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

Ed Viesturs latest book, K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, chronicles the history of expeditions to the world’s second highest peak.  Focusing on the most significant seasons in K2’s history, beginning in 1932 and culminating with the tragic 2008 season in which 11 climbers died on a single day, he vividly paints the physical, political, and psychological issues that shaped the history of this great mountain.  Along the way, he further elaborates on his own 1992 summit taking the opportunity to provide greater insight than that written in his previous book, “No Shortcuts to the Top”.

Pulling from his extensive study of prior expeditions in preparation for his own 1992 summit, he describes how intense nationalism, politics, ego, and overambition have influenced both success and tragedy on K2 just as much as the mountain itself and the weather.  Having been given access to private diaries from some notable K2 climbers allows Viesturs to give even further insight into the team dynamics which can so greatly determine success or failure during such a pressure-filled expedition.

As one of the few mountaineers to summit all 8000ers, it’s unavoidable that he make comparisons between K2 and other great mountains – especially to Everest.  Indeed, Viesturs spends a significant amount of time dispelling any similarities between the 2008 disaster on K2 and the 1996 disaster on Everest. He concludes with some interesting thoughts on the future of K2 in particular and mountaineering in general.  K2 is currently the domain of serious and seasoned mountaneers but as K2 begins to become a somewhat more “glamorous” summit, it’s likely that it will see the same commercialization as found each year on Everest.

At a time when the media and book stores are filled with yearly accounts from each season on Everest, “K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain” reminds us that drama, triumph, and tragedy can be found throughout the great mountain ranges of the world. If you’d like to expand your mountaineering insight beyond Everest, give Viesturs’ latest book a read – I think you’ll find in enlightening.


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