Program History


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Women of K2 and Savage Summit"

 by Jennifer Jordan

K2 has earned its nickname the "Savage Mountain" because the second highest mountain in the world suffers no fools. At the beginning of the 2004 climbing season, Mount Everest had been climbed over 2,000 times, but only 196 people had climbed K2, and only five of them were women. Today all five of those pioneering female alpinists are dead. The documentary Women of K2 and its companion book Savage Summit both tell the story of this fearsome mountain through the tragic stories of the women who tried, succeeded and perished climbing it, as well as the broad, rich history of this remote mountain through its first female explorers. Women of K2 and Savage Summit also ask difficult and controversial questions of its female climbers as well as the climbing community: Are women physiologically and emotionally prepared for the rigors of this most deadly mountain? Do they too often rely on strong male climbing partners to get them up and off the mountain alive? And because of ready access to sponsors and media, do women climbers attempt technically difficult and dangerous high-profile mountains, like K2, before they have learned the ropes on lesser mountains, endangering themselves and their climbing partners? Both the film and book go beyond what any mountaineering or adventure narratives has before because they are the first to examine these climbing controversies and the Savage Mountain through the hearts, minds and experiences of its female pioneers. Like Into Thin Air, The Perfect Storm and Maurice Herzog's Annapurna before it, Savage Summit explores the breath-taking thrill of life-threatening endeavor, but it also does so through its often overlooked and under-valued participants, women. Finally, it questions whether women mountaineers face a double standard defined and imposed by men who resent their imposition into the still very-male world of high altitude climbing.

Jennifer Jordan's statement: Ironically, I too have become a woman of K2, not because I've climbed on its lethal slopes, but because I made two trips to the mountain in three years and am probably the only person to visit both sides of this fearsome giant with no intention of climbing either. My near-obsession with this mountain of "rock and ice and storm and abyss," as an early explorer called it, began the moment I heard that each of the five who had climbed the mountain was dead. I had been interviewing American climber Charlotte Fox in 1998 when she looked up from an obituary in a climbing magazine and said, "Chantal Mauduit just died on Dhaulagiri. She's the last one. Now all of the women who've climbed K2 are dead." I didn't even know what K2 was, never mind where or what women she was referring to, but in the years since that fateful afternoon on Fox's Aspen, Colorado porch, I have come to know the five women with a love and tenderness journalists often gain of their research subjects. I learned that one of the women of K2 refused to turn back from her summit bid, even though she must have known the alternative was death as she laid cold and dying in a snow cave. And I had read that before another of the women left K2 base camp for her last summit bid, she answered letters to her two young children eager for their "Mummy" to return home - couldn't she come home now? She never did. I had spoken to another climber's brother and learned that his younger sister had a love for life that often made her jump without looking for a safety net, a carefree -- and some charged careless -- joie de vie that eventually may have cost her that life. And I had learned that another of the women of K2 had already seen six deaths on the mountain by the time she made her summit bid during the mountain's deadliest climbing season in1986 -- her body would be among the year's staggering toll of thirteen. Who were these women and why did they choose a life on the edge of death? Why did they die, and why did one mountain claim so many of them? How did they make the decision to leave family, husbands and children to venture into the world's highest and most deadly playground? Did their gender have a hand in their deaths? And while the mountain may not have cared that they were women, were there other forces at work that did? While grim and gruesome, the questions haunted me and I knew I had to learn more than books and memoirs could provide. So when I received an invitation to join an expedition to the mountain, I knew I had to go. And I did. Today, the National Geographic documentary "Women of K2" and by book "Savage Summit" are the results.

Jennifer Jordan is an award-winning author, filmmaker and screenwriter, with over twenty-five years experience as a journalist, broadcast producer, radio and television news anchor, voice-over/narration talent and motivational speaker. She created, wrote, and co-produced Women of K2 for the National Geographic Channel which won five major film festivals. She is the author of Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2, (William Morrow 2005), which won the 2005 National Outdoor Book Award for Best Mountain Literature and was selected as an Editors' Choice by the New York Times Book Review. She currently speaks on a variety of motivational topics to national and international audiences. She also teaches documentary filmmaking at Spy Hop Productions, Utah's innovative youth media center which has as its mission "to cultivate the visions and voices of an emerging generation." Jordan spent the better part of the 1990s at WGBH-FM in Boston where she anchored National Public Radio's All Things Considered. She also worked with the acclaimed WGBH Channel 2, public television's most prolific production house, as an on-air talent, segment producer and host, researcher and writer. Before Jordan joined WGBH she created, produced, hosted and marketed her own talk show which she syndicated nationally via NPR's satellite network. In addition to her broadcast experience, Jordan wrote numerous cover stories for various Boston periodicals on topics ranging from famed mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears to movie star brothers Donnie and Mark Wahlberg. Previously, she directed Harvard University's leading speakers' arena, The Forum at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Along with hosting presidents and prime ministers, she helped produce "Candidates '88," a 13-week television series aired live on PBS stations nationwide. After leaving the Kennedy School, she consulted for Harvard's Radcliffe College, organizing women's conferences throughout the country. She co-owns and operates Skyline Ventures Productions with her husband, filmmaker and adventurer Jeff Rhoads, in Salt Lake City, where she spends as much of her free time as possible exploring the back country of the Wasatch Mountains, as well as competing in triathlons and ultra-distance trail runs.

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