My summer reading list included this beauty: Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day. I expected it to be just another climbing story but I was pleasantly surprised. I met Amanda Padoan at a book signing along with Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, the main character in the story, then met up with co-author Peter Zuckerman and listened as he described details of their last three years of research and writing for this book.

K2, while not quite as tall as Everest, is well known by mountaineers as a far more treacherous climb. Its summit is less than 800 vertical feet below Everest. K2 sits further from the equator on the Pakistan/China border, making weather shifts more severe. But besides all that, statistics between Everest and K2 set the second highest mountain apart without question as The Savage Mountain. I knew all this before I began reading Buried in the Sky, but the authors had my attention anyway because of the intricate bits they included. Padoan originally began her research about this climb because of a friend, Karim Meherban, who was lost during this 2008 climb. Little was known about him, so she wanted to piece together the story herself. What came of it, with Zuckerman’s help, was this entire account of the Deadliest Day.

From the beginning, Padoan and Zuckerman do a great job introducing Sherpa culture. This grabbed me. The story tells of the main character, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa from childhood. We learn about his everyday life (he was born and raised above 12,000 feet) before he became a climber. We are immersed in Sherpa customs from naming rituals to Buddhist legends. This lays the groundwork to help the reader understand some of the decisions that were made on the fateful day on K2 in 2008. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the in-depth explanations,but I also learned a lot about Sherpas. And I don’t say that lightly: I have spent a fair amount of time interviewing several of my Sherpa friends about their own customs (it’s one of my hobbies).

After reading three different accounts of Everest’s 1996 tragedy, I am well aware of the vast differences that can exist between mountain climbers who lived through a single event on the same mountain. Stories differ because the sheer elevation of high alpine climbing alters judgement, memory and thoughts, simply because there is so little air. I was anticipating seeing the holes in the story due to all the different interviews that were collected for Buried in the Sky, but the account was easy to follow and presented objectively.

The recount of the story itself is straightforward and riveting, though gut-wrenching. Moment by moment reveals of decisions on the mountain, and results during the tragedy are beautifully described. It’s as if I am there on the sheer snowy face with my own ice axe dug in next to Chhiring. I’ll settle for a gentle handshake and his signature in my copy of the book instead.

While I came away from this book with reverence for the heroes, my larger feeling was similar to the sentiment of the wives and families of those involved: “Are you crazy? People die up there. Why do you do these things?” It is hard to imagine being in such an agonizing situation, and surviving, then choosing to do it again after such an ordeal. But just as I was about to get frustrated, this was explained for me in as well.

I can tell the finish of the story was hard for the authors. I was left wanting a bit more of the politics and culture threaded back into the post-climb story in the end, since it was so thick in the first half of the book. Personalities, culture and language barriers between the climbers played a large part, according to Zuckerman.

Overall, it is beautifully told with depth of understanding and detailed description of culture and high alpine climbs like I have not read before. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves armchair climbing, the Sherpa culture and harrowing adventure that doesn’t necessary glow with a joyful ending.

Peter Zuckerman will be talking bout this book and signing November 19, 7 p.m.  at REI, 222 Yale Ave N., Seattle 98109

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