No, I am not going all Rogers and Hammerstein on you- rather I wanted to mention a remarkable story of endurance and human endeavour.
I have a long time interest in climbing mountains- personally this has amounted to gasping up many a peak in the UK, but it also means a book shelf or two full of books about climbs in the Himalayas.
If I analyse what this interest is about, I have to acknowledge that climbing mountains is a pointless, self absorbed, selfish activity. It liberates no captives, heals none of the afflicted, brings no comfort to those in grief. Rather it can become the obsessional activity of the rather socially dysfunctional.
But any of us who have been on a high ridge as the dawn rose, or stood in the snow as hammerhead clouds gathered in the distance, or tested ourselves beyond any comfort zone on ascent through wild rock- for us there remains something noble and pure about mountains that can not be dismissed. The photograph above was taken on the Cuillin Ridge, Skye, on a day when cloud lapped my feet on one side of a knife edge, and clear air dropped two thousand feet on the other. The day lives on in my memory.
But back to the story. Two British men have just completed a climb up Mazeno Ridge, on Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. This climb has been widely regarded as the ‘last great problem of the Himalayas’, and countless previous expeditions have failed. Involving both technical climbing and massive endurance, the Mazeno route requires ascents on seven subsidiary summits above 6,000m before tackling the final summit of over 8000m. Remember that at these altitudes, gaining even an extra 300m in height takes superhuman strength. It is not called ‘the death zone’ for nothing.
The men who managed this incredible feat are Rick Allen and and Sandy Allan. Rick is 59 years old and Sandy is 57.
This from the Guardian;
Sandy Allan and his climbing partner Rick Allen were at their last camp below the summit of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth highest mountain, when they gathered together the food they had left.
After 14 days on the vast unclimbed Mazeno Ridge – the longest in the Himalayas – it amounted to a packet of McVitie’s Digestives biscuits.
A lighter they had taken with them had stopped working, its flint worn through. The only spare, they realised, was in the pocket of another member of the team who, exhausted and demoralised, had already decided to descend.
The consequence was that they could not light their stove to boil snow for water, essential on the world’s highest mountains where the consequence of dehydration is the risk of frostbite and pulmonary and cerebral oedema. They hoped, however, that they could reach the summit and descend the imposing Diamir Face in a day and a half; they were counting on fixed ropes left by other expeditions. In reality, it took them three full days to get down from the summit without any food or water, a lengthy struggle through deep snow at the limits of survival.
When asked if he intended to climb more high dangerous routes like this, Sandy said this; “I’m 57. I’m a father. The rat’s been fed.”
A rat it may be, but a what an animal.