Book Review: K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain


I read Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs ($18 @ Amazon) over the holiday break. Viesturs was the first American to summit all fourteen of the 8000 meter peaks in the world. In this book he looks at the various expeditions to K2, which he considers to be a harder climb than Everest.

I’m not a climber, spent some time going down ropes rather than up, and kind of expected a lot of technical stuff. Instead it’s a lot more about the logistics, the weather, tedium, and above all the risk. Imagine climbing to 20,000 plus feet in below freezing temperatures and waiting days in a very small tent for the weather to change so that you can go up, hoping it changes before you run out of supplies and have to go back down.

This type of climbing (and there are many types, which I didn’t know) seems to require skill and experience as you would expect, but it seems (to me) to be far more about endurance and will power. One of things he talks about is knowing when to go back without reaching the goal. Typically he starts the final push very early in the morning, 2-3 am, and if not at the Summit by 2 pm, calls it a day and heads back down. Heart breaking to do that, because you might have waited a week in that small tent for the chance, and you might not get another. The reason for drawing the line in the sand is that if you don’t, you risk making a night decent in sub-zero conditions while very tired.

I thought he did a pretty good job of critiquing various expeditions without too much second guessing, and he gives you a good sense of the kinds of people involved and what helped them to succeed, or not.

He also talks about Everest being almost a tourist thing these days, and the week after I saw a couple shows on TV about the same thing, groups of people paying big bucks to be mostly led by the hand up Everest. From a purist perspective that sucks, but I wonder – if I could just write the check and spend 30 minutes on top of the world, would that be so bad?

Interesting book, but don’t expect to me start planning my own expedition – I hate cold weather!