Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Last Man on the Mountain

Jacket photo credit
The Last Man on the Mountain: the Death of an American Adventurer on K2, by Jennifer Jordan, pub. by W. W. Norton & Co., NY, 2010, 280 pp.

Paddlers are an active group that often have broad interests. Besides paddling, they may enjoy cycling, hiking, camping, skiing, sailing, or rock climbing. I think the latter may be the case here. When I went looking for paddling books, I tapped into titles from a broad range of sources. I think this is one of those examples of someone with a list of adventure books, rather than just paddling, so The Last Man on the Mountain was included. It has nothing to do with paddling, so I will be removing it my list of titles, which you can access starting in archives with 20 Feb. 11 and continuing several pages. In the meantime, you may find the story to your liking as well.

It is the story about the death of Dudley Wolfe, the first American to die on K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Dudley’s accident, or murder, occurred in 1939, and three native porters also fell to their deaths, making four the total death toll for the expedition. Dudley Wolfe’s remains were not discovered until 2002, 63-years later. The discovery, made by the author of the book, was possible because an avalanche had brought Wolfe, his tent, and camping gear down the mountain to the glacier near its base. Since his death, 83 others have joined him on the mountain, making K2 the deadliest mountain in the world. The last death occurred exactly a year ago this weekend, on 26-7 July 2013.

The thrust of the book is to show that Dudley Wolfe’s indictment as foolish, sloppy, and inexperienced are exactly the opposite of who he was. Not being alive to defend himself, he was the softest target of all. Anyone trained in leadership will see red flags popping up all over, making the expedition doomed even before it began. By the end, there was a lot of blame to go around, and as blame was being flung about, even Dudley Wolfe was accused of contributory negligence that led to his death. The things he can’t be accused of were being abandoned on the mountain in sub-freezing temperatures without adequate supplies, food, fuel or even matches to start a fire in his cook stove. His cameras and film footage in the tent with him, however, did come down off the mountain and found their way back to the US.

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