The bodies of British climber Tom Ballard and his partner Daniele Nardi have been found on Nanga Parbat – “Killer Mountain” – in Pakistan, a fortnight after they went missing. That they had died was obvious days ago, but the search for the bodies went on, as it should. The bodies will be hard to recover, but recovered they will be. The poignancy about Ballard’s death is that his mother, Alison Hargeaves, also died in the great mountains, descending K2 in 1991.
There was controversy then about Hargeaves’ death, about whether, as a mother, she had the right to risk herself, and there will be controversy about Ballard, for risking being the second of his family to lose his life this way.
I am no climber, norwere my parents, exccept in a very limited, scrambling fashion. But I am the son of parents who looked to the high hills, who read avidly the books of mountaineers, and though I never read more than a fraction of their books, I know something of how climbers and mountaineers think.
And much as I regret the tragedy, and the misery of these two men’s families, they died doing what they lived for. All walking and climbing is, in greater or lesser part, a test of yourself. Can I do this? Am I strong enough, agile enough, athletic enough, to go where only a fraction of people even want to? Am I fit to stand in the high places, the steep places, the places that only will and effort can take you to?
Alison Hargeaves and Tom Ballard stand a million miles above me, but in my small and personal way I am still a part of their world, and I mourn and celebrate them, and I say, do not ever tell them they should not have done that. Not now, not in the future, not to anyone who goes out there. Never say never to them. Only ourselves can say that Never, and for ourselves alone.