Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day

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Overview

When Edmund Hillary first conquered Mt. Everest, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was at his side. Indeed, for as long as Westerners have been climbing the Himalaya, Sherpas have been the unsung heroes in the background. In August 2008, when eleven climbers lost their lives on K2, the world?s most dangerous peak, two Sherpas survived. They had emerged from poverty and political turmoil to become two of the most skillful mountaineers on earth. Based on unprecedented access and interviews, Buried in the Sky reveals their ...
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Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day

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Overview

When Edmund Hillary first conquered Mt. Everest, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was at his side. Indeed, for as long as Westerners have been climbing the Himalaya, Sherpas have been the unsung heroes in the background. In August 2008, when eleven climbers lost their lives on K2, the world’s most dangerous peak, two Sherpas survived. They had emerged from poverty and political turmoil to become two of the most skillful mountaineers on earth. Based on unprecedented access and interviews, Buried in the Sky reveals their astonishing story for the first time.

Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan explore the intersecting lives of Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lahmu, following them from their villages high in the Himalaya to the slums of Kathmandu, across the glaciers of Pakistan to K2 Base Camp. When disaster strikes in the Death Zone, Chhiring finds Pasang stranded on an ice wall, without an axe, waiting to die. The rescue that follows has become the stuff of mountaineering legend.

At once a gripping, white-knuckled adventure and a rich exploration of Sherpa customs and culture, Buried in the Sky re-creates one of the most dramatic catastrophes in alpine history from a fascinating new perspective.

Co-winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“[A] revelatory look at Sherpa history and culture…. Highly recommended.”— David Pitt
Boston Globe
“Into Thin Air... was a huge success, and Buried in the Sky will satisfy anyone who loved that book.”
Outside Magazine
“[E]asily the most riveting and important mountaineering book of the past decade.”
Michael Kodas
“Buried in the Sky isn't just the story of the worst climbing disaster in the history of the "Savage Mountain," but an important introduction to the native climbers from Pakistan, Nepal, and Tibet whose labors make most high-altitude expeditions possible, and whose heroic efforts keep the death tolls on K2, Everest, and other Himalayan peaks from rising even higher. The Sherpas climb off the page and carry a narrative that is as fast and as gripping as their superhuman ascents.”
Men's Journal
“A work of obsessive reporting. The authors (who are cousins) traveled across the world, conducting extensive interviews with nearly every person who was on the mountain in 2008 and using digital forensics to analyze the photographs taken that day. They weave a narrative that is hair­raising and moving, but also precise—crucial given the technical complexities of expeditions and the often-hazy recollections of traumatized survivors. But what makes their book an indispensable addition to the genre is the way the authors explore the “cultural crevasse” underlying the ill-­fated expeditions on K2. They provide a long-­overdue historical correction to the familiar mountaineering story.”— Matthew Power
Library Journal
Journalists Zuckerman and Padoan examine the 2008 mountaineering tragedy on K2, when 11 climbers on various expeditions died. They focus on the backgrounds and roles of survivors Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama, as well as other Himalayan-born high-altitude workers. Providing historical and religious background on Nepal and the Sherpa ethnic group, and a judiciously crafted chronicle of the devastating series of incidents that left 11 dead, this narrative is well organized and chilling. Zuckerman and Padoan's extensive research, including information gathered from many translated interviews with survivors, provides clear evidence to support their version of events, and their conclusions raise hard ethical questions about often-impoverished local workers risking their lives to satisfy the ambitions of Western climbers. VERDICT Since many climbing chronicles tend to neglect the essential and expert contributions of Nepali Sherpas and Pakistani high-altitude workers, this work's alternative viewpoint is eye-opening. Best suited to mountaineering and adventure buffs who should also consider Freddie Wilkinson's One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story of Tragedy and True Heroism on K2.—Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI
Kirkus Reviews
A fast-paced narrative of one of the worst climbing disasters in the history of K2. Zuckerman and Padoan join forces in this harrowing account of the 2008 mountaineering tragedy on the summit of K2. Presented from the untold perspective of the sherpas, the authors give voice to the men who risk their lives so others may garner fame and fortune. With few other careers choices for these men, they turn aside their cultural differences to aid the rich and famous on their quest to reach the summit while receiving little acknowledgment for their own climbing expertise. In interviews with the sherpas and their families, Zuckerman and Padoan offer glimpses into the climbing culture that are as rare as the thin air the climbers breathe in the Death Zone. Although tradition dictates that K2 is an extremely dangerous mountain to summit, the world continues to press onto her flanks for personal glory or simply to make a statement. In 2008, when the one window of perfect climbing weather briefly opened, too many teams attempted the summit, with fatal results. The authors portray the grueling trek up as well as the gruesome, sometimes deadly ride back down the mountain as avalanches and rock slides picked some climbers off one by one. Readers will be left questioning the need to climb such mountains when many lives are frequently lost, severe frostbite and sickness are common, and the expense of engaging in one climb could be used to support families in the region for many months. A provocative perspective on one of the world's most expensive and deadly athletic adventures.
Smithsonian Magazine
“…[T]he authors’ commendable documentary about the people who carry the gear is overtaken by the chilling adventure story of one terrible day on the mountain.”
Deseret News
“Gripping… An absorbing book that goes beyond the typical mountaineering tale. …This book is mesmerizing.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Although Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, K2, “the Savage Mountain,” is a more difficult—and deadly— peak, and this compelling story brought back from its slopes is a worthy tale about a little-known aspect of these high-stakes climbs.”
Bookpage
“Fast-paced and well researched …a must-read for anyone fascinated by the people and politics of high-altitude mountaineering.”
Portland Monthly
“[A] page-turner addition to the library of great mountaineering books.”
Matthew Power - Men's Journal
“A work of obsessive reporting. The authors (who are cousins) traveled across the world, conducting extensive interviews with nearly every person who was on the mountain in 2008 and using digital forensics to analyze the photographs taken that day. They weave a narrative that is hair­raising and moving, but also precise—crucial given the technical complexities of expeditions and the often-hazy recollections of traumatized survivors. But what makes their book an indispensable addition to the genre is the way the authors explore the “cultural crevasse” underlying the ill-­fated expeditions on K2. They provide a long-­overdue historical correction to the familiar mountaineering story.”
David Roberts
“Zuckerman and Padoan have dug deeper than anyone else. Thanks to their efforts, the heroism and humanity of the Sherpa climbers who saved lives shine through the chaos and grief of that awful day on K2.”
Ed Douglas
“Pacey, compelling, and clear, this is an excellent account of what happened that fateful August day. The Himalayan-born high-altitude workers leap off the page with all their hopes and fears—and astonishing courage. Buried in the Sky is one of the very best books on the tragedy.”
Jamling Tenzing Norgay
“An informative and inspirational book... I couldn’t put it down. I am proud to know of the determination and loyalty of the Sherpa climbers and their tireless efforts to risk their lives for the other climbers.”
Ed Viesturs
“Buried in the Sky reveals the heroic deeds of the Sherpa. . . . [It] brings to light how immensely strong, loyal and talented the Sherpa climbers are. When most other climbers were faltering on the descent from the K-2’s summit, the Sherpa climbers not only rescued themselves, but also went back up to rescue others. Finally credit is given, where credit is due.”
Maurice Isserman
“Buried in the Sky will appeal to every mountaineer (armchair or otherwise) interested in the climbing history of K2, that beautiful and deadly peak.”
Peter Matthiessen
“I admired Buried in the Sky and enjoyed it, too. ...[T]he authors did their homework and wrote their story well... credit is given at long last to those who deserve it most.”
Bernadette McDonald
“Buried in the Sky is a gripping account of that fateful day in 2008 when eleven climbers lost their lives on K2. As it unravels the series of events that resulted from the unbridled ambition set loose on a dangerous mountain, it probes deeply into the lives of those courageous and unheralded professionals—the “thin-air” workhorses from Nepal and Pakistan. Heartbreaking. Sober. Compelling.”
Norman Ollestad
“Buried in the Sky is a compelling account of the men who have literally shouldered the rest of the world’s mountaineers up K2.”
David Pitt - Booklist
“[A] revelatory look at Sherpa history and culture…. Highly recommended.”
Men's Journal - Matthew Power
“A work of obsessive reporting. The authors (who are cousins) traveled across the world, conducting extensive interviews with nearly every person who was on the mountain in 2008 and using digital forensics to analyze the photographs taken that day. They weave a narrative that is hair­raising and moving, but also precise—crucial given the technical complexities of expeditions and the often-hazy recollections of traumatized survivors. But what makes their book an indispensable addition to the genre is the way the authors explore the "cultural crevasse" underlying the ill-­fated expeditions on K2. They provide a long-­overdue historical correction to the familiar mountaineering story.”
Booklist - David Pitt
“[A] revelatory look at Sherpa history and culture…. Highly recommended.”
Wall Street Journal
“Enthralling… phenomenal research and vivid writing create a memorable portrait not only of the events on the mountain but also of the people who make modern high-altitude climbing possible.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393079883
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/11/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 381,446
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Zuckerman
Peter Zuckerman is one of the youngest journalists ever to have received the Livingston Award. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Amanda Padoan writes for Explorersweb, a mountaineering news source. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Interviews & Essays

An essay from Peter Zuckerman

What initially made me want to write this book was the story. Buried in the Sky is a true adventure about one of the most dramatic disasters in alpine history, the 2008 tragedy on K2 that left eleven people dead. In this book, you will see photos of people just before they lived or died. You will find out what they do when they have been broken by oxygen deprivation and exhaustion — and must make life-or-death decisions. You will see what people are like at their most elemental level.

 I was also initially attracted to the characters. These are not the kind of people you bump into every day. It takes a curious personality to risk everything to climb the world's most dangerous mountain. These men and women, trapped inside the same tents, clash when their life depends on them getting along. You think you know who they are, and then — right when the stakes are highest — they reveal their character to be something else. These are people who capture you, who make you ask yourself what you would do under similar circumstances. Are you someone who would save yourself? Or would you try to save another? What if you barely knew that person?

 However, great drama and great characters are not what really excited me about writing this book. They're other stories with larger-than-life characters who attempt a death-defying struggle up fixed ropes to a summit. What really appealed to me about this story was that it illustrates a much more universal problem — one we all face, nearly everyday, nearly everywhere.

 Among mountaineers, Sherpas hold a nearly-mythical status. They have a seemingly superhuman ability to do some of the most dangerous and difficult climbing. They scout routes, break trail, fix ropes, carry gear, establish camps, pitch tents, escort climbers to the summit, snap summit photos, rescue climbers when they slip. This is their job: To safely get their often-more-celebrated clients up and down a mountain.

 But their stories are rarely told. Mountaineering shows that this kind of omission can lead to a disaster. When your life hangs from a knot, you need to know who tied it. You need to know whether it was tied correctly. When you're relying on a team to lead you up a mountain, you need to know whether the members of this team speak the same language and can communicate; whether they are business or ethnic rivals; whether they can and will work together well. These were major issues on K2 in 2008.
 History is usually told from the perspective of the kings and the Columbuses, but we all hang from knots that other people have tied. We all have mountains to summit. We are all surrounded by people we rarely notice.

 This book shows why these unseen people matter. When you tell an incomplete story that omits them, what you fail to learn can have disasterous consequences. Worse yet, you might not even find out what these consequences are, and others may repeat your errors. The Sherpas of every story must be seen for whom they are because our lives depend on it.

 My hope is that Buried in the Sky makes a small contribution to the way we tell stories and that it makes you to look into yourself, helping you more easily recognize the Sherpas in your life.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 18, 2012

    One of the most comprehensive guides to the literature of climbi

    One of the most comprehensive guides to the literature of climbing and exploration in the Himalaya, and surrounding areas, is the third edition of Yakushi's "Catalogue of the Himalayan Literature" (1994) with over 9,000 books listed. In this rich source it is quite surprising to find only very few books that deal with the perspective of the native or local climbers, the HAPs or, as they were being referred to in the colonialist days, the "coolies". The local climbers though, the Sherpa, the Balti and many more, do have an interesting story to tell. It is important they find a voice to speak for them and to tell their tale.

    Only a couple of these stories have found their way to the general public. Tenzing's autobiographies are important examples and probably the ones that are best known. "Servant of Sahibs" is the autobiography of Ghulam Rassul Galwan who, in the 1890's worked on a number of expeditions. An absolute rarity but a jewel of a book is "Mémoires d'un Sherpa" which tells the story of the life of Ang Tharkay. He was one of the most famous and important Sherpas and with Eric Shipton he was on eight of his expeditions. On the 1950 expedition to Annapurna he was sirdar, or "head of the porters" who are accompanying and supporting an expedition.

    To this small stack of books a new and important addition has seen the light of day. "Buried in the Sky" deals with the tragic events of the early days of August 2008 when 11 people lost their lives on the flanks of K2; that most beautiful, but equally dangerous and at times lethal, second highest summit on Earth. The book tells the tale from the perspective of the Sherpas who courageously risked everything to support the teams that hired them. They risked life and limb, displaying loyal acts of bravery and some of them indeed had to pay for this with their life. The way the story is presented in this book is objective, which is good. It's of no real use to be pointing with fingers to find the good and the bad guys. This tragedy - like so many others - is a thing of the past and those who could - and maybe should've done better - will have to worry and wail about this for years to come.

    It is a great credit to the authors that they give these courageous men a voice in a thoroughly researched and well written and gripping account. To try and measure yourself against a most worthy opponent as K2 is no child's play. To rise beyond the average in life and risk all to save a fellow climber is a thing that is only reserved for true heroes. This book is about a number of these brave characters. In this story full of tragedy and drama, the highest and lowest of emotions, the humanity of the people and the horror of death vie for first place. All the ingredients in this story make this book a highly entertaining read. The people involved truly come alive on the pages and for me it was impossible to put this book down so I read it in one go, cover to cover.

    As a reader, who exclusively prefers non-fiction mountaineering books, I've thoroughly enjoyed this read, even when it's dealing with serious matters and emotions, for it is a well balanced and excellent account. Any mountaineering library or bibliography that takes itself serious should have and list this book. It corrresponds with what a devoted and knowledgeable reader can expect to find only in the best of books. That's why I have no other choice and give this book my highest praise and the best recommendation imaginable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2013

    Maybe not a total mountaineering book, but for anyone readi

    Maybe not a total mountaineering book, but for anyone reading about this part of the mountaineering world it is almost a must read.
    Often forgotten, the sherpa's story is presented here in detail and with feeling. What goes on "behind the scenes" to make a expedition happen, and what has been going on for years with these people is put forth here with heartfelt stories and well researched detail.
    If you're going to this region or if you're going to read about mountain climbing here, you really ought to read this and consider a point of view that isn't often presented. Good read!

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  • Posted January 10, 2013

    Strong stuff, Well-done

    All mountaineers (& mountaineering fans) realize that many of the greatest feats in alpinism would not have occurred without the work of the indigenous people of the Himalayas. Until recently, all but ignored by climbers and the press, "Buried" gives these men and women their due. The book lays out the various groups lumped together as "sherpas" and gives you an inside look at a major climb from the 'insider's" point of view. Nicely done.

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  • Posted September 22, 2012

    Great non-fiction reading!

    Provides great back ground info of climbers.The detailed presentation of the events of this tragic K2 climb make this a can't put down read! It's obvious the authors did a great deal of one-on-one research.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2012

    Was not as good as I thought it would be

    While it may appeal to some readers much of the book focused on the region and background of the local/native climbers from childhood to how they landed the jobs as well as how they dealt with the aftermath. The actual days and events of the K2 climb was intense reading but was relatively short and book-ended by the before mentioned.

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  • Posted July 17, 2012

    An excellent read, even for those not particularly interested in mountain climbing

    This.is one of the best books that I have read in a long time. I'm not a mountain climbing nut, but the story presented here, through the eyes of the people who lived it (or their loved ones) is absolutely gripping.

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    This is a remarkable adventure story. Recounting the backgroun

    This is a remarkable adventure story. Recounting the background and detail of a dreadful mountaineering catastrophe, this book really is about decision-making and morality. It addresses how individuals on the knife-edge of disaster, when exhaustion and oxygen deprivation and fear have reduced them to bundles of elemental urges, behave. And it is about how cultural and moral imperatives frame those behaviors.
    For each trip of a well-funded team up K2, “sherpas” from several local cultures and nationalities had to climb the mountain no less than twice. They blazed the trails, set the ropes and toe holds, established the camps, and carried the equipment and sometimes the climbers. They took the the greatest risks for the least returns. They often did so without the full complement of oxygen bottles and accoutrements of their “bosses.”
    Unlike the well-feted teams who spent tens of thousands and more, and reaped multiples of that in sponsorships, the sherpas were paid little for their efforts.efforts. Instead of gaining glamor and potential world fame, the sherpas risked alienating mountain gods and the wishes of family for their —not trivial challenges within their belief systems. They often were ignored or discounted by those they led and sometimes saved. They showed surpassing courage and dedication that, if not for Zuckerman and Padoan, would have been buried in the sky with the eleven dead climbers.
    Of the quality of the authors’ research and interpretation it need only be said that one of the strongest reviews was by Wilco van Roojen , a Dutch climber who is not always treated kindly in the book. It is difficult to tell a morality tale without indulging in self-righteous judgment. The authors have told the story in a reportorial and crisp style that makes their message the more persuasive.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2012

    Dog

    Great book very compelling just a slow start but its worth the read

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