The Life & Death of the First Women of K2 – Book Review

For the Christmas just gone I asked for some mountainy  books, I wasn’t quite sure which ones but my Dad is a bit of an obsessive when it comes to them, so I left it in his hands. The result? Two books on K2 (variety score: zero Dad, lol jk love you), one was entitled Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2 by Jennifer Jordan. Grab yourself a copy here.

I was intrigued by high altitude mountaineering, and how women fitted into it over the past 100 or so years so immediately turned the page. Although a really interesting subject, the book itself is quite difficult to get into – like many mountaineering books it seems to bog itself down in facts, figures and the intimate ancient history of the mountain. There is always a place for these types of things, but daym, it makes for some rather dull reading (and this is coming from someone who had to read 19th century pre-novels by blokes who thought their solitary evening meals constituted entire chapters). Facts and figures are all very well, but to be honest, 7000m is pretty incomprehensible to someone lounging in a chair, and so it took me a month or two to actually get past the first 2 chapters for this reason exactly.

When I started to make headway however, I got totally caught up in it. The tales of Wanda Rutkiewicz and Co and their incredible skill and strength, and the sheer iron will of climbers who ventured above the Death Line was harrowing, inspiring and a bit mad to read to be honest. The death toll of K2 mountaineers is staggering; it is the deadliest mountain in the the world and decisions like, sleeping a night or two or even three above the death line of 7000m seems crazy – you just want to shake them and say ‘You need to get off this mountain!!! I actually read a lot of this whilst we were in Scotland kayaking for a week, and would often have to slam the book shut, stalk around the bunkhouse telling anyone who would listen how frustrated I was with mountaineers of decades past (I get really into my books ok, I’m sorry)

Also, although it’s purpose was to follow the stories of a number of remarkable women, it felt very story-telly (sorry for the made up word) at times, including details of solitary moments before death that just felt like they were reaching for a story rather than the truth. A large part of their legacies are wrapped up in the mystery surrounding their deaths (oh, spoiler alert, they all die, something I definitely failed to realise having not really read the cover properly.Or the preface. Or much of the first chapter. Ooops. It got real deep real quick when the penny dropped). Although the author makes some reference to where she found such information, it was just a bit too much to believe that anyone was privy to their final thoughts and actions.

All in all, it gives a really cool insight into what was a crazy time in high-altitude mountaineering. I cannot recommend this enough for anyone who has a part of this world, no matter how small – it is intriguing and quite alien to modern eyes, but well worth it to learn all about these women who were kicking some serious ass. Yeh that’s right, girl power mother fucker (sorry mum).


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