If you forgive the sluggish first hundred pages, which veer into everything from Buddhist mythology to Nepal’s civil war, Buried in the Sky (W.W. Norton, $27), published last June, is easily the most riveting and important mountaineering book of the past decade.
Its topic—the August 2008 disaster on K2 that killed 11 climbers—has already inspired five books and three films, none of which, we now know, come close to reporting the whole story. Cousins and co-authors Peter Zuckerman, a former newspaperman for the Oregonian, and Amanda Padoan, an ExplorersWeb blogger, take the point of view of Nepalese Sherpas Chhiring Dorje and Pasang Lama and Pakistani high-altitude porter Shaheen Baig for most of the book. But it’s not their perspective so much as their exhaustive reporting and elegant delivery that gives the book its rich texture.
While Western climbers such as “irritable Dutchman” Wilco van Rooijen and American publicity hound Nick Rice squabble “like tweens,” and members of the ill-fated Korean Flying Jump expedition shamble off the summit “like lushes leaving a bar—reveling, swearing, and puking on their boots,” the Sherpas and Pakistanis operate in a parallel world that exists on every expedition-style Himalayan climb but usually goes unseen, even by the mountaineers in camp. Unlike so many climbing yarns, the hired help in Buried in the Sky come off as real and sometimes abused people with aspirations and loved ones anxiously awaiting them at home.