K2, arguably the world’s toughest mountain to climb, was conquered for the first time in more than three years earlier this week, when an international team of three men and one woman reached the summit. They were the first people to stand on top of the mountain since the tragic 2008 climbing season, during which 11 people lost their lives.
Located in the Karakoram mountain range, K2 straddles the border between Pakistan and China and stands 8611 meters (28,251 ft) in height. It is the second highest peak in the world, behind only Mt. Everest, although it is orders of magnitude more challenging to climb. While each year more than 500 people summit Everest, the top of K2 is rarely visited at all due to its extreme technical challenges and notoriously bad weather. In fact, K2 has earned the nickname “the Savage Mountain” because of its high level of difficulty and the fact that for every four climbers who have successfully reached the top, one has died trying.
On Tuesday, Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, along with Polish mountaineer Darek Zaluski and Kazakhs Maxut Zumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov ended the three-year drought on K2 by reaching the summit from the Chinese side of the mountain. Climbing for nearly 18 hours, the team endured waist deep snow and -25ºF temperatures on their way up, although the winds were mercifully light and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That afforded them some great views from the summit, but the exhausted group didn’t linger for long, as they still had a long trek back to their high camp below.
The successful summit earned Kaltenbrunner the distinction of becoming the first woman to climb all fourteen of the world’s 8000-meter peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen. While most high altitude mountaineers wear an oxygen mask and tank to help them breathe in the thin air, she did it using just her own lungs, which puts her in a very elite squad of climbers.
The team has now descended back to their Base Camp, where they are collecting all of their gear and are preparing to head home. After spending two months on K2 preparing for this summit push, they are no doubt more than ready to get back to their friends and families, not to mention a few creature comforts. I’m guessing a warm shower, a comfortable bed, and their favorite foods all sound pretty good about now.
[Photo credit: Kevin Mayea]