First Belgian to reach top of K2 done with climbing – for now
A Flemish mountain climber who made headlines last month for being the first Belgian to reach the summit of the world’s second-highest mountain, is laying low for the foreseeable future
‘We saw a flash passing by’
Limburg-born Paul Hegge made headlines last month when he became the first Belgian to reach the top of the K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen. The mountain, on the border between China and Pakistan is 8,611 high, just 237 metres less than Mount Everest.
Hegge, 51, has reached the top of both Gasherbrum II, or K4, and Mount Everest but found K2 a more challenging experience, both mentally and physically, he told the paper. Since the Everest climb in 2016, he has spent an enormous amount of time working on his condition in order to climb K2. It took him seven weeks of climbing and descending to reach the summit, where he was able to spend 20 minutes before heading back down.
It was a 20 minutes he “hardly enjoyed,” he said, having seen two fellow climbers fall and die during the trek. “You cannot underestimate the human and psychological aspect of this kind of journey.”
Exhaustion, cold and fear
Hegge has also reached the summit of Gasherbrum II, or K4. With that mountain and with Everest “I was able to enjoy the sunrise, which is magical. You become one with nature, with the rhythm of your steps … I would go as far as to call it mystical.”
But this time, “I felt none of that,” he said. “There was exhaustion, freezing cold, a lack of oxygen, but especially excruciating fear.”
Of the 280 climbers to attempt K2 this year, 77 have died. On Hegge’s expedition, the first person to fall was a Canadian climber. “When it happens, it’s difficult to comprehend. We saw a flash passing by, that’s how fast it goes when you fall. Only later did we find out that it was Serge. His friend, who was climbing 10 metres above him, didn’t even know that he had fallen.”
I had to continue climbing in the track that his body had made going down. That’s when you ask yourself what the hell you are doing
Once the body had been recovered “I had to continue climbing in the track that his body had made going down. That’s when you ask yourself what the hell you are doing.”
He continued with the knowledge that if he had fallen, he would have wanted his fellow climbers to keep going. “Serge would have wanted us to make it to the top.”
He’s putting down his climbing gear for the foreseeable future, he says, though he has no regrets. “As the first Belgian to reach the top of K2, I’m mostly proud that I made it,” he said. “And in the end, K2 pushed me to my ultimate limits.”
Photo: Hegge on his way to the top of K2