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SAVAGE SUMMIT: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE FIRST WOMEN OF K2 Jennifer Jordan 2006 Paperback 2 copies available
By Jordan, Jennifer
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NY, 2006, 1st edition. 303 pp. Paperback, Fine.

Wanda Rutkiewicz, Liliane Barrard, Alison Hargreaves, Julie Tullis, Chantal Mauduit. 

K2 is called the 'Savage Mountain' and it has earned the name. Though not quite as tall as Everest, it is far more dangerous. Located at the border of China and Pakistan in the remote Karakoram range, K2 has some of the harshest climbing conditions and weather of any place in the world. At the beginning of the 2004 climbing season, ninety women had successfully summited Everest, but only five female climbers had reached the peak of K2. Today, all of those brave pioneers are dead. 

In 1986 Polish climber Wanda Rutkiewicz became the first woman ever to reach the top of K2 and was followed to the summit that same year by French climber Liliane Barrard and British climber Julie Tullis, both of whom died on their way down the mountain. Then in 1992, the summer that Rutkiewicz perished on Kangchenjunga, French alpinist Chantal Mauduit summited K2 and survived, only to die six years later on another 8,000-meter peak. 

Finally, in 1995 British climber and mother Alison Hargreaves reached the top but was killed shortly after starting her descent from its perilous summit. These courageous, remarkable women can no longer tell their tales of defeating the ferocious mountain. Jennifer Jordan, a journalist and filmmaker, tells the haunting and compelling, sometimes tragic, stories of how these women lived and died on the mountains they pursued.

Mothers and daughters, wives and lovers, poets and engineers, the female pioneers of K2 were complex personalities in the controversial world of high-altitude mountaineering, and their lives and deaths are a reminder of the high price climbers often pay to follow their dreams.

Jordan scales a small summit of her own to share a posthumous glimpse of mountaineers Wanda Rutkiewicz, Liliane Barrard, Julie Tullis, Chantal Mauduit and Alison Hargreaves, plus others who accompanied, aided and tried to thwart them as they attempted to summit K2, which lies on the Pakistan-China border. 

Each woman's story explores her passion for mountaineering and her own brand of controversy: flirtation, reckless motherhood, lack of practice. Jordan, who tells each woman's tale in the order that each summited K2 (between 1986 and 1995), wisely gives much attention to Rutkiewicz, a beautiful yet willful pioneer who was the first to seek 'challenges... that she had been told no woman could ever achieve.'

Jordan takes on a mammoth task—using journal entries, letters, published biographies, and interviews with fellow climbers, family and friends to distill five divergent lives into one narrative and using her imagination to fill in the blanks—and her prose at times is flat and repetitive. 

Readers are left with mini-biographies that don't have the dramatic detail to sweep the imagination like the bestseller that inspired Jordan, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. For mountain-climbing enthusiasts and women's history buffs, Jordan's well-researched survey is worthwhile reading for the famous reason mountaineers climb: because it's there.


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