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Interview: Pat Falvey on The Summit – It’s a story about eleven dreamers that died that day

In 2008, tragedy struck on K2 when 11 people died and the catastrophe set in motion an international media storm, with countless different stories emerging. The new movie and book, The Summit, attempts to set to the record straight, says Pat Falvey.

Pat Falvey Adventurer

Speaking to TheJournal.ie’s Christina Finn, Pat Falvey, one of Ireland’s most prolific adventurers, speaks about why it was so important he get the movie, The Summit made and talks about his good friend Ger McDonnell, who sadly died on K2 in a case that caused much controversy.

PAT FALVEY IS one of Ireland’s most well-known expedition leaders. He has more than 65 exciting adventures under his belt, which include the Seven Summits, including Everest, which he climbed twice.

Recently he has been involved in the award-winning movie, The Summit, a movie that tells the story of a group of climbers who took on K2 in 2008. After 48 hours of reaching the summit, eleven climbers had been killed, making it the worst K2 climbing disaster in history.

At the heart of the story is Irish climber Ger McDonnell, whose circumstances were shrouded in mystery, something Falvey says he wanted to address in both the movie, and with the book which he has co-written with Pemba Gyalje, a Sherpa that was on the expedition.

Falvey said Ger McDonnell was faced with a heart-wrenching predicament when he came across three climbers tangled up in ropes hanging from the mountain.

In his own words, Pat Falvey talks about the journey of writing the book, making the movie and setting the record straight:

Media coverage of the tragedy

A lot of things happened on that expedition, but what got me really mad was when the world’s press reported Ger’s death. We have a rule on the mountain that the family always get told first. Once on an expedition myself, it was reported that I had died and my family went through a harrowing experience for 12 days, not knowing what was true.

Once the reports were coming out about Ger and speculating what had happened, me and Pemba got seriously annoyed and vowed that we would tell the truth about what happened. The project was too big for me alone, so I wanted someone to take on the project who had nothing to do with mountaineering, someone who was not coming at it with any opinions of what they thought had happened… After five and half years of research for the book and filming the movie, we have The Summit, which is being released in Ireland today.

It is a human interest story, it is not just for mountaineers. It is a story about eleven dreamers that died. The movie has all the aspects of life itself – success, failure, leadership and tragedy. While it can be difficult to convey the psychology of a situation in 96 minutes, the book delves deeply into the thought process one goes through when they find themselves in a trauma of this kind.

Ger, my friend

Ger was someone I loved. He was someone that came to me in 2003 and said ‘I want to climb high altitude mountains’.

I sometimes wonder about me mentouring people into the death zone. I know I sometimes think had I not actually encouraged Ger and brought him with me on expeditions would he have stayed in the death zone. Writing this book has allowed me to exorcise some of my demons in this regard.

Ger was actually in the process of making his own movie when he was on K2, but sadly he became part of the story. I felt I had a duty of care to take up the gauntlet and finish what he had started.

Why do explorers do what they do?

When you watch this movie or read the book, people will ask – ‘are these guys maniacs, why do they carry on, why do they risk their lives?’.

Over the years, 14 of my friends have died. We do it because we are professionals, because we love life. You may call us crazy, but ever since evolution our species has been set on challenging ourselves on being the best that we can be. And that’s what drive us on.

In this case, the odds were not their favour. One in four people die in the death zone, it is very dangerous. The climbers broke the rules of the mountain, which was the plan. The book looks into the psychology of group mentality that can take over in a scenario like this.

Courage of our families

I now have an eight month old grandchild and what people need to realise when they watch this movie is that these people are someone’s son, or husband or daughter. That is what has been driven home to me, is how courageous families are to send us away, when they know there is a risk that we are not coming back.

One of the most poignant moments for me was when I had to try and convince Mrs. McDonnell, Ger’s mother, that he would not be coming back. When I looked at her, I only then got it, when I saw the anguish in her face about what families go through.

Ger was an amazing family man and like me, he was very close to his mother. That was the moment that really drove it home to me the pain that families can go through, not knowing the circumstances and never having their loved one returned to them.



(YouTube/Pat Falvey)

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The Summit: How Triumph Turned to Tragedy on K2′s Deadliest Days written by Pat Falvey and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa is out now.

Read: K2 film reveals Irish climber’s fatal decision to help endangered climbers>

Column: I had to squash the rumours about Ger’s death on K2>

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