I saw this book on Instagram, maybe through the CBR account, and was suddenly desperate to get it. I am not a mountain climber nor am I a follower of mountain climbing exploits, I don’t read an enormous amount of non-fiction, and when I do, it’s not generally DISASTER non-fiction. And yet, I saw this and immediately put in a reserve request at the library.
I suspect the last mountain climbing book I read was Jim Curran’s K2: Triumph and Tragedy., which examined the 1986 disaster on K2 during which 13 people died in the worst climbing disaster on K2 – this book is fascinating, and was another impulse read for me. It seems that I have a weird and random fascination with books about K2, one of the deadliest mountains in the world. It’s weird.
The K2 2008 climbing season was a strange one, with unpredictable weather (not unusual) and maybe just too many people trying to summit. When the day came that it seemed feasible to summit finally arrived, it was crowded, all the plans to coordinate their efforts seemed to fall apart, and there was a series of those terrible accidents that nobody anticipates but know are likely to happen. Over the course of only a few hours, eleven people died.
While Jim Curran was a documentary filmmaker and climber participating in the 1986 climbs, Graham Bowley is a New York Times Reporter who initially reported on the 2008 disaster, and had to be persuaded to investigate and report further. This resulted in No Way Down, based on extensive interviews with the survivors and families of the lost climbers. Of course there are some conflicting reports, and in some cases Bowley fills in conversations and the sequence of events with best guesses, but the overall narrative is there. I always wonder why these climbers do this? It is inherently dangerous, conditions are out of your control, altitude sickness will force you to make stupid decisions, and the benefits seem limited. Why? Is climbing this mountain just to do it reason enough? If that is the case, why would some of those climbers try to do it repeatedly, even after being successful? I am a space nerd and would absolutely go into space if the program was interested in middle aged bureaucrats, so is that the same thing? I feel like space exploration has scientific and educational benefits that outweighs the risk.
This book is interesting and well written, and if you like this kind of thing, I recommend both this and the Curran book. Bowley gives a bit of the climbing history of K2, and explores some of the alternative theories about what happened. I think that I have had my fill of this type of book for a while – while I was very engaged while reading, I get so angry about the selfishness of the climbers and sad about the losses and trauma that I still think about it.
CBR10 Bingo category: Not My Wheelhouse