Wanda Rutkiewicz, Liliane Barrard, Julie Tullis, Chantal Mauduit and Alison Hargreaves – from Poland to France to Britain, these alpine mountaineers left friends and family to pursue their dreams in a deadly dance above 8000 meters. Journalist and filmmaker Jennifer Jordan chronicles the lives of these women and their inspirational yet tragic journeys in Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2, the World’s Most Feared Mountain.
Wanda Rutkiewicz was a pioneer – the first of a handful of women to reach the legendary summit. With a single-minded focus that was her trademark, the Polish climber hiked the week-long approach through the remote portion of Pakistan to reach K2’s base camp in 1982. She was on crutches, her leg still healing from a compound fracture. It’s not that she needed to prove anything – she’d already summited the 7952-meter Gasherbrum III in 1975 and became the first Pole and the first European woman to summit Everest’s 8839-meter height in 1978. But the 1982 expedition was her trip, she’d planned it and she was going to be on it – even if it meant staying in base camp. She knew she would be back and the next time, the summit would be hers to hold. Her grit and determination brought admiration, at first, then censure and ultimately left her lonely in later years. Twice married, twice divorced -- the only true love in her life was her climbing.
Liliane Barrard and Julie Tullis also summited K2 in 1986, the same year as Wanda. Luck was not on their sides - neither made it down. Liliane died with her husband on the mountainside. Julie’s death was mourned by her husband and two children. Vivacious Frenchwoman Chantal Maudit reached for the icy peak in 1992 – and survived. She climbed for another six years before losing her life on another foray into the 8,000-meter “death zone.” Mother and mountaineer Alison Hargreaves reached the summit in 1995 but, along with five climbing partners, was blown off the mountain in a stormy descent.
Why did these women take the risks they did? What passions - and demons - drove them to punish their bodies in a bid to reach the summit of a mountain renowned for harsh climbing conditions and incredibly low odds for the climber’s survival? Jordan interviewed dozens of family and friends, dug through biographies, records and diaries and spent time at K2’s base camp in an attempt to answer these questions. It’s clear that Jordan admires the courage and dedication of these women, and although the stories are at times confusing to follow (too many dates and names without a detailed timeline to follow easily), the overall impression of these women and their incredible lives is as haunting as it is inspiring. I look forward to re-reading this book, again and again.