The Miracle Belay on K2 in 1958
Peter Schoening was an American mountaineer. He was one of two Americans to climb the Pakistani peak Gasherbrum I in 1958, and was one of the first to summit Mount Vinson in Antarctica in 1966.
In 1953, Schoening single-handedly averted the loss of the American K2 expedition when he used an ice axe to set and hold a rope saving five of the team who had slipped and were falling. On the climb was Charles Houston and seven other mountaineers. At 7,700 metres, they were turned back when a storm hit. One of the climbers, Art Gikey, was suffering from thrombophlebitis in his calf and he began to suffer from from pulmonary edema. The team made every effort they could to save him.
From Buried in the Sky, “Above them was Pete Schoening, a 26-year-old from Seattle. He leaped up and grabbed a rope attached to Gilkey, who – through a series of towlines, tanlges, and tie-offs – was also connected to the five tumbling climbers. Shoening wound the line around his shoulders and anchored the wooden shaft of his axe behind a rock. The line yanked Shoening, but he held the axe and simultaneously clenched the rope. Somehow, it didn’t snap, and Schoening checked the momentum of five falling men while also bearing the weight of Gilkey’s gurney. Mountaineers call this feat the Miracle Bealy.”
Gilky later disappeared from the mountain, likely from an avalanche. Houston believed otherwise, “He wiggled himself loose from the line,” to save the team from risking their lives getting him off the mountain. “No one sacrificed humanity for self preservation,” the expedition is considered a high point for alpinism.
The Belay is one of the most famous events in mountaineering history. Schoening’s ice axe is on display at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado. He was awarded the David A. Sowles Memorial Award by the American Alpine Club in 1981, “A mountaineer who has distinguished himself, with unselfish devotion at personal risk or sacrifice of a major objective, in going to the assistance of fellow climbers imperiled in the mountains.”
Source: Buried in the Sky, Adventure Journal, Wikipedia, The Savage Mountain