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Currently, the world seems to be enthralled with an accidental missile warning and an inappropriate word uttered by the president. I’m not sure why headlines must actually use that word, but after my youngest questioned the word, I had to come up with a quick fib explaining that it was a foreign word and rhymed with “chipotle.” I probably saved him from a visit to the principal’s office with that one.
Meanwhile, my attention has been on another little-heard-of story.
As I type this, I am on a mountain some 3,000 feet high. This is nothing in comparison to what I will call real mountains, though. And no, I am not disparaging our Appalachians.
There are a little over a dozen 8,000-meter peaks on this planet. Most know of the tallest and most famous, Mount Everest. At first thought, for those who are not in the know, Everest seems like the pinnacle. Yes, there is an intentional play on words there. However, Everest, while deadly and unforgiving at times, is not the most dangerous.
This is where my attention has been focused. One of the most deadly mountains is currently being scaled. Big deal,you say? Well, it is when it is winter. And this particular peak is the only 8,000-meter mountain to never have been topped during the winter.
What intrigues me about this story is a group of 13 Polish climbers are attempting this first-time feat. Skip the Polish jokes for this one, if you don’t mind. This group of 13 happens to be some of the top climbers in the world. They have been collecting and accumulating the top gear available over the last couple of years to make this attempt. At the beginning of the year, they set up base camp. Now they are attempting the climb. They have no steadfast plan, as it has been deemed too dangerous to try to stick to a plan due to the mountain’s unpredictability, especially during the winter.
The mountain? The mountain is K2. I know, what kind of name is K2? Well, K2 is the second-tallest mountain, just behind Mount Everest. And the name K2, for whatever reason, fits perfectly for such a beast of a peak.
But despite all that, what has really grabbed me is there are 13 of the best climbers in the world making this attempt.
The odds are, one or more will not return.
I don’t mean that one or more will die. I mean one or more will likely die and their remains will forever be frozen on K2. It’s a morbid thought. However, K2 is a killer during good weather. K2 is much worse during winter. Imagine a jet stream streaking across the sides of the mountain with winds beyond hurricane force. Now add in the lack of oxygen at that altitude, and a wind chill on a good winter day of minus 80 degrees Farenheit. And you thought we were having a cold winter here.
Now, the group isn’t going in foolishly. Again, they have the best gear available. They have also been training in a hyperbolic chamber that depletes oxygen supply so they will have their bodies used to the atmosphere, and hopefully fight off altitude sickness.
For whatever reason, they are attempting the climb without supplemental oxygen. I’m not sure if this is due to something with the cold effecting the oxygen tanks, the wish to negate extra weight or if they want to make the attempt without supplemental oxygen as many of the greatest climbers do at times.
Yet, I still cannot get over the human condition part of this story. This group knows the odds are against all of them making it to the top, and the odds are greater that not everyone will live to see it if the group does make it to the top. There is no rescue effort. No helicopter can fly up and bring them down.
I’ve done some dangerous things in my life. I’ve hunted bear, mountain lion and even alligator with nothing but a bow and arrow. I’ve fished for big sharks from a kayak. I’ve even dove to try to photograph big sharks that were hooked on rod and reel. But at no time did I think my odds were only 99-percent safe.
This group of climbers may be looking at a 50-percent chance at best. And I want to cheer and pray they make it, while following what I can of the story every day.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.