When Thomas Montgomerie triangulated two new peaks in the Karakoram, he had no idea he’d discovered not only the second highest peak on earth, but also the second most dangerous. And while Karakorum 1 was known locally as Masherbrum, no one seemed to know of a local name for K2. As Fosco Maraini quipped “...just the bare bones of a name, all rock and ice and storm and abyss…it makes no attempt to sound human… it is atoms and stars…has the nakedness of the world before the first man - or of the cindered planet after the last…” so calling the mountain K2 seemed more than appropriate and it stuck.

Superseded only by Annapurna as the most dangerous 8000m peak to climb, 25% of those who attempt the savage mountain perish. Not only is it technically one of the most challenging and committing, its extreme weather patterns can cause deadly delays. Only 302 have successfully summited and at least 77 others have died trying.

The challenges of the mountain make for great story-telling as well. Fatal attempts in 1939 and 1953, a troublesome first summit by the Italians in 1954, and finally the 13 deaths in 1986 and 11 more within hours of each other in 2008 give real-time chronicles of the epics these mountaineers face.

Enter Freddie Wilkinson whose alpinist wisdom and media savvy combined with knowledge of Sherpa culture brings to light what happened during the most recent multiple-fatality day. None of the surviving Western climbers could explain what happened, their memories fogged by hypoxia, exhaustion, and hallucinations. The truth of what transpired lies with four Sherpa guides who were largely ignored by the mainstream media in the aftermath of the tragedy and whose heroic efforts saved the lives of at least four climbers.

Wilkinson’s narrative voice is biting and witty and, while trying not to be too critical of the media’s push for speed over accuracy, he manages to pull the truth of what really occured when a collapsing serac over the Bottleneck severed fixed lines and dragged more than a dozen alpinists down the mountainside.

We’re excited to have the author present these findings in person on Monday, September 13th, beginning at 6 PM in the Foss Auditorium at the AMC in Golden. Reviews are non-stop positive and there’s much buzz not just about Freddie, but about his ability to weave a compelling tale. As one reviewer stated, a lot of climbers write (and not very well) but not a lot of writers climb.


Leave No Trace has Entered the Building

The Exit Strategies has come and gone but the message is beginning to rebound and the subsequent concentric ripples are rolling through a larger and larger realm.

This blogger won’t go through the details and reports from the conference. There are plenty of those on the AAC website.

This blogger also acknowledges that the problem isn’t restricted to alpine environments. And it’s not limited to simply hikers. It is a much bigger global problem than one conference of 140 conservationists and scientists can address.

I hiked out to Chicago Lakes from Echo Lake a few days ago. While I’ve snowshoed in during winter months, I’d not had the simple luxury of a summer hike and made it my choice for a perfect Rocky Mountain day. To those unfamiliar with the hike, the first mile drops from Echo Lake into Chicago Creek canyon. Four more miles up past the Idaho Springs Reservoir and you’re atop the moraine enjoying a spectacular Mt Evans cirque view.

On a summer Sunday, Echo Lake becomes a water park for Front Range folk escaping the heat and the trail to the Chicago Creek crossing busy as a fish peddler during Lent. It’s a favorite spot for families with small children and pets and, as we know, neither can control their personal functions very well.

As I hiked back across the Creek, a family with four small children was preparing to leave the area. I heard the father ask if anyone needed to go to the bathroom. On reflex I shouted to them “not in the creek you don’t!” I stepped back and quickly explained to my startled company the ramifications of urinating in a stream that flowed into a city water supply and the 100-foot rule of backcountry waterways.

Hiking back around the north side of the Lake, I sidled up to a woman whose dog had “assumed the position” and was leaving its trace in the lake. She was as stunned as the previous party when I pointed out the children dangling their feet in the water alongside the parties fishing for trout to toss in the fry pan.

These were seven people out of the hundreds at Echo Lake Park on one Sunday. It’s a miniscule start but I’ve added to my wish list that concentric ripples of wisdom, ownership and Leave No Trace turn tsunami.

All it takes is a little nudge from each of us.