When Strong Hands Meant Life or Death

When Strong Hands Meant Life or Death

A look at K2

We are always on the lookout for out-of-this-world feats of grip strength and you would be amazed at some of the ones we have discovered in some very unusual places.

One of these amazing feats occurred on the ice covered 28,250-foot K2, the second tallest mountain in the world. K2 is known in the native Mongolian tongue as Karakorum (Or “The Great Mountain.”) It is one of the darkest and deadliest peaks on the planet.

K2 was discovered in 1856 by British colonel T.G. Montgomery. As he was surveying the area, Montgomery named the peaks in the order that he saw them, K1, K2, K3, etc. K2 has the distinction of being the only current mountain still referred to by it’s surveyor’s notational name.

The first attempt at climbing K2 occurred in 1902 when a six-man group, led by the Englishman name Eckenstein thought they were up to the task. Unfortunately they had severely underestimated their abilities and after several unsuccessful tries, abandoned the expedition.

The first American attempt occurred in 1938 when Charles Houston and a group from the American Alpine Club signed on. They were highly successful and made it farther than anyone had even gone before but they didn’t quite make it to the top. They decided not to push their luck and commenced with their descent

As a result of the war, no expeditions were made to K2 until 1953 when a group of Americans was headed again by Charles Houston, who was eager to finish the work he had begun on the 1938 expedition. This expedition was also very successful but as they made the preparations for the final attack of the summit, Mother Nature made her presence known in a big way.

A violent snowstorm that had been brewing for a while finally let loose. Thanks to Houston’s foresight, the group had enough food to last them for another 10 days and they bided their time hoping the bad weather would blow over.

It didn’t.

Adding to their woes, one of the members of the group, Gilkey, developed a blood clot in one of his legs making him unable to move. A vote was taken and it was decided with the weather being the way it was and with the state that Gilkey was in, along with the fact that another member was experiencing severe frostbite in his feet, it was now a fight for everybody’s life and a descent would be the best idea. Braving nature’s fury turned out to be even more difficult than was first thought.

During the first day of the descent they only made it a few hundred yards down from their previous position. As is the usual procedure, the group had all been tied together though in two separate teams. Sometime during the early evening, the ropes of the different teams became entangled.

Suddenly, one of the climbers, George Bell, lost his footing and fell, pulling everyone else with him!

The only reason that the entire group did not plunge to an icy death was that they were connected to a rope tied around Pete Schoening’s waist. Pete had dug in and held fast to his trusty ice axe! It was the power of his hand strength alone that had saved the group from certain death! Unfortunately Gilkey would later meet his fate when he was whisked away by a night time avalanche. Other than Bell who had serious frostbite and needed medical attention, the rest of the group eventually made it to the bottom of K2 safely.

Pete Schoening went on to climb five of the world’s seven tallest peaks. At 68 years old, he even set his sights on Mt. Everest. (It was this expedition that was featured in the Jon Krakauer book “Into Thin Air.”) He passed away in September of 2004.

Sometimes life can come at you pretty hard and it is difficult to know what to expect. It was the incredible hand strength of Pete Schoening that saved the lives of himself and six other climbers on K2.

Whether you decide to become involved in adventure sports or never leave your front door, one thing is for sure, it always pays off to train hard, train smart and be ready for whatever comes your way.

Train hard,

John Wood