Buried in the Sky

I’m coming to terms with the fact that there’s no way on God’s green earth I’m going to be able to read 75 books this year.  I’m only at 36 right now.  While 75 will remain my official Goodreads goal, unofficially I’m going to say I that I just want to beat last year’s total of 55.

A blog reader recommended Buried in the Sky to me based on my interest in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air which I read several years back and loved.  Both books are about mountain climbing which is something that I’m kind of fascinated with but really have no desire to do.  My lack of desire to go mountain climbing is probably the direct result of reading books like this.  It seems like people are always falling off the mountain, disappearing into crevasses or freezing to death at altitudes not that far below the cruising altitude of most jets.  It may not make for much fun in reality, but man, does it make for some fascinating reading.

Into Thin Air chronicled a disastrous run for the summit of Mt. Everest.  Buried in the Sky takes on K2, the world’s second highest peak and one of only 14 mountains that top out above 8000 meters.  This book takes a specific look at the Sherpa climbers that help international climbers make it to the top of the world’s tallest mountains.  Without their help, most attempts wouldn’t end in success.  And, as Buried in the Sky amply demonstrates, even with the help of Sherpa climbers, there’s no guarantee that the climb will be without incident.

K2 is, without question, a more difficult climb than Everest.  One need look no further than its fatality rate of 25% – for every four successful ascents, there has been one fatality during the attempt.  Only around 300 people have successfully climbed K2, where as over 2500 people have managed to make it to the top of Everest.  The weather is forbidding, the climb a rocky and difficult one.  Ice cliffs have a tendency to calve off, crushing climbers as they attempt to scale the mountain.  To many Sherpas, this is the mountain goddess exacting revenge for even trying to climb the mountain.  Climbing K2, in their view, is sacriligious.

But in one of the poorest parts of the world, the money helping climbers is hard to resist.  In August of 2008, several groups attempting to reach the summit of K2 with the assistance of Sherpa climbers met with disaster, not so much from bad weather but just from very bad luck.  This is the story that Buried in the Sky tells.  The tales of mountainside death and drama leave you on the edge of your seat.  I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be tangled in fixed ropes, hanging upside down on the face of K2 all night in sub zero weather.  My brain can’t even wrap around the thought of it.  And that is just one of the many tribulations that face the climbers on their retreat from the summit of K2.

Overall, I really enjoyed Buried in the Sky although it does pale a bit in comparison to Into Thin Air and really, that comparison is inevitable.  My biggest trouble with Buried in the Sky is that I didn’t feel as engaged in the story as I did with Into Thin Air.  I think it might have to do with how the story was told – Into Thin Air‘s first person narrative put you right in the middle of the tragedy on Everest, whereas Buried in the Sky takes a more distant view of the events.   I also didn’t feel like I got to know the characters as well in Buried in the Sky.  It was hard to differentiate people – I kept having to go to the characters list in the beginning of the book to figure out who was who and why I cared again.  I think that it was just too large of a cast to really allow you to connect.  Still, it was a worthy read about something that I will never do in my life.  And I’m okay with that.

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