In 1939, wealthy American adventurer Dudley Wolfe was abandoned high on an unconquered K2, becoming the Savage Mountain's first victim. For more than 60 years, no one knew his story. Enter Jennifer Jordan, author, filmmaker, and K2 expert, who discovered Wolfe's remains while living at the base of the mountain in 2002. Her second book, The Last Man on the Mountain, published in August, reveals the intriguing story of Dudley Wolfe's life and the truth about his death. I spoke with Jennifer to discuss her book and get the goods on what life is really like on K2.
How did you get into mountaineering?
I got into it reading high altitude mountaineering books, Into Thin Air in particular. I was a journalist at the time in Boston, and because I could, I started interviewing a lot of the survivors of '96, particularly David Breashears. I asked questions that interested me, and I found a different story in there. The more I pursued it, the more it took me to K2 as I was fulfilling my obsession with high altitude. Somehow this mountain reached out and grabbed me, and it hasn't let go since.
Tell me about discovering Dudley Wolfe's remains in 2002.
I am in a very minuscule group of people who have gone to both sides of K2 without ever having any intention of climbing either. So, unlike most people who approach that mountain, who have their eyes set on the summit, always looking up, I had my eyes set firmly on the base at my feet—because first of all, it's treacherous walking around out there, and second, I had fallen into a crevasse on the north side of K2 two years before, so I was petrified of missing the snow bridge again and falling to the depths.
In my walkabouts, while the team was trying to climb the mountain, I would stumble upon the debris of expeditions past. Because of the topography of K2, everything and everyone that was once on the mountain eventually ends up at its base, either under their own steam, or because of the avalanches and the earthquakes and the wind, and just the sheer gravity and pitch of that mountain. I call it the world's highest graveyard. I always found something.
One day, Jeff Rhoads and I stumbled upon a debris field that instantly we knew was decades old, full of leather and hemp rope and bits of canvas and double-layer pants and Primus stove burners—stuff that hadn't been used in decades. I went around an ice tower and saw this skeleton laid out on the rocks. And then Jeff came back with Dudley Wolfe's glove, with his name on it, so we knew we had actually found the man.