Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2by Jennifer Jordan
Though not as tall as Everest, the "Savage Mountain" is far more dangerous. Located on the border of China and Pakistan, K2 has some of the harshest climbing conditions in the world. Ninety women have scaled Everest but of the six women who reached the summit of K2, three lost their lives on the way back down the mountain and two have since died on other climbs.… See more details below
Though not as tall as Everest, the "Savage Mountain" is far more dangerous. Located on the border of China and Pakistan, K2 has some of the harshest climbing conditions in the world. Ninety women have scaled Everest but of the six women who reached the summit of K2, three lost their lives on the way back down the mountain and two have since died on other climbs.
In Savage Summit, Jennifer Jordan shares the tragic, compelling, inspiring, and extraordinary true stories of a handful of courageous women -- mothers and daughters, wives and lovers, poets and engineers -- who defeated this formidable mountain yet ultimately perished in pursuit of their dreams.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)
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Savage SummitThe Life and Death of the First Women of K2
By Jennifer Jordan
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Jennifer Jordan
All right reserved.
A Women's History of K2
The chief joy is the varied and perfect exercise, in the midst of
noble scenery and exhilarating atmosphere. The peak utters a
challenge. The climber responds by saying to himself, I can and
I will conquer it.
-- ANNIE SMITH PECK (1850-1935)
For most of the modern age, "woman climber" was an oxymoron. Women were almost without exception wives, widows, prostitutes, royalty, or slaves. But sometime during the late eighteenth century, when the first woman cinched a rope around her waist and lashed her boots into bear claw-shaped steel crampons to climb up ice walls and steep snow slopes, war was declared on the status quo. From the time of those earliest rock and alpine pioneers, women have had to deal with their gender as well as the mountains in order to climb. Whether it has been climbing with the danger and annoyance of twenty-two-pound skirts and the inconvenience of monthly menses or negotiating the power struggles with their male teammates, porters, guides, and officials, women have had very different experiences than men in the climbing world.
Early explorers of the sea, desert, jungle, Arctic, and mountains were mostly men whose cultures and personal fortunes allowed them such freedom. The few women of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries who had the financial and societal independence to venture beyond the narrow confines of the day found getting to the mountains a difficult feat. Not only did men invite other men to attempt the then-unclimbed peaks around them, but many resented the intrusion of women into their very male pursuits, as if the presence of women somehow diluted the fun, the danger, and the escape of their adventures. If it had been possible, one can imagine those early men posting a "No Girls Allowed" sign above the mountains.
The early female mountaineers also faced resistance and umbrage from deep within the cultured societies of London, Paris, and Boston, which had difficulty embracing the display of women, in britches or skirts shortened to their calves, ropes pulled tight around their bodies, climbing and sleeping on mountains, with men! Further, it was one thing for men to risk death in their lofty pursuits, but for women who "belonged" safely at home caring for the children, it was practically blasphemous.
But the women pioneers of rock and ice persevered through their culture's indignation and scorn, first ascending Mont Blanc in 1808 (although barely, as Marie Paradis, exhausted and quite undone by her efforts, begged her companions to throw her into the nearest crevasse to put her out of her misery), the Matterhorn in 1871, and finally the world's mightiest peak, Mount Everest, in 1975. With every rope they suffered second-guessing, petty jealousy, and recrimination, not to mention the resentment of men who felt challenged when women achieved the same feats that they had heralded as pushing the limits of what the human body could endure. After all, if a mere woman could do it, how dangerous could it be?
Pretty damn dangerous, as it would turn out, particularly for those who set their sights on the world's highest mountains, the fourteen that stand above 8,000 meters, roughly the cruising altitude of a jetliner. Only a tiny fraction of the world's population will ever breathe the rarefied thin air that veils the top of the world, and even fewer will survive the experience. High-altitude climbing is the most deadly of recreations, many times more lethal than skydiving, race-car driving, or base-jumping. On certain peaks the fatality rates are staggering, but on K2 they are mind-boggling. When a climber straps on his crampons with the intent of ascending K2, he knows he has a one-in-four chance of not making it off the mountain alive. One in four. And as bad as those odds are, they are even worse for women. Six women have reached the summit of K2, but five have died trying. (In addition to the three who died on descent, another two women died on ascent without reaching the summit.) For women the statistics are small but nonetheless powerful. The bottom line is that women have fared disastrously on K2.
Ironically, as bad as their experience on K2 has been, women actually die less often than men on the other 8,000-meter peaks. Although there has been almost no scientific research on the effects of high altitude on the female body, what little data there are actually indicate that women are better suited to the rigors of the Death Zone than their male colleagues. Recent studies suggest that as men and women climb higher, men's initial advantage of muscle mass and brute strength equalizes out against women's better endurance and ability to adapt to the thin air. Not only do women suffer high-altitude pulmonary edema less often, but they acclimatize better, they retain their base body weight better, and their more efficient circulatory systems lead them to suffer less frostbite--the formation of ice crystals in the cells that destroys their structure and constricts the oxygen flow, leading to infection and, if untreated, quickly to gangrene, resulting finally in amputation. There is also early evidence that the female sex hormone helps to guard women against the deadly effects of high altitude, but further research needs to be done to make that theory conclusive.
Women have in fact survived their Himalayan ventures slightly better than men. In the entire Himalaya there have been thirty-one female deaths, or 4.7 percent of all fatalities. But women account for 5.4 percent of all the ascents. Women therefore have a 0.7 percent better survival rate than men in the Himalaya. An exception is on K2, where women represent almost 10 percent of the total deaths and only 2.5 percent of all ascents. Women are therefore four times more likely to get killed on K2 than nearly all the other 8,000-meter peaks ...
Excerpted from Savage Summit by Jennifer Jordan Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Jennifer Jordan has lived at the base of K2 twice while writing and producing the National Geographic documentary The Women of K2. She is a writer, producer, public speaker, and journalist, having created, produced, and hosted her own public radio talk show. Jennifer lives with her husband, filmmaker and adventurer Jeff Rhoads, in Salt Lake City.
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