K2, by Ed Viesturs with David Roberts (Softcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
K2, in case you don't know, is one of the 14
mountains that is 8,000 meters or higher. Only Mount Everest is higher
than K2. But while Everest receives some monsoon warmth, K2 does not
(it's quite a bit north of Everest). This, among other things, makes K2
more challenging to climb than Mount Everest.
>In fact, K2 has a far higher ratio of dead climbers
to summitters than Everest does. The submarine K19 was called "The
Widowmaker." This mountain could easily go by the same name.
Mountaineering in general is a dangerous undertaking, and being able to
do it safely is no small feat.
You don't take a quickie intro course and then call
yourself a solid climber. You might crab crawl up a simple demo route at
a shopping center or party, but that's not climbing. Just becoming
competent with a dozen or so basic technical moves and techniques
requires many hours of practice over many climbs. Once you get these
basics down, you can work on being a real climber. Mountaineering,
especially on those 8,000ers, is a tough and dangerous climbing
Incidentally, Ed is one of only 16 people who have
climbed all 14 of the "8,000ers." He is one of the greatest mountaineers
of all time. Though he doesn't go into detail about his remarkable
feats, you can find those details in other accounts. The man is a
If you look at the number of books on K2, the list is
becoming crowded (kind of like Everest, these days). It seems nearly
every title contains the word "Savage," so we can sigh with relief that
this book doesn't use that word. This book makes a significant and
unique contribution to the literature.
What struck me most in reading this book is Ed's clear ability to see
reality. That ability has played a major role in his successful climbing
career. He's got a certain humility that the best athletes have, and he
never puts his ego above common sense.
My first climbing partner, Paul Hartman, has said something that is
good for any good athlete to incorporate into his or her worldview. Paul
says, "I know I'm good. I don't have to prove it to anybody." Paul
absolutely will not take risks to meet some egotistical objective or to
compete with another person. And neither will Ed. Insecurity is
Something else that stood out in this book is the way Ed and David
interwove the stories of seven expeditions on K2. Chinese film-makers
differ from American film-makers in this regard, though Quentin
Tarantino is an example of an American film-maker who has made extensive
use of the interweaving technique. This makes for a more engaging
experience, though some people prefer a straight chronological
The writing style was crisp and direct, rather than being bloated
with unnecessary verbiage. On the verbiage that was used, this is very
clearly a climber talking. Climbing routes are "attacked" and "solved,"
and eventually the mountain is "defeated." Words that are used in a
general sense take on specific meanings in the climbing world. I don't
know if this "climbing talk" would be an issue for most people or not.
So, what's between the covers of this book? It consists of seven
chapters and an epilogue.
Chapter One, The Motivator, gets its name from a huge ice pinnacle (a
serac) that was a feature noted by the 1938 expedition and others that
followed. In 2008, it collapsed with tragic results for those in its
way. Chapter Two, The Decision, introduces us to Ed's philosophy on when
to turn back rather than summit--and why. In this chapter, Ed looks at
how various people on other expeditions made that decision and what the
results were. Each of the other chapters takes a theme like this and
builds up to it, using accounts from 7 expeditions in the process.
The epilogue is Ed's summary of what's happened on K2 thus far and
some thoughts on what may come next. He also talks about the changes
he's made in his climbing career as he's moved out of the prime age for
extreme climbing adventures. In this chapter, his character and wisdom
come through. I think this is perhaps the best part of the book for me.
About the reviewer:
My own climbing experience consists of about a decade of mostly indoor
climbing gym work, bouldering and top-roping on a variety of routes. I'm
not considered a serious climber, because I don't spend a lot of time
doing it. But I have taken classes and am a competent climber who can
handle routes up to mid-level difficulty without "muscling" or "death
gripping" my way along the routes. The star climbers at my climbing gym
don't look down on us far less-talented climbers, but instead encourage
us. This is a bit of that "brotherhood of the rope" Ed talks about.
I'm a long way from Ed's level in climbing, but we are both serious
athletes. I cannot help but have serious respect for Ed as an athlete
and as a man. He has a balanced, mature, intelligent approach to his
sport and to life in general.