K2: The Killing Peak
Credit: Courtesy Joel Shalowitz/Sharedsummits.com
IX: No Regrets

In his hotel room in the monsoon swelter of Islamabad, a week after he had stood on the summit of the world's deadliest peak, Wilco van Rooijen unwraps the bloody bandages from his feet. The toes are hideously swollen, shading from magenta to black like overripe plums, the skin bursting. He grimaces as he soaks them in a tub of warm water. Hopefully the experimental treatment Meyer gave him at Base Camp will save them, but he won't know for months. Cas, his friend and climbing partner for 20 years, dabs them gently with iodine before bandaging them again.

Soft-spoken and shy by nature, Cas chokes up when he talks about Gerard as he tries to reconstruct and understand what happened on the mountain. Cool and dispassionate, almost aloof, Wilco talks for hours, going over every moment of what he remembers from the climb, of what went wrong. Having finally conquered the peak of his dreams, he is not afraid of the rumor mill of the mountaineering world or of the opinions of pundits.

"I have nothing to hide," he says. "With this tragedy, if you're really surprised about this, then you don't understand anything about it. If you don't want to face the risk, don't go to K2."