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Item #: BK699-369
K2: ONE WOMAN'S QUEST FOR THE SUMMIT Heidi Howkins 2001 1st ed New Hardcover DJ Fine
By Howkins, Heidi
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US, 2001, 1st edition. 270 pp, color photos. Hardcover with dust jacket. Fine.

With all the focus on Everest, it's a treat to have a book on the harder and more challenging peak, K2. Howkins, an American, has made two attempts on the world's second highest peak. Also recounts her successful ascent of Gasherbrum II in 1996 and nearly successful ascent of Kangchenjunga in 1997.

For years Heidi Howkins, a young climber, nursed an ambitious dream: to reach the summit of K2 - the world's second-tallest and one of its least accessible peaks - without using oxygen. She eventually did, though not without plenty of scary moments and much cause for reflection.

Howkins, addressing the reader through stories told to a bemused hitchhiker, reports much more than the sheer achievement of her ascents of K2, notable though they were. Along the way she tells him, and us, of a failed marriage, of the logistical nightmares that accompany any expedition to remote places, of the endless conflicts that can ensue when climbing partners are not carefully vetted. As the lone woman on her K2 climbs, Howkins had more than the usual problems to contend with, though those problems - bad weather, scary bus rides along the Karakoram Highway, the constant presence of death - were hard enough. All of them get an airing in Howkins's book, but for all that, her sense of adventure far outweighs the many downsides.

Why take on such a challenge in the first place? A friend warned her about trying to explain, and Howkins toys with a few explanations: the rush gained by conquering fear, denying the fragility of human existence, and "embracing survival with gusto." In the end, though, her best explanation is this: "When you get to the top of K2, there's nowhere left to go. There is a cessation of passion, of the desire to move forever upwards. There is emptiness, and the closure of a circle. You are back where you started. You're at peace."  - Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly
In 1997, Howkins applied for a permit to climb Kanchenjunga, or K2. The "savage mountain," is the second highest peak in the world at 8,616 meters (or 28,267 feet) and in many ways more difficult than Everest. "It is the ultimate goal for many climbers, and reaching the summit is akin to winning the Olympic gold," writes Howkins, the first American woman to reach the base of K2's summit peak. The first three-quarters of this fascinating but uneven book trace Howkins's journey from planning to final descent. Howkins's photographic recall of events, places and details of what climbers endure yields statements like "glove fuzz and sheer exhaustion and carbon monoxide poisoning from cooking inside a tent are not the main obstacles to eating.... the higher you go, the more your appetite diminishes." Unlike some swooning climber-authors, Howkins doesn't romanticize her struggles. ("I once heard someone define Himalayan climbing as the "art of suffering." I understand the suffering part, but I'm not sure I fully grasp the artistic challenge.") But her book is flawed by the structural conceit of telling her tale to a hitchhiker. The strength of her story (including an increasingly psychotic husband/climbing partner) is better served when she simply tells it, sans hitchhiker, in the last quarter of the book, which recounts an unsuccessful attempt up K2 in 2000. However, this very personal account of the climbing experience, including the rampant sexism that pervades the climbing community, is an important addition to the ever-growing genre.


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