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Rock Climbing Duo Share a Long and Winding Journey

By Brittany Valentine
On November 10, 2011

Husband and wife rock climbing duo Freddie Wilkinson and Janet Bergman live in a 12 foot by 12 foot shed in Madison, NH—and they could not be happier.

"Living there allows us to have a life of travel," says Bergman, and that is exactly what they do.

The couple's two passions, rock climbing and travel, combined in a recent trip to India which they shared with Lyndon State College students Tuesday during a multimedia presentation. 

Their journey led them to Saser Kangri II, the world's second highest unclimbed mountain, which stands 7,518 meters. The mountain range had previously been closed to foreign visitors because border conflicts between India and Pakistan had created a high-altitude battlefield.

This changed in the summer of 2011. Bergman and Wilkinson were part of a team of six Americans with Mark Richey, Steve Swenson, Kristen Kremer and Emilie Drinkwater exploring Karakoram's untouched glaciers and rocks. Richey had been trying to convince Wilkinson to join him in an expedition since the summer of 2009.

The six of them set off, flying half way around the world, to India. They began their journey as one team, but planned to split into two teams—a men's team and a women's team.

When first arriving at base camp, in mid-July, the six of them enjoyed the first night together and then the two teams parted their ways.

Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not appropriate for climbing and the temperatures were too high, so their plans ended up coming to a halt. The men's team and the women's team collaborated and had to become flexible.

They spent the next days climbing 4 other mountains which were primarily "warm-ups" for climbing Saser Kangri.

The women parted from the men and Wilkinson, Richey and Swenson set off to climb to Saser Kangri's summit. Before they even left the base camp, they knew it was going to be a rough climb.

Swenson had been having nasal problems for the past few weeks, but after resting for a week and getting medicine, he set aside his sickness and was determined to complete this climb, not only for himself, but also for his team.

On the third day of the climb, conditions were becoming more critical. Not only was the climb getting extremely tough, but Swenson's condition was worsening. All three of the men knew that how serious it was, but they avoided it. They new Swenson was a tough man and there dream was close to being reached.

Wilkinson said, "Keeping your breath and keeping one foot in front of the other was crucial for the rest of the climb." Finally, they reached the top and celebrated with there hands in the air, yelling.

Unfortunately, getting to the top is only half the battle. By the time the men made it back to their base camp on the glacier, they had been hit by rock falls and at this point Swenson was really struggling.

It had been five days and four nights, and Steve had reached his point. The men took a break and fell asleep at their camp that night. About two hours after falling asleep, Swenson woke Wilkinson and Richey up. He couldn't breathe when he lay down. The nasal congestion had moved to his lungs.

"It looked like any breath could be his last," Wilkinson said.  The men knew that they needed to stop and promptly called for help through satellite. About nineteen hours later, a helicopter arrived to rescue the men.

Though the trip was not one hundred percent successful for the men, they did make it to the top of Saser Kangri. Despite not being able to complete the descent, Wilkinson pointed out the lessons they learned will help them be successful in future adventures. They also got to see a beautiful and remarkable part of the world, something many people dream of. 

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