A lot happened in Kathmandu last week, hence the silence on my website. However, one of the sad events was the death of Mick Parker, a fine Australian climber and friend of mine. Mick, together with British mountaineer Roland Hunter, had just come back from a successful trip to Makalu, which at 8,485 is the fifth highest mountain in the world. The pair actually summited the same day I stood on the top of Mount Everest, (21st May) and Roland remembers looking over to Everest and both feeling pretty lucky not to be on the crowded highest summit in the world.
Mick actually came to my welcome-back party at Sam’s bar – he was a regular customer there, like me – and it struck me once again how low-key he was about his achievements. I congratulated him on having scaled Makalu and he just shrugged it off.
A few days later he was found dead in his flat in Kathmandu. He succumbed to dissipated pulmonary oedema, a build-up of liquid in the lungs, which could have been related to his high altitude climb.
I met Mick for the first time in 2005, when he was attempting Mount Everest, where he reached an altitude of 7,700m before he had to abandon the climb due to high winds. Mick was a purist and quite a humanitarian on the mountain. He never used supplementary oxygen, never joined a big expedition and never used Sherpa support. To me he was a great climber, who kept a very low profile and had a lot of affection for Nepal, its people and its arts and craft. Unlike many other mountaineers, he stayed in Kathmandu after his expeditions, absorbed the culture and the people and the surrounding nature. Most climbers cannot wait to get out of Kathmandu once they get back from their expeditions. Mick showed a great interest in Nepal and its people, and very ‘un-mountaineer-like’ he even took up a Thanka painting course in Kathmandu.
Mick topped out on five 8,000m peaks, namely Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Makalu in Nepal and Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I in Pakistan. He had attempted several others, one of which was K2, the second highest mountain in the world. He was planning on going back to Pakistan to tackle this challenging mountain this summer.
Anyway, as I wrote an obituary about him I contacted several people who climbed with him and asked them for a comment on Mick. Here is what they said – I will let the words of his fellow climbers speak for themselves:
“I think the key thing about Mick is that he was the quintessential quiet Aussie achiever. That’s a big thing in the Australian psyche. Whilst you’re unknown you are ignored but as soon as you become a celebrity you also become a target. Mick didn’t pursue the limelight but just kept doing his thing and loving it. He reminded me of me, 10 years ago. He wasn’t necessarily all that successful for the number of expeditions that he went on but that didn’t deter him at all. He loved it and was very focused on climbing in good style. Small teams, no gas. And he was quite the humanitarian – I know that he delayed going high on a couple of trips to help other climbers as well as getting into the local culture with his Thanka painting and just hanging out there.”
Andrew Lock, Australian mountaineer
Apart from being a mate, one thing that I’ll always appreciate Mick for and remember him by his introduction of the ‘hills’ to me. It seems like an eternity ago that he talked me into attempting Ama Dablam, something I didn’t think I was ready for, he called me a fool, and said if I wasn’t ready now, I never would be! So I summited Ama Dablam and was hooked. We eventually climbed together on Manaslu in 2008.
One thing that really sticks to mind about this expedition was an incident between camp 1 and camp 2. On this particular day, we were all on the route heading up were there was no fixed rope and all of a sudden Mick disappeared up to his armpits, a crevasse had opened up. The ironical thing was, literally dozens and dozens of climbers had tramped over this same piece of ground time and time again over the last couple of weeks, and it was Mick who went through… and he was probably one of the lightest guys on the hill!
Anyway in the ensuing panic to get Mick back onto solid ground he yelled out to all involved for someone to grab his camera and snap off a photo! That photo was never taken. Mick was one hell of a level headed guy.
As others have mentioned, he was also a very strong climber and incredibly tough. All should look at Mick with great admiration and respect for his climbing prowess and also at his qualities as a very generous and humble human being. He was a giver, not a taker.
RIP Mick, I know your soul will remain in the Himalayas… and Kathmandu. When I next climb, it will be dedicated to you.
You were a good mate.”
Ben Grayling, a very close friend of Mick’s and overland tour operator
“Mick had real affection for the people of Nepal and Pakistan and always developed strong relationships with the support crew. For example after Broad Peak in 2004 he stayed on in Pakistan at our cooks Abba’s house. Mick was also known for spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity. On the walk into Makalu BC we met a Sherpani owning a lodge before Shipton La who recognised Mick from his previous expedition in 2004. On his way out Mick had given her US$150 as her child was
“He had a love of fishy food at altitude such as prawns, mussles and oysters! This could be pretty overpowering at times when sharing a tent although I would then open a strong curry!”
Roland Hunter, British mountaineer and expedition organiser
“Mick had tremendous heart and determination. Although you would know better than I, with his recent successes, Mick was likely one of the more successful Australian high-altitude climbers. This is truly incredible when you consider the means in which he climbed. Mick always was operating on a shoestring and lived largely on his passion for mountaineering and Nepal.”
“I will remember Mick as compassionate to the underprivileged and a person who loved to laugh, tell stories and listen to his music.”
“He was very proud and principled. I sure his spirit will remain in Kathmandu.”
Neil Bosch, who climbed on Manaslu with Mick in 2007
“Mick didn’t seem to want much from this life; just thin air and some friends to share it with. Neil is right…a unique and independent soul, not one to back off at the first sign of adversity but not careless either.”
“On Manaslu, Mick brought a guitar. He couldn’t play much but that didn’t stop him bringing it, and enjoying it while others played and sang along.”
Australia and the world has lost a fine mountaineer and a fine man; Mick will be missed.”
Keith Sanford, who climbed on Manaslu with Mick in 2007
“Mick loved snakes, and he was very gentle with them, but he could bore you to DEATH with his loooong stories about them :-)) He was also a massive music fan, he used love going through my iPod for something new. His favourite band was ‘The Church’, an Australian band that were very big in the 1980s. Mick could be an incredibly difficult person sometimes, and not everyone got on with him. But once you got to know him you saw how gentle and honest he was, how he would do anything for a friend and would not let you down.
Damien Gildea, a close friend of Mick’s
He was a unique and highly charged particle. He maintained a climbing agenda that would have been the envy of many sponsored climbers, but did this on his own and on a limited budget. As a relatively recent entry to the climbing community he has racked up an impressive list of successes on the 8000m peaks. Mick seemed to always be pushing the envelope with everything he did. He packed a lot of life into his shortened years.
Gary Pfisterer, who climbed on Kangchenjunga with Mick