Standing 8611 meters (28,251 feet) in height, K2 is the second tallest mountain on the planet behind Everest. It also happens to be one of the most difficult and deadliest peaks as well, which has earned it nicknames such as the “Savage Mountain” and the “Mountaineer’s Mountain.” But last week the savage was tamed when a record-setting 28 people managed to successfully summit on a single day.
Located in a remote region of Pakistan’s Karakoram range, K2 is only accessible for a brief period of time each year during the summer. Climbers usually arrive in Base Camp around mid- to late-July with the hope of taking advantage of a narrow weather window to reach the summit. In years past Mother Nature has not been so cooperative, often keeping anyone from reaching the top. Last year, only four climbers managed to climb the mountain and they were the first since 2008 when 11 people were killed in a tragic accident.
2012 has not been a particularly good year for climbers in Pakistan, as unusually cold and wet weather prevented many teams from achieving their goals. But for those climbing on K2 last week the conditions were nearly perfect for making an ascent. As a result, a record number of mountaineers were able to reach the second-highest point on Earth and add one of the toughest mountains in the world to their resume.
So far this season there have been 30 total summits of K2 with a few climbers still hoping to top out in the next few days. To put that in perspective, there were nearly 500 successful summits of Everest this past spring, which is an indication of the difference in difficulty between the two peaks. Everest may be 237 meters (777 feet) taller but K2 is orders of magnitude more challenging.
[Photo credit: Kevin Mayea via WikiMedia]
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]