The debate inside the snow cave swirled as turbulently as the blizzard outside. Is mountaineering a sport, or is it, rather, some rare and masochistic mental disease, a madness of the heights that besets only the strongest and most romantic of men? Judging by the weather outside, one would have been tempted to plump for madness.
The American K2 team, whose aim is to climb the world's second-highest mountain this summer, was encamped halfway up Washington State's glacier-clad Mount Rainier for a spot of midwinter foul-weather training. The mountain had accommodated them. Winds up to 60 miles an hour ripped through the camp, whirling in from every point of the compass, lifting grown men from their feet and threatening to blow the tents away. The temperature out of the wind (if one could have found such a place) would have registered a tolerable 20° above zero, but with the wind-chill factor in play it was impossible to go gloveless for more than a minute without one's fingers turning into so many skin-flavored Popsicles. Moreover, three feet of snow was falling, though that verb seemed hardly precise. The whimsical gale blew it up, down and sideways all in the same endless breath.
The American K2 team loved every bit of it.
"A splendid day!" whooped Jim Whittaker as he slid in a cloud of powder snow down the tunnel of the cave. Whittaker, the team leader, is the first American to have climbed Mount Everest, having achieved that pinnacle of mountaineering success on May 1, 1963, with a sore throat and a headache. Now, nearly a dozen years later, at the age of 46 but seemingly strong as ever, he is looking to become the first American to master Everest's junior partner.
February 10, 1975
"This is just the kind of weather we're likely to face on K2," Whittaker said, batting the ice from his parka and stomping his triple-lined boots on the snow cave's floor. "Only with less oxygen in it."
A lot less. With a summit elevation of 28,250 feet, K2 is only 778 feet lower than Everest—mere inches on the scale of those Himalayan giants. Above the altitude of 18,000 feet, human tissue begins to deteriorate from lack of oxygen. "Body tissue doesn't replenish itself," Whittaker explains. "In fact, it dies." And the fragile brain tissues that control thought and judgment are the first affected. Thus Whittaker and the eight other members of the team face a full 10,000 feet of climbing on oxygen, and indeed, one of the aims of this shakedown climb on Rainier was to familiarize the team with a new oxygen system ordered for the expedition. Using tanks of extruded aluminum wrapped in fiber glass and demand-regulator valves similar to those employed by scuba divers, the system is a pound lighter than the steel-wrapped, steady-flow outfits carried by the 1963 Everest team and far more efficient. "Our tanks can hold oxygen at a pressure of 4,000 pounds per square inch as opposed to 3,300 for the earlier apparatus," Whittaker continues. "We can carry more oxygen in the same number of tanks. We'll have to tote the 200 tanks up to Camp III at 23,000 feet, but we'll have that much more oxygen than we had on Everest."
Even with this and other technological advances—stronger ice axes, warmer tents and clothing—the American K2 team still faces an opponent that many mountaineers consider far tougher than Everest. Significantly, of the world's 14 known "eight-thousanders," i.e., peaks of more than 8,000 meters elevation (26,247 feet), K2 is the only one without a native name. That is because it stands so far within the Karakoram region of the Greater Himalayan range, on the border between Pakistan and China, that no one ever got around to naming it. Not until the mid-1800s, that is, when a British survey team led by Colonel H. H. Godwin-Austen measured it and applied the geographical designation that sticks to this day.
"Even the local hill folk call it Ke Tu Chogori," Whittaker says. "Chogori translates as Great Mountain. I kind of like the simple, mathematical ring of it. K2. No nonsense, none of this Goddess Mother of the Land or Doomsday Peak bunkum."
Because of its remoteness, K2 has suffered only seven assaults on its summit over the past 73 years, compared to dozens mounted against more accessible peaks such as Everest, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. And K2 defeated all but one of those efforts, the Italian expedition of 1954, led by Ardito Desio. The Italians put two men on the top, but they lost the strongest member of the team to pneumonia on the way. All told, K2 has taken six lives on three separate expeditions.
The first attempt on the mountain was made in 1902 by Britain's Oscar Eckenstein, the man who invented such valuable mountaineering tools as crampons and the ice axe. He scouted K2 for routes but was driven off the Godwin-Austen Glacier before he could try for the summit. Eckenstein declared that there were only two possible ways to the top: the northeast or the southeast ridge.
His judgment was confirmed in 1909 by Luigi Amadeus de Savoia, the Duke of Abruzzi, who opted for the southeast ridge, which now bears his name. Every attempt since 1909 has been made by way of the Abruzzi route. Whittaker, though, will attempt the northwest face, despite the fact that the route has never even been scouted. "Modern climbing demands new approaches," he says laconically. "What would it signify if we merely repeated the Italians' feat?"
Though the Duke of Abruzzi only made it to 21,650 feet, the next challengers nearly achieved the top. In 1938 an American team, led by Dr. Charles S. Houston, got to 26,000 feet and might have reached the summit if it had not wasted much of the short (six-week) climbing season in reconnaissance. Then, in the following year, using Houston's scouting reports to good advantage, a team led by the German-American Fritz Wiessner came to within 750 feet of the summit before disaster struck. Wiessner was one of the best North American climbers of that era, but his team was weak and poorly coordinated. Because of a mixup, the upper camps were evacuated while Wiessner took a run at the summit. He had been gone so long that everyone assumed he had died, with the result that he and a Sherpa had to make their way down through empty camps, without food or gear for another attempt. Worse, another climber, Dudley Wolfe, was left waiting for help in Camp VII, near the peak. Ill and unable to descend, Wolfe died alone in the thin, cold air, as did three Sherpas on the way down.
In 1953 the redoubtable Dr. Houston returned for a second shot at the mountain, and made it to 25,500 feet before a 16-day blizzard put the quietus to the assault. One of the team members, Art Gilkey, developed thrombophlebitis, a hazard of high elevations, and Houston decided to get him down to a lower altitude before the blood clots in Gilkey's legs and lungs killed him. Then occurred one of the most memorable mountaineering feats in K2's history. While clearing a tent platform for the night, six climbers, roped together, slipped, and five of them fell over the edge. Only one, the now legendary Pete Schoening of Seattle, remained on his feet. He took a belay around a convenient serac, an ice projection, and held the swinging five for more than an hour while they worked their way up to safety. Tragically, after such a hard-won success, Art Gilkey was swept away by an avalanche.
The next year, 1954, witnessed the Italian success, but a 1960 expedition by a mixed German-American team was blown back by storms at 24,000 feet. Then the Bamboo Curtain fell over K2, not to be lifted for 15 years. With Communist China's Sinkiang Province just beyond the backslopes of K2, and with Pakistan an ally of the United States, the mountain had become sensitive territory in the East-West balance of power. Permission for this year's assault, granted to the Whittaker team last March, came only after arduous and delicate negotiations with Washington and Pakistan, and might not have come through at all except for the recent thaw in U.S.-China relations. "We're damned lucky to have gotten the chance," Whittaker says. "That's why we have to be extra careful with our preparations. Logistics are terribly important; after all, K2 is halfway around the world from Seattle, where most of us live, and that's why we've kept the size of the team down to nine—a small expedition, by Himalayan standards. Even so, we'll be taking 10 tons of gear to stock our seven camps. It'll take 500 porters to carry the stuff over the 125-mile advance march—15 days from the village of Skardu, at 7,000 feet, to the base camp on Savoia Glacier, at 18,000, then 40 days from there to the highest camp. Ultimately that 10 tons will boil down to 444 pounds to stock Camp VII at 27,500 feet—the oxygen and gear necessary to put the assault team on top and get them back down again."
The makeup of the assault team remains, so to speak, up in the air. Almost any of the team's nine members could be chosen for the final push. All are fit enough, dedicated enough, to do the job. And when it comes to cohesion, which is even more important on a Himalayan expedition than on a Super Bowl team, each member is properly self-abnegatory, yet without for a moment surrendering his individuality. A contradiction? Not when it comes to the severe tests of vertical survival that mountains place on their every intruder—wind, cold, snow, ice, gravity in its various forms, isolation, hunger, anxiety, thirst, itch, ache, weariness, silliness, blisters, cold sores and shortness of breath approximating that of the tomb. To say nothing of a distended bladder in the middle of the night, with the blizzard gnawing at the sleeping bag, and a groaning bowel at morning. Consider the wind and the weather. Contemplate the distance from this ridge to the next, from this warm cocoon of goose-down through that zippered tent flap to the giant snowbank outside the tent's vestibule. Evaluate the price in self-denial when you hear your tentmate ask if you could possibly fetch a bit of snow, for melting over the Bluet in aid of tea.
Few men alone can make it to the top of a high mountain, and even with the best of friends, he cannot make it by forgetting his humanity.
So consider the American K2 team.
James W. Whittaker, 46, of Seattle, general manager of Recreational Equipment, Inc., an outdoors store and co-op. First American to reach the summit of Mount Everest. One of the strongest climbers in the world, according to the renowned English mountaineer Eric Shipton. Stands 6'5", weighs 205 pounds. Soft-spoken, except in harsh weather or political discussions relating to Robert Kennedy, his good friend on the mountains and off. Slightly wistful, abstracted at lower altitudes. Decisive at any altitude above 5,000 feet. Approximately God above 25,000.
L. Dianne Roberts, 26, also of Seattle and Jim's second wife. A photojournalist from Calgary, Alberta. Medium-sized, strong, outspoken. Tries hard, and almost succeeds, at being "one of the boys." But she is still stuck mainly with administrative chores. Has yet to be seen at 18,000 feet, though she did well on Rainier (14,410 feet), so who knows?
Louis W. Whittaker, Jim's identical twin. A voluble, jolly, outgoing man with none of Jim's political hangups. Off the mountain, dresses gaudily in bell-bottoms and striped turtlenecks. All winks and guffaws. Eats like a horse. "Rainier Lou" communicates a tremendously reassuring sense of strength, good humor, loyalty, skill and humanity. Has made more than 120 ascents of Rainier by various routes, and runs Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., the Northwest's top guide outfit.
James Wickwire, 34, of Seattle. Short, dark, quiet. Jim is a lawyer and was one of the ignition wires for the K2 expedition. It was in 1972, during a climb up Mount McKinley's south face, that Wickwire and three others first dared to voice their hopes of climbing an "eight-thousander." Wickwire turned to his occasional climbing pal, Jim Whittaker, for aid: Whittaker, with his name and connections, could make the dream a reality. "It's formidable to look at," Wickwire says of K2. "Steep on every side. No easy routes and few campsites. It requires more than technical ability." Calm, strong, assertive when necessary, Jim Wickwire is not just a fine climber but a man of judgment as well. Hooked on the symphonies of Beethoven ("Particularly the odd-numbered ones").
Dr. Robert T. Schaller Jr., 39, of Seattle, an orthopedic surgeon and strong climber whose medical expertise alone is enough to make him welcome on K2's heights. Remarkably fit. A miler during his years at Yale, he ran a 4:01 back in 1958, and can still run 15 six-minute miles in an hour and a half. Serious, sardonic, helpful in both a Hippocratic and humanistic sense, he may well be the most effective medico-mountaineer since Dr. Houston.
Fred B. Dunham, 34, of Ellensburg, Wash., 5'8", 185 pounds of gristle, and steady. Fred is an assistant foreman at Washington's White Pass Ski Area, where he builds lifts and clears avalanches. A superb technologist on rock or ice, he also possesses a down-home sense of humor that neatly complements the team's literati. Prone to erupt now and then into mock wrestling matches or to clean and jerk the nearest heavy pack. "Extremely compatible," reads the scouting report.
Fred C. Stanley, 31, also of Ellensburg, 5'6", strong and blond. Also was a Rainier guide, not to mention a member of the elite American Alpine Club team that last summer reached the summit of Lenin Peak in the Russian Pamirs, while disaster roared all around them. (Eight Russian women climbers died during the all-too-well-publicized, storm-plagued International Climbers' Camp in the Pamirs.) Quiet and omni-presently helpful.
Leif-Norman Patterson, 39, of Bellingham, Wash, by way of Norway and Canada. Short and deceptively slim, with a shy and Puckish demeanor, Leif may well be the strongest climber of the lot, and is certainly among the most experienced. He was a professor of mathematics at the University of Tromso in Norway before he was lured away by the peaks of the Canadian Rockies. His gentle, smiling surface hides a core as tough as any mountain he has climbed: on a recent ski-touring trip with his 10-year-old son and their dog in the B.C. Rockies, the three were cut off by avalanches and had to work their way out the long way around. Running short of food and energy, Leif ordered the dog to stay, and came close to ordering his son to do the same, since he felt he himself was the only one strong enough to make it out. "That's the toughest decision a man could ever make," says Jim Whittaker with admiration. The boy went with him, though, and when Leif flew back in by helicopter, he found the dog alive but hungry just where he had left it.
Galen Rowell, 34, of Albany, Calif. The team's "token Californian." Mountaineering writer, photographer and rock climber par excellence, with more than 100 first ascents to his credit. At 5'8", his 170 pounds have the resilience of a hard-hit handball. Two weeks before the shakedown climb, he sprained an ankle running down one of his California mountains with a 40-pound pack; on Rainier he merely laced his boot a bit tighter and climbed without a grimace. Galen has an interesting insight into the technology of climbing. Examining a pack with its many pockets and straps and sticky zippers, he says, "Remember that quote in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry where he likens the simplicity of an airplane fuselage to the curve of a woman's breast? Where he says that the success of a design is when there's nothing left to take away? Well, I look at this pack, and there's plenty left to take away."
Climbing up from the Paradise Ranger Station on Rainier's southeast face, there was at least one member of the party, along to observe, who already wished that "plenty" had been taken away, including the contents of his 30-pound pack. His questions concerning the location of the shakedown camp were inevitably met with hearty reassurance: "Just a short hike, maybe 45 minutes, up thataway."
"Thataway" led into a building blizzard—tiny, hard bits of snow that stung the cheeks and blanked out anything more than 100 yards ahead. It also led uphill at a deceptively steep angle, thanks to the bad visibility that had the effect of a telephoto lens, foreshortening everything in the distance. To the neophyte, the route appeared to climb straight up, but of course it did not.
The snow, on this early January weekend, was already 10 feet deep where it had not drifted into piles perhaps 50 feet from crest to bedrock. Rainier holds the world record for annual snowfall: 1,150 inches—nearly 100 feet—during the winter of 1973-74. This afternoon, with the sky going a dirty, swirling gray-green in the west, it looked as if the mountain might be out to set another record.
"Just what we want," bellowed Jim Whittaker as he swung the heaviest pack onto his shoulders. "Now if only it would get about 30° colder!" Everyone whooped some more and scratched in affirmation.
Most of the team wore lightweight Sherpa snowshoes, with frames of aluminum tubing, which made for easier going in the deep, fluffy powder, but it was already 4 p.m. when the first climbers set out from the station—only half an hour to sunset—so with the added dimness of the snowstorm it was certain that camp would be pitched in the dark. When the team made its first shakedown, back in June, the weather had been cloudless and almost unbearably hot, and the snow, as Galen Rowell put it, like "thigh-deep mashed potatoes." They had climbed in their T shirts. But this was definitely windbreaker weather.
The neophyte, missing no bets, set out at the head of the pack, realizing that he would soon be overtaken by everyone. The first climber to pass him was Leif Patterson, or at least it looked like Leif. It was hard to tell. The man moved so fast, the snow swirled so thick. Whizzzzz!
There goes Fred Stanley; well, he thinks it is Fred Stanley.
"Look out for that old pulmonary edema, ho, ho!" Dr. Rob Schaller, no doubt.
A giant, silent mountain moved past next. The wry grin of Jim Wickwire flashed. No comment, just the grin. A true gentleman.
Galen Rowell zipped by on his 120-centimeter skis as if the neophyte were standing still. Which perhaps he" was, since he found himself stopping for a breather about every five minutes. "Bad form," yelled Galen, grinning. "Remember what Sartre said in Nausea...." The rest of the words were carried away on the blast. But the idea had hit home. Thanks a lot, Galen.
Aha, here comes Dianne! If the neophyte can't keep up with a 26-year-old girl, he'd better put in quick for a lung transplant.
"One foot after the other," she chirped sweetly as she blew past him. "Just keep 'em moving!" And she was gone.
It was, thought the neophyte, like driving a Model T in competition with Grand National stock cars. Looking behind, he saw a black dot emerge from the white-out, grow rapidly into a purple lump and then emerge up close as an orange-clad Fred Dunham. He smiled reassuringly, scraped the sleet from his wire-rimmed glasses and gave the neophyte a lesson in the "rest step," a climbing technique in which the weight is shifted momentarily from the muscles to the bone by locking the knees alternately, allowing a bit of a respite with every step. The two plodded along for the next couple of slopes, and for the first time the neophyte felt that perhaps he would live to reach the camp. Already it was nearly dark, and the storm was growing in intensity. "You're doing good," said Dunham. "There's lots that wouldn't have got this far in weather like this." Sure, thought the neophyte, recalling Dunham's interest in the old mountain men. Jed Smith could have climbed this far on his hands and knees, and faster.
Finally, bringing up the rear, came the brothers Whittaker. Both were on skis. Both carried enormous packs. You could hear them coming a quarter of a mile away, their voices larruping out through the wind and the thickening snow—Lou's hearty roar, Jim's piercing howl of ecstasy at the worsening weather.
"Hey," yells Jim as they close in. "You're lookin' good—I'd of thought you were one of the expedition!" By now the neophyte has his second wind (or maybe it was his second hundredth) and he keeps up with the Whittakers as they cross an icy slope scoured clean by the strengthening wind. "Almost there," says Lou. "You always want to be the last one into camp—that way the others will have the tents set up and the tea'll be boiling."
"Erk, erk, erk," says the neophyte.
Then Jim falls. The neophyte tries to lift his pack for him. The neophyte falls. Lou gets them both to their feet. It has all taken only a minute, but the neophyte suddenly feels chilled to the bone. The combination of sweat and delay. Christ, he thinks, this mountain could kill a guy....
And then the camp emerges from the whistling, gunmetal gloom—haloes of warm, yellow light, bulky figures struggling with ballooning tents, snow shovels flashing in the glare of head lamps as three men excavate the snow cave. The neophyte has no wind for a hoot, much less a holler. There follows a dinner of freeze-dried "cardboard Tetrazzini," oxtail soup, chocolate bars and boiling-hot tea, gravid with sugar. It all tastes delicious. The neophyte sips a cup of melted snow, likens it to vintage Mo√´t. His thigh muscles flutter in the warmth. Outside, the wind snaps and savages at the tent: Rainier's guard dog.
"That's the best thing about the mountains," Galen Rowell is saying. "The basics become the luxuries. You peel away all the dead skin and get down to bare nerves, and it is nice. A sip of cold water. Warmth. Shelter from the wind."
"And stopping," adds the neophyte. "No more walking."
"No," says Galen gravely, with a bit of bite to his voice. "Walking's automatic. Anyway, it gets to be automatic. Like when you learn to drive a car with a stick shift. At first you have to think every time you punch the clutch and move the lever. Clutch, this is first, clutch, this is second, clutch, this is third. Then it becomes automatic, you don't even think about it. Same way with walking."
There's an irony of the machine age for you, the neophyte thinks. A man using the metaphor of the automobile to explain the psychology of walking.
All through the night the storm raved around the tents, piling two feet of snow on the edges and nearly filling the entrance to the cave. It abated a bit just after dawn. Scatological jokes filled the camp as everyone answered, reluctantly, the calls of nature. That's something they never write about in those lyrical mountaineering sagas, the neophyte thought as he thawed his sewage pipes. Yet it's part of what Galen was talking about. What a relief to have done with it!
Breakfast in the snow cave. Hot oatmeal covered with honey. Crunchy fruitcake, courtesy of Leif Patterson. Scalding liquid Jell-O, in cups that would have blistered the hands at a lower altitude, and tea flavored with the peelings of an orange. All the smells and tastes were stronger up here; every swallow became a meal in itself.
Then off to work, or play, or whatever the mountaineers call it. Lou and two others set off on snowshoes across a wind-scoured, icy slope adjacent to a couloir overlooking the Nisqually Glacier. "Just to keep the muscles limber," said Rainier Lou. They were followed shortly by Dr. Rob and Leif, while the rest of the party set to work with shovels, clearing the mouth of the cave and the rapidly disappearing tents. By noon, Lou & Co. were back, still full of laughs.
"You should have seen it!" Lou chortled. "You should have seen their eyes! Rob and Leif were following us, trying to catch up. An avalanche cut loose up above us. Rob saw it coming and tried to warn Leif, but that old Norsky couldn't get out of the way. His eyes got as big as saucers. The damned thing buried him!"
"Oh, yeah, Rob dug him out all right. But you should have seen their eyes! Big as saucers!"
Leif and Rob shuffle in a short time later, crusted with snow and grinning as if nothing unusual has happened. And maybe it hadn't.
Later someone mentions that a man died in an avalanche at the same place just three winters ago. Undeterred by Leif's own premature burial shortly before, Rob and Leif made their way to the edge of the couloir nonetheless. "Hell of a view," says Rob. "You ought to take a look."
Later in the afternoon comes the familiarization course with the new oxygen system. Dr. Rob explains the gear lucidly, seriously. "This is your source of life above 18,000"—everyone gets a chance to run around in it. They must run, because the altitude of this camp is only 7,500 feet, and to test the full "demand" they must be breathing as hard as they would be above 18,000 feet. They run without snowshoes, knee-deep and sometimes hip-deep, in the grasping powder, up to a crest above the snow cave. On their backs the oxygen apparatus appears to weigh no more than a loaf of French bread.
The neophyte straps himself into the oxygen gear and attempts to gallop to the crest. It ends up more of a wallow. But the gear works very well indeed, with less suction demanded of the regulator than with scuba gear. If only there were no snow.
At the crest, he looks out over the Nisqually Glacier, worming its icy way down toward the river of the same name, then up the glacier to the mountain itself. "Mount Regnier, Christians have dubbed it," wrote Theodore Winthrop more than a century ago, "in stupid nomenclature perpetuating the name of somebody or nobody." The Indians had called it Tacoma, or Snow Mountain. And the early fur trappers named it simply Old He. Whatever the name, it was a fierce son-of-a-gun. Clouds of wind-whipped snow circled the peak, shading from white to gray to blue-black as the light altered along the circumference. A gust of the same wind caught the neophyte under the armpits and nearly blew him down. He scrambled, ungracefully, back to where the others stood.
Now then, he thought as they unstrapped him from the oxygen bottle, that mountain right there is only half the size of K2.
"Yeah," said Jim Whittaker that night in the tent, "oxygen is the source of life on the eight-thousanders. It's going to cost us $20,000 just for oxygen tanks and regulators to make this climb. The 1938 expedition to K2, Houston's first attempt, paid something like $564 for porters. We'll be paying about $50,000. We've budgeted the whole expedition for $200,000, of which $125,000 has to be cash raised by us or donated by mountain-minded supporters. Hell, we ain't proud. Anyone who kicks in even 10 bucks, which would be tax deductible, will get an autographed picture postcard showing K2 and the team, posted from base camp by runner. If we don't get the full amount, we'll go in the hole for it, pay it off later—we hope—with articles and books and maybe the film. But we need the oxygen. Without it, some of us are going to come down off K2 with parts of our brains gone. We don't like that idea, even though we may not be able to recognize it as such after the fact. I don't know, maybe it isn't a sport. Maybe it is a form of masochistic madness. But we have to do it. Otherwise...." He took another slug of tea and busied himself with the lamp.
As the party climbed back down to Paradise the next morning, the wind was stronger than ever. Even the undroppable Jim Wickwire fell once, bellowing "Fall!" in a lugubrious voice. Then, getting back to his feet, he howled with delight. Ah, the downs and ups of mountaineering! A hardy group of skiers was waiting near the Paradise rope tow as the American K2 team trudged in. They recognized the brothers Whittaker immediately and stood back deferentially as the team passed through. The neophyte, bringing up the rear as usual, felt embarrassed. People were actually nodding at him deferentially, too, as if he were a member of this elite team. Perhaps, crusted in snow as he was, his jowls obscured by clouds of steam, his lack of conditioning and expertise was invisible to them. Still, it was embarrassing.
Maybe this is why they do it, the neophyte thought. They certainly don't do it for the money, or for the glory. Maybe it's just to come back down again and be greeted by other folks, to inspire other folks to do it themselves.
The neophyte was put in mind of an old legend of Mount Rainier. There was once a miserly Indian elk hunter, back in the days before any man had climbed Tacoma. One day, out hunting, he was approached by Tamanous, the impish god of the Siwash, who told him that there was wampum on the top of the mountain. The very best wampum, of a sort called hiaqua. The miser set aside his weapons and with great effort fought his way to Tacoma's summit. There he found three stone monuments—one representing a salmon, one a kamas bulb and the third an elk, all three staple foods of the Indians. Digging under the elk monument, aided by 13 giant otters, he found, at the 13th stroke of the pick, a great cache of hiaqua. After stringing it he look off for home—without propitiating any of the three stone totems. Immediately a great storm arose, and the poor Indian was battered about.
Too late he tried to appease Tamanous by throwing away the wampum, string by string. Each time he relinquished one, the storm would abate, and he would hear the otters crying, "Ha, ha, hiaqua!" But only when he had thrown away the last of the precious shells did the storm stop entirely.
Working his way down to his camp, he heard a woman singing about her husband, lost years ago in a vain attempt to scale Tacoma. Coming nearer he saw a woman who resembled his wife "as an ancient smoked salmon is like a newly dead salmon." He had been gone a long, long time. Long gone, too, was his hunger for wealth. "Hiaqua and wealth seemed to have lost their charms for him," wrote Theodore Winthrop in translating the legend. "Tacoma, shining like gold and silver and precious stones of gayest luster, seemed a benign comrade and friend."
No, thought the neophyte, translating Rainier into K2, and considering the motives of his weekend companions, it is not a sport. Nor is it an act of romantic masochism. It's something simpler, after all, than either of them.