There are some books you never put down once you start reading them because they carry you to a different world, a world where you long to be yourself, to feel yourself. And then there are those that you do not put down because though you feel connected to the story, you long never to be there. No Way Down by Graham Bowley is such a book. Telling of the disaster on the summit of K2 during the summer of 2008, it casts a fisherman’s net out and keeps you hooked right till the end.
The story begins with the different expeditions trying to summit K2 (which being the second highest mountain on earth, is widely considered by many to be the most difficult of mountains over 26000 feet to climb). The climbing season on the mountain is from June to August, but bad weather has resulted in no climbing during June and July, leading climbers having to patiently wait out the bad weather at the Base Camp. On August 1, 2008, the mountaineers, already cognizant of the fact that the K2 is not a peak to be taken lightly, push for the summit. Of all the climbers, only one manages to scale the peak and return safely to Camp 4 before nightfall. (The author also points out that among the many deaths on the K2, many have been of successful peak summiteers who have died during the descent). Around evening, as the weary climbers are descending to Camp 4, an avalanche strikes. This removes the ropes from the slope that were fixed to guide the mountaineers back to the Camp. Then another avalanche strikes. More deaths. Then another avalanche. A few more deaths. In total, before the night is over, four avalanches strike the mountain killing those in the path, leaving only a handful of survivors.
What follows is a tale of trying to survive, in one case doing so after spending a couple of days bivouacking above 26000 feet on the maintain. The author provides a glimpse into the thought processes of the expert climbers, who for most of the part are stuck in tough situations on the mountain because of the mistakes on the part of the less skilled climbers. Indeed this is one of the recurring themes in a couple of other books that I read on mountain disasters. Expert mountaineers oppose the move that any person (and I do not use the word climber here) can be a part of an expedition with just a few clicks of the mouse on the internet. The most important attribute required to climb a mountain nowadays is not skill, it is money. And this is what the climbers feel is leading to more disasters, apart from natural factors like avalanches and bad weather. The book also tells the story of the Sherpas, who climb atleast a couple of high altitude mountains every season so that they get enough money to support their families.
The story is heart wrenching and at the same time, inspiring. Do read it if and whenever you get a chance.