Author solves tragic mountaineering mystery
VAIL CO, Colorado
Nearly a decade ago, author and journalist Jennifer Jordan was living at the base of K2 while researching her first book about the “Savage Summit.” She went out for an afternoon hike on the glacier, in search of exercise, and stumbled across a bleached skeleton amid archaic climbing gear from a much earlier era. The bones were those of Dudley Wolfe, a much-maligned mountaineer who set out to summit K2 in 1939 and died during his decent.
“After 63 years, K2’s first fatality, and its most prolonged mystery, had finally been found,” Jordan wrote in the prologue to her book about Wolfe, “The Last Man on the Mountain.” Jordan will visit the Bookworm of Edwards Thursday to talk about her book. She will show footage of Wolfe, his team, and the 1939 expedition that Wolfe filmed, but hasn’t been shown in public.
“I’m looking forward to hearing Jennifer speak about her travels and discoveries,” said Besse Lynch, the marketing manager for The Bookworm. “She is the kind of person who is not afraid to go deeper, to ask the questions that have been overlooked through time.”
Before Jordan set out for K2, she read every book, article and reference to the mountain and its rich history, she said. So when she discovered the skeleton, and then a weathered canvas and leather mitten with the word “WOLFE” written on it in capital letters, she was “pretty sure she knew who it was,” she said.
So what drew Jordan to the mystery enough to pen an entire book about it?
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“Every word written about Dudley, before mine, was dismissive and demeaning,” she said. “Chroniclers and historians all used adjectives that described a stereotype, not a man: fat, clumsy, lazy, arrogant.”
Sitting at the base of K2, holding Wolfe’s bones in her hands, Jordan knew they’d gotten it wrong.
“I looked up at the mountain at where he was last seen and thought, ‘No one who’s lazy, clumsy, or fat gets to where Dudley did on this mountain,'” she said. “So I determined to find out why history and every writer of it, got him so wrong.”
Though Jordan doesn’t use the word mountaineer to describe herself, she lived at the base of K2 not just once, but twice, both times for research purposes.
“I am a journalist who knew she had to experience the mountain as closely as I could in order to write credibly of its history and victims,” she said.
While researching and writing this book, she learned a few lessons, which hopefully readers take away from her book as well.
“The number one lesson for me is to not tackle an 8,000 meter peak, particularly one as ferocious as K2, without a lot more experience than either Wolfe or (Fritz) Wiessner (Wolfe’s climbing partner) had at high altitude, and to only do so with a small group of trusted, experienced colleagues.”
And equally important, “a second lesson is that you should always question history, whether it is today’s newspaper, the Bible, or any so-called non-fiction book, because it is written by men and women with opinions, prejudices, and often, self-serving agendas,” she said.
“What’s remarkable about ‘Last Man on the Mountain’ is how much you get a sense for how the history we get is told by the survivors,” Lynch said. “It is rare that we get a chance to explore the life of someone who didn’t make it down the mountain, but who is as much a part of the story of its exploration as the ones who did.”
Currently Jordan is working on a screenplay of the book. Who does she picture playing the part of Wolfe?
Leonardo DiCaprio, who she said was “born to play” Wolfe.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.