Reading With Fakename: No Way Down

While I mostly read fiction, I occasionally take a break to read non-fiction and the subjects are all over the map.  I’m intrigued by a lot of different things.  In this case, the title of the book is “No Way Down:  Life and Death on K2”.  Prior to reading the book, I think I knew that K2 was the second highest mountain on Earth after Everest, but that was it. 

Now that I’ve finished, I can say I know a lot more about K2 and mountaineering in general.  And my question remains: Why?

The book is about a particularly disastrous expedition in 2008 which resulted in the death of 11 people.  By the end, you think you know everything that happened.  You know who’s dead and who isn’t, and mostly why and how it happened that some survived and some didn’t.  It’s all tied up into a neat bow–until it isn’t.  Because in the Epilogue, the author drops a bombshell. 

To condense, careful planning falls apart.  Some people who depended on others found out they could not.  In most cases, the survivors were just lucky, and survived not through any efforts of their own.  So much for being superior. 

So, why?  Here is a quote from the last page of the book: 

“They had broken out of comfortable lives to venture to a place few of us dare to go in our lives.  They had confronted their mortality, immediately and up close.  Some had even come back to K2 after serious injury in earlier years, attracted like flies to the light to some deeper meaning about themselves, human experience, and human achievement.  In return, K2 had required from them heroism and selflessness and responsibility.  It had also laid bare fatal flaws and staggering errors.”

Having finished the book, I am more convinced than ever that the fatal flaw is going to K2 in the first place.  So…why?  I think that thrill-seeking behavior is genetic.  I think if these people weren’t climbing mountains they would be heroin addicts, and that they can’t help it. 

As for the end, as I said, you think you know what happened.  But the eyewitness accounts of what happened are from people who have been above 20,000 feet for a day or two.  Your brain does not work right at that altitude, no matter how in-control and rational you think you are.  You don’t have control over the physical processes in your body, no matter how much you may wish it were so.  Some things you “saw” or “remember” may have been hallucinations.  And you can’t know the difference. 

Some of the people on this expedition gave it up; some are still out there.  There were two women climbers on this expedition–one, a South Korean named Go Mi-Sun, who died the following year on a mountain called Nanga Parbat.  The other was a Norweigian woman named Cecilie Skog, whose husband died more or less right before her eyes on K2.  When the author caught up with her, she was in Antarctica.  Cecilie is the only woman to have climbed all seven of the highest mountains in the world and also to have been to both Poles.  Now I guess she has to start over. 

Was it worth it?  I guess Cecilie would say “Yes”. 



9 responses to “Reading With Fakename: No Way Down

  1. I always get all of the books on JP Morgan’s summer reading list. Nothing cerebral, nothing thought provoking, just a good summer read for those lazy days. Sad thing is that I will devour the entire list in about 21 days.

  2. I doubt anyone “expects” or even “suspects” that when they go on this “adventure” that anything will go wrong. And that should something go wrong, they will be able to handle it because they are “prepared.”

    It is one thing to go to work and take the risk that you will killed on the commute by some jerk. There’s not that many alternatives to going to work. But there is no reason to take the risks that folks do, such as climbing mountains.

    I wonder how many folks, as they face death on an “adventure”, think: why the f* did I do this. But as you say, it’s in their personality:
    “Someone else will die; not them.” But that is their right to die that way, so I have no problem with their choice. I don’t feel sympathy for them; I don’t think they would want that.

  3. That’s pretty amazing. There are no bamboo shoots at 26,000 feet, however.

  4. K2 is 28,251 feet. Everest is 29,000 and change. When you get close to the top, you are in the stratosphere. And some climbers do it without supplemental O2, which is more or less like daring the universe to kill you. And the thing about O2 is…if you are using it, don’t run out. It’s a worse shock to your system to use it and then have to stop suddenly than it is not to use it at all.

  5. And bullshit on that “deeper meaning” thing. They’re just crazy, in a way that some people like to romanticize into heroism. There was absolutely no heroism here.

  6. Risk is a good thing that most people who lead sedentary lives can’t comprehend. It’s one thing to sit in an easy chair and judge, but when you’re climbing a mountain, jumping out of a plane, surfing a huge wave….the fact that you can die makes the experience better and makes you appreciate life that much more.. After all, it’s better to die with your boots on then to die of old age in a hospital. Life is meant to be lived….not discussed.

  7. Well FN I have to agree with you on Mountain Climbing I don’t get it. Putting yourself in harms way just for a rush seems like stupidity on one hand and lunacy on the other. It’s like Russian Roulette. The survivors speak of the rush, who knows what the last feelings were of those who died. Although I’m pretty certain that they don’t “appreciate life more.”

    I read your Tiger book until I learned that I can buy a $20 toilet seat at Ace because the Siberian forests are being destroyed to provide cheap feed stock for developing nations. Too much tree hugging for me, I thought it was a story about a Tiger.

    I did devour Hillenbran’s Unbroken and loved it. She is a truly remarkable writer. She picks remarkable protagonists to develop. Louis Zamperini is still kicking at 94. Now there is a real hero.

    I am currently reading Ann Patchette’s State of Wonder and really enjoying it.

    Its my summer for female literature I think.

  8. Pt I am disappointed in you! It IS a story about a tiger, a most extraordinary and unique tiger. But it’s also the story of the people who must hunt it down. I urge you to keep reading. You can ignore the tree-hugging if you like, but a little tree-hugging is necessary. You can’t preserve wild tigers or wild anythings without protecting their habitat first.
    No Way Down was written by a reporter for the NYT (oh God forbid!) named Graham Bowley. It’s written in a very matter-of-fact, journalistic style, so all the emotional content and the absolute horror you can’t help but supply yourself.
    Spencercourt is right–none of these people go there believing they will die…at least not THIS time. They believe they are better than that.

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