20 January 1971|
Kilcornan, County Limerick, Ireland
2 August 2008 (aged 37)|
K2, Karakoram range, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Gerard McDonnell (20 January 1971 – 2 August 2008), mountaineer and engineer, was the first Irishman to reach the summit of K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth, in August 2008. He lost his life along with 10 other mountaineers following an avalanche on the descent, in the deadliest accident in the history of K2 mountaineering.
McDonnell was born in Kilcornan, County Limerick. A decade before his K2 success, he had moved to Anchorage, Alaska. He hoped not only to work there but also to develop his skills as a mountaineer. McDonnell was well known in Anchorage's Irish community. Among his interests was playing the bodhrán in a band. He was described as a "philosopher" and a "great storyteller". McDonnell summited Mount Everest with Mick Murphy in 2003. He was unsuccessful during an earlier attempt on K2 in 2006 when he was hit by a rock and airlifted to hospital. Irish President, Mary McAleese was among the dignitaries to pay tribute to him following his successful Everest climb in 2003 and in 2008 following his death.
McDonnell's group had been on a mammoth expedition for eight weeks, surviving in sub-zero temperatures. In an online despatch, he said that after the team set 31 July as their date for the summit bid, spirits were high. "Let luck and good fortune prevail, fingers crossed," he wrote. However, following the avalanche, a serac fell, cutting all the fixed lines on his and his fellow members of the Dutch-led Norit K2 Expedition's path.
It was said by the surviving members of McDonnell's team that he refused to descend because he was helping the others that were injured. Expedition leader Wilco van Rooijen, a 40-year-old Dutch climber who was airlifted to a military hospital in Pakistan after surviving the accident, said that poor preparations had contributed to the disaster. He suggested that advance climbers laid ropes in the wrong places on the mountain, hampering the climb of several teams of mountaineers and ultimately contributing to deaths of three of the climbers on his team. "Everything was going well to camp four, and on summit attempt, everything went wrong," said van Rooijen from his hospital bed in the Northern Pakistani town of Skardu. "The biggest mistake we made was that we tried to make agreements. Everybody had his own responsibility and then some people did not do what they promised. With such stupid things, lives are endangered." He singled out another team for only bringing half the length of rope they were supposed to. Ger McDonnell's satellite phone was given to Pemba on the summit and he brought it along with McDonnell's camera back to base camp. Mr McDonnell's partner, brother JJ and sister Denise flew to Islamabad in search of answers. Whilst McDonnell's body was not recovered, a memorial service was held in Kilcornan on 17 August 2008.
McDonnell's mother, brother, partner, van Rooijen and Pat Falvey later appeared on The Late Late Show on 3 October 2008. In 2009, a memorial fund was set up in his honour to provide first-aid training and safe climbing technique for high-altitude porters.
In 2012, Damien O'Brien (married to McDonnell's sister Denise), wrote a book about McDonnell, "The Time Has Come: Ger McDonnell – His Life & Death on K2", published by The Collins Press. The book was launched in McDonnell's hometown of Kilcornan, County Limerick, on Friday 30 March with most of the town in attendance. Mike Barry, the first Irish person to walk to the South Pole, officially launched the book while others in attendance included Clare O'Leary, Wilco van Rooijen, Cas van de Gevel and Maarten van Eck.
- "K2 climber missing after ice fall". BBC. 2 August 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- everestnews.com. "K2 2008: List of climbers who passed away released". everestnews.com.
- "Eleven climbers feared dead on K2". BBC News. 3 August 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2008.
- The most deadly climbing season on K2 was in 1986, when thirteen climbers died in seven separate accidents. See Curran, Jim (1995). K2: The Story of the Savage Mountain. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 183–207. ISBN 978-0-340-66007-2.
- "Limerick man presumed dead in Himalayas". RTÉ. 3 August 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Lost on K2: Irish climber had made his home in Alaska". The Irish Echo. 6 August 2008. Archived from the original on 2 September 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Family seek explanation for what went wrong". Irish Independent. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Family mourns loss of K2 climber". Irish Independent. 4 August 2008. Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Mistakes on mountain led to tragic deaths". Irish Independent. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Irish K2 mountaineer feared dead". BBC. 3 August 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Last survivor hears of tragedy after arrival at K2 base camp". Irish Independent. 6 August 2008. Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "Memorial fund honours heroic climber". Irish Independent. 6 June 2009. Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2009.
- "Ger died doing what he loved: touching the void" — Mountaineer Pat Falvey writes comments in the Irish Independent, 4 August 2008
- "Dreamers who risk death to feel most alive" — Derek Fanning writes for the Irish Independent, 10 August 2008
- "The Time Has Come: Ger McDonnell ‑ His Life And His Death On K2" by Damien O'Brien, Gerard's brother-in-law. Published by Collins Press (2012).
- "Surviving K2" by Wilco van Rooijen (one of the survivors). Publisher: National Geographic.
- The Summit: How Triumph Turned To Tragedy on K2's Deadliest Days by Pat Falvey and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa (a member of the Norit team). Published by The O'Brien Press and Beyond Endurance Publishing (2013). ISBN 9781847176431  
- "Norit K2 Expedition 2008" — Alternative K2 2008 expedition website in English, includes Ger's expedition blog
- Ger McDonnell in 'Sports People' file at Limerick City Library, Ireland
- Gerard McDonnell Memorial Fund