Book Review: Karakoram: Climbing Through The Kashmir Conflict by Steve Swenson
The Karakoram is home to some of the “steepest, highest, and most difficult mountains in the world.” Located at the “far western part of the Greater Himalayas,” the Karakoram contains “one of the world’s greatest concentration of unclimbed, unexplored high-quality mountaineering objectives.” For an alpinist like Steve Swenson, the Karakoram is the world’s ultimate mountain playground.
There are few climbers who know the Karakoram as well as Steve Swenson. Swenson spent 1200 days “in Pakistan, India, and China during his journeys to the vast Karakoram Range.” For decades, Swenson organized expeditions to remote peaks in the Karakoram. He loved the people, the culture, and the mountains of this wild region.
In Karakoram, Steve Swenson documents his numerous adventures to this mountain frontier. The Karakoram is home to several 8000 meter peaks, but it is also home to “countless remote, unclimbed, or rarely climbed peaks of 6,000 and 7,000 meters. These mountains offers something not easily experienced in the twenty-first century: exploration.” Combine this with the political backdrop of a complex international conflict and you have the perfect recipe for the ultimate adventure.
Climbing in the Karakoram offers more than its fair share of logistical challenges including permits, visas, equipment, military oversight, porters, terror attacks, and more. But the Karakoram also has unique challenges like “border disputes, ethnic and political violence, and religious extremism” in the region. The entire range was closed to climbers for years in the 60’s and 70’s. Shortly after it reopened to climbers, Swenson ventured there to go climbing in 1980.
“I realized at a young age that climbing is my life’s calling. I’ve spent many years experiencing the powerful forces of nature in the mountains. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I find greater happiness when I embrace this, which isn’t always easy.”
From the bustling cities to the towering summits, Steve Swenson thrived on the adventure that climbing in the Karakoram offered. His experiences made him a familiar face to the locals and an leader in the mountain community. In Karakoram, Swenson documents his expeditions to spectacular peaks like Gasherbrum IV, K2, Everest, K7, Nanga Parbat, Latok II, Latok I, Choktoi Spire, Saser Kangri II, Changi Tower, and beyond. He shared these adventures with some of the world’s greatest alpinists including Greg Child, Doug Chabot, Jeff Lowe, Steve House, George Lowe, Marko Prezelj, and others.
“Climbing is hard and dangerous.”
Perhaps Swenson’s climbing claim to fame is winning the Piolet d’Or for his ascent of Saser Kangri II – the 2nd highest unclimbed mountain in the world – in 2012. But the most impressive part of Swenson’s expeditions is his ability to safely balance a successful engineering career, a happy family life, and numerous extended expeditions to big mountains over a multi-decade time period. That’s something that will make every mountain enthusiast jealous.
Karakoram by Steve Swenson does more than detail expeditions to big mountains. This fascinating book also shines the spotlight on “how the Kashmir conflict has affected climbing in the Karakoram and the western Himalayas.” Swenson gives an honest and straightforward portrayal about this conflict, climbing, and life by sharing his journey from wide-eyed youth to seasoned Karakoram expert. His insights, knowledge, and experience about the mountains and the politics of this region of the world are second to none.
Swenson’s adventures will inspire every mountain enthusiast to get out and explore the mountains of the world. We highly recommend Karakoram. Anyone who daydreams of climbing big mountains or is curious about the political backdrop of the Kashmir region will enjoy this book. This one gets two big thumbs up!
Disclaimer: Mountaineers Books send Karakoram: Climbing Through The Kashmir Conflict by Steve Swenson to Mountain Journey to read and review.
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