Travel Blog

15 Oct

Whistler Writers – Buried in the Sky


Buried In The Sky (authors Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan)

Review by Susan Oakey-Baker (author of Finding Jim)

I have a connection to K2, the second highest and most dangerous mountain in the world, even though I have not climbed it. My late husband, guide and respected mountaineer Jim Haberl, was the first Canadian to reach the summit in 1993.

The risk of climbing big mountains, such as K2 and Everest, has changed over the years. More and more people attempt the summits, and they are not all seasoned mountaineers. They reach their goal on the backs of guides and porters.

In 2008, when 11 people were killed on K2, CBC asked me what I thought of the tragedy. Was the risk worth it? My answer: the risk is part of the game.

But what is the risk?

Buried In the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and his cousin Amanda Padoan, is a compelling recreation of the 2008 K2 disaster, based on two years of research, seven trips to Nepal and hundreds of interviews with Sherpas and foreigners. There are the usual mountain characters; ambition, conquest and survival but the story is rich and compelling due to the exhaustive research and because it centers on the real heroes, the Sherpas.

Zuckerman and Padoan explain that the Sherpas guide the mountain because the pay is more than triple what they can make otherwise and success leads to a bonus. They want to feed and clothe their families and send their kids to school. They climb the mountain twice; first to set fixed lines and camps and second when they go back down to fetch the clients.

Guided clients seek the summit out of ambition and the push to reach the top is palpable. The system is overloaded. Expectations are high.

When the fixed ropes are swept away by an avalanche, leaving the clients and guides stranded on descent, some people respond with courage and grace while others seek to save themselves. Traditionally, mountaineers are expected to be self-sufficient in the Death Zone, above 8,000 meters but the game has changed now that people are being guided.

Four Sherpas and Pakistanis and seven foreigners were killed in 2008 on K2. For the 4 year-old son of one of the Pakistani porter who was killed, the risk was not worth it.

As Buried In They Sky illustrates, the risk of climbing K2 is failure, injury and death. And compromising one’s humanity.

Susan Oakey-Baker is an author, guide, painter and teacher who lives in Whistler with her husband and son. Her new memoir, Finding Jim, will be officially launched at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival on Friday Oct 18 from 6:30-7:30 at Millennium Place. All welcome. On Friday Oct 18 from 4-6pm, Susan will join other authors and publishers in a panel discussion to answer the question: You have a manuscript, now what? On Sunday Oct 20 from 11-1pm, Susan will join 5 other authors in conversation with Jian Ghomeshi over brunch.

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