We’ve compiled a list of must-read books about climbing disasters everyone should check out. From the highly anticipated The Summit book of 2014, to classics like Denali’s Howl, these books are a must-have.
We mostly hear about the backdrop of mountaineering disasters through documentaries and article snippets. But the real story almost always lies in the pages of a first-hand account book; a narrative retelling of a tragic story sometimes too unbelievable to imagine. While there are many great books that give great detail about some mountaineering disasters, this is a short list to start off with.
1. No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
Eleven climbers lost their lives on 01 August 2008 after a series of icefalls trapped climbers above the death zone and cut their fixed lines. Over the course of one night, one-by-one they would be picked off by the elements and a series of accidents until only a fraction were left.
2. The Summit: How Triumph Turned To Tragedy On K2’s Deadliest Days
Of all the mountaineering disasters in history, what happened on K2 in 2008 was one of the most controversial. In the book The Summit, author Pat Falvey works with Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, who was present during the events, to capture tragedy in a first-hand narrative.
Pemba Gyalje Sherpa became known as the hero of K2 and would eventually spend 90 hours in the Death Zone coordinating rescues. This book would later be made into a documentary film featuring Fredrik Sträng, Cecile Skög and other climbers who were present during the unfolding events.
3. Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak
In 1967, an expedition to Alaska’s highest peak, Denali, one of the worst mountaineering disasters took place. In Denali’s Howl, Andy Hall recounts the events he witnessed as a young boy.
These events would later grow into an obsession for Hall, which led him on a mission to find out what exactly happened on that mountain when seven out of 12 climbers were killed by a massive storm.
4. K2: Triumph And Tragedy
Seven of these doomed climbers died on the descent, highlighting the true nature of climbing. The descent is almost always deadlier than the ascent. And of all the mountains in the world, K2 has always been the deadliest of all.
5. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
In Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer gives a first-hand account of the infamous 1996 Everest Disaster where a massive storm trapped climbers in the Death Zone for one day and one night. Two guiding leaders perished, Rob Hall and Scott Fisher. Overall, eight climbers lost their lives on Everest.
The book became both a heralded work of nonfiction and a controversial account. In our analysis of Into Thin Air, we detail the angle Krakauer took on the story and what he had to work with, as well as the reason why the book was written.
6. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival
Joe Simpson recounts his miraculous story of survival in Touching the Void. By far, this is one of the most documented mountaineering disasters in history. Featured in a documentary of the same name, Simpson’s ordeal began after setting out on a climb with a friend. Along the way, he fell into a crevasse.
Dangling from one end of his rope, his friend held on to the rope from above. For an entire night, he held it until he couldn’t hold it anymore. He cut the rope, and what proceeded was a story of survival inside a crevasse for Joe Simpson with a broken leg.
Check out Touching the Void on Amazon Video.
7. K2: The Savage Mountain: The Classic True Story Of Disaster And Survival On the World’s Second Highest Mountain
In K2: The Savage Mountain, by Charles Houston and Robert Bates, the story of the dramatic 1953 American K2 Expedition, led by Charles S. Houston, is brought to life.
A combination of terrible storms and illness stopped the team short of the 28,251-foot summit of K2. On the descent, tragedy struck and how the climbers made it back to safety is renowned in the annals of climbing and cemented climber Art Gilkey into history.
8. K2: The 1939 Tragedy: The Full Story of the Ill-Fated Wiessner Expedition
K2: The 1939 Tragedy unravels the complex tangle of events and personalities that led to four deaths during the 1939 American Expedition to K2. With the aid of a recently available trip diary, this book challenges the conventionally accepted version of the story.
K2: The 1939 Tragedy details the story of how five ill-prepared men were led by one strong, dedicated man on a mission beyond their collective abilities, in a land where people do not belong.
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