Children of “The Belay”

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The Adventurist pointed out this story over at MSNBC today. It’s an article written by Karen Molenaar Terrell, the daughter of Dee Molenaar, one of the climbers on the famed 1953 American expedition to K2.

As you’ll recall, the all-American team consisted of Molenaar, Charles Houston, Robert Bates, Art Gilkey, George Bell, Bob Craig, Tony Streather, and of course Pete Schoening. At the time, K2 hadn’t been climbed yet, but it was one of the trophies of mountaineering that everyone was gunning for.

Fate would have it that this team would not be the one to reach the summit, due to a number of circumstance, including Gilkey contracting blood clots in his lungs. The team turned back, giving up on their summit bid, realizing that discretion was the better part of valor.

On the descent, one of the men slipped and fell, and since they were all roped in, he pulled five others with him down the mountain. What happened next has become the stuff of legend. Shoening was anchored in above his teammates, and quickly performed a rope belay, arresting their fall by securing the rope to an ice axe, and preventing the five men, including Karen’s father, from plummeting to their deaths. That event became known as “The Belay” amongst mountaineers the World over.

Three years later, Karen was born. She wouldn’t have existed at all were it not for Pete Shoening’s quick thinking, and because of that, she says she has always been grateful to him. She wondered for the longest time if the other “Children of the Belay” (COBs) as the came to call themselves, felt the same way, and over the years the urge to meet the children of the other climbers grew.

Relationships began to be forged following meetings at a 2005 memorial service for Shoening, who passed away in 2004. Through e-mail and phone conversations and soon it became apparent that the others felt similarly, and soon a meeting was arranged with all of the COBs joining in. There were even “grand-COBs” in attendance, like one big extended family. And in the end, they all shared a common bond, forged by their fathers on K2.

The story is really a good one, and it’s a nice read. Especially considering that earlier this week we received word that Bob Bates had also passed. I’m sure that at this time, Bates’ family is finding some solace and comfort from the Children of the Belay.

If you want to know more about this 1953 expedition, I’d highly recommend K2: The Savage Mountain written by Bates and Houston, the two leaders of the climb.


6 thoughts on “Children of “The Belay””

  1. wonderful gathering, happy to see the families of the historical expedition. The memorial at k2 in Gilky’s name keeps the history repeating, every time we go there, we explain our guest trekkers about the story of the expedition, better now with more words and more information. I have copied the text on my pc and will take print of these next time to show our clients about this beautiful gahtering. I also have had the honor to lead the 24 members trekking group of Mr.Lino lacedelli of Italy(the first summitter of K2,1954) while on his trip to the basecamp at the occasion of Golden Jubille celebrations during the year 2004.

  2. Wow! That sounds amazing! And yes, you’re right, it must have been a very happy gathering with these families, many of whom wouldn’t have existed without “The Belay”.

    Your trekking experiences sound great. I would love to make the Trek to K2. I’m certainly going to take a look at your website. Thanks for passing it along.

  3. Hello Ibrahim,

    I am well thank you for asking. I haven’t gone to K2 basecamp just yet, but would still love to go. Some health issues have prevented me from traveling so far this year, nothing serious, but enough to keep me at home for now, but would still love to trek o K2 in the future.

    I hope all is well with you as well.

  4. I have been here in Florida for the last 9 month. I would like to see you if you visit Florida for any time. I live in daytona beach.

    best regards,

  5. Hello Ibrahim,

    Nice to hear from you again. I hope all is well? I don’t presently have any plans to visit Florida in the near future, but I appreciate the offer. I recently returned from the Amazon and I’m heading to Australia soon, so a busy travel schedule ahead.

    If you would ever like to contact me directly, my e-mail address is:

    Take care!

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