Howkins, Heidi 1968(?)-

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HOWKINS, Heidi 1968(?)-


Born c. 1968; divorced; children: daughter. Education: Wellesley College, B.S. (mathematics); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduate studies in math and logic.


Home—Lives in Ridgefield, CT. Agent—c/o National Geographic Society Books, 1145 17th Street N.W., Washington, DC 20036-4688.




K2: One Woman's Quest for the Summit, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2001.


A book of essays.


Heidi Howkins is a mountain climber who documented her 2000 attempt to reach the peak of K2 in the Karakoram of Pakistan in K2: One Woman's Quest for the Summit. Since 1954, fewer than 200 climbers, including five women, have successfully conquered K2, which, although second in height, is much steeper and more dangerous than Mt. Everest. By comparison, Everest, the highest peak, has been summitted more than 1,300 times. In 1996 Howkins climbed Gasherbrum II in two days, and in 1997, she reached the base of the summit pyramid on Kangchenjunga, approximately 100 feet shorter than K2, the highest point reached by a woman who has also survived the descent. On her second try on K2, like her first in 1998, she climbed alpine style, without porters or supplemental oxygen. During that season, the weather was so bad that no one reached the summit.

Twelve climbers had died on K2 in 1986, and four more in 1992. Among those four was Alison Hargreaves of Britain, who died shortly after climbing Mt. Everest. During an interview with Peter Potterfield of Mountain Zone online, Howkins said, "It's difficult not to think of the tragedies the peak is famous for. When you get to Camp II, you crest this slope but don't see the camp until you're right on top of it. It's a graveyard of wrecked tents." The group she climbed with found a body they believed was the remains of one of the climbers who had died in 1986. She commented that "part of the allure was the reputation of K2. And now that I have been there, I can say that the mountain definitely is one with a distinct character and personality. It lives up to its name—it's absolutely relentless. Not just the gradient, but the whole aura of the mountain wears on you. It's a mountain that you walk away from with a certain sense of awe and humility. It can really psyche you out."

Howkins told Potterfield that she felt physically better after this climb than she had after others. She said she has had hair fall out and had other physical problems from poor nutrition and drinking glacier water. This time, however, she worked with a nutritionist and took along supplements.

Once off the mountain, Howkins was faced with getting safely out of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden had put a bounty on Americans, one of whom had already been killed, and Islamic militants had been angered by a United States cruise missile attack on Afghanistan. Howkins wore the traditional garb of a Pakistani woman and traveled by night, prepared to identify herself as Canadian if questioned.

A Publishers Weekly contributor said of K2 that "this very personal account of the climbing experience, including the rampant sexism that pervades the climbing community, is an important addition to the ever-growing genre." Booklist's Eric Robbins noted that it "reveals a little-seen side of the sport: the emotions and often complex relationships of the climbers." In a Library Journal review, Alison Hopkins called the book, which was released by National Geographic to coincide with a television documentary titled Surviving K2, "a deeply satisfying read."



Booklist, May 15, 2001, Eric Robbins, review of K2: One Woman's Quest for the Summit, p. 1722.

Library Journal, June 1, 2001, Alison Hopkins, review of K2, p. 200.

Publishers Weekly, April 23, 2001, review of K2, p. 60.


Mountain Zone, (December 31, 2001), Peter Potterfield, "Back from K2 … Alive: The Mountain Zone Interviews Heidi Howkins."*