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K2

There are places on the Earth which are mythical.
Places that stand many kilometers above the littleness of the everyday life below.
When it comes down to images of such places, one friend is our safest bet for first class stuff.
Meet signore Panos Athanasiadis.

World class summits like Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Mont Blanc and El Capitan that are ticked in his checklist have served as great opportunities for endless talks. But a few months ago, he changed the game completely. We hugged in front of the reception of a scientific conference and after some quick catching up he pronounced a two-letter-word that erased everything that came before it:
“K2”, he said. I was overexcited and frightened in equal parts, but tried not to let the latter show... Even when he kindly asked me to accept the responsibility of the operational weather forecast during his attempt.

Terms like “the world’s toughest mountain to climb”, fatality rates that rival Annapurna for the most lethal summit (one out of four people attempting the summit never returns home), are possibly well known to most, even those who have just watched the movie “Vertical Limit” or “The Summit” documentary. The second highest mountain on Earth stands at 8611m, 237m below Everest but at the same time a world apart in terms of difficulty. The cherry on the cake was that the guys were planning to attempt the summit in alpine style: no high altitude porters, no fixed ropes, and most importantly, no bottled oxygen...

Time passed, the Greek team spent weeks of fierce weather and acclimatizing that involved going up and down the mountain to set up camps at various heights, I knew the forecast of the Karakoram region better than my hometown’s, then sometime in late July I got a text message:
“Summit push tomorrow”.

On the next day, Alexandros Aravidis became the first Greek climber to ever stand on the top of K2. Equally -if not more- impressive though, was the decision that Panos took and made everyone within the national mountaineering community tip their hats. He decided to abandon his summit attempt while being a mere 150 meters below the freaking summit, at 8460 meters. Struggling in an extreme exhaustion state, he estimated that the additional effort that was required for the summit could cost him his life during the descent. Reckon that each step without supplemental oxygen in this altitude requires more than 10 full inhale/exhale cycles before the next step comes along. And for a distance that would require ten minutes in sea level, an hour and a half is needed under these circumstances.

Sit back, spare a second and consider: How impossible must be for someone who has been mentally and physically preparing for this specific summit push forever as well as invested a considerable amount of time and money, to defeat the obsession of stepping on the summit and let logic prevail in order to live another day?

Every time we lay our eyes upon the beautiful tiny piece of rock on our office that originates from the expedition whereabouts, we can’t help but feel respect for both guys, but an additional credit goes to Panos for the ego-wrenching decision. There is a frightening equivalence between choices in mountaineering and real life and this stands as a brilliant justification of Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous words that
“it is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves”.

Here’s to the next summits, boy.-
© 2017 Hidden Cellar