Gerard McDonnell is one of the most well known Irish mountaineer, before he began his journey in climbing mountains he was an engineer. He is most well known for being the first Irish person to climb to the summit of the mountain K2, which is the second highest mountain in the world. He sadly lost his life in August of 2008 when there was an avalanche on his decent down K2, this is regarded as one of the worst days in climbing history. Gerard, or Ger as he was more commonly known, was born in a small town called Kilcornan in County Limerick in Ireland.
Gerard always having a love for mountaineering as a young boy followed his dream and moved to Anchorage in Alaska to develop his skills as a mountaineer. He was well known to the local climbing community in Anchorage. He was described as a great storyteller and would sometimes tell his stories in-between playing the Irish drum the bodhrán. He climbed mount Everest in 2003 and attempted K2 in 2006 but was unsuccessful having been knocked unconscious by a rock and having to be airlifted to the nearest hospital.
The former Irish president, Mary Mcaleese paid tribute to the climber after successfully climbing mount Everest in 2003 becoming one of the only Irish climbers to successfully climb the world’s highest point. Ger was said to have told friends that Everest was one of the easier climbs that he faced having faced more extreme, less known mountains in the Karakoram’s in Pakistan.
The events that led to the fateful day in k2 was many avalanche warnings, sub-zero temperatures and “in house” fighting between rival companies. They had set their summit bid for 31st of July and spirits were said to be high. Following an avalanche a huge serac, larger than a house fell and cut the fixed line on the famous “bottle neck” high up on K2. 2 members died during this particular avalanche and it was said that McDonnell would not descend the mountain as he was busy helping other climbers in need that were injured. It was said by Wilco Van Rooijen, a Dutch climber that was injured but survived the ordeal, that the expedition had been poorly planned and fixed ropes had been placed in the wrong sections of the mountain.
On the fateful day, McDonnell’s body was never recovered. A memorial service was held for him in his home town of Kilcornan on 17th August 2008. To this day many memorials dedicated to Ger can be found around his favourite mountain range in Ireland, where he learnt his trade, the Magilliguddy Reek’s in County Kerry.
A book was released a few years later as a lot of investigations were looked into of Ger’s death and what could have been done on that fateful day to save the climber’s that met their end. There are still questions to this day that have not been answered of to what went wrong, and what means they could have done to improve the situation.