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Co-winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography
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.
Posted June 18, 2012
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.
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Posted May 21, 2013
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
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2012
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 6, 2012
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2012
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2012
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.
Posted June 14, 2012
Posted September 6, 2014
No text was provided for this review.