Everest gets the publicity, but second-highest K2 (28,250'), 80 miles from the nearest habitation in the Karakoram range of...


THE LAST STEP: The American Ascent of K2

Everest gets the publicity, but second-highest K2 (28,250'), 80 miles from the nearest habitation in the Karakoram range of Pakistan is, by almost any standard, a tougher mountain. By 1978, when Ridgeway and eleven other men and women set out on the sixth U.S. expedition to K2, the mountain had been climbed only twice, and never by Americans. The 1978 expedition (led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Everest) managed to place four climbers on top after a 67-day ordeal. Ridgeway, who with John Roskelly formed the second summit pair (Lou Reichardt and Jim Wickwire had preceded them the day before), provides a superbly written day-by-day account of the human side of this extraordinary accomplishment. It's a wonder they made it: the team was repeatedly forced thousands of feet down the mountain to lower camps by severe storms; incessant internecine warfare among the climbers fragmented the ""team""; the physical conditions (temperatures as low as 30 to 40 below, with high wind) were appalling even for a Himalayan climb. The final summit push was made almost Alpine-style as a near-desperation move. It worked, but they paid for it--Wickwire spent a night in the open at 27,000, without sleeping bag or tent, and ultimately lost part of a lung to pleurisy and parts of his toes to frostbite. Reichardt and Roskelly suffered frostbite, as did Ridgeway, who in exhaustion on his return from the summit crawled down the final pitch to the top camp on his hands and knees. He knew what he was doing; he had made a rational decision that the summit was worth a few fingers or toes. Extraordinary as a pure adventure story, Ridgeway's account also offers a scouring, sometimes painful account of the gradual stripping of human defenses in a group of highly driven, highly talented climbers, under stress and in danger, on an expedition that simply went on too long. Edmund Hilary once said that there are no conquerors on mountains--only survivors. Ridgeway's gripping narrative will bring this axiom to life, even for non-climbers.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Mountaineers Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980