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What: "K2: One Woman's Quest for the Summit"

Publisher: National Geographic Books

Price: $26

The premise of this book is compelling:

* There are only five women who have made it to the top of K2, the second-highest mountain in the world and the most dangerous. None is still alive, three dying on descent and the others dying shortly thereafter.

* Compared to the more than 1,300 ascents of the highest peak in the world, Mt. Everest, only 189 have made the summit of K2 and 22 have died on the descent.

* American climber Heide Howkins would try both Everest and K2 in the last three years, and would do both without supplemental oxygen.

What a great story that would make.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. Howkins' book is pretty good because she is a nice writer, a product of Wellesley and MIT who has a nice way with words. But she didn't make either summit, and while all the experiences she had at very high altitudes are compelling, it gives the reader pause about the world of climbing literature when it now is enough to publish when you just go up there and try hard.

Adventure readers who wade through it will get their fix of avalanches and fixed ropes and yarns of dead bodies up high on the mountain. They also will get an unusual and sometimes disjointed presentation of much of the story as told to a hitchhiker, as well as too-many-questions-raised psychobabble about Howkins' allegedly abusive husband, who climbs for awhile and attacks some people and then kind of disappears.

Suffice to say this book does not leave Jon Krakauer, author of "Into Thin Air," fearing for his stature in the climbing-writing world.

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