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Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season Hardcover – April 29, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The year 2006 recorded Mount Everest’s deadliest season on record since 1996 (the killer season that spawned Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air). To tell the story of the 2006 season, which made global headlines due to the troubling circumstances surrounding the death of a climber, journalist Heil, a climber himself, gives us extensive background (more than half the book is a prologue to the 2006 season, and while the backstory will be pertinent to aficionados, it may prove frustrating to those waiting for the real story). There is plenty of fascinating material here, especially the excellent profiles of the key players (including flamboyant Russell Brice, Everest’s most successful commercial operator, a larger-than-life figure who seems to belong on a movie screen), but as a chronicle of the mountain’s “most controversial season,” the book feels padded, as though the author felt he had only enough material for a long article. Recommend this one to mountaineering devotees only, but don’t expect it to attract the kind of general audience that found Krakauer. --David Pitt


“In this authoritative, colorful look at the grimmest Everest season in years, Dark Summit carries forward Outside magazine's formidable tradition of high alpine literature. Nick Heil is alive to Everest's majesty but fiercely skeptical of those hubristic souls who attempt to ‘conquer’ her. Through rock-solid reporting and vital prose, Heil leads us up into this rarefied world, step by hypoxic step.”—Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder

“Here is humanity itself, personified in exemplary fashion by Nick Heil, addressing the Everest culture's lack of compassion and coming up with the right answers. Dark Summit is an extraordinary tale, ribboned with wisdom and profound insight, delivered by a first-rate storyteller. I consider the book not a sequel to Krakauer's Into Thin Air, but an equal.”—Bob Shacochis, author of The Immaculate Invasion

"Dark Summit illuminates the nuanced personalities of Everest's modern commercial age accurately, with neither heroic romanticism nor guile. Nick Heil takes a critical yet objective look at Everest and the community of Everest climbers, and then leaves you to pass judgment. If you couldn't put down Into Thin Air, you must read Dark Summit to understand what it means to climb Everest today and why anyone might accept the risk.”—Peter Athans, seven-time Everest summiter and The North Face athlete


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083101
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As an admitted acrophobic who isn't fond of cold weather, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of climbing the highest mountain in the world. To me, it seems nothing short of insanity. So when I stumbled upon the Discovery Channel reality show about Russell Brice's 2006 expedition team and their attempt to summit Everest, I was completely enthralled (and horrified)... enough so that I began to seek out books on the subject. The first, and probably best, account of an Everest expedition that I read was Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air." This, however was a close second.

In both cases I found myself repeatedly asking "What is wrong with these people!? Are they insane?" Yeah, apparently. But mountain madness has taken a truly dark turn here, where we see the drive to push one's self to physical extremes tainted by mercenary expedition leaders, oversize egos, poor planning, the vicissitudes of nature, and amateurs who are paying their way to the top of the mountain rather than putting in the grueling years of training and preparation that used to be requisite on Everest.

My criticisms are few: first, there are some copy editing errors that are kind of inexcusable for a widely-published book from a major house ("Sharp" instead of "sherpa," "marshall" instead of "martial," some grammar issues, etc.) Second... well, it's hard for this book to match the energy and intensity of Krakauer's since Krakauer's was written by a man actually on an Everest expedition. Both Krakauer and Heil are strong writers, both are elite climbers, both have a unique viewpoint and something new and interesting to bring to the table, but the immediacy of a first-hand account resonated more deeply with me than Heil's expert yet uninvolved perspective. The two are great companion pieces to each other, and I recommend them both. I still can't imagine why anyone would possibly do this to themselves, yet the subject makes for a fascinating-- and harrowing-- read.
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Format: Hardcover
The story is captivating and well-told, but the text needs a serious round of copy-editing.

You may recall books like "Into Thin Air," which recounted the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest. From those accounts, we know the weather was a central factor in the horrific events that played out. In 2006, the body count was just as bad, but the weather was fine. With the weather not part of the death equation, why did so many people die on Mount Everest in 2006?

Dark Summit holds many clues, because it provides a detailed narrative of about the various tragedies of 2006 and what led up to them. Given what went on, it's surprising that the body count wasn't even higher.

In the ten years that followed the 1996 disaster, the two national governments (Nepal and China) that control access to Everest failed to institute such basic safety measures as limiting access to qualified personnel. In the industrial safety arena, a "qualified person" is one who meets certain minimum competence standards for the task at hand. This concept is conspicuously absent from the management of access to Everest.

Another basic safety measure would be the formation of permanent rescue teams, which would be present and on standby during the climbing season. Nobody has set up a fund for this, though the sheer number of people shelling out money to climb Everest would easily make that possible.

Nor do we find any formal contingency plans or evacuation plans. It seems that everyone involved is, every year, surprised that people show up. And they appear to be surprised further still that danger exists on Everest--gee, what a concept. Apparently, the increasing number of corpses littering the mountain doesn't translate into the idea that it's dangerous to be on the mountain.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dark Summit is a welcome addition to Everest literature. Heil writes in an even-handed tone, and attempts to give a balanced view of what happened in 2006. Heil examines the deaths of David Sharp, Thomas Weber, and the near-death experience of Lincoln Hall. Weber's death, I feel, remains most puzzling and bizarre. Russell Brice and Himex receive extensive coverage.

Dark Summit is well worth 8 hours of your time and $17.

Strengths: This is generally a well-designed book by Henry Holt. The book has a very readable type face, and sports several outstanding photos. Heil offers a more nuanced perspective on Russell Brice and Himex than offered by his detractors. Good bibliography.

Weakness: Heil's writing is readable indeed, but Heil does not come across as a naturally gifted writer (compare: Michael Kodas [High Crimes] is a much stronger and fluid writer). This book would have benefited from another round of editing.

p. 137
"Within the next hour, Sharp would have climbed the last dihedral, cresting a gently sloping corniced ridge, the summit straight ahead. If the crossing the last section of the ridgeline appeared difficult--and what didn't at such altitude?--even more difficult would be returning to the world below with the business unfinished. The summit wasn't the end of the journey, but it was its culmination--the cure for the things that had gnawed inside him for so long."

p. 182
"They harped on the old oxygen bugaboo--faulty equipment (7 Summits Club had swapped out about a third of its regulators during the trip), the unreliability of refilled canisters--but the thrust of the editorials was becoming less about technical issues and more about the ethic behind the action.
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