K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain

Renowned American mountaineer Ed Viesturs has just come out with a new book, called K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain. He has carefully studied all of the K2 books and expedition reports since the mountain first was attempted. Viesturs examines and shares his insights about each expedition from his perspective as a world-class mountaineer.

K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain

Until I watched the IMAX movie Everest, I had never heard of Ed Viesturs. But in the decade since that amazing film was released, Ed Viesturs has become the most famous American mountaineer, and now is recognized and respected worldwide for his climbing accomplishments. He is the first and remains the only American to have climbed all 14 8,000-meter peaks in the world (mountains above 26,200 feet). What is even more staggering, is that he climbed all of those peaks without supplemental oxygen!

Broadway Books gave me the opportunity to check out Ed’s new K2 book before it hit the bookstores today, and as I finished reading the book over the weekend, I can tell you that I was sitting at the edge of my sofa biting my nails anticipating the next avalanche, frostbitten appendages, and falls into deep crevasses.

Unlike the famous Mt. Everest, K2 is lesser known, and many outside of the mountaineering and trekking community have only heard of K2 because of the ski brand that uses the name. But even though K2 is not the world’s highest peak like Everest, it is a very close second at 28,251 feet, and it is far more difficult to climb and far more deadly.

In K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, Ed Viesturs weaves together the story of his own dangerous K2 climb in 1992 with the stories of the other noteworthy expeditions. I wouldn’t consider the book a pure adventure story, rather it is a mix of history and life lessons, that provides a look into the motivations and psychology of mountaineers.

Ed has been haunted by his K2 climb, knowing that when he got to the top, he was risking his life because he didn’t listen to his gut.

“The most important lesson I learned from K2 was that by simply putting off making a decision, I made the worst decision of my life: to climb on into a gathering storm.”

Thankfully Ed survived that climb in 1992, but his near death experience has shaped his incredible climbing career. His motto, which he learned from his K2 experience and as described in his other book No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks is: “Getting to the top is optional; Getting down is mandatory.” Ed opines on the mistakes and impressive feats achieved by climbers who headed to K2 decades before him, as well as groups who have been recently. He takes a thoughtful look at each expedition, including the tragic 2008 expedition when 11 mountaineers died on K2. Because of Ed’s years of experience as a mountaineer, he provides a unique and thoughtful perspective that debunks and clarifies what the popular press has written about the disaster.

“…that late start on summit day meant that the climbers had reduced what was already a small margin of safety by that much more.”

I very much enjoyed the reading the book, and found it interesting to learn the history of K2, hear vivid descriptions of the “sheer, towering presence of [K2] that overwhelms you”, and understand how a mountaineer like Ed carefully studies, evaluates, and learns from expeditions past and present, including his own. The life lessons he shares are powerful, and while the book did not fire up any aspirations for me to attempt a K2 summit bid, I certainly enjoyed seeing through Ed’s eyes an analytical re-count of a century of men and women striving to reach the peak of K2.

Will Ed climb K2 again? You’ll have to check out the book to hear his answer. Just be on the lookout for the Arthurian legend reference 🙂

And if you want to hear more about K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, who better to tell it than Ed Viesturs himself, in a quite apropos setting…

Hiking Lady’s Recommendation: 5 of 5 stars

Want to read other K2 books? Another one I really enjoyed is 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen.

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