Into the Clouds

by Tod Olson

“Climbers are a community of people who find their greatest joy amid great danger. That paradox fascinates sea level-bound observers – myself included. Reporters, acquaintances, often spouses, all want to know why? Life is a precious thing; why risk it in pursuit of something that is, in Francis Younghusband’s words, ‘no use at all’?

Rand Herron, a musical prodigy and lover of mountains who climbed on Nanga Parbat with Fritz Wiessner in 1932, thought the question missed the point. The risk of death wasn’t just something to be tolerated in order to unlock the rewards of climbing. It was part of the reward itself.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: A

Into the Clouds is a thoroughly engaging work of literary non-fiction. With characters that at times are hyperbolic in nature, and events that seem too dramatic to be real, the book reads like an outdoor adventure novel. The images and photographs, however, remind readers throughout the book that this very much happened, and the men who they are reading about are steadfastly determined to leave their mark on K2.

Living in the Northwest, and knowing many who are dedicated to mountain climbing, this book drove home the recurring question: what drives someone to risk everything to summit a peak? Tod Olson is frank about what these men sacrificed in order to make history, and manages to authentically tell the story without getting too technical. I so appreciated that as someone who has never summited a peak, I could enjoy the book – and learn more about these historic figures – without being bogged down by technical details. More importantly, perhaps, was that I was addicted to the story because of the individual characters and the unexpected challenges that K2 presented for the climbers. For fans of adventure stories, historical biographies, or outdoor survival books, Into the Clouds is a must-read!

Movie Rating: PG

Into the Clouds is unique because it covers the historical story of a group of climbers attempting to summit the most treacherous mountain on the planet, but because of the dangers they faced, there are some difficult moments. There is no swearing or anything of that sort, but there is an underlying emphasis on the fact that death lies in wait for the climbers and anticipates that they will make a mistake that will cost them their lives. Death, frostbite, starvation, injury, and illness repeatedly pop up in the pages, but they are not glorified. Instead, Olson focuses on the fact that this is what makes these climbers so brave and tenacious. Some of the featured photographs reinforce this with shots of tired climbers and frostbitten feet. This book is an ideal read for students who are aware of the threat that nature poses, but appreciate the outdoors and the challenges that come with outdoor adventures.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Yes

Into the Clouds is a wonderful book. I am confident that it will appeal to students from diverse backgrounds because it focuses on the indomitable human spirit and the risks that many take to achieve personal goals and historical greatness. I am so excited to have such a thoughtfully written, engaging story for students to turn to!


In 1938, Charlie Houston and a team of climbers were looking for a route up the seemingly impenetrable face of K2. So begins Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain. Although they were respected climbers, they were supposed to pave the way for another climber – Fritz Wiessner – to summit the mountain the following year. They would not be the first to attempt to climb the treacherous mountain – attempts had been made for decades to no avail – but they were reluctant to pave the way for another’s glory at their expense. Open to doing some of the hard work, but also open to summiting if the opportunity arose, Houston, House, and Bates set out on an epic journey.

Although they were physically tested in numerous ways, the team did not succeed. Neither did Wiessner the following year – with tragic consequences. Climbing expeditions stood still for a number of years while World War II raged on, but in the 1950s, interest peaked again. Into the Clouds focuses on Houston revisiting his elusive conquest and how he fared on his second attempt to climb and summit the most dangerous mountain.

With numerous maps, photographs, and details, this book is enticing to all readers. Fans of outdoors non-fiction will love the detailed descriptions and the party’s photos the highlight the reality of their dangerous task. This book is suspenseful and engaging, and will leave readers wanting more.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. Compare how the sherpas were equipped/prepared in the early journeys versus the 1953 attempt. What are their roles in the different journeys?
  2. The three treks emphasized in this book focus on climbers striving to ascend K2 without oxygen. Later climbers opt to use it. Does that lessen their accomplishment or indicate that they were wiser? Give specific details.
  3. What kind of a leader is Houston? What kind of a leader is Wiessner? Give examples to support this.
  4. What was the bond between the men of the third Karakoram Expedition? What defining moments influenced this?
  5. Why is Pete Schoening’s ice axe famous? What does it represent for climbers?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • I Survived: Five True Stories by Lauren Tarshis
  • Lost in the Pacific, 1942: Not a Drop to Drink by Tod Olson
  • Unbroken (Young Adult Adaptation) by Lauren Hillebrand

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