K2 was long considered un-climbable. No wonder. The monster mountain that stands on the Pakistan-Chinese border is racked by gales, raging blizzards, even hurricanes. K2’s extreme weather makes its already treacherous climbing conditions ultra-demanding.
In fact, K2 is one of the world’s hardest mountains to climb. Far more climbers have summited the only one taller than it, Everest. If you are tempted to have a crack at K2 or just curious to know what lies behind its stormy front, here’s more intel.
K2 fast facts
1. K2’s cool, catchy name has a simple origin. British surveyor T.G. Montgomerie thought it up in the mid 19th century, apparently merely meaning that K2 was the second peak he listed in the 300-mile-wide Karakoram Range.
2. K2’s local name is Chogori, which in the Balti language means something much more poetic: “king of mountains.”
3. Eclipsed by Everest, K2 is just fractionally shorter – a mere 200 metres. Many climbers see K2 as a tougher challenge.
K2 rises up to the head-spinning, lung-busting height of 28,251 feet (8611 metres). Its nickname: the Savage Mountain because of the heavy weather it attracts and its general mean aura.
4. Adventurer Fosco Maraini summed up K2 as “just the bare bones of a name, all rock and ice and storm and abyss.”
5. Just getting to K2’s glacier base is enormously tricky. One epic adventurer remarked that he saw “no village within six days’ travel of K2 on either side”.
K2’s remoteness puts it beyond the reach of all but the boldest mountain travellers. The walk-in is long and gruelling from any side, making logistics horrendous.
6. K2 is usually attempted in June, July, or August. It has never been summited in winter.
7. “It’s enormous, very high, incredibly steep and much further north than Everest, which means it attracts notoriously bad weather,” Britain’s most famous mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington is quoted saying.
Anyone who attempts K2, which can seem like a one-way trip, has a one in four chance of dying. Cue countless dramatic survival stories.
8. One of the most famous moments in American climbing history came during a 1953 K2 climb, spearheaded by medical doctor Charles Houston.
After a 10-day storm marooned Houston and his team at 26,000 feet, they abandoned their attack on the summit and vainly tried to save 27-year-old Art Gilkey, who had altitude sickness, by going lower.
At one point in the descent, legendary mountaineer Pete Schoening single-handedly saved the entire expedition by jamming his ice axe behind a boulder. Schoening’s axe survives, displayed at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum [www.mountaineeringmuseum.org] in Golden, Colorado.
9. You need someone like Schoening with you because K2 has no “yak routes” – easy paths to the top. All are tremendously difficult. The standard angle is the Abruzzi Spur on the mountain’s Pakistan side.
Immense, the Abruzzi Spur features a monster buttress called the Black Pyramid and a vice-like gorge called the Bottleneck.
The Bottleneck is hemmed in by sheer cliff walls and “seracs”: columns of ice formed when crevasses meet. Seracs routinely collapse without warning.
10. K2 may well be the world’s hardest climb. It has been said that reaching its peak is the equivalent of winning the Olympic gold in mountaineering. To “conquer” K2, you must be both brilliant and lucky.