Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's the Climb

When the climber Alison Hargreaves died on the 28,000 feet mountain K2, in 1995, it made a big impression on me.

She was thirty-three and just a short while earlier had become the first woman to climb Everest, alone and without oxygen.

Then, three months later, she climbed K2 - which is, apparently, much more dangerous - and was blown off the mountain and died on the way down. Her body was never found.

The thing that got to me was that she had two small children, age six and four. In 1995, Olli was six at the time, too, so it really made me think.

There was a lot of fuss in the press at the time. Was Alison Hargreaves right to continue climbing mountains when she had two small children?

Her husband was totally supportive of her decision and I remember seeing a documentary in which he took the children to K2, where she had died.

Now their son, Tom, who is 21, is about to climb K2 himself. He is quoted in this article as saying:

"It's no different to if she had died in a car crash. I would still then travel around in a car. I think I need to climb mountains, it's inside".

Hmmm - - - part of me thinks - - well, he would think that, wouldn't he, because of course he's really loyal to his mother's memory. He couldn't even begin to think that what she did might have been wrong.

So - - is it okay for women with small children to take part in dangerous sports? Apparently if you climb one of the great peaks unsupported and without oxygen then the chances of dying are about one in four. Is that acceptable, if you're a mother with small children?

And is it worse if it's a mother than if it's a father? If it had been the children's father who had died in such circumstances, there would have been far fewer scandalised opinions in the media afterwards.

Of course, in 2010, it should - theoretically at least - be the same for both parents. If the father has the right to climb a dangerous mountain when he has two small children, then so should the mother.

But actually, when I look at that photo in this article of her with her two children, all I think is that, really, rights don't come into it, in any way. It's a question of love, and of responsibility.

If they were my children, I wouldn't want to do anything that might jeopardise my ability to look after them until they were grown up. I just couldn't bear the thought of it. I couldn't bear the idea of leaving them. I think of Olli, when he was six, and the very thought has me in tears.

I think that, once we become parents, we should do our utmost to stay alive and to look after our children as well as possible.

So it's fine for Alison Hargreaves' son Tom to climb the most dangerous mountains in the world as much as he likes, if that is what he wants to do. And he should do it now, whilst he's young and has no children.

But if he has children, I hope that he will stop.


Anonymous Ben said...

agreed!! well said!

8:59 pm  
Blogger Jennyta said...

It's a tricky one. Ideally, a mother should be equally entitled to do some thing like that as a father but, in reality, a mother is usually the nurturing parent, especially when the children are young and therefore it has a bigger impact on them if she's not there any more. If it were me, I think I would choose to wait until the children were older before doing something potentially life-threatening. It could be argued that it's not fair if it's more acceptable for a father than a mother but then, life isn't fair.

9:04 pm  
Anonymous Milo said...

Any parent involved in extreme high risk pursuits (and a 25% mortality rate fits that bracket) has lost any sense of priority in my book. Agreed that it would have been less scandalous had it been the father.

I too have become fascinated with mountains, since doing Snowdonia last February (don't laugh!). It wasn't Snowdonia itself, but the partner company we went with, the guy has been to the base camp at K2 (he's fascinated with mountaineering) and was telling me about it and I became fascinated myself. People have this addiction to mountains and to pushing themselves on them that defies common sense. There is something so terrifying but so compelling about challenging yourself to do it.

And flying back from Budapest today, we were at about 28,000 feet starting to descend, so high above the clouds and I actually did think to myself "some people climb this high".

9:19 pm  
Blogger Silverback said...

I know it's just me but the part of your post that got me thinking the most was "...and she was blown off the mountain and died on the way down."

I don't care who you are; that's just funny.

I know, I know. Back to therapy for me.

11:16 pm  
Anonymous Milo said...

This is an interesting read. Sir Edmund Hillary's son, Peter, was the last person to see her alive. Trusting his instincts, he turned back from the final summit ascent - and lived.

11:25 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

Would the world be a better place if children never their parents to take serious, breathtaking risks? I'm not sure. I wouldn't myself, and I wouldn't want to coparent with someone who did, but I don't think it's as clear as all that.

11:37 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

It's like Michael Buerk's "The Moral Maze". Usually my instincts quickly provide me with the "right" answer but in this instance I am torn. Being a mother in the modern world should not mean that your dreams are over and yet, and yet for a child to grow without a mother is a terrible trial.

12:02 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

Thank you all for your interesting comments and that Peter Hillary piece was fascinating, Milo. Silverback - - you always make me look again at what I've written! - yes it WAS funny.

7:28 am  
Anonymous Ruth said...

Oh dear, Silverback's comment made me look back at your post again and I couldn't help thinking what if she was 'blown off the mountain' but didn't die. Her body was never found so perhaps she just ran away so that she could live her life doing whatever she liked without the pressures of her real world. Ridiculous I know but it would confirm her as an irresponsible parent and I wonder how many mothers (and fathers) sometimes wish they could do just that. Perhaps a little bit of her was running away each time she climbed a mountain.

11:46 am  
Blogger Beryl Ament said...

I just wrote about K2 and noted that your post said about all there was to say. I suppose none of us who sit in an armchair and read about these exploits can imagine the adrenalin high. But the odds in this case ...

I hope it isn't unethical to highjack your post. It may introduce your blog to a different audience. Thanks, too, for the link; I wouldn't have known about her son.

7:56 pm  
Blogger Maggie May said...

I came here by way of Beryl Ament but I do remember seeing a documentary about this mother who died on K2.
I personally think that a mother shouldn't put her children last. It seems most unnatural.

Nuts in May

8:28 pm  
Anonymous Writeous Indignation said...

I'm with you on this one - and it made me smile because when the story came up on the news I got quite irate and started haranguing the TV.
Yes I do think it's selfish. I don't think parents should choose to do very risky things whilst their children still need their care. And I think that the principle holds true whether the risky thing is climbing a dangerous mountain or taking crack cocaine, although some might view climbing mountains as a more 'noble' risk...but we don't NEED to climb mountains. It's not for the greater good. So hey - no different than crack, then! LOL. Don't do either if you have kids. IMHO. ;-)

9:22 pm  

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