Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No Way Down: Life and Death on K2

No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 Review

I have been fascinated by mountain-climbing stories since seeing a Walt Disney two- or three-parter when I was probably 8 years old about, I think, three guys climbing the Matterhorn, and the tragedies and triumphs of that expedition. I can also remember thinking a variation of, "Those guys are nuts. No way would you catch me doing something like that."

It definitely takes a specific breed of person to undertake a climb of this magnitude (I can't even imagine trying a controlled, constructed wall climb) and all seem equally endowed with monumental egos, disregard of what other people would consider essential (family, jobs, safety), and a need to live on the edge - pardon the pun. "No Way Down", by Graham Bowley, addresses one horrific week on K2, second-tallest mountain in the world, and those who came to grief on that dark occasion.

I've never been able to come to terms with the almost-cavalier attitude about the possibility of disaster on these mountains - I reviewed another, more gripping account in HIGH CRIMES: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed by Michael Kodas, a few years ago - where it is practically assumed that not everybody in an expedition is going to make it, or at the very least, make it unscathed. Tales like the one of Beck Weathers, with his frostbitten nose falling off, are rife; people who die of a fall, or exposure, or an avalanche, are left on the mountain where they fall, due to the extreme difficulty involved in removing them. So the overwhelming question in my mind has always been, why? Why do people feel a compulsion to try to beat the very long odds, only to stand on top of a mountain for not very long? (It takes so long to reach the top, even in good weather, that it is necessary to move right along once you've gotten there, in order to make camp before nightfall, or there are horrible consequences.) It looks glorious, from the safety of a cushy armchair in front of a crackling fireplace; and, sure, I'd like to see the view from up there too - but there seems to be a point where the Almighty steps in and says, "This isn't really what I meant when I said, 'Go Forth'."

Editorializing aside, "no Way Down" is a very well-reearched and disopinionated book concerning the 2008 ascent of K2 by several different expeditions at once, and the tragedy that resulted (68 people were on the mountain, although some were support staff at the base camps; 11 people were killed, two badly injured). The sheer number of climbers created bottlenecks and delays that contributed greatly to the disaster; egos got in the way; there were several people on the mountain who probably lacked enough experience or stamina; and Mr Bowley presents a measured account of the main characters without pointing a finger at any one person.

A fast read, it will make you certain that you don't want to take up a challenge like this, while giving you a sincere appreciation of the sacrifices these climbers make in order to follow their dream.

No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 Feature

  • ISBN13: 9780061834783
  • Condition: New
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No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 Overview

In this riveting work of narrative nonfiction, journalist Graham Bowley re-creates one of the most dramatic tales of death and survival in mountaineering history, vividly taking readers through the tragic 2008 K2 ascent that claimed the lives of eleven climbers, severely injured two others, and made headlines around the world.

With its near-perfect pyramid shape, the 28,251-foot K2—the world's second-highest mountain, some 800 feet shorter than the legendary Everest hundreds of miles to the south—has lured serious climbers for decades. In 2008, near the end of a brief climbing season cut even shorter by bad weather, no fewer than ten international teams—some experienced, others less prepared—crowded the mountain's dangerous slopes with their Sherpas and porters, waiting to ascend.

Finally, on August 1, they were able to set off. But hindered by poor judgment, lack of equipment, and overcrowded conditions, the last group did not summit until nearly 8 p.m., hours later than planned. Then disaster struck when a huge ice chunk from above the Bottleneck, a deadly 300-foot avalanche-prone gulley just below the summit, came loose and destroyed the fixed guide ropes. More than a dozen climbers and porters still above the Bottleneck—many without oxygen and some with no headlamps—faced the near impossibility of descending in the blackness with no guideline and no protection. Over the course of the chaotic night, some would miraculously make it back. Others would not.

Based on in-depth interviews with surviving climbers and many Sherpas, porters, and family and friends of the deceased, No Way Down reveals for the first time the full dimensions of this harrowing drama.

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