Home > 6. Ars Poetica: creating & surviving poetry > A Summer’s Idyll: Of Fame & Achievement

A Summer’s Idyll: Of Fame & Achievement

As of the 29th of May just past, 59 years had gone by since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain (29,029 ft). The pair instantly became world famous, models of dogged determination and romantic adventure.

Less well known is that roughly a year after Hillary and Norgay’s achievement (on July 31, 1954), Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni summitted K2, the world’s second tallest mountain at 28,251 ft. If you have never heard of this pair (part of an Italian expedition), you may not be alone. Who ever remembers what happened on the mountain that isn’t quite the tallest?

Here’s why you might want to take K2 seriously: it, by common consent among mountaineers, is the hardest mountain in the world to climb. A single statistic suggests this: as of 2010, 3,142 people have reached the top of Everest, but only 302 people have summitted K2. A couple more facts: K2 has never been climbed in the winter, and only 1 person has successfully reached the top and returned alive via K2’s notorious South Face (this man’s climbing partner fell to his death during the descent).

What makes K2 so much more dangerous than other mountains? The short answer is the mountain’s steepness and its total height. The mountain is essentially a single pyramid rising nearly 10,000 ft above the surrounding alpine valleys. The mountain rises at a consistent, steep angle, offering few stretches that are easier for climbers.

It’s fashionable (and perhaps sane as well) to wonder at the people who risk life and limb to climb dangerous peaks. But, fundamentally, we’re all climbing our own mountains, no matter how safe the ascent may seem. And as writers, we certainly have chosen a more demanding slope than most to call home. A healthy respect for what we’re up to should come with the terrain. So should an appreciation of the lesser known perils and accomplishments of the craft.



Photo: K2, West Face, 1909. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


  1. June 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    I would have liked to read a little bit more about why writing (in your eyes) is like risking life and limb at mountain climbing, but overall a great piece….I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. June 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    IAZ: thanks for asking a good question. By way of a short answer, I’ll mention the connection between creativity generally and mood disorders and their attendant coping mechanisms, alcohol, drugs generally, and so forth. Really, the answer deserves a post of its own, which may appear shortly. Thx for stopping by! RT

  3. aubrey
    June 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    There is danger in creativity, I think – the danger of failure, of not being able to express the spark you can’t blow out no matter how you try. One is not risking physical danger of course, but not being able to put into words the thoughts that you have been carrying inside you feels as painful as lying frustrated and crumpled at the base of a mountainous slope.

    • June 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      aubrey: thanks for your thoughtful response. Your comment has made me think of J.R.R. Tolkein’s implicit criticism of creating: that the greater the work we make, the more we transfer of ourselves into the work, and the more tied we become to it. We want to make but must sacrifice to do so. RT

  1. June 19, 2012 at 2:09 am

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