A photo from the 1909 attempt to climb K2. They didn't make it to the top.
A few years ago, I had a real job--yes, really--with benefits that included vacation days. I was contacted about a freelance job to do on the side, and decided that I would use the money I expected to earn from that to go on a vacation, something extravagant and exciting. I told people that I wanted to go somewhere that no one I knew had been, somewhere different, that no one would expect me to choose. That's what I said. Truth be told, I was trying to impress a guy. He'd grown up in the Pacific Northwest and was a lot more outdoorsy than me. So after watching a TV show where people went mountain climbing in Nepal, I rashly decided that that's what I would do. I found a company (REI, if you're interested--they were great to travel with) offering a Nepal package that offered climbing in the Annapurnas, river rafting, and then a few days in a jungle nature preserve. I had never been mountain climbing in my life. Or rafting. Oh, and I had never even been camping or even slept in a tent in a backyard. Hey, when I set out to do something different, I mean different.
I had a fantastic time, despite some rookie mistakes (which led to a bout of altitude sickness that has left me with an aversion to rice). And my mountain climbing experience wasn't the real mountaineering kind. Climbing is kind of the wrong term for it; we were really just hiking. No crampons, axes, crawling across ice shelves. That's a whole other world. But after having just been in the region, and seeing those mountains--from afar, but closer than in a picture--I developed a fascination with stories about those who do and who have made it to the top of the highest peaks.
That's what led to my interest in K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts. I had never heard of Viesturs before, but I guess he's a big name in the mountaineering world. He's one of the few who has climbed all 14 of the world's 8,000+ meter peaks* (for those of you who are as metric impaired as I am, 8000 meters = 26,246.72 peaks). His book isn't just about his own expedition climbing K2, the mountain of the title, but is a history of expeditions, some of which went well, but just as many that ended in recrimination at best and disaster at worst.