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No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 Hardcover – June 29, 2010
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“Bowley relies on a copious study of the events and interviews with survivors and families to artfully and assiduously piece together an account of a fractious day in brutal real time. Fatality by fatality.” (Holly Morris, New York Times Book Review)
“Unputdownable.... A portrait of extreme courage, folly and loss, leavened by a small dose of survival, as complete a version of the calamitous story as will probably ever emerge. . . . [A] step-by-faltering-step recreation of the thin-air fight to survive, bristling with cinematic immediacy.” (Justin Marozzi, Financial Times)
“Harrowing.” (Jan Gardner, Boston Globe)
“An astonishingly dramatic and sad tale of disaster on K2. Bowley expertly puts together the complex story of what happened as eleven people died high on the summit slopes of K2 in August 2008.” (Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void)
“Brisk and engrossing. . . . Mr. Bowley reveals a deep sympathy for his characters and their quest. . . . Entertaining.” (Michael J. Ybarra, Wall Street Journal)
“[A] fascinating tour de force…. Bowley wove his tale together after hundreds of interviews with dozens of people, and the result is a triumph of storytelling.” (Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press)
“A compelling narrative from interviews with most of the survivors. . . . The most complete report of the tragedy to date.” (Grayson Schaffer, Outside magazine)
“Harrowing. . . . Bowley is an intrepid journalist and gifted storyteller. . . . Thrilling and wrenching. (Kirkus Reviews)
“Bowley takes readers right onto the mountain…. As avalanches shear away ropes, darkness falls and rescue attempts succeed and fail, the book becomes impossible to put down….. The vivid story will captivate readers. No Way Down doesn’t just tell a harrowing adventure story-it will also make you think.” (BookPage)
“Both a gripping read and a clear-eyed investigation, No Way Down provides a compelling education in the game of climbing on the world’s highest mountains to readers who have never tied into a rope, and is an essential addition to any mountaineer’s bookshelf.” (Michael Kodas, author of High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed)
From the Back Cover
In this riveting work of narrative nonfiction, journalist Graham Bowley re-creates one of the most dramatic tales of death and survival in mountaineering history, vividly taking readers through the tragic 2008 K2 ascent that claimed the lives of eleven climbers, severely injured two others, and made headlines around the world.
With its near-perfect pyramid shape, the 28,251-foot K2—the world's second-highest mountain, some 800 feet shorter than the legendary Everest hundreds of miles to the south—has lured serious climbers for decades. In 2008, near the end of a brief climbing season cut even shorter by bad weather, no fewer than ten international teams—some experienced, others less prepared—crowded the mountain's dangerous slopes with their Sherpas and porters, waiting to ascend.
Finally, on August 1, they were able to set off. But hindered by poor judgment, lack of equipment, and overcrowded conditions, the last group did not summit until nearly 8 p.m., hours later than planned. Then disaster struck when a huge ice chunk from above the Bottleneck, a deadly 300-foot avalanche-prone gulley just below the summit, came loose and destroyed the fixed guide ropes. More than a dozen climbers and porters still above the Bottleneck—many without oxygen and some with no headlamps—faced the near impossibility of descending in the blackness with no guideline and no protection. Over the course of the chaotic night, some would miraculously make it back. Others would not.
Based on in-depth interviews with surviving climbers and many Sherpas, porters, and family and friends of the deceased, No Way Down reveals for the first time the full dimensions of this harrowing drama.
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Knowing something about K2 might also interfere with a reader's enjoyment of this book. Having read Walter Bonatti's The Mountains of My Life, I was aware of the controversy over the Italian expedition of 1954, and I bristled at Bowley's handling of it. Ethics matter to me, and the controversy was all about ethics. Bonatti, ferrying oxygen up to the camp of the summit pair, was left without shelter overnight at over 26,000 feet. Claims by the summit team to justify their reasons for not helping Bonatti were highly dubious. In his breezy way, Bowley restates the accepted version about the Italians running out of oxygen when there is strong evidence that was not the case. This, to Bonatti's disadvantage and to my discomfort. It made me wonder what version of the 2008 tragedy I was reading.
I don't like bull fights. I don't want to see people suffer. I need to see underlying motives that help me be a better person, and I don't need to know about professional performers doing dangerous stunts in extreme natural settings. Mostly, I realize that someone did probably care deeply about those who died on the mountain, and making their deaths into a spectacle for financial gain is a harm that will take a long time to heal.
Graham Bowley's writing reminds me of Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down). He is a born story teller, who can take a complex event and make it fun to read, understandable and keep you on the edge of your seat. There were a lot of moving parts in this story, over climbers on multiple teams over the course of 48 hours. Bowley let's you get to know the key players, he humanizes them while at the same time giving great background information on what makes K-2 so dangerous, the history of exploring the mountain, the dangers of high altitude mountain climbing and avalanches.
The author had a very handy foreward section which listed all the climbers by their teams and whether they had made a serious summit attempt. This helped keep all the names straight as he recounts the events of Aug 2 to Aug 4. This book was an absolute page turner. The chapters were all the right length that had logical ending points and transitions. He puts the chapters in chronoligical order with time stamps at the beginning so the reader can understand the time frame of when events are occurring. The hard part of relaying this story, is that the 11 deaths did not occur all at once, but over the period of 24 hours from multiple mishaps. In between the chapters relating to the Aug time frame he packs in the background information on the mountain, mountaineering and some stories of the personal lives of some of the climbers.