Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It is Cold

Therefore I have been escaping into books which describe even worse conditions. I have written before about my attraction to K2 (and if you follow this link, please look up Jennifer Jordan’s book and Daphne’s post) and was happy to find two more books which were worth reading for different reasons.

This first book is rather over-dramatic (note the subtitle), but it does give a historical overview of all the attempts to climb K2  and highlights at length the first successful ascent by the Italians Compagnoni and Lacadelli in 1954. This expedition has led to a bitter “who carried the oxygen bottles, who hid the oxygen bottles?” controversy and much print dedicated to Walter Bonatti. Conefrey claims he has “new evidence” to dispute the accepted evidence, though I am not sure exactly what it is. He certainly has the most intriguing beginning to one of the chapters in his book—to any book come to that, “Aleister Crowley was a flamboyant, bisexual drug fiend with a fascination for the occult. He was not a typical twentieth century mountaineer, but for a few years at  least he was a very keen one.” While it is impossible to approve of his later life style, I couldn't help a smile when reading about the restrictions on gear.  Crowley was unwilling to give up his large collection of books, stating that while other mountaineers might be willing to forgo intellectual pleasures and behave like savages "when traveling through a savage country”, he could not live without his Milton. Needless to say he didn’t get far.

What didn’t I like about this book? Murky diagrams of the mountain and the various ridges and placement of camps and too few photographs.

The second book is Graham Bowley’s “No Way Down” which deals with just one expedition, the 2008 international ascent which resulted in the deaths of eleven climbers. While K2 has been climbed about three hundred times, something like a quarter of the successful climbers didn’t make it down. This was not a truly international expedition, it was several expeditions from a number of different countries, all climbing at the same time. Even if you are not interested in mountaineering, this book is worth reading as  a study in psychology or management or just plain logistics.

The author is not a mountain climber himself. Whether that makes a difference, I just don’t know.

What didn’t I like about this book? Strangely, too many maps, too many pictures. I say this in reference to this book because we get to know the characters so well. As yet another climber falls to his death, there is a compulsion to go back and look for his photograph. Text to photo, photo to text and a feeling of disappointment when a climber we have come to admire does not have more photographs

There is some kind of consolation in YouTube. I rarely look at this application, but I found myself enmeshed in video and photographs which brought the climbers to life, some more than others. (It is somewhat confusing trying to figure out what is “real” footage and what is re-creation.)

In the end, the one fact that remains is that none of the climbers is the central figure. The main protagonist is 28, 251 feet of vindictive rock, snow, ice and wind.