Scaling to new heights

Issue 39 - 19 January 2021 (5-min read)

Wishful thinking, I know, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Nepalese climbers on K2 in winter ends up as the biggest story of 2021? Actually, it is not even the biggest story today but let’s not get into despair over misguided news cycles.

In case you missed it: a group of Nepalese climbers have become the first group of mountaineers to successfully reach the summit of K2 in winter. Being the second highest mountain in the world and notoriously called the "Savage Mountain", this is a remarkable achievement made all the more heartwarming by the fact that the climbers are all Nepalese, who have previously guided American or European mountaineers, but are now able to claim this accomplishment entirely for themselves and their country.

This week, in The Global Tiller, we too scale up the mountains in the afterglow of this historic achievement and take a closer look at how this team made it to the top, what are the consequences of these summit attempts and what is the future of this daring sport.

Keeping aside the daunting task of scaling the 8,610-metre-high (or 28,251 feet) K2 peak and the mortal dangers it poses, it seems the challenge is that of leadership. Mountaineering enthusiast Alan Arnette wrote:

In reviewing many of the previous K2 winter efforts, it seems that team dynamics have plagued more than one expedition. Any climber worthy of attempting K2 in winter will have tremendous skills with an ego to match… It will take strong leadership to manage these thoroughbreds and the climbers themselves will have to work together as a tight, well-functioning team.

I’m not sure if Arnette is generalising from the usual clique of elite mountaineers, but it is interesting to see how these Nepalese climbers are actually part of different teams. Instead of feeding their egos, the leaders of the two teams joined hands to work together in the days before the summit push, thereby making it all the more possible for them to achieve this together successfully.

Now that these climbers have shown the way, there is likely going to be more and more people setting their eyes on K2 during winter. In fact, there are several expeditions that are already attempting it right now and some others, in nearby mountain peaks, who have unfortunately lost their lives in recent days. 

The fate of K2 may end up being that of Mount Everest, which was not scaled until 1953, and has now become a hotspot for adventure-seeking Instagram influencers. An American doctor who dreamed his whole life of climbing the tallest mountain in the world felt last year that it was like a zoo up there: climbers have to step over bodies and many dismiss others in distress. Waiting in line is never fun, but imagine having to do it at 8,848 metres with limited oxygen and surrounded by over 200 frozen bodies

Climate change is making matters worse. The fast melting glaciers are exposing more bodies buried under ice; unstable weather is causing more avalanches, thereby making climbs even more tricky; and fluctuating seasons are reducing 'good days' to climb the Everest, causing even more overcrowding at the summit.

The future of mountain climbing - like most other things in this world - is uncertain. What we can gain some certainty is over making sure that our humanity prevails when we scale these majestic beasts - both by foot and by our eyes from the comfort of our armchairs.

Happy reading and take care!

Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller


If you’re an armchair mountaineer, like me, you may enjoy these reads:

… and now what?

There was a time where I was more of a daredevil than I am today. A time when I went scuba diving down to 85 metres, sky diving, bungee jumping - looking for the thrill of those extreme activities. And I had a lot more challenges planned.

Then I guess you could say (age? maturity?) wisdom caught up on me and I slowly stopped doing all this, becoming more careful, maybe more thoughtful, thinking about the end goal of those.

Yes, it’s exciting but for what eventually? Was it all to boost my ego and prove that I was capable? Or to show off in front of (girls?) others?

A few years ago, I remember going to watch the movie Everest. It was a staggering revelation for me that there’s no point in doing it besides the sake of doing it. No point in risking one’s life (and the lives of the sherpas, guides and others) just to check an item on a bucket list. 

I still love the idea of challenging myself, proving that I can go always a little bit beyond my own limits, my own expectations. But now I focus those challenges more in my line of work, as an entrepreneur - challenges of life more than the far simpler physical or record-breaking challenges. 

Even when I go running every two days, I no longer envision it as preparation for a competition or following the latest techniques to improve for the sake of it. I run because I love it, it’s good for my body, for my mind. It helps me think and provides the pleasure of movement. So for now, on to others to go for these challenges and impress everyone. 

I have to acknowledge though that there’s one element of these challenges that I find inspiring: it’s the part that pushes not only the individual but all our species. One mountaineer climbs the Everest, another one goes down deep in the abyss, and another Elon one looks to go to outer space or Mars. Those may still seem egotistic macho visions but they eventually lead to bigger achievements that can help the greater good. 

This ability of humanity to go beyond its natural specifications, its natural habitat to eventually change its relationship with nature fascinates me. We’re part of nature but more in a partnership than as subordinates. Our ability to dream, to look up the summit and think: maybe we could be there, is one unique to our species (as of today’s knowledge). One that helped us create amazing things… and do terrible ones.

As T.E. Lawrence puts it:

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. 

Following these words, let’s find a way to make those superhero-like challenges a daydream: dangerous but allowing us to open an ocean of possibilities. Let’s not make them dusty dreams, here just for the sake of this sticky and uninteresting vanity.

That may be the leadership challenge that the mountain is willing to give us as a reward for our reach.

Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury

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