I’ve always been a big fan of outdoor adventure books; reading about expeditions from Antarctica to the steamy jungles of South America to the highest peaks on the planet is almost as exciting as being there (almost). Buried in the Sky, by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan, is a mountaineering adventure book with an interesting perspective. Instead of focusing on the Western adventurers who organized this particular K2 summit expedition, this book follows the paths of the sherpas and porters who make attempts like this possible.
In August of 2008, eleven climbers died on K2, the single deadliest day in the history of expeditions on the mountain. Although Mount Everest is higher than K2, K2 is actually a much more difficult and dangerous mountain to climb. Accordingly, far fewer mountaineers attempt the summit of K2 than Everest each year. Zuckerman and Padoan do a great job describing the challenges of K2 relative to other well known mountains and provide good background for anyone unfamiliar with high alpine mountaineering.
I’ve read many accounts of K2 summit attempts in the past but Buried in the Sky gives perhaps the best explanation for the cultural significance K2 has for indigenous tribes in the Himalaya. To Western explorers, the mountains are there to be conquered; to the local porters and sherpas, the mountains are to be respected and carefully approached.
There’s even a full chapter devoted to explaining the origins of the term “sherpa” and how it’s often misused by the media (myself included!) when talking about high altitude porters of all ethnicities.
Zuckerman and Padoan look into what motivates sherpas to take risks and subject their bodies to physical punishment and surprisingly, it’s not just about money (though the money is very important to the villagers). In fact one sherpa, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, seems just as motivated by the challenge of summiting K2 as his Western counterparts. But beyond the sherpa team members themselves, Buried in the Sky also focuses on the families that are left behind and the conflicting emotions they have about their loved ones taking such risks and potentially drawing the ire of their Gods.
Buried in the Sky includes many helpful maps and photos to really make the story come alive. The maps are particularly helpful in this story because there are so many moving pieces and various actors. In the true spirit of avoiding any spoilers, I won’t talk about the story itself but suffice it to say, this is a gripping account of what happened on K2 in August of 2008.
There are dozens of books on extreme mountaineering expeditions but few are told from the perspective of the sherpas who are paid to make these summit bids possible. Buried in the Sky is a great read and a wonderful introduction to the world of high stakes mountaineering–highly recommended!
Thanks to Peter Zuckerman for providing this book for review. Also be sure to check out the official Buried in the Sky website.