On August 1, 2008, K2, the second tallest mountain mountain on the planet and arguable the most challenging to climb, was the scene of a horrific series of events that led to one of the most deadly days in the history of mountaineering. On that fateful day, a serac collapsed high on the mountain, sweeping the fixed ropes used by climbers off the mountain and killing several people in the process. The crushing ice and snow also stranded a number of others above an area known as the Bottleneck, leaving them scrambling for a way to descend out of the infamous “Death Zone.” By the time the tragedy had completely played out, 11 climbers lost their lives and those that did survive, came back with harrowing tales to tell.
Two of those survivors were Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama, two guides from Nepal whose paths had criss-cross in the past as they both traveled from small, remote villages in the Himalaya to the very tops of the tallest mountains on the planet. The book Buried In The Sky, by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan, tells their story, starting in those tiny villages, then later to the streets of Kathmandu and on to a variety of Base Camps across the Himalaya and Karakoram, including K2.
In the summer of 2008, both men were with climbing teams on the mountain and on the first of August they were amongst those that went up to the summit and were making their way back down when the serac collapsed. Exhausted and alone, Chhiring was looking for a way to get down the mountain without the use of ropes, some that seemed nearly impossible to his oxygen deprived mind. He had very few pieces of gear with him at the time, although he was still in possession of his ice axe, which could potentially be used to arrest his fall.
While looking for a place to attempt a decent, Chhiring came across Pasang, still clinging to the mountain in his climbing harness. Pasang had given up his axe to another climber earlier in the day and at that point he was unsure how he would get down on his own and without his axe. Although their situation seemed bleak, Chhiring couldn’t leave a fellow climber – a fellow human being – behind and the two men joined forces and made the incredibly difficult descent together.
Buried In The Sky gives a breathtaking account of their ordeal but not before first providing plenty of background on the two Sherpas, modern mountaineering and K2, the Savage Mountain itself. The two authors have certainly done their homework and it shows through in their writing. It isn’t enough to just research the subject matter, you have to go deeper to make the story come alive, and Zuckerman and Padoan make the story of these two Sherpa come to life in amazing fashion.
Of all the big peaks, K2 is easily the mountain that fascinates me the most. It is an incredibly difficult climb and is particularly deadly as well. Reading this book I not only learned more about the legendary mountain, but at times I felt like I had been transported to its icy slopes as well. Thats a testament to how well written Buried actually is and the authors are to be commended for pulling that off. This is a book that can be proudly put on the shelf next to Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, as the two cover similar ground at times, although their stories are very different.
If you’re looking for a new addition to your mountaineering library than Buried In The Sky is a definite must have. With superb writing, hair-raising drama and two memorable protagonists, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as you turn the pages as quickly as you can. On more than one occasion I found myself in the “just one more chapter” mode, even as the clock said it was well past bedtime. I think you’ll be just as riveted as was and the story of these two Sherpas will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Buried In The Sky is a must read.
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