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Hardcover K2: The 1939 Tragedy Book

ISBN: 0898863236

ISBN13: 9780898863239

K2: The 1939 Tragedy

In 1939 an American expedition attempted to make a first ascent of the world's second-highest peak, K2, in the Himalayas. Two members of the party came within 800 feet of the summit before turning... This description may be from another edition of this product.


Format: Hardcover

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Revealing Insights into a Controversial Expedition...

In 1939, an American climbing expedition came achingly close to summiting then-unclimbed K2, the world's second highest peak, only to lose four members during the descent. The expedition's failure had multiple causes. In 1992's "K2: The 1939 Tragedy", Andrew Kaufman and William Putnam put together the evidence, including the newly available diary of one of the key climbers, to try to lay to rest the resulting controversies. The 1939 Ameican K2 Expedition was dogged by poor fortune almost from the start. Expedition leader Fritz Wiessner chose a large and capable team, only to have the best climbers drop out at the last minute. Upon reaching remote K2, both climbers and sherpas experienced injuries and illness. Bad weather delayed the team's advance and dampened morale on a rugged and even terrifying route that was probably beyound the climbing ability of all but Wiessner himself. The relentless Wiessner drove himself and a Sherpa climbing partner to less than 800 vertical feet from the summit, while the team fell apart without him in the lower camps. On the descent, one member was left behind at a high camp. He and a rescue party of three sherpas never returned. Acrimony among the team members lasted for years afterward. Kaufman and Putnam's indepth examination of the expedition includes the diary of Jack Durrance, who did yeoman work in pushing the expedition up the mountain despite attitude sickness and poor gear, but who was later blamed by Wiessner for the failures. Kaufman and Putnam argue that Wiessner's team was inadequate to the task, and Wiessner himself took on too many responsibilities. Kaufman and Putnam further reasonably suggest that the effect of prolonged stay and supreme effort at high altitude may have affected Wiessner's judgement. Durrance is shown to have behaved responsibly and followed the guidance he was given. The deaths of four climbers becomes in this narrative the result of a chain of events involving actions by a number of people. The book has its best moments in describing the exciting story of the climb itself. The prolonged discussion of the expedition's failure offers many useful learning points but tends to be repetitive. The authors spent overly much time speculating about a number of matters, including the relationships between certain key players, which at this remove of time are probably impossible to resolve. "K2: The 1939 Tragedy" is highly recommended both as a lesson in expedition dynamics and as a cautionary tale of why K2 is such a deadly mountain to climb.


An absorbing review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the tragic 1939 K2 expedition and its aftermath. Weaving a newly discovered, first hand account by one of the expeditioners, with already known, heretofore, controversial historical data from others on the expedition, the authors masterfully reconstruct the events which led to the deaths of four individuals, three Sherpas and one American, on K2 in the wild Karakoram range.After many weeks in the mountains, overcome by altitude sickness and inexperience, only three members of the expedition are physically able or willing to push on to the summit. The only ones so inclined are its expedition leader, Fritz Wiessner, the rich American who bankrolled part of the expedition, Dudley Wolfe, and the plucky Sherpa porter, Pasang Lama.Dudley Wolfe, with whom Fritz Wiessner seems to have developed a client-guide relationship, is unable to continue past camp VIII, limited by his own inexperience. Fritz, a superb climber, continue along towards the summit with Pasang Lama. They set up Camp IX and continue on towards the summit, where they manages to make it up to within 8oo feet of the summit. There, the plucky Pasang Lama is unable to continue. They decide to return to Camp IX with the intention of resting and returning the next day for a new assault on the summit.It was not to be. On their descent, they lost their crampons. After they rested in Camp IX, they realized that they needed more supplies, so they went down to Camp VIII. There they found Dudley, but no new supplies had been brought up from the lower camps. So, they all decide to go down to Camp VII to investigate and restock. On the way down, Dudley's inexperience causes them to have an accident on the ropes. They fall but manage to survive. Pasang Lama, however, is seriously injured, and the sleeping bag and air mattress that Dudley carried is lost to the mountain. Fritz, having left his bedding in Camp IX, expecting to find some in the lower camps, is disappointed when they manage to reach camp VII, only to find it in disarray and stripped of all bedding and sleeping bags! Remarkably, both Dudley and Fritz had by this time spent nearly a month in the dead zone without supplementary oxygen. Therein lies the tale. Read on! The account is at times mesmerizing. This remarkably well researched chronicle manages to paint a riveting picture of the the travails of this expedition from its confused beginnings to its tragic end. It shows what can happen when all members of the expedition are clearly not on the same page.

Buy It and LEARN, History DOES Repeat...

I don't understand these Nit-Picky reviews by the grammar police. This is a good book and an excellent assembling of newly discovered information. The authors have answered the challenge to assemble this information in a way that both entertains and informs. Wiessner was a man driven by desire and motivation and stregnth he himself emanated drove and bolstered his entire team. As has happened all to often since 1939, poor weather, poor circumstance, egos, images and desire all played a part in this disaster. The fact that Weissner and Wolfe got as far as they did (within 800 feet) is simply amazing. They were all men of unbelievable stregnth and drive. There is alot of reality in this book and alot of adventure. Only drawback was too many footnotes which had me flipping back and forth to get "more" details throughout the entire read.

A Gunkie review

As a climber and a Gunkie, I read this book because I was interested in the character of Wiessner. I has not disappointed. Some interesting aspects of Wiessner's personality are revealed. The story is basically the 1996 Everest expedition in 1939. A guided client dies due to poor, hypoxia affected, decisions. This story proves the rule, 'history repeats itself'. The fact that K2 was almost climbed, by practically one man, before nylon ropes, Gore-Tex etc just boggles the mind. A truly amazing achievement.

The anatomy of a famous disaster

While "disaster" may be more usually applied to events which take the lives of more than the few people who climb mountains in any given expedition, the word seems well-applied to Weissner's 1939 expedition to K2. In light of more recent understanding about altitude sickness and the pernicious effects of "thin air" on rational function the description of this expedition's strategy for summitting and the sheer number of days members of this party spent at what we would now call killing altitudes boggles the mind. The 1939 K2 expedition remains a milestone in the mountaineering literature for the cautionary tale it represents. Reading about the differences between challenging a mountain then versus challenging a mountain now is fascinating. Especially interesting to me was the discussion of how only newly available information illuminates one of the critical controversies surrounding the expedition.
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