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Spanish-Mexico K2 2002!

Update 7/12/2002: Our team had a diversion from climbing this week when we discovered the remains of American Dudley Wolfe who died here 63 years ago without a trace. Until now.

While the British were hot in the pursuit of conquering Everest during the first half of the 20th century, Americans focused on the world’s #2 mountain at 8611 meters (28,250 feet). Tucked high and deep into the Karakoram Range in northern Pakistan, K2 is known in the climbing world by the nickname, The Savage Mountain. It is a well-earned moniker. While over a thousand have stood on Mount Everest at the top of the world, less than 200 have climbed K2, and nearly 50 have died trying.

 

And Dudley Wolfe of Boston was the first.

 

An American playboy in the Gatsby mode, according to his nephew, Wolfe was apparently chosen for the 1939 American K2 expedition by leader Fritz Weissner on the strength of his bank account, rather than his climbing skills. Nonetheless, clumsy or not, Wolfe was reportedly dogged in his climbing, and reached nearly 8000 meters before high snows bogged him down and he returned to Camp VIII at 7800 meters to await Weissner. By the time Weissner returned, exhausted and unsuccessful in his summit bid, Wolfe had been in what we now refer to as the Death Zone, above 25,000 feet, for over a week. When he, Weissner and Sherpa Pasang Kikuli started their descent, Wolfe trod on the rope nearly killing them all. Weissner decided to leave him at Camp VII, saying he would send climbing Sherpas to bring him down. But by the time the Sherpas returned, Wolfe had now been above 7000 meters for nearly two weeks!, and emerged from his tent, ill and soiled, insisting he needed a day to collect himself before descending.

 

He and the Sherpas were never seen again. Until this week.

 

Jeff Rhoads and I, who are on K2 this summer producing our documentary “The Women of K2,” were walking on a remote stretch of the Godwin-Austin glacier at the base of K2, when we discovered what looked to be human bones. As we searched the area, we found it flooded with clues.

 

First, near the bones, we found pieces of an old canvas tent. Obviously our man (and it had to be a man since the only women to die on K2 who are still unaccounted for are British climbers Julie Tullis in 1986 and Alison Hargreaves in 1995, too recent for the age of these bones and tent) died in or near his tent, and long before the days of nylon and rip stop. Then we found a cook pot and lid engraved with a “Made in India” logo, indicating his expedition was before partition in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan.

 

When we returned the next day, after the sun had melted off the latest snow, we found the definitive links; large, double layer pants with a label from an old clothier in Cambridge, Massachusetts (our man was obviously an American), a canvas and leather leg gaitor (he and his clothes were pre-Goretex), and then, casually leaning against a rock as if waiting to be found, Jeff found a canvas and leather mitten with WOLFE written in clear block letters near the cuff.

 

When contacted from base camp, members of the Wolfe family expressed bewildered relief that Dudley had finally been found, and are presently making arrangements to travel to K2 to conduct a formal service at the base of the mountain.

 

Sixty-three years of glacial churning, and the mystery of Dudley Wolfe is finally over. All indications are that he died alone, in his tent, and that the brave Sherpas who tried one of the most daring mountain rescues in Himalayan history were nonetheless unsuccessful in their heroic attempts. While the remains of Sherpa Pasang Kikuli were found in 1993, the other two have not been found. Yet.

 

Stay tuned. Jennifer Jordan

Dispatches