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LAST STEP, THE: THE AMERICAN ASCENT OF K2 Rick Ridgeway 1st edition 1st ed No DJ
By Ridgeway, Rick
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Seattle, 1980, 1st edition. 301 pp, 32 ills. The first American ascent of K2 placed four
climbers on top: Ridgeway, Roskelley, Wickwire and Reichardt. Hardcover, No DJ or torn DJ, VG-Fine.

Conflict, hardship, endurance, triumph, it's all here in Ridgeway's extraordinary story. In September 1978, Rick Ridgeway, Jim Wickwire, Lou Reichardt and John Roskelley stood atop K2, the first Americans ever to achieve this victory. Under the leadership of Jim Whittaker, they and their teammates had spent 67 days on the mountain, nearly all of them above 18,000 feet, where the stresses of high-altitude living, of monotonous food, of confinement in tiny tents for day after day of frustrating storms had worn them down to the core.

The Last Step is Rick Ridgeway's inside story of this extraordinary expedition. It's about the people who, battered by the mountain and their isolation, overcame their individual fears, desire, and disappointments to work together to get somebody˝anybody˝to the top of K2. It's about the glorious success the team achieved, and about the perilous bivouac Jim Wickwire spent just below the summit without food, oxygen or shelter in temperatures of -40F.

A Revewer writes 'Without a doubt, this is one of the most riveting mountaineering books around. Not for the climbing, which is in and of itself gripping, but for the slice of human drama found in the deterioration of relationships amongst various members of the expedition. At times, one is mesmerized by the bad behavior displayed at such high altitudes! One would think that these expeditioners were on Melrose Place, rather than fighting for their place in mountaineering history on K2, one of the most perilous mountains in the world to ascend. Central to all the squabbling, was the love trangle which developed on the expedition, which was perceived by some of the expeditioners to be an extra marital affair in progress.

Though this later proved to be true, at the time it was the source of much denial and hard feelings. It further split the team, which was already divided over who would be chosen to summit, and eroded already existing friendships, while preventing new ones which might have otherwise developed. On top of all this, add in poor weather which caused them to spend about sixty seven days on the mountain, mostly at altitudes over eighteen thousand feet, and you have a recipe for disaster. These expeditioners, however, managed to become the first Americans to ascend K2. Their success in achieving their objective, despite the trials and tribulations which they endured, is testament to their fortitude in putting aside petty, mean spirited concerns and inter-personal conflicts. This painstaking account of the first time summit of K2 by Americans is a must read for all climbing enthusiasts and readers of this genre.

There have been many firsts in Jim Whittaker's life. He was the first North American to summit Mount Everest (1963). As the first manager and employee, and ultimately the CEO, of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), he led the company through years of record-setting growth. In 1965 he guided Bobby Kennedy up the newly-named Mount Kennedy, helping him to become the first person to summit the peak. In 1990, he led the historic International Peace Climb, which put climbers from the U.S., Russia, and China on the summit of Everest in the name of world peace.

In 1963, Swiss mountaineer Norman Dyhrenfurth invited the Whittaker brothers to join him on an Everest expedition. Lou was unable to make the trip, but Jim leapt at the chance. In his 1999 autobiography A Life on the Edge he describes how it felt to stand atop Everest: 'I did not feel expansive or sublime. I felt only, as I said later, 'like a frail human being'. People, mostly non-climbers talk about conquering mountains. In my mind, nothing could be farther from the truth. The mountain is so huge and powerful, and the climber so puny, exhausted, and powerless. The mountain is forever. Gombu and I, meanwhile, were dying every second we lingered.'

Summitting Everest changed Jim Whittaker's life. An invitation to the White House led to a friendship with the Kennedy family and in particular with Bobby Kennedy, President Kennedy's younger brother and Attorney-General. Following the president's assassination, Whittaker guided Bobby Kennedy to the top of the Yukon mountain named in the president's memory.

Whittaker went on to lead expeditions to K2, organizing the first American team to summit the mountain in 1978. In 1990 he surmounted physical and bureaucratic hurdles to place a combined U.S-Chinese-Russian team at the summit of Everest as part of the 1990 Mount Everest Earth Day International Peace Climb.

Today Jim Whittaker spends his time lecturing, writing and, when time allows, sailing with his wife Dianne Roberts, and their two teenage sons. Life, Whittaker says, is still full of adventure: 'I think a life well lived is also inseparable from being able and willing to learn continuously. A climber who doesn't learn, almost with every foothold and handhold, is unlikely to be around long enough to have a life well lived. Learning is what happens when you risk a journey beyond what you know and are comfortable with, to something you don't know and aren't comfortable with. A lot of people my age act like they've seen it all and have nothing much else to learn. But I'm still a learner.


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