To Linda Cashdan of
Thanks to everyone at Kensington, especially Steven Zacharius, Robin E. Cook, Laurie Parkin, Maureen Cuddy, Michaela Hamilton, and Doug Mendini, a true fixture on the trade show circuit. To Meryl Earl, who has somehow managed to get my books published in a multitude of languages, none of which I understand. To Rosemary Silva, for her outstanding work with the copyediting. Also thanks to Alex Clarke and the entire team at Penguin Books for their continued support in Australia and the U.K.
To my editor, Audrey LaFehr, for her enthusiasm, encouragement, and exceptional patience. Thanks for everything. To my agent, Nancy Coffey, for many, many things. If I had to name them all, the acknowledgments would be longer than the book itself. So thanks for all that you do. Let’s hope this is just the third of many. And to Dezzy Murphy and the other Irish climbers who conquered Concordia, thanks for inspiring the prologue.
THE KARAKORAM HIGHWAY (KKH), PAKISTAN
In Rebeka C?esnik’s opinion, the view, even when seen through the cracked window of the ancient bus winding its way down from Kashgar to Islamabad, was simply magnificent. Perfect. Stunning in every conceivable way. These were the words she had used to describe every trip she’d ever taken, and her effusive comments always made her friends and relatives smile, though it had taken her quite a while—the better part of her life, in fact—to understand just why that was.
Her mother had been the one to finally let her in on the joke. That had been a few years earlier, shortly after Rebeka joined Frommer’s as a travel photographer. At the time, the observation had struck her as not only true, but slightly humorous. Even now the memory made her smile, but she couldn’t dispute her mother’s words.
including the prestigious Hasselblad Award in 2006—she had managed to make her mark in an industry brimming with talent, and that was no small feat.
Rebeka had embarked on her current career after winning a regional photography contest at seventeen years of age. She’d started shooting on an amateur basis in 2002 with a secondhand Minolta Dynax 8000i. The camera had been a gift from a spoiled cousin who’d since moved on to more expensive hobbies, and she’d fallen in love with it instantly. Her love of travel, however, dated back to her childhood, and she sometimes wondered why it had taken her so long to work her two favorite hobbies into what had become a spectacular career. She had grown up on the Soc?a River in the Julian Alps, not far from the famed Predjama Castle, and she credited the gorgeous scenery of her childhood with sparking not only her interest in nature, but her desire to see as much of it as possible. Since leaving Frommer’s the previous year, she had embarked on freelance assignments for
Sitting directly across from her was Beni Abruzzi, the rakish, handsome, long-limbed climber from Brescia. He was talking—with animated gestures, as always—to Umberto Verga, his stocky Sicilian cousin. Umberto rarely spoke, and when he did, it sounded more like a series of grunts than actual speech, but Beni was only too happy to pick up his cousin’s slack. He’d served as a
There was also the downtrodden group of Danish climbers who’d arrived at K2 four days earlier with the goal of summiting, only to turn back at base camp in Concordia, and a small knot of aging Canadian trekkers. There was even a renowned American geologist by the name of Timothy Welch. The professor emeritus from the University of Colorado seemed to spend a great deal of time staring at his hands and muttering under his breath, which C?esnik found both amusing and a little unnerving.
Beni managed to catch her eye, but she turned away before he could fix her with his usual lascivious stare. To cover her reaction, she hastily pulled her journal out of her Berghaus pack, undid the clasp, and started to scribble a few notes, catching up on the events of the past few days. It was hard to concentrate under the lean climber’s intense gaze. She’d done her best to make her disinterest clear, but her efforts had clearly been wasted. Although she was just twenty-three—the same age as Abruzzi—Rebeka had accomplished a great deal in her young life. For this reason, she tended to look down on many people her own age. She knew it was snobbish, but she couldn’t help it; she was a driven woman, and that meant things like men, sex, and partying didn’t figure high on her list of priorities. At the same time, she knew her looks had given her a considerable boost in her current career—that they would have helped her in