|The west face of K2 taken from the Savoia Glacier on the 1909 expedition|
The mountain was first surveyed by a European survey team in 1856. Thomas Montgomerie was the member of the team who designated it "K2" for being the second peak of the Karakoram range. The other peaks were originally named K1, K3, K4 and K5, but were eventually renamed Masherbrum, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II and Gasherbrum I respectively. In 1892, Martin Conway led a British expedition that reached "Concordia" on the Baltoro Glacier.
The first serious attempt to climb K2 was undertaken in 1902 by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley, via the Northeast Ridge. In the early 1900s, modern transportation did not exist: It took "fourteen days just to reach the foot of the mountain". After five serious and costly attempts, the team reached 6,525 metres (21,407 ft) — although considering the difficulty of the challenge, and the lack of modern climbing equipment or weatherproof fabrics, Crowley's statement that "neither man nor beast was injured" highlights the pioneering spirit and bravery of the attempt. The failures were also attributed to sickness (Crowley was suffering the residual effects of malaria), a combination of questionable physical training, personality conflicts, and poor weather conditions — of 68 days spent on K2 (at the time, the record for the longest time spent at such an altitude) only eight provided clear weather.
The next expedition to K2 in 1909, led by Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, reached an elevation of around 6,250 metres (20,510 ft) on the South East Spur, now known as the Abruzzi Spur (or Abruzzi Ridge). This would eventually become part of the standard route, but was abandoned at the time due to its steepness and difficulty. After trying and failing to find a feasible alternative route on the West Ridge or the North East Ridge, the Duke declared that K2 would never be climbed, and the team switched its attention to Chogolisa, where the Duke came within 150 metres (490 ft) of the summit before being driven back by a storm.
K2 from the east, photographed during the 1909 expedition
The next attempt on K2 was not made until 1938, when an American expedition led by Charles Houston made a reconnaissance of the mountain. They concluded that the Abruzzi Spur was the most practical route, and reached a height of around 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) before turning back due to diminishing supplies and the threat of bad weather. The following year an expedition led by Fritz Wiessner came within 200 metres (660 ft) of the summit, but ended in disaster when Dudley Wolfe, Pasang Kikuli, Pasang Kitar and Pintso disappeared high on the mountain.
Charles Houston returned to K2 to lead the 1953 American expedition. The expedition failed due to a storm that pinned the team down for ten days at 7,800 metres (25,600 ft), during which time Art Gilkey became critically ill. A desperate retreat followed, during which Pete Schoening saved almost the entire team during a mass fall, and Gilkey was killed, either in an avalanche or in a deliberate attempt to avoid burdening his companions. In spite of the failure and tragedy, the courage shown by the team has given the expedition iconic status in mountaineering history.
Success and repeats
An Italian expedition finally succeeded in ascending to the summit of K2 via the Abruzzi Spur on July 31, 1954. The expedition was led by Ardito Desio, although the two climbers who actually reached the top were Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni. The team included a Pakistani member, Colonel Muhammad Ata-ullah, who had been a part of the 1953 American expedition. Also on the expedition were the famous Italian climber Walter Bonatti and Pakistani Hunza porter Mahdi, who proved vital to the expedition's success in that they carried oxygen to 8,100 metres (26,600 ft) for Lacedelli and Compagnoni. Their dramatic bivouac in the open at that altitude wrote another chapter in the saga of Himalayan climbing.
On August 9, 1977, 23 years after the Italian expedition, Ichiro Yoshizawa led the second successful ascent to the top; with Ashraf Aman as the first native Pakistani climber. The Japanese expedition ascended through the Abruzzi Spur route traced by the Italians, and used more than 1,500 porters to achieve the goal.
The year 1978 saw the third ascent of K2, via a new route, the long, corniced Northeast Ridge. (The top of the route traversed left across the East Face to avoid a vertical headwall and joined the uppermost part of the Abruzzi route.) This ascent was made by an American team, led by noted mountaineer James Whittaker; the summit party were Louis Reichardt, Jim Wickwire, John Roskelley, and Rick Ridgeway. Wickwire endured an overnight bivouac about 150 metres (490 ft) below the summit, one of the highest bivouacs in climbing history. This ascent was emotional for the American team, as they saw themselves as completing a task that had been begun by the 1938 team forty years earlier.
Another notable Japanese ascent was that of the difficult North Ridge, on the Chinese side of the peak, in 1982. A team from the Mountaineering Association of Japan led by Isao Shinkai and Masatsugo Konishi put three members, Naoe Sakashita, Hiroshi Yoshino, and Yukihiro Yanagisawa, on the summit on August 14. However Yanagisawa fell and died on the descent. Four other members of the team achieved the summit the next day.
The first climber to summit K2 twice was Czech climber Josef Rakoncaj. Rakoncaj was a member of the 1983 Italian expedition led by Francesco Santon, which made the second successful ascent of the North Ridge (July 31, 1983). Three years later, on July 5, 1986, he summitted on the Abruzzi Spur (double with Broad Peak West Face solo) as a member of Agostino da Polenza's international expedition.
In 2004 the Spanish climber Carlos Soria Fontán became the oldest person ever to summit K2, at the age of 65.
|K2 from the east, photographed during the 1909 expedition|
The peak has now been climbed by almost all of its ridges. Although the summit of Everest is at a higher altitude, K2 is a much more difficult and dangerous climb, due in part to its more inclement weather and comparatively greater height from base to peak. The mountain is believed by many to be the world's most difficult and dangerous climb, hence its nickname "the Savage Mountain." It, and the surrounding peaks, have claimed more lives than any others. As of July 2010, only 302 people have completed the ascent, compared with over 2,700 individuals who have ascended the more popular target of Everest. At least 80 (as of September 2010) people have died attempting the climb. Notably, 13 climbers from several expeditions died in 1986 in the 1986 K2 Disaster, five of these in a severe storm. More recently, on August 1, 2008, a group of climbers went missing after a large piece of ice fell during an avalanche taking out the fixed ropes on part of the route; four climbers were rescued, but 11, including Gerard McDonnell, the first Irish person to reach the summit, were confirmed dead. On August 6, 2010, Fredrik Ericsson, who intended to ski from the summit, joined Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner on the way to the summit of K2. Ericsson fell 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) and was killed. Kaltenbrunner aborted her summit attempt.
|The West Face and upper slopes of K2|