range on the China-Pakistan border, K2 (8,611m) is the second highest mountain on earth.

Known as 'the Savage Mountain' it was also the site of one of the worst accidents in modern mountaineering.

Eleven climbers, including Limerick man Ger McDonnell (37) died on a single disastrous day on the peak in August 2008. While the scale of the loss shocked even seasoned mountaineers K2 has long been accepted as one of the world's most dangerous peaks. One in every four climbers who try to summit it die in the attempt.

The loss of McDonnell on the mountain was all the more tragic given that he'd been the first Irishman to reach the peak.

EXPERIENCE

An engineer by trade, the Irish mountaineer lived in Alaska with his partner Annie. He had extensive climbing experience, including a successful ascent of Everest in 2003 – when he famously pucked a sliotar from the South Col. McDonnell had tried and failed to summit K2 in 2006 and returned two years later for a second attempt. Bad weather meant there were a large number of climbers on K2 when he made the top, with 'traffic jams' of climbers delaying his ascent. As the Irishman descended late in the day a serac (an ice-cliff) collapsed in a notoriously steep area of the mountain known as the 'Bottleneck', destroying fixed ropes.

The serac killed some climbers, while two others had fallen to their death during the ascent and others died of exposure.

Trapped above the Bottleneck, in the oxygen-starved 'Death Zone', McDonnell spent a night in the open before trying to descend. Witness accounts of his final hours vary but it's accepted that the Irishman tried to help three other dying climbers before attempting to descend himself.

The Limerick man was most probably struck and killed by another serac fall shortly afterwards. His body has never been located.

McDonnell was posthumously praised for his actions on the mountain with many dignitaries, including then President Mary McAleese, paying tribute to him.

clooney@herald.ie

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