No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley
I love mountaineering books – that sort of physical challenge is something I’ll never do myself, but to read about it fascinates me and lets me experience it vicariously.
Bowley’s account of the disastrous 2008 K2 climbing season is excellent at pulling the reader into the story and making you feel like you’re there. While some books of this sort can get a bit too technical for me, with details of climbing techniques or logistics that leave me bored, Bowley is great at making it all very understandable. This might be because he’s not a climber himself, and knows what novices don’t know. If you’re an experienced climber, his basic explanations might annoy you.
I appreciated how Bowley handles some of the more confusing events and conflicting accounts, and gives additional specifics in the epilogue.
If you’re looking for a book that closely follows one climber in particular and uses their story to frame the entire event, this isn’t that book, but I liked how he framed the overall story, and kept a broader perspective when recounting events.
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.
The most well-known mountaineering book is perhaps Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. If you are at all interested in this sort of tale, it’s a highly readable account of the tragic events of the 1996 Everest climbing season. For an alternative view of that deadly season, try The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm. Finally, it’s not set in the Himalayas, but for an absolutely incredible mountain survival story, try Touching the Void.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.
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