Shackleton’s trip to South Georgia Island from Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean. But he has competition – Bligh’s passage after the mutiny across 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean in an open boat, or Blackburn’s row across the Atlantic after losing his fingers and toes in a blizzard off the Grand banks…..humans have been going to sea in open boats for hundreds of thousands of years, before writing, before history, before legend…what about their journeys? Imagine – navigating an open boat, skin-covered perhaps, along a harsh coast, heavy ice on the upland, great animals, hungry, roaming and looking if they come ashore, forced to find food as they travel, despite danger, facing the cold, the weather, the unknown…..yet still they traveled….and found, and populated, the earth…
My father was in the ski troops during World War 2, and he knew a lot of the men who before the war and afterwards turned to expedition climbing of the big mountains in Asia. He knew Bob Bates, who was on several K2 expeditions in the early 1950s, so as a kid I knew a little about this passion people had. Later, when I was 14, I did some climbing myself, in the Tetons, and I climbed with the Exum Climbing School a few times and even made it to the top of the Grand Teton. Barry Corbett was one of the guides at that school, and so was Jake Britenbach. Both men went to Everest in 1962-1963 and Barry Corbett made it to the summit. Jake Britenbach was killed in the icefall. I did some further rock climbing and winter mountaineering in New Hampshire in graduate school, with a childhood friend Jim Boicourt who was himself killed in 1976 in an avalanche in Colorado.
Mountain climbing is dangerous, and the high mountains really dangerous.I never had the burning fire to climb huge mountains or volcanoes, but I know plenty who have that fire. I think a special place exists for those people who tackle a mountain like K2, and the link here is to a terrible series of events on K2 by one expedition. This is a long damn way from the Pacific Northwest and the Olympic Peninsula, but some of the greatest mountaineers ever came from here and are still alive. One such was my next door neighbor, who died at 94 a few weeks ago after a long life as a halibut fisherman and climber. He climbed Mt. Rainier 40 times, the last time when he was 80. As a kid he went to Camp Parsons as a boy scout in the Olympics, the late 1920s, early 1930s, and he learned all he knew there, in those mountains.