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K2 THE SAVAGE MOUNTAIN THE CLASSIC TRUE STORY OF DISASTER AND SURVIVAL ON THE WORLD'S SECOND HIGHEST MOUNTAIN Robert Bates, Charles Houston New Paperback 2009 Multiple Copies Available
By Houston, Charles and Bob Bates, Foreword by Jim Wickwire
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2009 [1954]. 191 pp, b/w photos, maps and diagrams. New paperback.

New foreword by Jim Wickwire, one of the first Americans to climb K2. An American climbing classic. The 1953 American attempt on K2 was marked by the highest levels of climbing heroism. 

This is the account of one of the greatest and now legendary episodes in the history of high altitude mountaineering, the 1953 K2 expedition. High on the world's second highest mountain, above the steepest & most treacherous sections of the climb, a team member became gravely ill. Chances were that he would die. But the team (all eight were together) refused to abandon their buddy, and, with considerable peril to their own safety, committed to the impossible task of dragging, lowering, and carrying their stricken comrade back down the mountain. There was an accident. All should have died. This is a must read for those who like adventure and admire selfless teamwork.

A riveting read, this book chronicles the 1953 Third American Karakoram Expedition. The authors, members and integral part of that illustrious team of eight expeditioners, regale the reader with their account of the tragic circumstances with which they were faced while attempting to summit K2, a five mile high mountain, second only to Everest in height but infinitely more perilous to ascend. The book recounts the myriad of detail which went into the formulation of that expedition, from the selection of its respective team members to the type and quantity of supplies necessary for such an ambitious endeavor. The book, in fact, includes a series of appendixes which lists in minute detail a day to day travel chronology of the expedition, a list of all equipment necessary, the breakdown of the various foods taken, the medical supplies needed for the venture, and a list of financial costs and transportation requirements. In short, it provides everything one may have ever wanted to know about what goes into mounting an expedition. Nostalgia buffs, as well as climbing enthusiasts, will revel in the plethora of information.

The book also grounds the reader in the historical, as well as the geographical, pedigree of K2 and the challenges which it has presented over time. It recounts the previous reconnaissances and expeditions which had traveled to the environs of K2. Interestingly enough, on this expedition, unlike prior ones, Hunza mountain porters from a small border state in northern Pakistan, rather than Sherpas, were employed, due to the prevailing political winds of the time. The journey of the expedition over the remote and primitive reaches of the then infant country of Pakistan is a death defying venture in and of itself.

Imagine the expedition with its hundred and twenty five native Balti porters, each carrying sixty pound loads, crossing raging rivers in ancient barges said to be similar to those used by Alexander the Great in leading his armies across the same river. At other times, they crossed turbulent river waters using rafts made up of inflated animal bladders which were lashed together. They traversed across wide gorges over bridges made of woven willows and twigs. These so called bridges had an alarming tendency to turn upside down, promising to send the hapless traveler to a certain death below!

Fortunately, the expedition was able to avert death at this stage of the journey. Upon reaching base camp, an assault upon K2 was quickly launched. With the assistance of the Hunzas and a stretch of good weather, Camps I through III were established with a minimum of fuss. The Hunzas, however, did not progress beyond Camp III, given the Hunzas limited high altitude experience and equipment. From then on, the expeditioners, eager for a summit bid, did all the loading and carrying work up the mountain, ultimately establishing Camp VIII at an elevation of about 25,500 feet.

It was there that the beginning of the end took place. While at Camp VIII, all eight members of the expedition found themselves storm bound for seven days. Despite being buffeted by hurricane force winds, driven snow, lack of sufficient food, drink, and sleep, all while trapped in the death zone without supplementary oxygen, they still clung to their summit dream. The dream ended abruptly when Art Gilkey, became desperately ill with thrombophlebitis and needed to be evacuated. Their nightmare had begun.

Though it was seemingly impossible to lower the ill climber down the face of K2, this group of brave men would not abandon their fallen comrade. A break in the storm, a desperate plan to save their friend, and they started off with him in tow only to have their escape aborted by the potential for avalanche. They retreated back to Camp VIII and by the next day were ready to execute an alternate plan of evacuation.

Once again, they began the grim descent with their now catastrophically ill and courageous comrade in tow, this time during a storm with driven snow and gale force winds. Braced upon snow swept ridges, they began the arduous task of carefully lowering their friend down the relentlessly steep slope of K2. There, two of them survived a skirmish with an avalanche. Despite the peril, they continued down the mountain with great fortitude.

Suddenly, one of them lost his footing, however, and five of them went tumbling down the mountain side, only to have their fall abruptly checked by an amazing belay executed by the Pete Schoening, younget member of the expedition.

Despite illness, injuries and frost bite, the eight man team was still intact. Unfortunately, it was not to remain thus. Shortly after, a heartbreaking and tragic accident occurred, resulting in a death which will move the reader to tears.

The book culminates in a remarkable and harrowing descent by the remaining survivors, many of whom were incapacitated by the injuries and frostbite incurred along the way. Their survival is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and its enormous will to live. The story of the 1953 Third American Karakoram Expedition is one of the most amazing and spellbinding in the annals of mountaineering history. Gripping in its telling, it is a must read for all climbing enthusiasts and for all who simply love a great story.


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