World News

K-2 disaster shows climbing too commercial

ROME (Reuters) - The alarming number of climbers killed this weekend in Pakistan is partly to blame on the growth of commercial mountaineering, where almost anyone can brave a top-class peak for a fee, climbing legend Reinhold Messner said.

At least nine climbers have perished on K-2 in Pakistan, the world’s second-highest peak, and the toll could rise further, expedition organizers said on Sunday.

Messner, who famously scaled Mount Everest without bottled oxygen in 1978, told Reuters that many of the climbers were too inexperienced to cope on Friday when a falling chunk of ice tore away lines from a steep gully above 8,200 meters (26,902 ft).

The confirmed dead included South Korean, Serbian, Norwegian, Dutch and French climbers.

“Many people buy these packages to K-2 and especially to Everest,” Messner, an Italian, said in a telephone interview.

“They are certainly strong people but they do not have enough experience to react... They don’t know how to behave in the case of emergencies -- in the case of missing ropes, in the case of bad weather.”

A steep pyramid of rock and ice at the head of a glacial valley, Messner once called K-2 “the mountain of mountains”. Along with Austrian Peter Habeler, he was the first climber to conquer Everest without supplementary oxygen in 1978.

He was also the first to scale the peaks of 14 mountains above 8,000 meters (26,245 feet), including K-2.

These days, he says climbers go up in groups of hundreds on prepared paths from the base to the summit, with the help of the guides and helpers carrying oxygen. Often, they’re lulled into a false sense of security.

“There are so many people all together that they have a feeling of safety but at the first problem, the whole thing goes wrong. And that’s what’s happening now on K-2,” Messner said.

“A mountain is a mountain -- not a coast on a sea, or a hotel room. And if a mountain is putting down ice or the weather is changing, these people are totally (unprepared).”

Messner once guided an expedition up the 7,485 meter (24,557 foot) Nawshakh (also spelled Noshaq) -- the highest peak in Afghanistan -- in 1972.

On the final leg of the ascent, Messner famously ordered some of his paying clients to stay behind as they were in no shape to climb any higher. They threatened to sue, saying they had paid substantial sums to reach the summit.

He does not believe in restrictions on climbers, saying it should be free to anyone. But commercial mountaineering ruins the adventure, Messner concluded.

“It’s boring. I would never do it ... and it’s too dangerous,” he said.