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BOOK REVIEW: The Ghosts of K2 by Mick Conefrey

May 3, 2017 11:00 am

Out Now.

Published by One World.

Review by Gemma Corking.

Books 2

K2 comes in second in the battle of height, but clutches firmly onto the number one spot as the world’s hardest mountain to climb. Many have tried, many have perished and a fair few have succeeded. The Ghosts of K2 describes the early expeditions, the treacherous terrain and the trials and tribulations of the climb that sits in the shadow of Everest. In the words of George Bell;

“It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you”

Mick Conefrey is an internationally renowned filmmaker, and wrote The Ghosts of K2 after filming a documentary for the BBC. He recounts the first expeditions to K2 in 1902, to controversially reaching the summit in 1954. Conefrey paints an intense recollection of the time spent on the mountain collated from diaries, journals and novels – he’s left no stone unturned and has done each expedition justice. There are a lot of tense moments on K2, whether it’s the first ascent up House’s Chimney, breaking various altitude records or surviving the ‘death zone’; but the chapter that had me hanging off the edge of my seat was Chapter 8 – Man Down.

Chapter 8 takes us to 1954 with Charlie Houston and Bob Bates as they attempt K2 for the second time with a very friendly and cordial team comprised of; Tony Streather, Art Gilkey, Dee Molenaar, George Bell and Bob Craig. What makes this chapter more compelling is the fact that you have already read about Houston and Bates’s first attempt all the way back in 1938, and want nothing more than for them to succeed. This expedition started off really well, their team was strong and reaching the summit was definitely achievable. But there are two components that, no matter how much experience you have or how much fine planning has been done, cannot be controlled. These are how different bodies respond to high altitude and the weather. At 25,500 ft. Art Gilkey developed thrombophlebitis, a condition which can occur in at a non-life-threatening level at sea level; but which at high altitude results in certain death. They needed to get Art down, and fast. But the weather was not on their side, and if this were fiction it would have been an excellent example of pathetic fallacy. Conefrey’s writing is so vivid that you feel as if you’re there; the tension is palpable and the danger paramount. He has a way of capturing the mountaineers that makes them so familiar. They’re regular people trying to do something incredible, not a fictional character made up on the page. You’re constantly reminded of this with snippets into their backgrounds, making the situation even more distressing for the reader. I had my fingers and toes crossed the whole chapter, but you’ll have to read it to see if they prevail against all the odds.

I was dubious about reading The Ghosts of K2 due to mountaineering being nowhere near my list of interests, but I am so glad I did. It had me hooked from the first chapter, and my thirst for adventure catapulted me to the very end. It’s as close as you can get to K2 without having to leaving the comfort of your own home.


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