In 2008, eleven mountaineers lost their lives at one of the most technically challenging mountains - K2. A plethora of journalists tried to communicate to the world what happened and why. The question of why eleven climbers died at times became distorted. In a world of root-cause thinking, some jumped to conclusions, without taking into consideration their effect on friends and families.
When we started out on this journey of revisiting the disaster at K2, we aimed, as much as possible, at recapturing events without judgement. In the true fashion of a learning case, we wanted the reader of this case study make up their own mind. Hence, we aimed to provide the unfolding events of 2008 straight from the “horse’s mouth”; from the perspective of those who were actually there. It may be unsurprising that we opted to describe a timeline, and to then add richness to the case through including the uncut words of those who came close to death.
We want to show particular gratitude to those who were so willing to talk to us, again, about those fateful days in August 2008. Wilco invited us to his house in beautiful Holland, and we were able to meet Cas and Jelle in Utrecht. We also had the pleasure of meeting Alberto and his wife in sunny Spain. Lars spent some extensive time with us; and Chris and Fred provided us with their own perspectives into the tragedy. We greatly enjoyed meeting Marco and Eric who both provided us with their additional insights. We are so appreciative of how much time everybody spent with us.
This project, like all projects, had limited resources. The development of the case material could not have happened without the financial support of the Thurnham Legacy Fund and Triple E.D. Research Project: http://tripleed.com/. We would like to thank Nick Ryan for providing fantastic images of K2. Not least must we pay gratitude to our web designers, Sam Rios and Andrew Green, who helped us with the vital step of turning a traditionally written-up case into a truly visual experience. Also of great help was Peter Whitby, who copy-edited the case study. The design of the website and case could not have happened without the patience and dedication of Lana Green, Victoria Kelly and Ivana Kutsch.
The truth is a subjective concept. We understand that we can never portray a complete truth of what happened at K2 and we do not even claim to have it. A lot of truth about life, and in particular about death, has remained with those that were not able to make it back. As a result, instead of ‘moulding’ all insights into a single story, we have aimed to provide a single timeline, yet seen from multiple perspectives. In this respect, we have had to make some assumptions about what is most probable, because perceptions deviated considerably. The most difficult assumption was one about Gerard’s encounter with the entangled climbers close to the mouth of the Traverse. Many accounts seem to conclude that Gerard freed the trapped climbers and then later tragically was hit by another icefall. Although we may want to believe this, it is most unlikely. Other accounts indicate that he turned around and wandered off. Because we have little confidence in one of the other accounts, we chose to rely on the assumption that Gerard tried his utmost to free the climbers but that, ultimately, he was unsuccessful in doing so. The case is left without a ‘striking’ description and explanation of Gerard’s rescue attempts but we believe that the case provides enough richness into other aspects of that fateful climb.
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