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K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 147 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Exclusive: Christopher Reich Reviews K2: Life and Death on the Worlds Most Dangerous Mountain

Christopher Reigh is the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Vengeance, Numbered Account, and The Patriots Club, which won the International Thiller Writers award for best novel in 2006.

Christopher Reich (photo: Katja Reich)Is there anything more enthralling than a true tale of high adventure well told? Stories about men and women braving impossible odds under daunting conditions in far flung locales, often risking life and limb, keep me glued to the page every time. I’m talking about books like Papillion, Alive, Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm. Well, today, I’m happy to add another book to that list. K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs with David Roberts.

K2 is the world’s second tallest mountain. Located in the Karakoram Range in northern Pakistan, it has more than earned its nickname as the "world’s most dangerous mountain." Just a year ago, thirteen climbers lost their lives on the mountain in a single day. A few mountains may have killed a higher ratio of those who have tried to climb them, notably Annapurna, but none combine the danger, lore, and prestige of K2. In Viesturs’ new book, he tells the story of six expeditions to the fabled mountain. Some successful. Some ill-fated. All spellbinding.

First, a word about the author. Ed Viesturs is widely acknowledged to be among the world’s top five living mountaineers. In 2005, he became the first American to summit all fourteen of the world’s 8000 meter peaks. And he did so without supplemental oxygen. (His fine memoir, No Shortcuts to the Top, chronicles that adventure.) To offer but one example of his prodigious skills, Viesturs once climbed 7,000 feet from an altitude of 16,000 feet to 23,000 feet up a near vertical slope in only eight hours. Did I mention he was carrying a forty-pound pack on his back? The man is to mountaineering what Michael Jordan is to basketball. If that is, Michael Jordan had risked losing his life every time he stepped onto the basketball court.
Be impressed. Be very impressed.

In K2, Viesturs recounts the most dramatic expeditions to the mountain and he does so in today’s frank and honest terms. Older tellings followed the time honored "gentlemen’s code" of ne’er speaking poorly of one’s climbing partners. To read, "The White Spider," by Heinrich Harrer, the story of the first ascent of the Eiger Nordwand written over fifty years ago, is to believe that anyone who ever strapped on a helmet and a harness was  "noble fellow," or a "strong willed lad," whose motivations were as pure as knight seeking the Holy Grail. Viesturs sifts through such rose hued accounts and casts today’s halogen spot light on them. Friendly disagreements amongst climbing pals become knock down, drag out arguments between the fiercest of rivals. Mild discomfort morphs into severe frostbite that costs a man his fingers and toes. And an analysis of where a climber might better have situated an upper altitude camp becomes an indictment of attempted murder. The best example is to compare The Green Berets versus Platoon. Both are about Vietnam; but one is quite a bit more realistic than the other. Similarly, Viesturs' modern updating makes for fascinating reading.

In a sense, K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain is a book written by a mountaineer for mountaineers. Afterall, Viesturs is telling the same story over and over again. But that is exactly what lends the book its magic. Though all of the expeditions shared the same goal, each followed its own unique course. In fact, I often felt as if Viesturs were describing a different mountain altogether. The lesson I took away from this outstanding piece of nonfiction is that K2 seemed to somehow alter its very topography to defeat the "strong-willed lads" and "noble fellows" who tried to conquer it. 

And it succeeded much too often.    

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Facing the world's second-highest peak, the Karakoram Range's K2 in Northern Pakistan, mountain climbers encounter incredible dangers, including a huge serac (an overhanging glacier), snow-obscured crevasses, whiteouts and avalanches that have killed even accomplished mountaineers. With clarity and compassion, renowned peak-scaler Viesturs recounts campaigns up K2's 28,000-plus feet from the late 1930s through the tragic 2008 season that saw 11 climbers die in the space of 36 hours. An American master of the climb, Viesturs shares secrets, inside jokes, history and lore such as the "psychological protection" afforded by clipping onto rope or handrails, the climbers' habit of "looking up to see if anything's coming your way," and the "miracle" of "one man with a single ax and a grip of steel stopping the otherwise fatal fall of six teammates and of himself." Admitting to "a disturbing fanaticism" that's driven himself and others to tackle the world's fourteen 8000-foot-plus peaks, Viesturs's you-are-there narration communicates effortlessly the enormous effort, and high adventure, of scaling K2.

"The Motivator"
Read an excerpt from Ed Viesturs's K2 [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Archetype; First Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767932501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767932509
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #165,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

More info at www.edviesturs.com
Washington resident Ed Viesturs is widely regarded as this country's foremost high-altitude mountaineer. He is familiar to many from the 1996 IMAX Everest Expedition documentary and in 2002, he was awarded the historic Lowell Thomas Award by the Explorer's Club for outstanding achievement in the field of mountaineering. In winning the award, he joined an elite group of climbers including Sir Edmund Hillary. In 1992 he was awarded the American Alpine Club Sowles Awards for his participation in two rescues on K-2.

Viesturs is a professional mountaineer and works as a design consultant for several prominent outdoor equipment manufacturers such as Eddie Bauer and Timberland. He also represents companies such as Rolex and the Seattle Seahawks. He does corporate motivational speeches as well, touching on subjects such as Team Work, Overcoming Major Obstacles, and Planning and Preparation.

Viesturs has successfully reached the summits of all of the world's fourteen 8000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, an 18 year project he christened Endeavor 8000. His goal was completed on May 12, 2005 with his ascent of Annapurna one of the world's most treacherous peaks. He is one of only a handful of climbers in history (and the only American) to accomplish this. That year Viesturs was awarded National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year.

During the 18 year span to climb the world's highest peaks he went on 29 Himalayan expeditions and reached the summit on 20 of these occasions and stood on the top of Everest seven times. He climbs without benefit of an oxygen tank, which can be burdensome and potentially troublesome. Only a superior conditioned athlete can scale heights of 25,000 feet without artificial oxygen - a fact Viesturs has turned into an important metaphor for his audiences (i.e., that the key to the journey is in the time and energy invested in the preparation).

Viesturs motto has always been that climbing has to be a round trip. All of his planning and focus during his climbs maintains this ethic and he is not shy about turning back from a climb if conditions are too severe. In spite of his conservative attitude Viesturs has been one of the most successful Himalayan climbers in American history. His story is about risk management as well as being patient enough for conditions to allow an ascent. Ultimately, in his words, "The mountain decides whether you climb or not. The art of mountaineering is knowing when to go, when to stay, and when to retreat."

At the start of their 2005 season the Seattle Seahawks football team brought in Viesturs to speak to them about teamwork. The team and coaches incorporated some of his messages and ideas into their practices and games and went on to play in the Super Bowl that season. According to Viesturs, regardless of the industry, teamwork is the same: "It is an implicit trust in, and recognition that the person next to you is No. 1," he explains. "If we're climbing a mountain together and you slip and fall, I'm there to save your life" - which is the ultimate definition of teamwork. Another lesson Viesturs espouses is the importance of perseverance, or going step by step and not getting discouraged when working toward your goal. Viesturs recalls once being just 300 feet away from the top of Mount Everest when he had to turn back.

In October 2005 Viesturs best selling autobiography "No Shortcuts To The Top" was published and released by Random House Books. The book covers in detail Ed Viesturs' career as a mountaineer, how he prepared for his expeditions and his philosophy about how he managed the inherent risks.

Viesturs was born in 1959 and now lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington with his wife of 13 years, Paula, and their children. He continues to go on adventures. On May 19th 2009 he made his 7th ascent of Everest. Most recently on July 8th 2009 made his 203rd ascent of 14,410' Mt. Rainier while guiding Seahawks Coach Jim Mora and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Roberts' name on a mountain climbing book is a guarantee of a good read, and this one is no exception. The first chapter grabbed me, and I ended up spending most of the weekend reading this book instead of doing other things I'd planned! Roberts has the knack of making you able to visualize what's going on during a climb, even if you've never read or seen anything else about the terrain.

Do we need another book about K2? The unique feature of this one is that it gives Ed Viesturs' slant on what went wrong (and right) in the expeditions to this dangerous mountain. There's no shortage of armchair mountaineers, but Viesturs has the credentials to make his analysis stick. His own 1992 climb doesn't get a chapter (I guess you'll have to get his other book for that), but he covers the most important years in which climbers attempted the mountain. The book is also the most up-to-date summary of the astonishing scandal behind the 1954 Italian climb, which has fully come to light only in the last couple of years.

A previous reviewer complained about lack of pictures. Actually, according to the rear jacket, the final version of the book includes 28 pages of color and B&W photos (absent, alas, from the pre-publication freebie copies).
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Five AIRY Stars!! Author & mountaineer Ed Viesturs is one of the world's great climbers who has pulled off the rare feat of reaching the summit of all 14 "8000 meters and higher" peaks, topped off by Everest. This up-to-date book on the second highest mountain, K2, written along with mountaineering author David Roberts, follows Viesturs' famous book No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks. Mr. Viesturs knows K2 very well since he made a troubled ascent of this 28,241 ft monster which he barely survived. He also gives a historical view of the most important attempts at climbing this mountain with the highest fatality rates among 8000 meter peaks. Compared to Everest, which the author says has many ascents each climbing season, K2 is a unique experience with comparatively fewer ascents. Difficult to get to in the Karakoram range, avalanche-prone, plagued by bad weather, with bivouacs inadvisable, and with no winter ascents, K2 is a daunting proposition for the most experienced climbers in the best of circumstances.

Beginning with the events of August 1 & 2, 2008 which became the worst climbing disaster in the history of K2 (an accumulation of events), Mr Viesturs gives both a very frank and personal viewpoint of his own climb and experiences, juxtaposed with other major campaigns and historical events over the years. Despite many 'topical switchbacks' between different climbs which can be mildly difficult to follow, this is an engrossing and sometimes touching read that covers teams, climbing techniques, tactics, heroics and failures, lives and deaths.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am reviewing a preproduction uncorrected proof. Some of the criticism may not apply to the final version.

The primary author of K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain is Ed Viesturs. In 2005, Viesturs was the first American to summit all 14 of the world's 8000ers - mountains over 8000 meters high - and has been a part of 30 expeditions to 8000ers. He's summited Everest seven times and was a member of the 1996 Everest IMAX movie team. He has been climbing for 32 years, and began guiding on Mt. Rainier in 1987. It's also notable that he has survived to write about it.

This book discusses seven of the most notable expeditions to K2:

(1) August 2008 - Notable because 11 climbers perished in a 36 hour period. Also notable because of the recency and the amount of publicity this event received.
(2) The author's 1996 first summit of K2 with Scott Fischer, detailed also in Viestur's No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks.
(3) 1938 - The first American expedition to K2. Some believed the expedition to primarily be a reconnoitering mission for an expedition the following year, but the climbers made in within 2250 feet of the peak. Chronicled in Five Miles High.
(4) 1938 - The second American expedition to K2 led by Fritz Weissner. Wiessner and Pasang Lama came within 750 feet of the summit. A logistics breakdown prevented another summit attempt and resulted in the loss of four lives. Detailed in
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Like other reviewers here, I'm a bit of an addict for mountaineering books, because of their inherent drama. in "K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain," I found myself completely lost in places however, not sure whether we were in a recent story of Viesturs on K2, a flashback to an earlier climb, a historical look at another expedition or just where exactly. This is the first mountaineering book in a while that I struggled to finish due to this confusion.

It may be that others with more familiarity with mountaineering history won't have as much as a snag as I did; or it may be that my background as a lifelong professional editor and writer had me frustrated at the organizational problems in "K2." Still, this is a book that would have been improved by either artful editing to create logical transitions, a simpler structure, or graphical elements to help us know what year we are in at all times.
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