K2 is the second highest mountain on earth with 8611 meters or 28251 feet. K2 is almost 800 feet lower than Mount Everest, but its sharper, more graceful architecture makes it a more striking mountain--and a much harder one to climb. K2 is also called Mount Godwin-Austen and locally as “Chogo Ri”, which means "The Great Mountain". The mountain was first surveyed by a European survey team in 1856 headed by Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen. Thomas Montgomerie was the member of the team who designated it "K2" for being the second peak of the Karakoram range (map). The other peaks were originally named K1, K3, K4 and K5, but were eventually renamed Masherbrum, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II and Gasherbrum I respectively. K2 has a reputation as the killer mountain. Indeed, of the 14 mountains in the world over 8,000 meters, K2 has the highest failure rate. The mountain is considered to be the world's most difficult and dangerous climb, hence its nickname the "Savage Mountain". Reaching the top of K2 and coming down alive is every veteran mountaineers dream.
It was probably for the first time in 1902 that an organized expedition of Oscar J.L. Eckenstein traveled to K-2 from Baltoro glacier. The expedition was without any guide. Its aim was to explore approaches to the mountain and possibly have a try on the peak. It was, however, harsh weather which prevented it from attempting the peak. In 1909, a big Italian expedition under the leadership of resolute Luigi Amadeo Giuseppe (Duke of Abruzzi) the grandson of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, reconnoitred K2. Two famous British mountaineers, Harold William Tilman and Eric Earle Shipton, explored and surveyed the north face of K2 and its subsidiary glaciers in 1937. In 1938, the American Alpine Club sponsored a reconnaissance party for a visit to K2 area. The party reached a height of 7925 meters after setting up eight camps. The next year saw another American expedition on K2. It was led by Fritz Hermann Ernst Wiessner, a German-American chemist and mountaineer. The expedition, along with nine Sherpas, made very good progress on the already-identified south-east ridge. Another American attempt on K2 was made in 1953. The expedition leader was Dr. Charles Houston, who had also led the 1938 American expedition on this peak.
The first successful summit was by an Italian team lead by Ardito Desio in 1954. The expedition started with over 500 porters, 11 climbers, and six scientists. One of the climbers died of pneumonia after 40 days of raging storms. The final ascent was made by Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni after their oxygen supply had run out, and an emergency descent was made in darkness.
The second ascent was made in 1977 by a Japanese expedition led by Ichiro Yoshizawa via the Abruzzi Spur. In addition to using bottled oxygen, this team employed 1500 porters and 52 members.
An American expedition led by Jim Whittaker were the third to reach the summit. They ascended on the south side via the Polish North East Ridge, traversing to the Abruzzi Spur at 7,700 meters. The first person to reach the summit without oxygen was part of this team. The expedition leader, James w. Whittaker, started using his oxygen at 8100m. 200m further up Louis Reinhardt tried to use his oxygen, but failed. He then continued, summated, and left early. James, however waited, took pictures, and ended up spending the night. He was rescued by a military helicopter lower on.
The fourth K2 ascent belongs to Reinhold Messner and Michl Dacher, who summited in 1979 without supplemental oxygen. Messner about K2: "On Mount Everest it feels as if you are in the womb, but on K2, you are always on the edge".
In 1986, three women - Wanda Rutkiewicz of Poland, Julie Tullis of Britain, and Liliane Barrard of France - became the first 3 women to stand on the summit. Unfortunately, Julie and Liliane died on the descent. This season later became known as the "worst summer on K2", with a total of 13 deaths. All three women were climbing without supplemental oxygen.
Ed Viesturs reached the summit of K2 on August 16, 1992. Later he described the effort in an interview: "K2 for me, in 1992, after three 8,000 meter summits, I felt like I was ready — and that's important. You shouldn't go to K2 until you feel prepared. I climbed with Scott Fischer, and we had no luck getting sponsorship and in fact sneaked out of town $15,000 in debt, but we both badly wanted to try K2, and we wanted to climb it together. After months of bad weather, we were finally at Camp IV ready to go to the summit the next day. We both were climbing without supplemental oxygen. We were expecting to leave at one in the morning, but the weather was bad and we ended up spending three nights and three days at 26,000 feet. Finally, the weather cleared and we left the tent before one in the morning so we could reach the summit as early as possible. We could see these big black clouds rising up to meet us, and it started snowing. I knew that this accumulating snow would make conditions dangerous, but Scott was so focused on the summit that he wanted to go on. So I just kept saying to myself, okay, I'll go for 10 minutes more, then 10 minutes more, and that went on all day. Phil Ershler had been in a similar situation a year before and had turned around, and I kept thinking about that. But we finally reached the summit, and both Scott and I were overjoyed to be on top, but I was really worried about the descent. On the way down I was convinced that we were going to die in an avalanche, or get lost in the storm."
In "No shortcuts to the top" Viesturs writes: "I will never be able to look back on our 1992 K2 expedition without mixed feelings. No matter what Charley Mace or Scott Fischer thought about our decision to push on to the summit as the storm rose and engulfed us, I am still convinced that it was the one big mistake of my climbing career."
Shared Summits K2 Climbing Expedition 2007: After 9 weeks, 3 routes, 5 attempts, 15 1⁄2 hours (after leaving Camp 4), the Summit of K2 (28,253 feet / 8,611 meters) is reached at 7:36 am EDT Friday, July 20, 2007!
Eleven Climbers dead on K2
An avalanche near the summit has left at least nine people dead according to reports on August 3-rd 2008. The fatalities came after 22 climbers from eight expeditions reached the summit on Saturday and then began the perilous journey back down the mountain. While precise details remain unclear, it seems that a serac – a pinnacle or pillar of ice – gave way. Expedition organisers say five members of a South Korean climing group died on their way down, after a chunk of ice broke through fixed lines along a dangerous gully known as the Bottleneck. Several other teams were on the mountain at the time, and officials say those known to have been killed include three South Koreans, two Nepalese, and climbers from Serbia, Norway, Holland and France. More climbers remain unaccounted for, in what's believed to be the deadliest day in the mountain's history.
Spanish media, quoting a blog linked to one of the summit expeditions, and a Swedish climber involved in the rescue effort put the death toll at 11. " I have carried down both living and dead people from the mountain," the climber, Fredrik Straeng, told the Swedish news agency TT, explaining how he feared for his life when a Pakistani fell on top of him. " I was terrified that he would pull us all off the cliff and screamed to him to use his ice axe, but he lost his grip and plummeted off a 300-metre cliff," Straeng told TT. He said a large number of climbers decided to leave their camp at just over 7,000 metres to try to reach the summit after the skies cleared following a long period of poor weather. "We had a feeling this would not turn out well and decided to turn around. The accident could have been prevented. These mountains lure out way too inexperienced and naive people," he said.
Norwegian media reported that Rolf Bae, 33, died in the disaster, while his wife, Cecilie Skog, was reportedly trying to make her way down with two other Norwegians. The couple are renowned polar explorers and were making their second attempt on K2.
Mountaineering websites reported that a Serbian climber, named as Dren Mandic, had also fallen to his death while climbing the mountain on Friday.
On August 4-th, helicopters rescued two Dutch mountaineers, Wilco Van Rooijen and Cas Van de Gevel, from K2's 7,000ft base camp. They were taken to hospital suffering from severe frostbite. But a second chopper failed in an attempt to lift a third climber, Italian Marco Confortola who is also unable to walk because of frostbite.
an Italian, appeared to have survived the ice fall. Confortola, 37, was
reached by an American climber and Pakistani
high altitude porters late on Monday as he struggled alone high on the
8,611 metre peak. They descended
to 20,340 feet (6,200 meters) but bad weather forced officials to abort
a helicopter rescue Monday August 4, said Shahzad Qaiser, a top official
at the tourism ministry. He was climbing down on foot, despite frostbite,
by a support team from a base camp.
He was airlifted to hospital on Tuesday, August 6, after bad weather cleared up overnight and allowed a military chopper to pick him up at a 5,200-metre (17,060-foot) camp. "Marco has been rescued by a helicopter from the base camp this morning," Italian embassy spokesman Oddo Sergio told AFP, adding that he would receive medical treatment for his blackened feet. He was ferried to a military hospital in the northern town of Skardu after his rescue, said Mohammad Akram, vice president of Adventure Foundation Pakistan, a leading expedition operator.
Among the missing is Gerard McDonnell from Kilcorney, Co Limerick. On August 1-st 2008, he became the first Irish man to reach the summit of K2. McDonnell, van Rooijen, van de Gevel, and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa had all reached the 8,611m (28,240ft) summit of K2 at 8pm local time on August 1st. He was descending with his group when they were hit by falling ice and and cut off. President Mary McAleese and Sports Minister Martin Cullen paid tribute to Mr McDonnell. Mrs McAleese, who personally met Mr McDonnell earlier this year following his Beyond Endurance Irish expedition to the South Pole, said: "My thoughts ... are with the McDonnell family as they come to terms with their great loss. Following so closely on their righteous pride, and that of the country, at Gerard becoming the first Irish person to scale K2, it is truly heartbreaking that they must now contemplate the loss of a beloved son and brother."
Van Rooijen, one of two Dutch climbers rescued after the accident, slept two nights on K2 without a sleeping bag, food or water, but was plucked from the mountain by a rescue helicopter after making his way down from the icy upper reaches of the pyramid-shaped peak. He described passing three South Korean climbers who chose to wait for rescuers and who are believed to have been among the dead. Other climbers fell to their deaths while trying to cross the gully where the safety ropes had been severed, according to a spokesman for the Dutch expedition who had been in contact with Van Rooijen by satellite phone. News reports also said at least some of the trapped climbers froze to death after being forced to spend the night near the top of a peak that rises more than 28,250 feet. Van Rooijen, 40, who had attempted K2 twice before, said climbers ignored his pleas for calm. "They were thinking of using my gas, my rope," he said. "Everybody was fighting for himself, and I still do not understand why everybody were leaving each other."
Australian Mark Sheen has escaped the desaster. He decided not to go with the rest of his team and to delay his push to the summit of K2.
With this season's 11 fatalities, 77 climbers have now perished on K2. 20 died in avalanches, 21 died in falls. 11 climbers are considered missing. The last 17 fatalities on K2 all happened in or above the Bottleneck. They were all caused by either fall or avalanche. 32 summiteers, or more than 10% of the total 299 died on descent. Compare to Everest with 2.5% of summiteers perishing on descent.
Extreme Skier Fredrik Ericsson Dies on K2
Fredrik Ericsson, one of the world's best high-altitude skiers, fell to his death during an attempt to scale the summit of K2. Ericsson had planned to ski to base camp from the mountain’s summit. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who was with Ericsson during the accident, said in a post on Ericsson's website that he fell about 1000m and did not survive. Kaltenbrunner was making her seventh attempt to conquer the K2. She is regarded as one of the world's best female mountain climbers, having conquered all but one of the 14 peaks over 8,000 meters without supplementary oxygen.
According to the reports, a small team comprised of Fredrik Ericsson, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, and Trey Cook departed from camp 4 at 1:30 a.m. As they made progress towards the summit, weather conditions deteriorated with heavy wind and snow. At the time, six other climbers remained in the camp. Their plan was to wait for the weather to improve later.
At 7 a.m. the three alpinists reached the “Bottleneck”, a very steep ice filled couloir. This section of the Abruzzi Spur route is notorious for ice avalanches from the glacier hanging above. Assessing the situation, Trey Cook decided to turn back to camp 4, while Ericsson and Kaltenbrunner made the call to move on. They were climbing unroped and Fredrik Ericcson was the lead. He apparently stopped to place a piton in the rock wall on the side of the Bottleneck, but slipped and was unable to self-arrest on the 65-degree ice slope.
At 8:20 a.m., Kaltenbrunner radioed Base Camp and reported with a shocked voice that "Fredrik had taken a fall and flew past her." She said she was trying to look for him. In a subsequent radio call she said that she could see one of the skis but not Ericsson himself due to poor visibility. Kaltenbrunner then descended in the bad conditions back to camp 4. Upon receiving the bad news of the accident, Russian climber Yura Ermachek descended from camp 4 toward camp 3. He spotted Fredrik's lifeless body and rucksack about 400m to the side and above camp 3. He decided it was too risky to traverse the wall to retrieve the body due to avalanche and rock fall danger. Later that day, he talked with Fredrik's father in Sweden, who told him that he didn't want any of the climbers to endanger themselves and that Fredrik would be left in view of some of his favorite mountains.
Ericsson had successfully completed summit descents from some of the highest mountains in the world, including Peak Somoni, Shishipangma and Gasherbrum 2. He will be missed by his family and friends.
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner: First Woman to summit all 8000-ers without oxygen
On August 23, 2011, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner from Austria summited K2 and became the first woman to climb all 14 of the world's tallest mountains without the use of supplementary oxygen. She joined just ten men who have accomplished the same. The expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society.