Just a couple of days ago I read the news via a Facebook page, that Russian-Polish climber Denis Urubko had split from his team and begun a solo attempt to make a winter summit of K2. His decision has been cause for concern amongst the international climbing community, and I was surprised this morning whilst eating my breakfast to see the story covered on our national news in the U.K.
Sources are now suggesting that the attempt was unsuccessful and that he had made the decision to turn back and head down to C2, one of 4 camps dotted along the line between summit and Base Camp; a welcome development as many feared for his life.
Only Denis will be able to to say what the reasons for his decision were, but a documented phenomena ‘Summit Fever’ is what many are putting his actions down to; and is not something to take lightly. Back in 1995 Alison Hillary, son of Sir Edmund, blamed Summit Fever for the catastrophic events on K2 which lead to the deaths of seven climbers – he reported:
“Summit fever had developed in that group,” he said. “There was a chemistry in there that meant they were going for the summit no matter what … They were all driving each other on. These people came together and because of the place and the atmosphere and their personalities, they became blinkered and simply focused on the top. There was no careful awareness in the group and the most dangerous thing about groups is that everyone hands over responsibility for themselves to someone else … It means that no one is taking responsibility. There can be a false sense of strength in numbers, but it doesn’t matter how big your group is – you can have 1,000 people and the mountain could still kill them all.”
Typically characterised by poor decision making, taking unwarranted risk, and sheer stubbornness to deviate from a laser precision target; it is not a condition which can only been found on the mountainside. It’s an obsession to achieve a goal, at all costs. It’s what leads many sporting heroes to an un-flattering demise, even in the cases of say Boxers, to brain damage.
I often have this thought when looking at some of the most amazing athletic, and adventurous achievements of people over the years; and that is –
a) Humans are amazing.
b) Humans are weird.
Indeed that was a response I had to the news of Denis, our unquenchable desire to reach new places, see new things, and explore (I mean, jeez, there’s humans currently living in Space on the I.S.S); is undoubtedly what has made us the most incredibly marvellous creatures we are; and it would be my guess that from the outside it’s easy for us to throw comments and state how stupid a person is for exposing themselves to so much risk; but I’m sure that obsession is rooted in all of us, it’s the very reason we hold such people in high regard. I recently wrote about ‘what is adventure’ and looked into some of these very things.
I’m yet to experience such a compulsion to make the summit ‘at all costs’ and in fact have been closer to quitting than ever before when on the approach to summit Mt. Toubkal, but it would be naive to think it would never happen to you.
There’s an extremely thin line between making a heroic return from the belly of the beast, and never returning at all.
Choose your beasts wisely, because once the gauntlets are down, it’s on, your tangled in it, and there’s no easy-out – both physically and emotionally.
Choose your beasts wisely.