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Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2, the World's Most Feared Mountain Hardcover – January 4, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Jordan scales a small summit of her own to share a posthumous glimpse of mountaineers Wanda Rutkiewicz, Liliane Barrard, Julie Tullis, Chantal Mauduit and Alison Hargreaves, plus others who accompanied, aided and tried to thwart them as they attempted to summit K2, which lies on the Pakistan-China border. Each woman's story explores her passion for mountaineering and her own brand of controversy: flirtation, reckless motherhood, lack of practice. Jordan, who tells each woman's tale in the order that each summited K2 (between 1986 and 1995), wisely gives much attention to Rutkiewicz, a beautiful yet willful pioneer who was the first to seek "challenges... that she had been told no woman could ever achieve." Jordan takes on a mammoth task—using journal entries, letters, published biographies, and interviews with fellow climbers, family and friends to distill five divergent lives into one narrative and using her imagination to fill in the blanks—and her prose at times is flat and repetitive. Readers are left with mini-biographies that don't have the dramatic detail to sweep the imagination like the bestseller that inspired Jordan, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. For mountain-climbing enthusiasts and women's history buffs, Jordan's well-researched survey is worthwhile reading for the famous reason mountaineers climb: because it's there. Photos. FYI:Jordan wrote a 2003 National Geographic documentary on this subject.
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Five women, each with seemingly preternatural abilities to climb, have reached the summit of K2. While not the highest mountain in the world, it is considered the most deadly, hence its earning the name "Savage Mountain." One-tenth as many have climbed it as Everest, but with nearly three times as many deaths per summit. These five women--Polish climber Wanda Rutkiewicz, French climbers Lilane Barrard and Chantal Mauduit, and British climbers Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves--so very different from each other, were alike in their strength, ability, determination, and willingness to endure not only the pain of high altitude but also the massive prejudice of the male-dominated climbing world. None of the women climbers were alive when journalist Jordan began this project, but she makes much of her extensive research and reveals just how amazing the climbers' accomplishments are and how very fascinating each of their stories remains, even as she struggles to capture the mountain's all-but-indescribable beauty. Jordan succumbs to the temptation to overwrite, but the stories are genuinely thrilling. Danise Hoover
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Everest may be the world's tallest mountain, but K2 with it's unpredictable weather systems, isolated location, avalanche danger (made more prevalent by global warming), technical complexity and colder climate is considered the more difficult climb. At the time this book was written, out of the nearly 200 people who had summited, only five were women who are all now deceased (there have been a few more women who have successfully summitted in the time since.) Three had died on the descent, the other two later on subsequent climbs. In the group were two Frenchwomen (Chantal Mauduit, Liliane Barrard), one Pole (the legendary Wanda Rutkiewicz) and two Brits (Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves.) Jordan has researched their lives as best as she could given some (particularly Barrard) left little in the way of autobiographical information. Along the way, they deal with sexism-both from the Pakistani government as well as, more depressingly, their male climbers-as well as certain advantages of biology (women seem to be less prone to high-altitude sickness and frostbite although the reasons for this are still speculative.)
Jordan has lots to say about sexism in mountaineering that was quite illuminating. Additionally, she is a worthy voice for these women who are not near as famous as their male counterparts. She clearly liked some of the protagonists better than others but she does make the effort to portray them as the complex, flawed and original women that they were. There is lots of information about the history of mountaineering both in the Karakoram and on Europe's summits and some great anecdotes about the women's early climbing experiences.
What was less enjoyable was Jordan's thesis that there is a curse on women who climb K2 (the mythology being that K2 is masculine energy as opposed to Everest's feminine energy.) With a 1 in 7 chance of a climber dying on descent, it is sad but not surprising some of the first women to climb K2 did not make it down. As many men in the book survive K2 only to die on a future summit as well (Michel Parmentier, Rob Hall and Benoit Chamoux to name a few), Rutkiewicz and Mauduit's later deaths are indeed tragic, but also not unexpected. High-altitude climbing is a hobby with high mortality rate. No mystical reasons need be sought and I think it does something of a disservice to the climbing community-female in particular-to spread superstition. As some other reviewers, I also found Jordan's habit of speaking of the dead's thoughts in their final days as disconcerting since some, such as Hargreaves who died in a storm on her descent from the K2, could not have left a record of her thoughts on making the summit. While Jordan mentions in the beginning she took "Perfect Storm" liberties, it was mildly off-putting.
Despite these complaints, I still did enjoy this book. It is for the most part well-written and gives attention to a chapter in mountaineering that is sadly marginalized. Read it and learn about the pull of the Death Zone, the history of K2, and the victories a small group of exceptional women experienced in a male-dominated sport.
Some may romanticize their deaths as something they would have "wanted," that the manner of their deaths was better than rotting away from Alzheimer's, cancer, or getting killed in other, more mundane accidents, but in the end this reader was totally appalled by their foolhardiness, their stupidity even. Just in case the reader may think I am sexist, I also think it is idiotic for men to engage in high-altitude mountain climbing. Sooner or later, there is a very real chance a person will die from it. And for what? For bragging rights? Talk about pointless.
Nevertheless, this is a great read, almost as good as Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.