Joining TheCoin and The Angle in the pantheon of definite-article Ur-phenomena: The Belay, an amazing maneuver performed by Pete Schoening on the afternoon of 10 August 1953. As Jon Krakauer recounts in his book Into Thin Air :
... Pete was a gangly, slightly stooped man who had returned to the high reaches of the Himalaya after a long absence. In 1958 he'd made history as the driving force behind the first ascent of Hidden Peak, a 26,470-foot mountain in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan --- the highest first ascent ever achieved by American climbers. Pete was even more famous, however, for playing a heroic role in an unsuccessful expedition to K2 in 1953, the same year Hillary and Tenzing reached the peak of Everest.
The eight-man expedition was pinned down in a ferocious blizzard high on K2, waiting to make an assault on the summit, when a team member named Art Gilkey developed thrombophlebitis, a life-threatening altitude-induced blood clot. Realizing that they would have to get Gilkey down immediately to have any hope of saving him, Schoening and the others started lowering him down the mountain's steep Abruzzi Ridge as the storm raged. At 25,000 feet, a climber named George Bell slipped and pulled four others off with him. Reflexively wrapping the rope around his shoulders and ice ax, Schoening somehow managed to single-handedly hold on to Gilkey and simultaneously arrest the slide of the five falling climbers without being pulled off the mountain himeself. One of the more incredible feats in the annals of mountaineering, it was known forever after simply as The Belay.
In an article about The Belay, an unnamed reporter in The Olympian (10 Aug 2003) writes:
A half century ago Sunday, Pete Schoening was 24,500 feet up K2, the world's second-highest peak, when his six fellow climbers tumbled out of control down an icy slope.
Schoening stopped the fall, holding tight to a wooden ice ax jammed behind a rock and with a rope belayed around his hip.
That life-saving belay on Aug. 10, 1953, is a legendary moment among climbers.
"I'm surprised that it attracts interest, frankly," said the famously humble Schoening, now 76 and living in Kenmore on Lake Washington, 50 miles north of Tacoma.
That brings to mind Daniel Chamberlain's remarks re the foundations of real character: "... teamwork, achievement, modesty, good conduct ..." (see ImprovingMyMind, 22 Jun 2003). In a comment that further reveals his spirit, Pete Schoening adds:
"There is a certain part of society that sort of dwells on tragedy and emphasizes tragedy," he said. "And I think that's really too bad, because there's so much joy in the good things. And I think that was true on that trip as well."
Even though the other climbers were ultimately unable to save their injured colleague, who was swept away by an avalanche later that day, Schoening is precisely right: ... there's so much joy in the good things ...
Pete Schoening died at age 77, of bone cancer, on 22 September 2004 ... ^z