SOMEWHERE in Greenland there is a mountain now known as McDonnell Peak. Somewhere in Pakistan and Nepal, the children of four Sherpa climbers are getting an education and medical care. Somewhere in Alaska a small plaque attached to a rock on King Mountain tells a story, a story that is also told on the top of Carrauntohill.
Around the world, in places thousands of miles apart, among people from many and various countries and cultures, Ger McDonnell of Kilcornan left his mark and an enduring legacy. The man from the low-lying plains of Limerick who dreamed of mountains will not be forgotten.
Now, a new book which tells the story of Ger’s exuberant life and his tragic but heroic death on the slopes of K2, will also ensure that his memory will live on.
Entitled The Time Has Come: Ger McDonnell, his life and his death on K2, and written by his brother-in-law Damien O’Brien, the book was launched in Ger’s home-place last Friday at a reception attended by hundreds which included family members, relatives, friends and neighbours as well as friends from the world of mountaineering.
Chief among these were Pat Falvey, Claire O’Leary and Wilco Van Rooigen, the leader of the ill-fated Norit K2 expedition.
Adventurer Mick Barry, the first Irishman to walk to the South Pole, was also there to launch the book which is published by Collins Press.
Paying tribute to Ger’s generosity of spirit which comes through in the book, Mr Barry said that it was always important to record events before the passing of too much time distorts memory.
Incidents on high mountains, are like battles in war, Mr Barry said, where the first casualty was always the truth.
But a big part of the reason behind writing The Time has Come was to ensure that the truth would be told, the truth about Ger’s life and the remarkable man he was, and even more particularly to ensure that the truth of Ger’s death would be known.
In painstaking detail, we find out how the author Damien and other members of Ger’s family sought out the details of his last hours on K2, after he had succeeded in his dream of scaling K2 and in doing so, made history by becoming the first Irishman to scale the world’s second highest peak.
And the book sets out those detailed accounts and photographs to demonstrate that Ger died trying to help two Korean climbers and a Sherpa who were caught on ropes while descending. As a result, in January 2009, Explorers Web named Ger as their Best of 2008 Awards for Heroism and Bravery.
The book is not linear, tracing Ger’s life from beginning to end. Rather, the story of the tragic events on the savage mountain, as K2 is often called, runs parallel to the story of Ger’s life and achievements
Initially, this is a bit irksome but as chapter follows chapter, it builds up and makes sense.
It is, above all, a very revealing book. There, in testimony from others, we read story after story that tell of Ger’s generosity as a climber and his readiness to help those in distress. Pat Falvey’s account of how Ger and two sherpas saved him on Mt Everest in 2003 is one such story. How he and others helped five climbers to safety from Denali in Alaska and were awarded the Denali Pin is another.
Other stories, garnered after his death, reveal a Ger who made a huge impact on all who met him. These were the men and women who loved him and were proud to call him friend - and they came forward from almost every part of the globe, telling of his consideration, his humour, his great humanity.
Best of all, the book returns Ger’s voice to us, relying as it does on Ger’s own oral and written accounts of his adventures. “Writing this book was made a lot easier by the fact that Ger himself wrote some of it,” Damien O’Brien writes in his acknowledgements.
In the end, it is Ger’s voice that is the strongest - bringing us closer to the man he was, fun-loving, observant, good with people, unfailingly helpful, loyal, loving and without ego. His respect for the Sherpas, for their skill and their unique heritage, also comes through strongly. And they respected him - because of his sense of fair play, of equality and above all for his respect for the mountain. The photographs in the book add to our understanding of Ger’s life.
Read this book. It’s a book about an extraordinary man who deserves to be remembered. Ba laoch dáiríre é.