No Way Down, Life and Death on K2. Book review

The most common way to tell outdoor stories nowadays is to publish it on a blog and share your own adventures, including pictures of the trip, maps and so on. But paper is not history yet.

My father is a writer, I have been raised with the love of reading, surounded by books. One of the most common question my father used to ask me as a kid was “what book are you currently reading, son?”.

I love reading non-fiction books about real life adventures, but I also love Henry David Thoreau, Jack London and the other authors which involve nature encounters and reflections inspired by nature.

Here I am going to write about a very contemporary non-fiction book about mountaineering, No Way Down, by Graham Bowley. It is going to be my first book review ever, so please be indulgent with my writing.


I bought this book two years ago in Glasgow after 2 weeks hill walking in the Highlands. At this time I was really into Himalayan mountaineering stories. Most of those books are about Mount Everest. Not this one.

Basically, this book tells the dramatic story of an expedition on K2 which claimed the life of eleven climbers out of the thirty who attempted the summit this day. K2 is known to be one of the most dangerous and technical mountains on Earth, evidence was made once again.

I first thought it would be like watching Titanic: you already know how it ends. I was wrong. The main interest of this book is not how everything ends, but how it happens, how these experienced climbers got trapped by the mountain and how they dealt with it. The style is very catchy and keeps you addicted from the beginning to its end. Everything is well documented, the author interviewed all the actors of this tragedy, at least those who made it alive, which makes the story so real. Of course it is a sad story: many died. It is terrifying to picture oneself in such a situation: even though one is the most skilled climber on Earth, there are things one cannot control anyways: darkness, cold, wind, storms among others… A true survival experience.

That kind of story reminds us to be modest in our relation to Earth. It doesn’t matter how skilled and trained you are, Nature will have the last word anyway.  I think it is hard to agree with this statement sometimes. Human beings changed the world, putting themselves at the top of the food chain, changing landscapes, domesticating other species. But in the end, Nature is stronger: it gives birth and death and is our true God. This book is excellent, it tells the story of simple men doing extraordinary things. I think all of those climbers were or are modest people. They Challenge themselves into achieving things our society don’t really need. Our society cares more about oil than adventures on high mountains. In that way they are heroes.

Bowley is a journalist, he wrote this book as one. He says he was not interested in mountaineering at first, he did not even understand why people could do this kind of thing, so we can wonder about his initial ambition in this writing. But still, it works.  John Krakauer or Joe Simpson are climbers and authors and both write about their common passion, in a way it is refreshing that someone who is not involved in that practice writes about it.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in outdoor adventures, and not only mountaineering. It puts things into perspective: Nature always wins.


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