High-altitude hero | VailDaily.com

High-altitude hero

Rosanna Turner
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

Special to the Daily"Buried in the Sky."

In “Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day,” co-author Amanda Padoan uses the word “buried” to describe lost stories, not bodies. While writing the book, she was seeking to find the forgotten tales that often go untold.

“These stories and experiences don’t get off the mountain,” Padoan said. “Those men’s stories, that’s what’s getting buried and not getting recovered from the mountain, and that’s what we want to recover.”

Located on the border between Pakistan and China, K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth and is often referred to as the world’s most dangerous peak. On Aug. 1, 2008, 11 people lost their lives climbing K2, known as the mountain’s “deadliest day.” “Buried in the Sky” tells the true story of the rescue of high-altitude porter Pasang Lama by well-known climber Chhiring Dorje. While attempting to descend K2, Lama lost his ax and was stuck in the Bottleneck, a treacherous part of the peak. Other mountaineers decided not to help Lama, fearing their own safety, but Dorje bravely saved Lama by strapping him to his own harness in order to climb down.

Written by Padoan and her cousin Peter Zuckerman, an investigative journalist, “Buried in the Sky” is one of the few books on mountaineering that isn’t told from a Western perspective. The central story focuses on the relationship that developed between Dorje, a Sherpa, and Lama, who is Bhote. In the area surrounding the K2 peak, there are a variety of specific ethnicities and religions, many with their own language. A lack of communication between the high-altitude porters (local residents who aid Western mountaineers with the climb) combined with a shift of a massive chunk of ice near the Bottleneck that ripped out all of the fixed lines led to lives lost in the descent. Padoan and Zuckerman’s book details what happened on the day of the disaster and the intricacies of these differing native groups.

“It’s all about the clash of cultures,” Padoan said. “The Westerners had no idea who they were pairing. (The porters from different cultures) didn’t trust each other; they had never worked together. It was like the blind date from hell.”

An avid climber herself, Padoan became interested in the K2 story when she discovered that a friend of hers had died during the disaster. Along with multiple trips to Nepal and Pakistan, it took her and Zuckerman one year of research, followed by another two years of writing, to finish the book. The authors sometimes had to use more than one translator to record the climbers’ tales.

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“Typically, you have to go and see the people because the interview would be very slow,” Padoan said. “You’re asking people’s feelings (about) the death of friends. An interview that would take 20 minutes (in the U.S.) would take two days in Nepal. It’s a world where there really aren’t sound bites.”

Although “Buried in the Sky” was just released this week, it’s already generating buzz at The Bookworm of Edwards.

“We’ve had a really great level of interest about mountaineering and true stories about people’s work,” said Nicole Magistro, co-owner of the Bookworm. “(The book) has been selling very well; people are really into it. … There’s quite a lot of interest.”

Padoan, along with Dorje himself and his wife, Dawa, will speak at the event on Tuesday. Despite the devastating losses that occurred on that fateful day, Dorje, Lama and Padoan still continue to climb. For life-long mountaineers, that exhilarating feeling one has upon reaching the summit is a high that can’t be found elsewhere.

“You have this moment of transcendence,” Padoan said. “There’s something in the human soul that is drawn to mountains. … (Also) when you’re at the top, I can’t think of anything else cooler than being the tallest person in the world.”