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Image from the front of the book Savage Summit, by Jennifer Jordan

Savage Summit // Book Review

Savage Summit // Author Jennifer Jordan.   This book is sensational.  For anyone interested in the history of high altitude climbing or in pushing themselves further in any area of life it’s a must read book.  Savage Summit tells the story of K2, the killer mountain, and it’s relationship with the first five women who achieved the accolade of reaching its peak.
Women to summit K2 – first five ascents 
  1. Wanda Rutkiewicz   23. June 1986
  2. Lillian Berrard   23. June 1986
  3. Julie Tullis   10. August 1986
  4. Chantal Maudit   3. August 1992
  5. Alison Hargeaves   13. August 1995

Savage Summit charts the lives of these five remarkable mountaineers.  To say it is compelling is an understatement.  I couldn’t put it down.

Jordan’s research into the lives of the women of K2 is impeccable and it is her eloquent language and great timing, which brings the gravity and achievement of these ground breaking adventurers into stark focus throughout the book.  With some books you get a sense that the words are being dragged out; this book is the antithesis.  Before you know it you will have reached the half way point and want to slow down to savour the beauty of her writing.
Jordan adeptly uses the peaks of joy and troughs of despair to lure you deep into the lives of the protagonists’ remarkable lives.  A good portion of the book is given over to the life of Wanda Rutkiewicz, the first woman to scale the killer mountain. The author gives such a sensitive account that it is impossible not to feel an intense sadness when Wanda dies on her third summit attempt of the world’s third highest mountain, Kanchenjunga, amidst an epic, some might say foolhardy, bid to climb all the 8000ers in record time during what Wanda called her ‘Caravan of Dreams’.
Intertwined with Rutkiewicz’s K2 ascent is that of Liliane Berrard, a French woman whose life was dependant heavily on her husband. She died with him, unable to escape the powerful weather on the descent from her successful summit bid.
Julie Tullis’ life is covered in fascinating detail, all of which only adds to the rich tapestry that Jordan creates.  The suspense and tension are delicate and unwavering.  Jordan manages to describe and maintain the momentum throughout the entire book, which is no mean feat.  The structure is clear and simple, rendering the book exceptionally readable.
The balance with which Jordan writes is interesting, particularly in relation to Chantal Maudit’s personality, which was clearly divisive.  Jordan discusses fairly and delves into Maudit’s psyche and then still further into the realms of gender and the influence this had on Maudit’s life at high altitude and on the recognition, or lack thereof, of her considerable achievements, one of which was being their first woman to summit Lhotse.
The final stages of the book move closer to home and onto the endearing story of Alison Hargreaves, a British climber, stronger than many high altitude climbers of both sexes. If the culmination of Alison Hargreaves’ story  doesn’t make you weep then you’re a tough nut to crack.
In short this book is a brilliant piece of writing and research. A beautiful account of the tragic, poetic, compelling and intoxicating lives of six of the world’s most outstanding mountaineers.
by Emily Pitts
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