K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth (after Mount Everest). With a peak elevation of , K2 is part of the Karakoram segment of the Himalayan range, and is located in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, on the border between Pakistan's northern territories, and the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County of Xinjiang, China. K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the difficulty of ascent and the fact that for every four people who reach the summit, one dies trying. Among the Eight-thousanders, K2 has the second-highest climbing mortality rate after Annapurna.
The name K2 is derived from the notation used by the Great Trigonometric Survey. On 10 September 1856, Thomas Montgomerie made the first survey of the Karakoram from Mount Haramukh, some 130 miles to the south, and sketched the two most prominent peaks, labelling them K1 and K2.
The policy of the Great Trigonometric Survey was to use local names for mountains wherever possible and K1 was found to be known locally as Masherbrum. K2, however, appeared not to have acquired a local name, possibly due to its remoteness. The mountain is not visible from Askole, the last village to the south, or from the nearest habitation to the north, and is only fleetingly glimpsed from the end of the Baltoro Glacier, beyond which few local people would have ventured. The name Chogori, derived from two Balti words, chhogo ('big') and ri ('mountain') (شاہگوری) has been suggested as a local name, but evidence for its widespread use is scant. It may have been a compound name invented by Western explorers or simply a bemused reply to the question "What's that called?" It does, however, form the basis for the name Qogir by which Chinese authorities officially refer to the peak. Other local names have been suggested including Lamba Pahar ("Tall Mountain" in Urdu) and Dapsang, but are not widely used.
Lacking a local name, the name Mount Godwin-Austen was suggested, in honour of Henry Godwin-Austen, an early explorer of the area, and while the name was rejected by the Royal Geographical Society it was used on several maps, and continues to be used occasionally.
The surveyor's mark, K2, therefore continues to be the name by which the mountain is commonly known. It is now also used in the Balti language, rendered as Kechu or Ketu (کے ٹو). The Italian climber Fosco Maraini argued in his account of the ascent of Gasherbrum IV that while the name of K2 owes its origin to chance, its clipped, impersonal nature is highly appropriate for so remote and challenging a mountain. He concluded that it was...
"...just the bare bones of a name, all rock and ice and storm and abyss. It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars. It has the nakedness of the world before the first man - or of the cindered planet after the last."
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, but after five serious and costly attempts, the team could only reach up to 6525 meters (21,410 feet). The failures are attributed to a combination of questionable physical training, personality conflicts, and poor weather conditions — of 68 days spent on K2 (at the time, the record for 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 m (20,500 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 m (500 ft) of the summit before being driven back by a storm.
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 8000 m (26,250 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 m (650 ft) of the summit, but ended in disaster when four climbers disappeared high on the mountain.
Charles Houston returned to K2 to lead the 1953 American expedition. The expedition failed due to a storm which pinned the team down for ten days at 7800 m (25,590 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.
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 m 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 (see route information below), 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 a 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.
Legend once had it that K2 carried a "curse on women". The first woman to reach the summit was Wanda Rutkiewicz, of Poland, in 1986. The next four women to reach the summit were all killed in climbing incidents — three of them died descending from K2 itself, among them fêted British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves in 1995, and Rutkiewicz herself died on Kangchenjunga in 1992. However, the "curse" was broken in 2004 when Edurne Pasaban summitted and descended successfully, and again in 2006 when Nives Meroi of Italy and Yuka Komatsu of Japan became, respectively, the seventh and eighth women to summit K2, both descending successfully. After Eun-Sun Oh in 2007, Cecilie Skog became the tenth woman to have summitted successfully (on ) but her husband, Rolf Bae, who was climbing with her perished during the descent when he was one of 11 climbers killed in the 2008 climbing accident. In addition, Mi-Sun Go became the eleventh woman to have summitted, also on .
The standard route of ascent, used far more than any other route, is the Abruzzi Spur,, located on the Pakistani side, first attempted by Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi in 1909 (see the history above). This is the southeast ridge of the peak, rising above the Godwin Austen Glacier. The spur proper begins at an altitude of 5,400 m, where Advanced Base Camp is usually placed. The route follows an alternating series of rock ribs, snow/ice fields, and some technical rock climbing on two famous features, "House's Chimney" and the "Black Pyramid." Above the Black Pyramid, dangerously exposed and difficult to navigate slopes lead to the easily visible "Shoulder," and thence to the summit. The last major obstacle is a narrow couloir known as the "Bottleneck," which places climbers dangerously close to a wall of seracs which form an ice cliff to the east of the summit. (It was partly due to the collapse of one of these seracs around 2001 that no climbers summited the peak in 2002 and 2003.)
On August 1, 2008, a number of climbers went missing when a serac in the Bottleneck snapped and broke their ropes. Survivors were seen from a helicopter, but rescue efforts are impeded by the high altitude, and 11 are still missing and presumed dead.
Almost opposite from the Abruzzi Spur is the North Ridge, which ascends the Chinese side of the peak. It is rarely climbed, partly due to very difficult access, involving crossing the Shaksgam River, which is a hazardous undertaking. In contrast to the crowds of climbers and trekkers at the Abruzzi basecamp, usually at most two teams are encamped below the North Ridge. This route, more technically difficult than the Abruzzi, ascends a long, steep, primarily rock ridge to high on the mountain (Camp IV, the "Eagle's Nest", ), and then crosses a dangerously slide-prone hanging glacier by a leftward climbing traverse, to reach a snow couloir which accesses the summit.
Besides the original Japanese ascent (see the History section), a notable ascent of the North Ridge was the one in 1990 by Greg Child, Greg Mortimer, and Steve Swenson, which was done alpine style above Camp 2 (though using some fixed ropes already put in place by a Japanese team).
However, K2 is notable for its local relief as well as its total height. It stands over 3,000 m (9,840 ft) above much of the glacial valley bottoms at its base. More extraordinary is the fact that it is a consistently steep pyramid, dropping quickly in almost all directions. The north side is the steepest: there it rises over 3,200 m (10,500 ft) above the K2 (Qogir) Glacier in only 3 km (1.8 mi) of horizontal distance. In most directions, it achieves over 2,800 m (9,200 ft) of vertical relief in less than 4 km (2.4 mi). This degree of steepness, at this vertical scale, in so many different directions, is unmatched in the world.