The New York Times reporter interviewed most of the survivors and many other people involved in the 2008 K2 tragedy to tell the minute-by-minute story. Each of the climbers are briefly profiled. There are 16 pages of colour photos, many by Lars Flato Nessa, and one map.
The book starts with American Eric Meyer and Swede Fredrick Strang climbing to the Bottleneck on August 1, 2008, and seeing that there was a bottleneck of slowly movng climbers in front of them, turning around and going back to Camp IV. The other climbers continued, but Serbian Dren Mandic unclipped from the rope and fell to his death. Meyer and Strang climbed back up to help them bring down Mandic's body, but then porter Jehan Baig slipped and fell to his death. Later that night, they used a strobe light to try and direct returning climbers.
Spaniard Alberto Zerain switched from Broad Peak to rush up K2, moving to the head of the climbers, fixing ropes through the Traverse and then breaking trail all the way to the summit. He sat on the summit for awhile and then at 15:40 started his descent. He passed the other ascending climbers an hour later, and continued his descent safely to Camp III.
Norwegians Cecile Skog and young teammate Lars Flato Nessa reached the summit around 17:30. On their descent, Cecile re-joined her husband Rolf Bae who had stopped on the summit snowfield. Rolf led the three of them as they descended through the Traverse just after dark. "But at that point, the mountain began to shake. There was a precise crack and roar. ... the rope ended abruptly, as if cut by a knife." Rolf Bae had been killed by the first serac ice avalanche, and now there was no fixed rope to help the climbers behind to climb through the Bottleneck. After down-climbing the Bottleneck without ropes, Cecile slipped and fell but was able to self-arrest using her ice-axe. Cecile and Lars continued safely to Camp IV.
After reaching the summit, most climbers climbed down together, with Jumik Bhote from the South Korean expedition leading the way, but the farther they descended the more they split apart. Chhirring Dorje from the American expedition eached the Traverse and called Meyer and Strang at 22:30, "No ropes! ... No rope left on the Bottleneck. Big problem. Many danger." Chirring Dorje caught up to Pemba Gyalje from the Norit Dutch expediton, and Little Pasang Lama, who ddn't have an ice axe, from the South Korean Expedition, "We climb down. There is no other choice." They carefully climbed down the Bottleneck and made it safely back to Camp IV at 1:30.
Korean Sherpas Chirring Bhote, Jumik Bhote's brother, and Big Pasang Bhote left camp IV at midnight, carrying supplies for the stranded climbers. After meeting the three Sherpas and Korean Kim Jar-Soo, they saw a body falling past them. They then found Korean Go Mi-Sun, who had gotten lost at the bottom of the Bottleneck, and helped her back to Camp IV around 4:30am. After a brief rest, the two Sherpas packed more supplies and went out again.
Jumik Bhote urged the three South Korerans to descend the rope from the snowfield to the Traverse around 2am, but they wouldn't move. "The rope dropped suddenly and in a dark, roaring, confusing rush, Bhotse catapulted past the South Koreans. He crashed painfully into the ice a little way below them and stopped." When he looked up he only saw 2 Koreans, both suspended headfirst. "Bhote didn't want to die. He didn't want his family to be mourners, walking to the puja at the Boudha stupa." But there was nothing he could do but wait for rescue.
Cas van de Gevel from the Norit Dutch Expedition, passed Frenchman Hughes d'Aubarede at 1am and was downclimbing the Bottleneck when he saw a body fall headfirst past him wearing a dark yellow down suit - it was Hughes. Cas reached Camp IV at 2am.
Italian Marco Confortola and Norit member Gerrard McDonnell lost the trail on the summit snowfield and decided to bivouac. Norit Expedition leader Wilco van Rooijen got lost too, but found Marco and Gerard and bivouaced with them. Wilco was going snowblind so he left at frst light racing down. He passed Jumik and the two Koreans, figuring in his own state he couldn't help.
Marco and Gerard followed Wilco and also found Jumik and the two Koreans. After about 3 hours trying to help the sticken climbers, Gerard climbed up past the serac and Marco, now alone, decided to climb down. Marco fell, but was able to stop himself. Another ice avalanche burst from the head of the serac, stopping only about 10 metres from him. Marco noticed parts of a dead climber, including yellow and black boots. He assumed this was Gerard, but it probably was Hughes' missing HAP Karim Meherban. Marco continued the climb down to the bottom of the Bottleneck, sat down and fell asleep.
Chhirring Bhote and Big Pasang Bhote found Marco asleep at the bottom of the Bottleneck and called Pemba Gyalje to come up and bring hm down. Pemba carred oxygen up to Marco, who started to recover. Big Pasang Bhote called Pemba Gyalje on the radio and gave hm the good news that Jumik Bhote and the two Koreans had been freed and were now climbing down. He also mentioned a fourth climber behind them had been killed by another piece of the serac. Big Pasang Bhote identifed him as having a red and black down suit - Pemba's heart fell, it must be Gerard. Five minutes later another ice avalanche occurred and Pemba grabbed Marco and was able to pull him out of the way of the falling ice, covering him with his own body. "But several yards below them, vsible through the cold fog, four bodes were lying scattered on top of the snow," - Big Pasang Bhote, Jumik Bhote and the two South Koreans. Chhirring Bhote had lagged behind Big Pasang Bhote and was near a clump of big rocks which protected him when the avalanche hit.
Almost blind, Wilco lost the trail and called his wife on his sat phone. She was able to get a message to Pemba Gyalje at Camp IV. Pemba went out agan but was unable to fnd Wilco. American Chris Klnke used binoculars from base camp and spotted Wilco at 17:30 descending slightly off the Cesan route. They radioed Camp IV and Pemba Gyalje and Cas descended the Cesan route trying to find Wilco. Pemba reached camp III, but couldn't find Wilco. As nght fell, both Wilco and Cas had to bivouac. The next mornng Pemba found Wilco and Cas and helped Wilco back to Base Camp, a survivor in the midst of the tragic events.
I highly recommend this book to get the best perspective on the minute-by-minute timing of the events and all the players in the 2008 K2 tragedy. The photos are excellent. Unlke ExplorersWeb and Fredde Wilkonson, Bowley is not willing to identidfy Gerard as a hero since he considers the evidence inconclusive.
For one man's harrowing story of survival, I recommend Surviving K2 by: Surviving Three Days in the Death Zone by Wilco van Rooijen.
For a perspective on the ensuing media frenzy and the heroes of the tragedy, Gerard McDonell, Pemba Gyalje, Chhiring Dorje, and Pasang Lama, I recommend One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story Of Tragedy And True Heroism On K2 by Freddie Wilkinson.
Ed Viesturs devotes a chapter of his excellent book K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain to share his views on the heroes and the contributing factors to the tragedy.