K2—Traum und Schicksal. Kurt Diemberger. Bruckmann Verlag, Munich, 1989. 336 pages, 46 color photographs, 60 black-and-white photographs, 4 drawings, 5 maps, 4 mountain profiles, Tibetan symbols. DM 48 (about $29).
K2—Traum und Schicksal (“K2—Dreams and Fate”) takes us back to 1957, when Kurt Diemberger, as a companion of Hermann Buhl, first saw the mountain from the foot of Broad Peak. His dream of actually climbing it took shape only after reading a passage in Eric Shipton’s Blank on the Map, describing the view of the north side of K2. He did not see that view until 1982 during a small scouting expedition approved by special permit by the Chinese government. It was an inspiration and Kurt left with the firm desire of one day setting foot on the top. Visits to England followed where on the cliffs of Wales he met Julie Tullis, who later became his partner in high-altitude filming.
In 1983, Kurt returned to K2 with Julie Tullis via Sinkiang and in 1984 via Pakistan. Climbing attempts were made. The first part of the book is written in narrative style, always interesting, and one gets involved with the author’s doings. The pictures are of superb quality, a joy to look at.
The second part of the book takes us to the fateful year of 1986 when nine expeditions from many lands were heading for the top of K2. That year saw the final attempt of Kurt Diemberger and Julie Tullis. It is a gripping story, full of drama, a continuous crescendo until they reach their goal. Then, on the descent, fate strikes. Kurt and Julie suffer a fall on the steep slope not far below the summit. It ends miraculously with a soft landing that leaves them without any apparent serious injuries but forces them to bivouac in the open. They manage to get back to the tents in a blinding snowstorm, where they and other climbers are trapped. The description of how death takes its toll as all the climbers lie confined to their tents in the death zone strikes with emotional and frightening force. Julie Tullis dies first, just falling asleep in the tent forever. Fate had struck again.
The reader becomes a captive in the twilight zone of life and death at 8000 meters where the altitude causes carelessness, hallucinations, and warped or totally missing memory. When, after days, the fury of the storm abates somewhat, the remaining climbers can finally dare to tackle the descent to safety, but only two of them succeed, Kurt Diemberger and Willi Bauer. All the others perish. Kurt is badly frostbitten and spends weeks recuperating in the hospital in Innsbruck.
The appendix contains a history of all K2 expeditions, a list of all climbers who attempted K2 and of those who died on the mountain. There is also a list of the main peaks in the Karakoram. There is an extensive bibliography. All this has been diligently researched and will be a valuable help to all visitors to that part of the world.
Kurt Diemberger’s and Julie Tullis’ film, K2—Traum und Schicksal, was finished by Kurt alone and received the Città di Trento Prize at the 37th International Mountain Film Festival at Trento in 1989. The Italian version of Kurt’s book on K2 was picked by the jury from 60 volumes of 37 different publishers as The Mountain Book of the Year. The English version of the book has been translated by Audrey Salkeld and will appear in the autumn. K2— Traum und Schicksal is a fine book that keeps one spellbound to the very last page.
Horst von Hennig