Why?

Fredrik Ericsson climbing towards camp 3 at 7100m. Photo: Tommy Heinrich

18 July 2010
K2 Base Camp – 5050m / 16,568 ft
“Dead man in Camp 2. Bulgarian.” Lakpa’s news was such a surprise we had a
hard time believing it. For one thing the last three days of warm sunny
days and nights without a breath of wind couldn’t have been more perfect.
Base camp had been a virtual ghost town with all climbers taking advantage
of the good fortune to move up the mountain. No, it couldn’t be true. I
didn’t even know there was a Bulgarian in base camp. But you don’t argue
with a woman who tells you she’s a lama.
Just the day before Frippe and I had been descending from Camp 3 at 7100m
(23,294 ft). My frostbitten fingers were warm and snug in the warmest
8000-meter mittens money can buy and Frippe was skiing the route for the
first time in clear visibility. Stopping to chat with other climbers on
the route and filming Frippe as he made turns in the warm sun gave me the
feeling of being on a peak in the Alps rather than the cold, isolated K2
of our previous trips. So much so I wouldn’t have been surprised if a
monoskier with stretch pants and a helmet cam had skied down behind him.
K2 was revealing her softer side but it was a face I knew better than to
grow too fond of.
Base camp is a small community and news travels fast. It seems as though
Petar Unzhiev arrived in BC less than a week ago, parking up with the ATP
crew whose permit he was on. Like every other climber he saw the
extraordinary good weather and couldn’t resist getting up the mountain.
Within three days of arriving in base camp, Petar, along with his HAP went
directly to Camp 1 on the Abruzzi rather than making the usual stop at
advanced base camp. The next day, instead of following the normal rules of
acclimatization and returning to the lower elevation of base camp the team
climbed to camp 2 at about 6700m (21,982 ft) where others on the route
reported that Petar began experiencing problems. However, they assumed the
HAP was watching out for him. That night, those whose tents were pitched
next to Petar’s heard labored breathing—not uncommon at 7000 meters
(22,966 ft) where the air pressure is less than half that at sea level.
Again, they assumed the HAP that they believed to be in the tent with
Petar would call for help if needed. As it turns out, after pitching the
tent and brewing up, the HAP had returned to base camp without telling any
of the others at C2.
It is believed that Petar most likely died from high altitude cerebral
edema, or HACE. As explained in the three high-altitude medical books that
he had with him, but apparently hadn’t gotten around to reading, HACE is a
swelling of the brain commonly caused by climbing too high too fast.
Petar’s death is a tragic loss yet Frippe and I are already planning our
next trip up the mountain. If the weather cooperates, we’ll leave base
camp on the 24th and hopefully make our summit push on the 27th. There has
been heavy snowfall and strong winds up high over the last two days which
is cause for concern and may push our plans back a day or two. In any
case, I can already imagine the sanctimonious outrage in forums and
message boards across the ‘net labeling us foolish, selfish, irresponsible
and suicidal.
Some of the accusations are fair—selfish, for sure—however most are not,
and as a person who is heading back up the same mountain that just killed
Petar perhaps I can provide some insight into what makes us want to put
ourselves at such risk.
While there’s certainly no question that this is a dangerous game we’re
playing, there’s nobody here with a death wish. Quite the contrary, you
could say that Frippe and I have a life wish meaning we want to squeeze
every bit of life out of every second of every day. And there’s just no
way we can do that if we’re not living, right?
For sure it’s sad when people die but it’s something that’s going to
happen to every single one of us. In the end, all that really matters is
what you do with the time between the day you were born and that
inevitable day of departure. Which is why we’re here. Many people see
mountains like K2 and are paralyzed by fear. “You can’t go up there; you
might get hurt or even die!” On the other hand there are others, like us,
who see big mountains and are empowered by the massive challenge, the
thrill of the adventure and the possibility we see in the impossible. To
act on this empowerment is to live, to turn our backs on it is to suffer a
slow, agonizing death.
In attempting to make the first ski descent of K2, without supplementary
oxygen, without Sherpa or HAP support, climbing in good style with respect
and admiration for the power and beauty of the mountain, Fredrik has the
chance to do something truly extraordinary in his life and I’m not simply
talking about the first descent. I’m talking about the incredibly rare
opportunity this man has to pursue his wildest, most heartfelt dream. Is
that worth the risk? In the end, there is only one person whose answer to
that question matters.
/Trey Cook
Postscript: Petar’s death is a sad loss and our thoughts and prayers go
out to his family. We hope in time they take solace in knowing that he
died doing something he loved in one of the most beautiful places on
Earth. As one climber told us after he came down from Camp 2, “It looks as
though he died peacefully. It looks as though he died … happy.”
The Ski K2 Expedition would not be possible without the visionary support
of: Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Scarpa, Grivel, adidas Eyewear,
Primus, Brunton, Exped, ATK Race, Ortovox, Garmin, Honey Stinger and
Jamtport.
To learn more of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and about his quest
to ski the world’s three highest mountains check out
www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Fredrik Ericsson skiing Photo: Tommy Heinrich

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6 responses to “Why?

  1. just to wish you both good luck on your way up and down… I don’t think anyone (who knows you) would criticise you for the decision to continue moving towards your goal & dream that you’ve worked so hard for… sadly it sounds like Petar was ill equipped and informed for what he was undertaking. Be safe amigos – climb high! katie

  2. Chase the dream — attendant to your climbing wisdom and tempered with the proper degree of caution. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Frippe.

  3. In the beginning we wouldn’t understand why. Then, we realized WE were the selfish ones; those trying to keep you away from your path.

    None should ever be given the right to criticize those who dare live a life shaped out of their dreams; those who dare going beyond fear and doubts to fully reach the meaning of why they are alive.

    We are the ones in need to understand, not as much what you do, but rather what WE don’t do. We can’t project our frustrations into what you do or don’t do. You’ve got rid of all psychological ties keeping you away from your true dreams. And those dreams have taken you to where you are.

    Who are we to judge?

    Through each step, through each breath and behind every single thought of courage and faith there is our love as a companion. That is what really counts.
    So many people down here, spread all over the world, thinking about you with the heart. That is your biggest achievement! How hard is it to nurture so much love in so many different hearts? That has been your true K2, and you’ve summitted it already.

    No enterprise can fail when such love, faith and friendship are its invisible companions.
    Everyday we’re so many with you! Take us to the summit, with the heart and intelligence of the good friends you are. And, up there, you’ll leave a memory of those, like Petar, who dared and lived daring. Then you’ll be back, back amongst us and you’ll realize that your true adventure, your biggest achievement is amongst your people. But you need to go to the top of K2 first, because your path has a clear line crossing past its summit and there lays your true happiness. Without that happiness something will always be missing in your heart, something we cannot give you, despite all you’ve given us. Now we understand.

  4. Warren Currie

    Best wishes for you both from Canada.
    Take care – live life!

  5. my biggest and best to you, brutha! i count myself lucky to have spent time in the mountains with you, trey! following your fingers, filming, and all else from boulder. new boys here, too–Dominic and Luca, two weeks old and waiting to meet their Uncle Trey!
    rob/rebecca/luca/dominic

  6. Thoughts are with you Trey and Frippe. Looking forward to the welcome home party back here in Cham, Johno

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