AN IRISHMAN arrives in northern Pakistan on the foothills of K2 – the world’s second highest mountain.
He meets an inquisitive and friendly local who asks him ‘where are you from?’
“I’m from Ireland,” the climber explains.
“Oh, do you know Ger McDonnell?” comes the immediate reply.
In the same region, a gruff army brigadier has a portrait of the heroic Kilcornan climber hanging pride of place in his home. Those who know this sullen officer speak of his general dislike for Westerners and cannot fathom how he would even allow a photograph of one within a ten-mile radius of his home.
In Greenland a mountain is now named McDonnell Peak in the County Limerick man’s honour. While in Alaska, a small plaque amid the breathtaking vista of King Mountain pays fitting tribute to this Irish adventurer.
Ger McDonnell was the first Irish person to reach the summit of K2 in August 2008.
He has certainly left a lasting impression on the lives of all those he crossed paths with across the globe.
And since his tragic death, during an avalanche on his descent from the world’s most treacherous mountain, his legacy has not only endured but also grown and spread to every corner of God’s green Earth.
Ger is not forgotten and his spirit is still very much alive today.
Closer to home, and those who knew him best and loved him most continue to keep his memory alive. In his native Kilcornan, a tight-knit and hugely supportive community, his presence is strongest of all.
Ger’s brother-in-law Damien O’Brien, author of ‘The Time Has Come: Ger McDonnell, his life and death on K2’, remembers him as a “pure character”.
Damien is one of the organisers of the Ger McDonnell Charity Cycle from Kilcornan to Doolin on July 29. Now in its ninth year, all funds raised will go the Butterfly Club in Rathkeale and Limerick Learning Hub.
“Ger was a free spirit. He was up for anything. He would always go that extra mile and if you told him he couldn’t do something he would want to know ‘why can’t I do it?’ His spirit was colossal,” Damien fondly recalls.
Next month’s charity cycle in Ger’s honour from Kilcornan to Doolin takes this curious route due to a spur-of-the-moment ramble the legendary climber once set off on.
“Ger took to his bicycle to travel to nearby Askeaton to post a letter but, on reaching his destination, decided that because it was such a fine day he’d keep on pedalling. When he finally decided to stop it was for a pint and toasted sandwich in Doolin, on the North Clare coast. After a short break, he got back on his bike and cycled home again.”
The Ger McDonnell Charity Cycle takes place on Saturday July 29. For more details visit on Facebook.
by Alan Jacques