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on 12 June 2012
What should have been a great book about K2 turned out to be a rather dull and pedestrian account of various attempts to climb it. There is a lot of logistical detail, but no soul, no poetry, no tension. The writing is factual to the point of tedium, and although I have been an avid consumer of mountaineering books, I skipped through quite a lot of this one. The author is one of the few people still alive who could conjure up what it actually feels like to be on the upper slopes of K2, and yet makes no attempt to do anything other than impart a few facts. Such a shame.

And there's also quite a lot of "me me me" in this book, looking back at other people's mistakes with 20/20 hindsight and condemning them for their foolish decisions, while making sure that the reader knows that he would have done things differently. Indeed, the reader is constantly reminded that the author has climbed all 14 of the 8000ers, and the more the author repeats this fact, the more smug and self-satisfied he sounds. One of the things that comes across quite strongly in this (and other books) is that mountaineers seem to be a pretty unpleasant lot...sanctimonious, amoral, greedy, selfish, etc. For every story of heroism and self-sacrifice in the mountains, there seem to be dozens more of lying, cheating, plotting, jealousy, rivalry, abandonment, etc.

I was looking for the K2 version of White Spider, or Into Thin Air, or Touching the Void, but this book isn't it.
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on 17 July 2017
Good, enjoyable read. Can come across as a bit of a know it all at times but he is alive having climbed the 14 highest mountains and a lot of his fellow contemporaries are not....
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on 4 May 2017
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on 26 May 2017
Great read. And great value for money. If you are interested in the high mountains, a great book for you.
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on 25 May 2010
America's first mountaineer to climb the 14 8000m peaks, Viesturs describes the major events on K2 along with his personal views. Ed examines "the questions of risk, ambition, loyalty to one's teammates, self-sacrifice, and the price of glory", sharing his direct honest opinions, like: "jerk", "I just don't buy it", "why didn't he get out and do something", and "that directive strikes me as questionable at best". I myself firmly believe in Ed's approach - getting into great physical shape with a thoroughness and intensity of preparation and planning, being a clock watcher and on time, non confrontational, carrying your own weight, and being patient.

You should buy this book first and foremost for Viesturs account of his own summit of K2 in 1992, second for his opinions of the controversial 1939 U.S. expedition led by Fritz Weissner, third for his critique of the August 2008 season where 11 climbers died in a 36-hour period, and finally as a history of the main events in K2's history, including 1938 U.S. reconnaissance expedition, the 1953 U.S. expedition, the controversial first ascent by the Italians in 1954, and the terrifying 1986 season that left 12 dead. There are 8 pages of colour photos (4 from Viesturs K2 ascent in 1992), 8 pages of b/w photos, a 2-page map, and one b/w sketch..

The book starts with Ed critiquing the 2008 tragedy where 11 climbers died in a 36-hour period. He clarifies the misconception that they were all killed when pieces of the frightening large ice serac above the bottleneck fell off. He also states that the real heroes were the Sherpas, unselfishly going back up the mountain to rescue climbers. Ed critiques the dependency on fixed ropes, the lateness of leaving Camp 4 and reaching the summit, and the fact there were no wands to help people find the route.

My favourite chapter is when Ed tells the true story of what happened on his ascent of K2 with Scott Fischer and Charley Mace on August 16, 1992. I was disappointed with No Shortcuts To The Top because the stories were too short and too 'perfect'. Not in this book. Ed uses his diaries to share his innermost raw, blunt, and critical feelings and opinions, highlighting his problems with his teammates and other teams, and lack of leadership. It is tight, entertaining, tense, emotional, an epic! This chapter could have been the whole book and I would have been happy.

Ed and Scott had to put off their own attempt to rescue two climbers. Although Ed is normally risk averse, he and Scott accepted danger to try and rescue two climbers. They were caught in an avalanche, but Ed was able to self arrest and stop their fall. Ed comments on once again accepting too much risk on summit day: "As we got closer to the summit and the falling snow showed no signs of letting up, I knew I was making the greatest mistake of my climbing life. And yet I kept going. ... Scott, Charley, and I broke free of the clouds just short of the summit. We saw it shining in the sun ahead of us. At noon, we stood on top, hugging each other and gasping in the thin air. ... After only thirty minutes on top, we headed down. ... Soon we were stumbling downward in a thickening whiteout." After reaching Camp 4 at 5pm, he wrote in his diary: "We'd pushed our luck beyond the max. I hope I never do that again! No summit is worth dying for. You can always come back." When they reached Camp 4, they found Rob Hall dealing with a very sick Gary Ball suffering from cerebral edema. They now had to help Gary down in bad weather and terrible avalanche danger. They found Ed's wands in the deep snow, which saved their lives by showing them the correct route down. "I don't think I've ever been more physically or emotionally exhausted in my life after that climb and descent."

After a brief history of the 1902 attempt by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley and the 1909 attempt by the Duke of Abruzzi with Vittorio Sella, Ed describes in straightforward detail the 1938 US reconnaissance expedition led by Charlie Houston, quoting sections from "Five Miles High". After reconnoitering the Northeast and Northwest sides, the team decided that the Abruzzi was the best choice. After setting up camps on the ridge, Bill House climbed a great slanting gash in an almost vertical rock now called House's Chimney, and Charlie Houston and Paul Petzoldt reached 7920m feet before turning back due to not enough food and equipment at the highest camp.

My second favourite chapter is when Ed's writing is once again opinionated and enlightening as he describes the controversial 1939 US expedition led by Fritz Wiessner, who had recently emigrated to the US from Germany. After the best climbers dropped out, Fritz had to lead an inexperienced and weak team. Fritz led all the way, breaking trail, and turned back at 8380m just below the easy summit snowfield when Pasang Lama wouldn't go on. After a second attempt failed because Pasang had lost his crampons, Wiessner and Pasang descended to Camp VIII, only occupied by Dudley Wolfe. On the descent the three climbers fell, but Wiessner was able to self arrest, stopping their fall. Viesturs thinks that "only Pete Schoening's 'miracle belay' in 1953 is more legendary than Wiessner's self arrest." Unknown to Wiessner, all camps below camp VIII had been stripped supposedly because they thought that the summit party had been killed. The attempt to rescue Wolfe failed, with Wolfe and three Sherpas perishing on the K2 Shoulder. Ed thinks that "any climber has to be in complete awe of Wiessner's performance on K2." and considers his logistical plan "brilliant" Viesturs calls much of the criticism in the 1992 book K2: The 1939 Tragedy by Andy Kaufman and William L. Putnam "cockeyed", especially the fact that Wiessner led from the front, leaving Wolfe at camp VII on the descent, and what he considers the racial profiling of Wiessner.

Next, Ed describes the 1953 U.S. expedition led by Charlie Houston, calling it "the high point of American mountaineering", and "The courage, devotion and team spirit of that expedition have yet to be surpassed." He quotes from "K2: The Savage Mountain" and from Dee Molenaar's never released diary. A storm hits and they have to remain at Camp VIII for seven days, with Art Gilkey developing thrombophlebitis. In very bad weather and high avalanche danger, the rest of the team attempt to lower Gilkey down the mountain. Pete Schoening performed "the most famous belay in mountaineering history" when he singlehandedly stopped the fall of six teammates with "a single axe and a grip of steel." But the rescue ended in tragedy a few minutes later when Gilkey was avalanched to his death.

The camaraderie and teamwork of the 1953 U.S. team fades into intrigue and back-stabbing on the first ascent of K2 in 1954 by Italians Lino Lacadelli and Achille Campagnoni, with Walter Bonatti becoming a very convenient villain and an ideal sacrificial goat. Walter Bonatti and Pakistani Mahdi carried oxygen bottles to Camp IX, but had to suffer a bivouac at 8100m when Campagnoni intentionally moved the camp from the planned site so Bonatti could not try for the summit. Once back home, Bonatti was silently and later publicly accused of treachery, trying to steal the summit, and using their oxygen. Ed describes it as "a feud so sordid, bitter, and long-lasting that it has few parallels in mountaineering history." Vindication came in 2004 when Lacadelli agrees with most of Bonatti's views in his book K2: The Price of Conquest.

Finally, Ed describes in straightforward detail the tragic 1986 climbing season when 13 people were killed, quoting from Kurt Diemberger's The Endless Knot and Jim Curran's K2: Triumph and Tragedy. After eight unrelated deaths, a snowstorm with excessive wind and cold temperatures hit seven climbers, keeping them tent bound at Camp 4. Julie Tullis died in her sleep. After several days, in a break in the storm, Kurt Diemberger, Dobroslawa Wolf, Alfred Imitzer, Willi Bauer, and Hannes Weiser immediately started down, leaving a delirious Al Rouse at Camp 4. Within a few hundred feet of leaving camp, Imitzer and Wieser collapsed and were left where they lay. With Bauer breaking trail, the other three kept fighting their way down. A few hours later Wolf dropped behind and did not reappear, and the team was down to two. Bauer and Diemberger staggered and stumbled their way down the mountain.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 April 2012
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. He also covers the routes, especially the familiar "Abruzzi ridge route" with the main features: the ridge itself, the Bottleneck couloir, House's chimney, the Black Pyramid, the ice serac, the leftward traverse, the summit pyramid, and the alternate Abruzzi spur route. For those new to K2, the map at the front is most helpful in tracking the activities of various teams & campaigns. The author has included photographs, especially the author's own K2 summit photos, to help the reader visualize the mountain, climbers, and the camps much better. Reservations aside, this book, laden with detail, contains invaluable information and remembrances. Highly recommended. Five WHITE KNUCKLED Stars! (
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on 17 May 2013
I popped this book into the charity shop having only read half of it. Usually with climbing books I find them hard to put down but with this one I found it hard to pick up and the gap in between reads just grew bigger. I've read an untold amount of books on mountaineering over the years but this just didn't do it for me - I put much of this down the prosaic style of writing and the authors tendency to be a little too self indulgent/absorbed. Also its far too critical about other expeditions especially those that went awry or ended in tragedy. Its easy to say in theory what people should and shouldn't have done however in practice - halfway up a mountain in a storm, cold, tired, hungry, in trouble - its a different matter. Its the kind of thing you expect armchair mountaineers to be spouting not someone who has been there, done that and bought the t.shirt. This by no means takes away the man's achievements, might, bravery, skill, and endurance etc. Credit where credit is due on that front however writing wise there are far more superior, tension filled, gripping accounts of mountain climbing out there.
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on 11 September 2010
Ed has managed to tell the history of climbing K2 in a way that is not only factual but also taps into the human side of this great mountain.
A well researched and totally riveting book from a man who has not only scaled K2 himself but who still has the old fashioned values of mountaineering. Couldn't put this down along with either of Andy Caves books I'd rate this as top of my list for mountaineering books.
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on 22 January 2011
As a non-American I struggled with this book. Be warned, it is written with only a US readership in mind. Disproportionate coverage is given to expeditions by American climbers. Temperatures are given in Fahrenheit, weights in lbs, heights in feet. Surprising given that Ed Viesturs claim to fame is in having climbed all fourteen 26,246.719 foot peaks. I seemed to spend half my time while reading the book doing conversions - most annoying. Tried desperately not to get annoyed at Americanisms such as 'gotten.' Is this a US biased history of climbs on K2 or is it Ed Viesturs personal experiences? The 'Epilogue' is a totally self indulgent piece largely about his wife and children. After the previous reviews I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately these expectations were not met.
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on 7 October 2013
Well written & illustrated. Great photographs, very happy with the map of the area as well. One minor point of critisism (still awarding 5 stars!): the emphasis on the American expeditions is pretty big. I did enjoy these sections, no problem there. Would have liked a bit more coverage though on some of the drama on K2 in other seasons, like 1995.

Lots of episodes are covered I was aware of but didn't have the detailed picture, like the 1954 Italian, expedition, or the 1939 attempt by Wiessner. Very nice to have detailed info on the famous belay by Pete Schoening in 1953, along with a sketch.

It's also nice that Ed makes an effort to highlight the Sherpa efforts, for example in the 2008 tragedy, where they indeed were the heroes.
A side note about 2008: Ed is pretty critical about my fellow countryman Wilco van Rooijen, and he has valid points I believe, A difficult man, van Rooijen. Wonder if Ed has read Wilco's book on the 2008 season as another source of information - might have been of some use.

All in all, very happy to own this book. Really enjoyed it.
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