Tenzing Norgay was one of the best known sherpas of all-time, made famous for his climb of Everest with Edmund Hillary. In his autobiography he tells the story of climbing a different mountain with George Frey, an experienced climber. The story reminds us how important it is to have a climbing partner.
At first the going was easy enough, following a long snow slope into which we could kick good steps, and not so steep that we needed a rope between us. But after a while the angle grew a bit sharper, and the snow harder, and I stopped and put on my steel-spiked crampons, so as to have a steadier footing.“Aren’t you going to put yours on?” I called up to Frey, who was in the lead. “No, I don’t need them,” he answered. And we continued climbing. Once again there is the question of whether I should have done otherwise—such as arguing or urging more strongly. But Frey, as I have said, was an excellent climber. He had had much experience in the Alps, had certainly been in much more difficult places than where we were now, and seemed to be having no trouble.
We continued smoothly and easily—he first, myself second, Ang Dawa third—still unroped and with perhaps fifteen feet between us; and looking around, I judged that we were at 17,000 feet, with only another 2,000 to go to the top of Kang Peak.
Then Frey slipped. Just how or why, I could not tell. But one moment he was climbing steadily above me and in the next he was plunging down. At first it looked as if he were going to fall right on top of me and carry me along with him, but actually he was a little to one side, and as he came by I dug in and lunged and tried to hold him. It was hopeless, though; there was too much weight and momentum. His body struck my outstretched hand, there was a quick, sharp pain in one finger, and then he was past me—past Ang Dawa, below me—falling and tumbling down the mountainside until he came to rest on a flat place about a thousand feet below.
That’s how quickly life can change. Who is holding your rope?