(Tom Sjogren) Mountaineering literature is not top of my reading list, so I wasn’t overly enthusiastic when I started out on yet another book about the 2008 K2 accidents - when 11 people lost their lives on the mountain.
Deeply involved in the backend rescue with personal friends among the victims (and helping to establish facts later on) I didn’t expect to get much out of the read.
I was pleasantly surprised. Buried in the Sky turned out a page turner right up there with great mountaineering classics such as “The White Spider”.
In depth research
Amanda's day job as a deputy district attorney shows in the structure of the facts. Her Himalaya climbing experience shows in her understanding for the unique effects of high altitude.
There are three fundamentals to any success: hard work, passion and commitment to truth.
Amanda and Peter researched the events for 2 years. They met probably every single climber that survived those days in early August and many relatives of those who didn’t.
Beyond entertainment: A book that is helpful
In the wake of climbing accidents two things are almost as destructive as is the loss of lives: hiding the truth and/or speculating. Both aspects make it hard for climbers to learn from history and for families to get closure.
At 68% the K2 Abruzzi route is steeper than Everest South Col route (49%) but not steeper than the 1000 meter Lhotse wall on Everest and far from as steep as Everest North Wall (81%) or K2 North Pillar (85%).
So how come that K2 has been so deadly compared to Everest in modern days? Clear cut reporting and layout of the facts make obvious that something was wrong in how K2 was approached in 2008.
Buried in the Sky follows in detail the lives of the Nepali and Pakistan climbers who played a central role in the climb and rescues. Their unsentimental approach is refreshing and important for a true picture of the tragedy as well as modern high altitude climbing culture.
Finding truth requires guts and hard work. Amanda and Peter put in more than most modern mountaineering authors. The result is a book not only interesting to the general public but actually helpful to future K2 climbers in the planning of climbing strategy.
Buried in the Sky should be mandatory reading for any high altitude mountaineer (skilled or novice) and it inaugurates armchair warriors to the enigma of the "Mountaineer's Mountain".
August 1, 2013, will mark five years since 8 people died on K2 and at least 4 books have been written about the incident. "Buried in the Sky" by Amanda Padoan and Peter Zuckerman is the latest and well worth the wait.
Buried in the Sky (W.W. Norton) started for Padoan years earlier when her brother William, her climbing teacher and climbing partner, died just before his 24th birthday. The two had been planning a trip to the Himalaya.
She recalled, "His death completely unhinged me. I shaved my head, left my mother a note on the kitchen table and went to climb in Tibet. I had no idea when I would come back. In the summer of 2004, I made my way to Pakistan where I attempted a 26,400-foot peak called Broad Peak, the mountain that faces K2. I didn't connect to the American and European climbers who shared my permit. They were there for a summit; I was there for an answer, maybe. I spent most of my free time with the Pakistani high-altitude porters. I appreciated their spirituality and enjoyed watching them perform salaat (prayer)."
One of those high-altitude porters was a man named Karim Meherban. "Karim reminded me of my brother because he was always looking out for me. After the climb, he returned to Shimshal, a village in the Karakorum, and I returned to Los Angeles to resume normal life as an attorney."
Four years later, Karim died on that tragic day on K2. As Padoan watched news reports from her home in Los Angeles, she felt that great loss again. "Perhaps it was like losing William a second time."
It was Karim's anonymity in all the news coverage that frustrated Padoan and made her want to pursue his story for the world to hear. However, Padoan was also nursing a newborn at this time. So she called in reinforcement, her cousin, journalist Peter Zuckerman.
But Zuckerman had never climbed a mountain: "You can learn only so much by reading and watching people climb. I needed to do it. I had two of the main characters--Chhiring and Pasang--give me climbing lessons, using the same gear they used on K2. I hardly became the world expert on mountaineering, but the experience was invaluable. It also helped that my co-author is a mountaineer and that I spent several months trekking around Nepal and living with the Sherpas and high-altitude workers. This background shaped the kinds of questions I asked, the descriptions I wrote, and the angles I took, making the book more precise and compelling."
"Buried in the Sky" was named the winner of the Banff Mountain 2012 Mountaineering History Award.
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