Review: The Ghosts of K2, Mick Conefrey

Rating: 4 out of 5

The name of K2 is probably familiar to everyone as one of the high peaks of this world. What’s less likely most people are aware of is the long story of how the mountain was first climbed, a saga which began well more than a century ago and continued into the 1950’s. The players, as the author highlights, are much more international than in many other mountaineering stories – the early years are led by the British and Italians, then American parties take over for a few decades until the Italians come back to finish the task.

As all of Mick Conefrey’s books, the story is well researched and well written. The author is not afraid to look back into arguments that seemed to have been resolved in favour of someone to try and use all available evidence now to reassess these. As such, controversies that either were or have been actual for decades get a powerful argument in the author’s words, relying mostly on factual evidence from all involved parties. This is especially interesting because of the feuds relating to the successful Italian expedition which are described in great detail.

Beyond this, the author’s investigation of the early expeditions is also noteworthy: I particularly enjoyed the discussion on the Duke of Abruzzi and his expeditions, including his trips to Central Africa which are also mentioned. Similarly, the backgrounds of these early Italian expeditioners are quite interesting and this was my first exposure to the mention of Vittorio Sella whose pictures are absolutely amazing when one looks them up. It is clear that K2 came to feature in a prominent way in Italy because of these early exposures to this peak, allowing for the conquest about five decades later.

The author’s afterword, which describes much of the recent history of the mountain, including the numerous tragic events there, is a suitable ending. His conclusion that the peak will never turn out as touristy as Everest is a hopeful one that most readers can probably only agree with. The one wish I have is that the book could have described in better detailed what happened to the people whose lives ended on the mountain in these early expeditions. Only in some cases is it explicitly said whether their bodies or equipment was recovered or when it was done so; this could have been clearer, especially when talking about the many people whose fates on the mountain are unclear.

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