Tuesday, April 14, 2020

MG Nonfiction review of Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World's Most Dangerous Mountain by Tod Olson

44575077 Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World's Most Dangerous Mountain by Tod Olson
Format:  ARC Paperback
Publisher:  Scholastic Focus

Number of Pages: 288
Publishing:  April 21st, 2020
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Praise for Into the Clouds:

“Gripping, well-researched, superb entertainment.” —Kirkus Reviews

★“An absolute must-have for all readers looking for well-researched and gripping adventure nonfiction.”
—School Library Journal  (starred review)

Opening Line:  "All they needed were three good days."

The last book I've read by Tod Olson was Lost in the Antarctic:  The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance which was about a crew of men who in 1914  planned a voyage around the Antarctic, partway through their ship became trapped and their voyage turned into a harrowing story of survival.     

In his latest book, Into the Clouds, Tod Olson has another survival story, this one details the race to climb one of the world's deadliest and second- highest mountain, the K2.  His story is written across three distinct time periods.  Each treacherous climb includes details about the expedition team, how they not only survived the harsh mountainous range but also how they dealt with the harrowing cold temperatures.  It chronicles both their successes and failures.

Olson begins in 19o9  following the Duke of Abruzzi's failed climb.  Then moves the story into the First American Expedition of 1938 by a medical student named Charlie Houston.  While Houston and his men never made it to the summit, they laid the groundwork for future expeditions.  Even naming one of the most treacherous parts House's Chimney.  The second expedition was led by Fritz Wiessner.  A man who took huge risks with his crew, and had less experienced climbers.  His expedition was riddled with problems and was very disorganized.  In the end, Wiessner's team was also unsuccessful, losing three Sherpa's and one of its crewmembers, Dudley Wolfe.  Following Wiessner's climb questions began to mount regarding the efficacy of such climbs.  Blame was being thrown around regarding Wolfe's death.  In 1953, Charlie Houston was determined to take another crack at the mountain and set out with his team on the Second American Expedition.  

Here's where the crux of the story really seems to lie for me.  Charlie Houston had a very different leadership style to Weissner, he saw his team as having a "fellowship of the rope." He was determined to pick men who held to the same sort of standards that he did.  He really wanted to be the first team to make it to the summit.  Initially, everything seemed to be going in their favor.  As the expedition climbed higher and higher they moved their supplies up the hill, establishing a new campsite each time.  At some point all the teams had to deal with the harsh elements, winds gusting 80+ miles per hour, frozen toes due to the blistering cold snowfall and the constant risk of loose rocks or avalanches from above.  As they climbed, Houston and his crew found reminders of previous climbs and as with previous teams had to deal with the illness of one of their crew.  In their case, Gilkey developed blood clots in his leg.  Given Houston's medical training, he understood the risks of continuing onward and made the decision to turn back before making it to the summit.  Now the team was focused on getting safely back down the mountain so they wrapped Gilkey in sleeping bags as best they could and descended.  However, conditions on the mountain began to worsen and at one point they lost Gilkey as well.  Houston and his team eventually made their way home and in 1954 an Italian team made the climb in a military-style expedition.  Disappointed, Houston never climbed again.

As I was reading Into the Clouds I couldn't help thinking that no matter how strong you think you are, you need to respect nature/the elements.  Weissner seemed to believe that with his will alone he could make it to the summit.  But nature can be harsh and unpredictable.  I really appreciated that Olson also included explanations for why extreme climbers do what they do.  That some of these men had a deep desire to conquer the mountain.  Houston's was so strong that despite not succeeding the first time around, he even went back.  It's remarkable when you think about all that they had to endure up on the mountain, breaking a new campsite on the side of a cliff hoping that the wind wouldn't drag them off or they wouldn't get buried by the snow.  Spending days cramped in their tent unable to move trying to make sure that the people in the tent next to yours are still out there.  Suffering from hunger and thirst.  Even just the will and strength to hang on when you're tied to someone who's hanging at the end of your line.  

 Included in the back of the book are a detailed source reference list and photographs of some of the equipment the men used.  And throughout the text, there are many photographs of the men and Sherpa's who went on the climbs.  I was really fascinated with how they tested their ropes to ensure that it could hold the combined weight of the men and the slow determined process they took to allow each of them to acclimate to the altitude.  A remarkable story of survival and a very detailed account of these men's journey.   I highly recommend it.       **A huge thank you to the Scholastic Focus and Blue Slip Media for the review copy. **         

                                                      About Tod Olson

Tod Olson is the author of the narrative nonfiction series, LOST, and the historical fiction series How to Get Rich. He has written for national magazines on the Columbine school shooting, homeless teens, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and many other stories of interest to children and young adults. Tod holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Vermont with his family, his mountain bike, and his electric reclining chair. To learn more, and to download free teaching resources, visit his website: todolson.com.


  1. Survival books are popular with the kids I know. This sounds like a great read. I don't think I have read anything by this author yet. I enjoyed your review and the mention of the fact that it explains why people want to climb/conquer mountains. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This sounds absolutely fascinating. I'm always intrigued with people who dare to do things that seem almost impossible. Thanks for sharing it, Brenda.