Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2"

The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2 by Rick Ridgeway is a thorough and very well-written account of the 1978 expedition that put four Americans on the summit of the world's second highest peak.  Led by Jim Whittaker, who had been the first American to climb Everest in 1963 (and by a new route at that), the expedition was only the third (1954, 1977) to put climbers on K2's summit. 

The four climbers who summitted were Lou Reichardt and Jim Wickwire on one day and Rick Ridgeway and John Roskelley on the next.  Wickwire endured an open bivouac just below the summit, for which he later paid a steep price, and Ridgeway's and Roskelley's tent and one sleeping bag were destroyed by a stove fire after returning to camp from the summit.  Remarkably, there were no fatalities on the expedition.

The team of fourteen climbers took over two months to forge the route up the Northeast Ridge, which had never been followed to the summit. Like most expeditions on 8,000-meter peaks, this one sounded miserable.  Everyone suffered. Adding to the complexity, but ultimately making for a better read, was the affair between Chris Chandler and Cherie Bech, especially because Cherie's husband Terry was also on the expedition.   

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