Mountaineering Lore – “The Belay”

Some of you have undoubtedly heard this story before, but for others I’m sure it’ll be new. Rock & Ice Magazine covered a recent event in which Charlie Houston, now at the age of 93, recounted the tale of a 1953 American expedition to K2, which was unclimbed at that time. When one of the climbers developed blood clots in his legs, and was forced to retreat from the mountain, his fellow climbers went along in an attempt to save his life, which was likely (and ultimately) futile. On the descent, one of the climbers slipped and fell, taking four other climbers with him over the edge.

It was at this moment that one of the most indelible mountaineering legends was born as Pete Schoening, one of the climbers, dug his ice axe into the mountain, and not only prevented the others from falling, but allowed them to pull themselves back up to safety. Schoening could have cut the rope to save himself, but those were his friends on the other end of the rope, and he was either going to save them, or go over the edge with them. This moment will always be remembered in mountaineering circles at “The Belay”.

Update:Backcountry Blog has also made a recent post on this topic with more information, and links on this story. Great stuff!

Kraig Becker

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