K2 is rising from the Baltoro Glacier in the heart of Karakoram, it is one of the most exceptional mountains on Earth. A pyramidal peak is the ultimate challenge for the world’s elite alpinists and stands at 8,611 meters and 28,251 feet above sea level, and the second highest in the world after mount Everest. It is also called Mount Godwin Austen, locally called Dapsang or Chogori (big-mount). It is located in the Karakoram range in the Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan, bordering the Xinjiang region. All mountains over 8000 meters are either located in the Karakoram or in the Himalayas. Furthermore, most of the top 100 highest peaks of the world are also located in these ranges. Pakistan keeps 5 out of 14 above 8000 meters peaks, four in the Karakoram and one in the Himalayas range. The best way to reach K2 is from Skardu, a jeepable path till Astore, and from their trekking route to an amazing bumpy stony path alongside Baltoro Glacier, one of the world’s longest glaciers outside the polar region (63 km). This track is also considered one of the top treks on the planet and is famous as the K2 base camp trek or Baltoro trek. The route gives insight into some of the world’s most beautiful mountains such as Trango Towers, Mitre Peak, Laila Peak, Masherbrum, 4 8,000ers, and many more; you get a chance to experience 30 out 100 highest peaks in the world in 16 km radius.
The K2 “Savage Mountain,” is commonly known as one of the most dangerous and difficult of all 8,000ers of the world. The death rate on K2 was also highest along with Annapurna (8,091 m) Nepal, and Nanga Parbat (8,126 m) Pakistan which sits approximately 25%. Mighty K2 was also the last amongst the 8000er peaks which were ascent in winter in 2021. In recent years, more people have ascended to K2 and it’s also lowering the overall death rate which is now sitting around 13%. In 2018, 62 people climbed the K2, which was the highest number of people to climb the mountain. Recently, 190 people ascended to the K2 with 145 people summiting it within 24 hrs on 22 July 2022. Nowadays, it’s becoming more and more commercial, and more traffic would endanger the lives of mountaineers, especially climbing the bottleneck of the mountain.
Let’s have a glimpse on K2’s brief history, the mountain was initially surveyed in 1856 by a British team and named K2 because peak was mapped as 2nd among the most prominent peaks in the Karakoram range at that time. The other key peaks Masherbrum (7,821 m) mapped as K1, Gasherbrum IV (7,925 meters) as K3, Gasherbrum II (8,035 meters) as K4, and Gasherbrum I (8,080 meters) named as K5.
The first serious expedition to summit K2 was made in 1902. The team battled brutal weather for 68 days on the K2 and reached 21,407 feet using the northeast ridge. The expedition failed after making 5 attempts, making a record for spending the longest time at a high altitude. K2’s second expedition was made in 1909 led by Luigi Amedeo (Italian Duke of the Abruzzi). That team also failed and just climbed up 20,500 feet on eponymous spur, it was unsuccessful on both the west and then the north ridges. Next, an attempt was not made in 29 years, in 1938 a team led by Charles Houston an American mountaineer reached 26,000 feet using the south spur “Abruzzi Spur” but had to turn back because of harsh weather and limited supplies. The following year another attempt was made by American teams and they turned back just after 600 feet, just climber Dudley Wolfe was left behind and refused to come down 3 attempts were made to bring him back and in a final rescue attempt three Sherpas, Pasang Kitar, Pasang Kikuli, and Phinsoo, disappeared on the K2.
The next expedition was made in 1953, the team was trapped for ten days above 25,500 feet, resulting in the death of a climber as it was hit by a violent storm
Successes on The K2
On July 31, 1954, the first successful summit was made by an Italian team led by Ardito Desio. Two team members Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni had submitted using Abruzzi Spur. This expedition also included colonel Muhammad Ata-Ullah and Amir Mehdi (Hunza porter), and a prominent climber Walter Bonatti. A member of the team (Mario Puchoz) died of pneumonia. Though it was successful, the expedition proved controversial as well. That made clear that West and Northeast Ridge would not be viable lines to ascent. Instead it could be Abruzzi Spur the Southeast Spur, and the first successful ascent was made using Abruzzi Spur and is considered the far easiest route till today.
It took again a period of 23 years for a 2nd success on K2 until August 9, 1977, by a Japanese team led by Ichiro Yoshizawa using Abruzzi Spur. On January 16, 2021, the first winter ascent was made by a Sherpa team of 10 led by Nirmal Purja.
Overview of Ascent on K2
Until August 2022, approximately 700 climbers had submitted the mount K2. approximately 96 people have given their lives on K2. the fatality rate on K2 was once around 25% which is now going down quickly. The record summit on K2 had seen in 2018 which was 62 and 27% of ascent to K2 was made in the year 2022 only which is around 27% of its overall summits with just 3 people dying on it.
Key Climbing Routes on K2
Abruzzi Spur: It is the most popular route on K2 also known as the Southeast Ridge; the route starts from the Pakistani side of the K2 mountain. It was the same route that was being used in K2’s first successful ascent in 1954. This route is being used by almost 80% of the climbers on K2. This route follows a ridgeline that begins at 17,700 feet on K2. Abruzzi Spur keeps many technical and exposed sections such as the crack House’s Chimney of 100-Foot, the Black Pyramid, on the main spur a large arete protruding, and the Bottleneck Couloir is a well-known feature of this route, a 1,300 feet slope below the summit, with numerous of unstable seracs.
The Cesen: Next most-popular route to ascent K2 is the Cesen, it runs just west of the Abruzzi Spur. This route was pioneered by Tomo Cesen, a Slovenian climber, in 1984. The Cesen went for this route to avoid some of the technical obstacles lower down on the Abruzzi. The Cesen route is remarkably steeper, with increased rockfall and avalanche risks. Further, it connects with the Abruzzi Spur about 60% of the path up the summit.
Other Known Routes: Other known routes on K2 are the Northeast Ridge, North Ridge, South Face or Central Rib, Southwest Pillar also known as Magic Line, Northwest Ridge, and Northwest Face. The East Face of K2 has never seen any ascent until today; it is likely because of snow formations and the instability of its ice.
Facts and Figures
- K2 Elevation: 8,611 meters or 28,251 feet
- 2nd Highest Peak in the World and 1st in Pakistan
- Mapped on 1856 by a British team
- Located in Range: Karakorum, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan/China
- The first serious attempt was made to ascent K2 in 1902
- First ascent: July 31, 1954, by an Italian team led by Ardito Desio
- Second ascent: August 9, 1977, by a Japanese team
- First ascensionist: Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni
- First Winter Ascent: January 16, 2021 team led by Nirmal Purja.
- Most common climbing route: Abruzzi Spur (75%)
- Successful summits: 705
- Cumulative deaths: 96
- Approximate fatality rate: 13.6%
- Cost to climb: $20,000 – $30,000 (average)