Authors: Pat Falvey, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa
Published by Beyond Endurance Publishing and The O’Brien Press (2013)
Pat Falvey and Nepalese Sherpa Pemba Gyalje Sherpa recount the tragic 2008 climbing expedition to K2 during which 11 climbers from around the world lost their lives. Based on Pemba Gyalje’s eyewitness account and drawing on a series of interviews with the survivors which were conducted for the award-winning documentary, The Summit (Image Now Films and Pat Falvey Productions, 2012) The Summit: How Triumph Turned to Tragedy on K2’s Deadliest Days is the most comprehensive interpretation of one of modern-day mountaineering’s most controversial disasters.
On 1 August 2008, 18 climbers from across the world reached the summit of K2, the world’s second highest and most dangerous mountain – a peak which claims the life of one in every four climbers who attempt it. Over the course of 28 hours, however, K2 had exacted a deadly toll: 11 lives were lost in a series of catastrophic accidents.
Attracting a climbing elite and standing at 8,611 metres on the Pakistan-China border, K2 is known as the ‘Mountaineer’s Mountain’ because of its extreme technical challenges, its dangerously unpredictable weather and an infamous and hazardous overhanging wall of ice known as the Serac.
Snow-bound at Base Camp for weeks on end and increasingly despairing of their prospects of success, an unexpected weather window gave the climbers the opportunity they were waiting for. In their collective desire to reach the summit, seven expeditions agreed to coordinate their efforts and share their equipment. Triumph quickly turned to tragedy, however, when a seemingly flawless plan unravelled with lethal consequences.
Over the course of three days, Pemba Gyalje, along with five other Sherpas, was at the centre of a series of attempts to rescue climbers who had become trapped in the Death Zone, unable to escape its clutches and debilitated by oxygen deprivation, chronic fatigue, delirium and a terrifying hopelessness. The tragedy became a controversy as the survivors walked from the catastrophe on the mountain into an international media storm, in which countless different stories emerged, some contradictory and many simply untrue.
Irish climber Ger McDonnell, who became the first Irishman to summit K2 and who lost his life in the descent, and Norwegian adventurer, Rolf Bae, who also died in the tragedy, were friends of co-author and Irish adventurer Pat Falvey. Falvey felt compelled to find out more about what happened to them and the nine other climbers who perished. He began a five-year search for the truth, central to which was the eye-witness account of Pemba Gyalje, who was at the centre of rescue efforts on the mountain and whose story was largely overlooked by the media in the days and weeks following the disaster.