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A journalist tackles one of the Himalayas’ most legendary mysteries: What happened to the wealthy, middle-aged American adventurer who tried to climb K2 in the nineteen-thirties.
- Jennifer Jordan filmaker, screenwriter and author of "Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. K2 is the world's second highest mountain, but some say it's the most difficult to climb. Only 302 people have reached its 28,250 foot summit. One in four has died trying. A wealthy American named Dudley Wolfe was one of the first. Author Jennifer Jordan discovered his remains 63 years after he disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She tells the story of his life, what prompted him to risk it all and how he died in a new book titled, "Last Man on the Mountain."
MS. DIANE REHMJennifer Jordan joins me in the studio for all you mountain climbers and even those of you who just sit back and like to watch other people do it. Join us on 800-433-8850 send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, Jenn, it's good to see you again.
MS. JENNIFER JORDANGood morning to you, Diane.
REHMWould you please tell me how you happened to find the remains of Dudley Wolfe?
JORDANWell, I was on the mountain researching my first book about the women who had climbed K2, so I wasn't there to climb the mountain. And while the team was up on the mountain preparing camps, I would spend my day walking the glacier. And every day, I'd come home with something, some remnant of expeditions past, most of it harmless, but some of it horrific because of the topography of K2. Everything and everyone that was ever on the mountain eventually ends up at its base.
JORDANSo there I was climbing along the glacier and I came across a debris field that I knew instantly was too -- was older than anything that we'd seen in ages on the mountain.
REHMSo you see this debris. You see these remains. What do you do with them?
JORDANWell, we -- I contacted the family and I...
JORDANWell, I knew. I knew that it was Dudley Wolfe because my partner, now husband, Jeff Rhodes, found his glove. So we knew the remains were Dudley's. And I found the family and they told me to bury his remains at the mountain...
JORDAN...so that's what we did.
REHMSo now, go back a little bit. You found a glove which clearly, without question, identified those remains as those of Dudley Wolfe?
JORDANI'd say 99 percent. Well, of course, you never know 100 percent because there were three Sherpas who also died in that era. But their bodies were found very -- two of them, at least, were found very far from where I found Dudley. And also, Diane, he was surrounded. The skeleton was surrounded by this old debris, which means he came in. He came off the mountain in the tent.
REHMIn the tent?
JORDANIn the tent. So he died waiting for a rescue that never came.
REHMWhat were you and your group doing there at K2? Some were actually climbing?
REHMHow much were you climbing?
JORDANI was climbing to the base of the mountain only.
JORDANI am not a high-altitude climber. I grew up in Vermont where 4,000 feet is a large peak, so I was not there to climb. I was there to do research about the book. And we were also there making a film called "Women of K2" for National Geographic. And so I had a lot of work to do on the film while the rest of the team attempted the summit.
REHMSo how many women have actually climbed K2?
JORDANTo date, 12.
REHMAnd have reached the summit?
JORDANHave reached the summit.
JORDANNo. Well, 12 have reached the summit successfully and three died on descent -- two died on ascent and five have made it off successfully.
REHMWow, it must be an incredible mountain.
JORDANWell, it is really. When I called Charlie Houston, who just -- we just lost him last year at 96 years young -- and said that we'd found Dudley Wolfe, he said, oh, my dear, how is my beautiful K2? And I said, you know, Charlie, it's not so beautiful anymore. The mountain is still spectacular, but it's a very gruesome place. One of the chapters in the book is called, "The World's Highest Graveyard" just for that reason.
REHM"The Highest Graveyard," that's really quite a term. When you found the remains of Dudley Wolfe, what did you already know about him?
JORDANI already knew what had been written. And as I've come to find through my own research, a lot of it was wrong. I came to -- I knew immediately that he was very wealthy and I had come to believe that he was very much out of his element. That he was fat. That he was clumsy. That he was lazy. And I knew instinctively that nobody gets to that point on K2 where Dudley did, being fat, lazy and clumsy. And so I went back and re-researched him and realized there was a very different history to be told about Dudley Wolfe.
REHMSo the history, number one, being that he was very wealthy. Two, what extent did he actually get taken along despite being fat, despite being slow because he was wealthy?
JORDANWell there's no doubt that Fritz Wiessner, the leader of the expedition, needed some serious dollars to fund it. It was 1938 America when he was trying to raise this money. He was a German immigrant having a terrible time. So when Dudley Wolfe came along, yes, it answered a lot of financial questions for Fritz Wiessner. But Dudley was very sensitive about being seen as a climbing member of the expedition, not just as a fat cat at base camp.
REHMHow many people were in that particular expedition?
JORDANThere were six men there to climb the mountain and there were nine more Sherpas and there was a British liaison officer. And getting them in, of course, 120 Baltistan porters.
REHMLocate this mountain for us exactly.
JORDANIt is on the border of Pakistan -- now Pakistan, then Raj India and China. And it's about 900 miles north and west of Everest, at the end of the Himalayan Chain and the Karakoram Mountains.
REHMAnd it's more than 28,000 feet high?
JORDAN28,261 feet high.
JORDANAnd when you make that final turn on, you've hiked in at -- the men, of course, in those days hiked in a month. Nowadays, you hike in about a week from the end of the road. And when you finally get to the last turn in the glacier and look left and you get your first glimpse of K2, it's a very fearsome sight. So fearsome that I bent over my ski poles and I sobbed when I finally saw the mountain. I simply knew too much, Diane. I simply -- I'd done my research. I knew I was looking at the graveyard of not only scores of people, but of the women that I was there to research. I didn't even know I was there to find Dudley Wolfe. But it is -- definitely, you feel the power of that mountain in your belly.
REHMThe book is "Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2." Jennifer Jordan is an award-winning author, filmmaker and screenwriter. She's the author of "Savage Summit" and writer, producer of two documentaries, "Women of K2" and "Kick Like a Girl." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. So tell us a little more about Dudley Wolfe, what kind of a person he was?
JORDANWell, he was a very unassuming, very quiet, a very gentle adventurous soul. He was not much of an academic. He was always an athlete, from his early prep school days right straight through to his death in 1939. And he was a man who looked at life to be explored and to really get out there and see things that no one else had seen.
JORDANFor instance, when he decided to become a yacht racer, he didn't just want to race yachts, he wanted to do yacht racing in a way that nobody ever had, which was to race a 60-foot schooner across the Atlantic in the mid '20s. Nobody had raced a boat that small that far before, 3,000 miles of open ocean. And Dudley determined he could do it and he came in second, winning the Queen's Cup in the New York to Spain Santander.
REHMBut you know what's fascinating to me, his eyesight wasn't very good. He wasn't even accepted into World War I because of that eyesight.
JORDANEyesight and bad feet, which is ironic given how he performed on his 330 mile trek into base camp and then about 10,000 feet up. You're right. He did not have good eyes, but who knows what the qualifications were at that point. I took -- I actually found his prescription in some of his papers and took it to an eye doctor in Salt Lake. And the man said, not that bad. I mean, he had some astigmatism and he had, you know, definitely near-sighted, but not -- he wasn't blind. He had bad eyes, but not horrible eyes.
REHMThe fact that you got that prescription says to me you really did go back to the family, gather lots of papers, lots of memorabilia.
JORDANYes, I did. And not only from Dudley's family, but from each of the expeditionists on the trip with him. I was able to dig deeper, I believe, than any other person looking ever has. And part of it was a combination of the access of records on ancestry.com, for instance, and also the incredible generosity of the families in loaning me their father's and uncle's papers.
REHMHad Dudley climbed other mountains prior to his attempt at K2?
JORDANWell, he had certainly climbed throughout the Alps and he had a lot of ski traverses of Mont Blanc, for instance. I mean, some very serious stuff back then. But he, like many people at the turn of the -- at the early 20th century, had not been to altitude. Not many men had. Think about it. I mean, we -- Everest was still 14 years from being summited and K2 was another 15 years from being summited. This was way before experienced high-altitude climbers.
REHMJennifer Jordan, her book is titled, "Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2." I look forward to hearing your questions and comments.
REHMAnd Jennifer Jordan is here with me. Her book is all about the death of an American adventurer on K2. It's titled, "Last Man on the Mountain." Here's a wonderful e-mail from Keith in Silver Spring, who says, "My father never understood why people climb mountains. He thought it one of the most useless activities of humans. So, of course, I had to do it. I climbed Mount McKinley and loved every moment of it." What is it, Jennifer, that becomes so hypnotic about the idea of climbing a mountain?
JORDANWell, I think that -- boy, I've been answering this question for ten years now. And I think that the best way that I've had it explained to me is that climbers find their god up there. And it is a place of utter silence and utter tranquility. And for many they are able to escape the clutter of life, as they call it. And there are very few places you can do that, at the same time achieving a goal that only a fraction of us will ever even dream of achieving. So there's a lot of ego, there's a lot of purpose and, as I say, a lot of peace and tranquility.
REHMSo going back to Dudley, talk about his marriage.
JORDANHe met Alice Damrosch, who was Walter Damrosch's daughter, the founder of the New York Symphony. She was a very formidable woman in her own right. She helped organize and manage the first U.S. women's Olympic ski team in 1936 Germany, of course. And she did so by really playing the Nazis because she needed to play within the rules to get this team competing in the Olympics. And she also was very clever at helping Jews escape The Anschluss and the rise of the Third Reich and many of whom ended up skiing with her in New Hampshire. Hans Schneider and Hans Crouse were both men whom Alice Damrosch-Wolfe helped escape.
REHMWere they very much in love?
JORDANI think they were very much in love. And I think they were very much -- they found soul mates to a degree. I'm not sure it was a marriage of passion. I think it was a marriage of someone who also loved adventure. They're both very adventurous. They loved their hunting. They loved their skiing. They loved travel. And she also wrote these plaintive love letters to him about, you know, where are you? I miss you. Be careful, my dear Dudley Francis, which was his middle name. She loved to use it as a kind of a ribbing joke with him. And she was -- I think had found a -- one of her rare matches because evidently, she bored very easily with men. And she did not bore with Dudley.
REHMShe introduced Dudley to Fritz Wiessner, who had a major role in the American Alpine Club.
JORDANYes, yes. He had come to America ten years before the expedition and wowed the climbing community. He was a brilliant, fearless rock climber. And when he set his sights on leading the second American expedition to K2 in 1939, he had to overcome a lot of obstacles. I mentioned a few earlier about money and about also trying to get a strong team together. Because there'd been a 1938 American expedition to K2 that had taken most, if not all, of the strong high-altitude climbers of the day. And they just couldn't turn around in less than a year and go back.
JORDANSo when Alice and Dudley invited Fritz to their penthouse on Fifth Avenue to watch footage of Dudley climbing in the Alps, I think Fritz said, aha.
REHMHow much does a climb like that cost, not only back then, but in today's dollars?
JORDANWell, Pakistan -- a lot of the costs are the permits. And because of 9/11 and because of the ongoing tragedies that befall Pakistan -- it breaks my heart 'cause a lovelier country doesn't exist -- the permit fees are down to almost, you know, sheckles, I mean, just a few pennies compared to Everest's fees. So I would say, at this point, you can do it as -- at least the trek in, you can do it for under $10,000. To climb the mountain, you're probably talking between 25 and 35.
REHMAnd this is all in permits and in outfitting.
JORDANPermits, outfitting and hire -- you've got to hire a local guide company to get you into the mountain. And they stay with you and they cook your food and then they get you back out. So airport to airport, all the fees, I'd say 20,000 to 25,000 in today's dollars.
REHMSo considering the fact that, as you said at the outset, Dudley was fat, he, you know, had not the greatest feet in the world. (laugh) How physically prepared was he to make such a formidable climb?
JORDANWell, actually, he had something that the other men in the team, besides Fritz, did not and that is an incredible ability to oxygenate. Ed Viesturs, America's most celebrated high altitude climber, has -- they call it a VO2 factor, which is your body's ability to function well at altitude. And I believe Dudley's was probably right up there with Ed Viesturs.
REHMHow do you find out about that?
JORDANWell, you have it tested. I mean, you go in and you take the stress test. You jog up the treadmill and they have you all plugged in. And your body -- the doctors can see how efficient your body is with oxygen. And Ed Viesturs, who's the first American to climb all 14 8,000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen and only one to date, I believe does match Dudley Wolfe's. And we'll, of course, never know what Dudley's was. But given his performance on K2, which was he got to the mountain and he kept going up, up, up and very few -- in fact, he has the high altitude record for higher and longer than any man in history. And he paid, of course, with his life.
REHMBut you feel he was physically up to the task, in addition to this ability to oxygenate.
JORDANYes. I think, physically, the fact that he got where he did is proof that he was physically able to do it. What he was not able to do was get back down because down climbing an 8,000-meter peak is tougher than up because gravity's working against you. So he didn't have the skills necessary to get down as technical a climb as K2 was.
REHMBut, Jen, isn't that what a team is all about?
JORDANWell, Diane, this is the problem. By the time he and Fritz were halfway up the mountain, there was no team. Chap Cranmer had gotten dysentery and pneumonia on the way in and never left base camp. George Sheldon made it to camp four. They were stuck in an eight-day storm. It broke his spirit. He went down and never came back up. And Jack Durrance found that he could not deal with the altitude and really could not function above 19,000 feet, which was their camp two. So all of Fritz's team came down to -- came back to him and Dudley and that was it. There was nobody else.
REHMHow about the Sherpas?
JORDANAnd the -- well, there was one Sherpa, at that point, that was also kind of the only one standing because Pasang Kikuli had suffered a recurrence of frostbite and other Sherpas had proven not worthy, as far as talent, to go higher on the mountain. So it really came down to those three, Fritz Wiessner, Dudley Wolfe and Pasang Lama.
REHMAnd the reason that he had such a hard time getting a better team put together of Sherpas, for example, is that they had done the trek a year earlier?
JORDANWell, he had nine strong Sherpas. But again, they started falling by the wayside as well.
JORDANOne was turned back before they even got to base camp with pneumonia. And one by one, they either suffered frostbite or they lost their spirit. That mountain -- and I've called it kind of a malevolent force that you feel in your belly -- it's -- when you turn that corner and see 12,000 feet of sheer cliff of ice and rock, something happens inside that is not altogether good. And Dudley, because he was literally battle-tested -- and I think that cross Atlantic racing has a lot of similarities to high altitude climbing, in that you're out there on your own. There's no 911. There's no coastguard. And I think Dudley, looking at that mountain, said, aha, let me at it. Whereas the others said, oof, what have we gotten ourselves into?
REHMBut wouldn't there -- shouldn't there have been some point at which Dudley realized, you know, all these guys are falling away, the Sherpas are falling away, I'm here on my own with just one or two other people, I've got to go back?
JORDANHe, in fact, kept asking Fritz Wiessner, can I do this? Am I able? Because Jack Durrance was telling Fritz, what are you doing taking him higher? He doesn't have the skills to get down. Jack recognized trouble in the brewing, but Fritz was determined and Dudley didn't want to turn around if the leader told him not to. So it was just this horrible combination of misstep and hubris and summit fever.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Susan who said, "I just read 'Life and Death on K2' written about the deaths in 2008 when so many lost their lives. What an amazing story of human endurance and bad judgment."
JORDANExactly. I mean, you look at what happened in 2008 when 11 people died in a serac breaking off and taking out the climbing ropes. What happened in a lot of those deaths was that there was a group of climbers stuck above where the ropes had been and couldn't climb down without those ropes.
JORDANAnd if you talk to the Ed Viesturs of the world, they will say, if you can't climb K2 without a guide rope, you shouldn't be up there.
REHMBut it would seem that a guide rope would be something essential everybody ought to have.
JORDANExactly. And they had it, but again, the serac took it out. This huge overhanging glacier came and just tore the ropes out of the side of the mountain and they were stuck. They just sat there and died because they couldn't move down on their own.
REHMAll right. Here is a caller from St. Charles, Ill. Good morning, Joe. You're on the air.
JOEYeah, how you doing? I have a question about the Sherpas and their workload. You were just mentioning earlier that they were -- they dropped off, you know, before base camp and such. Were they carrying a lot more weight and doing more work or was it equally distributed amongst the climbers from the west and the Sherpas?
JORDANJoe, yes, they were doing both. They were carrying more and they were going further than the white man, if you will, that they were supporting. So their exhaustion was due a lot to the fact that their loads were heavier and they were expected to set a lot of those ropes and do a lot of the heavy lifting and climbing.
JOEOkay. That was one -- I just want -- with these stories, I find that I'm more interested in the Sherpas, seeing as they, to me, seem like the real climbers as the westerners who are doing less work. But I guess that's a whole other story.
JORDANIt is another story, Joe, but you're absolutely right. These mountains would never be climbed without the support of those Sherpas.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tell me about the Sherpas. Where did they come from? Where did they live?
JORDANWell, the name Sherpa's actually Nepalese. But in 1939, the westerners did not distinguish between the Darjeeling Sherpas, which is what these men were on the K2 1939 expedition, and the Nepalese actual Sherpa. So they actually weren't Sherpas. But again, the white man just associated every local who was a high altitude climber as being from the Sherpa tribe in Nepal.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Hi there, Campbell.
CAMPBELLHello, Diane. I'm calling because my comment is about the name of this mountain. I think the second highest mountain in the world is a better name than the rather technical sounding K2. I thought for a moment about the Kanchenjunga, which is a grand name for a mountain, and that's the third highest mountain in the world. How about Mount Godwin-Austen? That's the name I remember from being a schoolboy in Scotland in the 1940s. Godwin-Austen, I believe, was the British Rogers surveyor who made the first survey of the Himalayas.
REHMAll right, Campbell. Thanks for calling.
JORDANCampbell, you're absolutely right. It is a short little name. I actually think the name K2 is perfect for an abyss of rock and ice. And the more colonial names of Everest and Godwin-Austen are, for me, just not as dramatic as the name. And of course, the name comes from the cartographer, who in the 1850s was drawing a sketch of the Karakoram -- the case for Karakoram and he drew two very far off peaks, K1 and K2. And he looked for the local names. K1 is Masherbrum. But K2 is so remote and so far afield from any local village, that it had a lot of different names, but not one name. So the cartographer's mark stuck of K2.
REHMThanks for calling, Campbell. Tell me about the base of K2 and how far up the base is.
JORDANThe base is, at this point, as I said, about 80 miles from the end of the road in Askole. And it's at 16,500 feet and the base of the climbing route is another 1,000 to 1,500 feet up the glacier. So you begin climbing at around 18,000 feet and then it's just a straight shot. And I do mean straight to the summit.
REHMAnd you were there at the base.
JORDANI was there at the base twice. In 2000, I went to the north side of K2 in China and then in 2002 went back to the south side in Pakistan.
REHMAll right. To Danielson, Conn. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning. Okay. And you have the most fabulous program with...
JOHN...great speakers. My comment is, when I was in the Peace Corp in '85 to '87, we climbed Kilimanjaro on a full moon -- the last night was a full moon. We went from Sunday, at sea level, to the top on Thursday morning at 7:00 a.m. We began climbing on Monday, climbed 'til, you know, Thursday at 7:00 a.m. and got down by Friday morning. But what amazed me, to the last camp where all the Porters came, we're up to 15,500. They dressed in light sweaters, shorts and sandals and they bounded up that mountain. Like, these young boys, 14, 15, 16, it was no problem to them. And they were smoking and (laugh) ...
REHMOh, my gosh.
JORDANOh, I know. It's amazing how many of the Porters and the Sherpas smoke to this day. It's amazing.
REHMI think I've seen films of them smoking, which is totally shocking.
JORDANIt really is. I mean, it's just -- and when you walk through a group of Porters, there's a cloud of smoke. I mean, they're not just having a puff here and there. They are...
JORDAN...you know, all the way up. But in your comment about sandals and sweaters, of course Africa's a much different climate than Pakistan and the other Himalayas. But Kilimanjaro is a serious climb because it has such a high rise from 3,000 feet beginning up to 19.
REHMJohn, congratulations. Thanks for calling. And, of course, we are talking about Jennifer Jordan's new book. It's titled, "Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2."
REHMAnd here's a question for Jennifer Jordan about her new book "Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2." The question from George in Martinsville, Va., "has the climbing of K2 become as a commercialized as Everest where, for the right price, virtual novices are guided up the mountain and the main climbing season can actually be crowded at times?"
JORDANGeorge, unfortunately, K2 is becoming a commercialized mountain, although every mountain guide that I interviewed, including Ed Viesturs, said they would never ever guide K2 because it is that much more formidable than Everest is. And there's also, I think, an expectation that if you've plunked down 40, 50, $60,000 for a guided climb of a mountain, any mountain, there's an expectation that you should -- your guide, at least, should push further than perhaps reason would dictate to get every chance possible to get you on that summit. So to answer your question, K2 is not as commercial as Everest yet, but I do fear that the trend is tracking in that direction.
REHMAnd following on that, then you'd say you're going to see more deaths?
JORDANOh, absolutely. In fact, right now, Annapurna and Nanga Parbat are deadlier than K2. But that's because of early German expeditions that had huge death tolls because they were during the Third Reich. And it was basically the government saying, you come back with the summit or don't come back. So 27 died in one avalanche, 19 in another. So those huge death rates are what made those more deadly.
JORDANBut K2's catching up.
REHMTo Jen who's in Grand Rapids, Mich., good morning to you.
JENOh, my gosh, good morning, Diane. I love your show. I listen every day. You're a treasure.
JENI was gonna ask the author to elaborate on the difficulty of going down the mountain. She had said that gravity is working against you. And normally, we're all led to believe that when you're going down, it's easier 'cause you're working with gravity. And I'll take my response off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks.
JORDANJen, you're absolutely right. There is an assumption. And the best analogy I have is a ladder. Think about climbing up a ladder versus down a ladder. And when climbing down that ladder, if you're facing out, that is basically the difference because a lot of -- and a lot of people assume I'm talking about hiking in the Himalayas, I mean, in the Adirondacks or in the Green Mountains versus in the Himalayas. So it is not a stroll. It is a down climb with gravity pulling you off the mountain if you trip. Versus on your way up, if you trip, you're just gonna fall into the slope at your face.
REHMYou're telling me that coming down, you're facing out?
REHMAren't there any ropes to hold you in?
JORDANWell, it's -- it was a 12,000 foot decent, Diane. So just imagine how hard it would be to down climb -- some of it is down climbed with your face into the...
JORDAN...into the slope.
JORDANBut a lot of it, you've got the -- you've got the rope around you and you're -- you got a descending device and sometimes just your gloves with friction on the rope, but you are facing out a lot of the time.
REHMAre you telling me, as far as this man is concerned, that he was left by himself?
JORDANThat's exactly what happened. He was left by himself because, at that point -- now, mind you, he and Fritz had been on the mountain two months with no supplemental oxygen, with limited and dwindling supplies of food and water because it kept...
REHMWhy did they get stuck?
JORDANWell, Dudley got stuck because he couldn't -- he didn't have the skills to get down. And at that point, he was so hypoxic and so weak from dehydration and malnutrition that Fritz couldn't get him down. So Fritz fled the mountain to get help. And then, the help died in the process of trying to get Dudley down. So he left him at camp seven because I think he realized, I can't get this man down.
JORDANCamp seven being how high?
JORDANCamp seven in 1939 was just about 24,700 feet.
REHMSo Fritz got all the way down?
JORDANFritz got all the way down.
REHMHe went and got help?
JORDANHe tried, but again, this -- the story is so sad and so convoluted. There was no one to send because all the Sherpas, at that point, were emotionally and...
REHMOut of it.
JORDAN...physically done, out of it.
JORDANGeorge Sheldon and Shap Kramer (sp?) had already left base camp. And Jack Durrance couldn't get above camp two or three with that debilitating high altitude. The last man standing was Kikuli -- Pasang Kikuli, who had already suffered frost bite. And he said, I will go. And he chose three Sherpas to go with him, said, you know, gear up, we're going.
JORDANAnd they made the -- one of the fastest ascents on any Himalayan peak, 7,000 feet in a day. But they -- but it cost them. So when they went up to get Dudley, they -- one of them had been left at camp six because he was sick with high altitude. And Kikuli and the other two went up and found Dudley still alive, which is remarkable. I mean, we are talking two months on that mountain.
REHMAnd what would the temperature have been?
JORDANWell, on a sunny day, the temperature on the mountain can be 10, 15, 20 degrees, not bad, I mean, with the bright sun.
REHMIt sounds pretty cold to me.
JORDANWell, I know. It's really -- especially with the hot sun, it can be actually hot in the tent. But they made it up to Dudley. And I think, in the last vestige of who he was as this aristocrat from Bremen, Yankee Maine, said to the men, I'm in no shape to leave right now. I need to clean up. Come back tomorrow. And Kikuli was -- had no social reference to tell a sahib what to do. And also Dudley -- physically, you can't get a mountain -- you can't get a man off a mountain. You can't drag him down. So he said, all right, we'll come back tomorrow. And the rest as they say is history. They didn't make it back up to him. And so Dudley died waiting for a rescue that never came.
REHMWow. All right. Let's go to Boone, N.C. Good morning, Brian.
BRIANGood morning. Thanks for having me, Diane.
BRIANI had a question for the author. I was wondering -- I've spent a little time -- altitude down in the Andes. And I think I've seen the same observations as one of your previous callers from Kilimanjaro. But I was astounded by the light clothing and lack of footwear of the porters. And I was wondering if the author had any knowledge of any physiological differences from people who spend their time of high altitude for a lifetime.
BRIANI'll take my response off the air.
REHMAll right, sir.
JORDANBrian, thanks for that question. I mean, physiologically, yes, because they live at 16,000 and 17,000 feet. But as far as the light clothing, that is just sheer grit and also poverty in -- especially in the '30s, they didn't have shoes and they went in barefoot to the glacier and then they wrapped rags around their feet. And we're talking porters, not Sherpas. And the Sherpas were outfitted and they had obviously cheaper boots and cheaper clothing, but they actually were given gear from the expedition.
REHMHere's a comment posted by Peter who says, "The first person to climb all mountains higher than 8,000 meters without oxygen supplement was the Italian Reinhold Messner."
JORDANNo, he's right. I said the first American to do it. And Ed Viesturs was the first American. Reinhold Messner was absolutely the first to do all 14 without...
REHMLet's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Tony.
TONYGood day. The author might compare equipment to -- between then and now. My -- for instance, boots would seem to be much worse. There's a huge -- a difference between things like footwear then and now. And also, I might note going down slope, your eyes -- visually, you do not see the trail as well as when you're going up. Thank you.
REHM(Laughs) Thank you.
JORDANNo, a great question. And the boots were a huge issue for the team, particularly Jack Durrance, who was in ski boots, with pounding hobnails into ski boots because his climbing boots hadn't arrived from Austria yet. And of course, the ski boots and climbing boots in those days were leather. And when leather gets wet, it becomes as hard as cement. Today's boots are double-lined plastic. They are guaranteed to a certain subzero. It's a whole different game for feet on those mountains. You're absolutely right, Tony.
REHMAnd to Jackie in Orem, Utah. Good morning, you're on the air. Jackie, are you there? I guess...
REHMGo right ahead, please.
JACKIEGreat. Thanks for taking my call.
JACKIENepal, apparently, is the most dangerous airport. There was some National Geographic show on it. And recently in our neck of the woods in Utah, we lost two people to a small propeller plane. No commercial -- I guess no commercial airlines can get in there. But they died on their way to climbing Mt. Everest. And I think that should be common knowledge that you may not even make it to the mountain. It's so dangerous.
JORDANWell, of course, K2 is in Pakistan, not in Nepal. But getting -- and getting into Islamabad International Airport is not nearly as dangerous as Katmandu because of the surrounding mountains are much further away. But your point is well taken, Jackie.
REHMJen, what does science tell us now about the way Dudley died?
JORDANScience tells us now that he died of acute mountain sickness and sheer exposure. I mean, two months on the mountain without enough liquid and with -- specifically liquid and without enough food will kill you.
REHMBut you think he died because he was left there?
JORDANI think he was -- died because -- I think he died because there was nobody there to help him down at the -- when it finally came down to it at the end of the day, the team was small to begin with and they all fell by the wayside. And the strongest, Fritz Wiessner, was not able to get his last man off the mountain.
REHMTo Jeff in St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFFHi, this is Jeff.
REHMYeah, go right ahead, sir.
JEFFRight. Thanks for having me on the show. Listen, I was thinking about those men that were caught up when the ropes broke loose. Why weren't a certain amount of them carrying rope and something to secure themselves with? There was 11 men that were stuck above where the rope sheared off. Why isn't that a standard that they have to carry a certain amount of gear?
JORDANBecause they were close to 28,000 feet and they had set the ropes on the way up. So to carry extra rope and extra weight of anchors is prohibitive at that altitude. They were coming down from the summit at the time.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Jeff. And to Peter in Charlotte, N.C., good morning.
PETERHey, Diane, how are you? Thanks for having me.
PETERLove your show.
PETERI just wanted to make another comment about the porters. I've spent a lot of time up on the Baltoro and Gondogoro Glaciers and actually just finished a documentary on the Balti culture on the porters. And just wanted to delve a little bit into more about the lack of proper footwear and clothing these guys have. And also, the money they make is very little. I mean, the guys helping expeditions come up to these mountains to climb them make about 500 to 600 rupees a day, which is less than $10.
PETERSo I just wanted to see what your guest thought about the work that these porters do.
JORDANNo. Yeah, these mountains, thank you, Peter, would not be climbed without those porters getting their bulk into the mountains. And unfortunately, you know, that rate of pay was pennies back in the '30s and now it's dollars in the 2010.
REHMBut not very many.
JORDANBut -- no. And considering how invaluable they are, you're absolutely right. It should be -- they should figure out how to pay these men more.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jen, would you read the epilogue for us?
JORDAN"If we deserve nothing else, we deserve to be remembered fairly, for our gifts as well as our faults. But Dudley's written epitaph has been a cartoon of a millionaire out to put his foot on the summit, regardless of the risks. According to his teammates and the expedition's various chroniclers through the years, he was overconfident, clumsy, fat, slow. The adjectives describe a stereotype, not a man. What is most unfair is that they're almost always, without exception, untrue and unearned. Dudley was a kind, quiet, unassuming, adventurous soul. His family adored him. His women fell in love with him hard and fast. A loner by nature, he didn't surround himself with scores of friends, but those he had were real and close. His hard-as-nails ex-wife begged him for reconciliation, writing him the plaintive love letters of a teenage girl and his siblings signed their letters, with love always. It was this Dudley Wolfe whom I wanted history to remember as the first man lost on K2."
REHMAnd that's why you chose him?
JORDANYes, exactly. When I realized that history had gotten him wrong, I thought it's just unjust. And history and Dudley deserve better than that.
REHMHis wife really wanted him back.
JORDANHis wife really wanted him back. She -- the letters she wrote him the entire trip were, you know, please be careful, my darling, come back. You know, and the war was breaking out and she wanted to pick his brain on all of the -- you know, what she should be doing. She was living in Austria at the time. Even though they had divorced, right before he left for the expedition, she -- they wrote wonderful, wonderful loving letters back and forth the entire time.
REHMHow did you get hold of them?
JORDANI got hold of them through Dudley's family and through her nieces. They didn't have children. But the families of -- Alice's family and also Dudley's family and his nephew in Charlottesville were incredibly generous.
REHMSo you think that this man has been treated very badly by history?
JORDANI do. And I think, unfortunately, we see that a lot in mountain climbing, where somebody who has the financial means to pay their fair weight, if you will, on an expedition, gets treated differently and gets looked at differently by the climbing community, who is, you know, waiting on tables and pounding nails to pay for their expeditions. And somehow, somebody with the financial resources to actually write a check is not taken seriously. And in Dudley's case, because the two men that came out to tell his story had some shame and blame involved in this story, Jack Durrance and Fritz Wiessner, they -- Dudley really got the rough end of that historic note because they needed to have Dudley seen as somebody who insisted on going for the summit and who was out of his element and who was a, you know, fat and clumsy and, of course, you know millionaires. I likened it to the fat guy on the Monopoly board. That's the caricature that they wanted the world to have of Dudley. And how can you -- how would you ever blame Jack and Fritz if that man is the man that you think is Dudley Wolfe.
REHMWell, you've told a great story, Jen.
JORDANWell, thank you so much, Diane. I just love it.
REHMCongratulations to you. Jennifer Jordan, she's an award-winning author, filmmaker and screenwriter. Her latest book is titled "Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2." Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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