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K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain Paperback – August 3, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 153 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.    
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 Reprint edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767932609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767932608
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Phelps Gates VINE VOICE on September 28, 2009
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
...Read more ›
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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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