“K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain,” by Ed Viesturs (with David Roberts)
In Ed Viesturs’ second book, he goes from autobiographer to historian. And in tackling the tales from K2, the world’s second-highest peak, Viesturs brings forth a number of accounts from some of K2’s most famous—and infamous—ascents.
“K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain” is not what you typically see on the market today concerning high altitude mountaineering. For starters, it avoids the easiest literary target in mountaineering, Mount Everest, and instead focuses solely on a mountain considered by Viesturs as “the holy grail” of mountaineering.
What I found surprising is how little literature about K2 ascents exists. So to have a compilation of stories from the peak, dating back to the late 1930s, gives readers a good perspective on the history of K2 climbs as well as the pioneering days of Himalayan mountaineering.
Viesturs is not a color writer. So if you’re looking for the intense sensory descriptions of say, John Krakauer, you won’t find it here. But what you quickly find out about Viesturs is that he’s an astute student of mountaineering history. The book describes the hardships of K2’s earliest climbs as well as the advances made as the sport evolved. But it also gives you a strong feeling that no matter how much has changed in the climbing world, the peak is always the boss. The 2008 climbing disaster illustrates that point, showing how a once permanent-looking feature of the mountain (a huge, overhanging chunk of ice he called “the Motivator”) suddenly gave way, starting a chain of events that eventually contributed to many of the 11 deaths of climbers who perished within a 36-hour period on K2.
Viesturs is also not shy about bringing his own experiences into the mix, talking about his own 1992 ascent of the peak. He readily admits his mistakes and points out that he feels he may have gotten away with one, so to speak. Having a guy who has climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks also gives a high degree of credibility to Viesturs’ opinions.
Lastly, I like the way he dissects information from the climbs of which he writes, finding key elements to their successes and failures. Such lessons are important when it comes to endeavors in which life and death can be in the balance.
If you’re into climbing or adventure stories in general, pick this one up.
IF YOU LIKE “K2”…
Then check out Viesturs’ first book, “No Shortcuts to the Top.” It’s his autobiographical account of how he eventually became the first American to climb all of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. Similar writing style, but more personalized and chock full of lessons.