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K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth (after Mount Everestmarker). With a peak elevation of , K2 is part of the Karakorammarker range, and is located on the border between the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous Countymarker of Xinjiang, China and Gilgitmarker, in Gilgit-Baltistanmarker of Pakistanmarker.

K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the difficulty of ascent and the 2nd highest fatality rate among the 'eight thousanders' for those who climb it. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying. Unlike Annapurnamarker, the mountain with the highest fatality rate, K2 has never been climbed in winter.


Montgomerie's original sketch in which he applied the notation K2
The name K2 is derived from the notation used by the Great Trigonometric Survey. Thomas Montgomerie made the first survey of the Karakoram from Mount Haramukhmarker, some 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 Masherbrummarker. K2, however, appeared not to have acquired a local name, possibly due to its remoteness. The mountain is not visible from Askolemarker, 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 Glaciermarker, 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 Societymarker 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 ( ). The Italian climber Fosco Maraini argued in his account of the ascent of Gasherbrum IVmarker 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."

Climbing history

Early attempts

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 Masherbrummarker, Broad Peakmarker, Gasherbrum IImarker and Gasherbrum Imarker respectively. In 1892, Martin Conway led a British expedition that reached 'Concordiamarker' on the Baltoro Glaciermarker.

The first serious attempt to climb K2 was undertaken in 1902 by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley, via the Northeast Ridge. After five serious and costly attempts, the team could only reach up to . 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 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   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 Chogolisamarker, where the Duke came within   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 before turning back due to diminishing supplies and the threat of bad weather. The following year an expedition led by Fritz Wiessner came within 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 , 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 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 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 West Face and upper slopes of K2
The year 1978 saw the third ascent of K2, via a new route, the long, cornice 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 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 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.

Recent attempts

The peak has now been climbed by almost all of its ridges. Although the summit of Everestmarker is at a higher altitude, K2 is a much more difficult and dangerous climb, due in part to its terrible weather and comparatively greater height above surrounding terrain. The mountain is believed by many to be the world's most difficult and dangerous climb, hence its nickname "the Savage Mountain." As of August 2008, only 299 people have completed the ascent, compared with about 2,600 individuals who have ascended the more popular target of Everest. At least 77 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 missingmarker 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.

The use of bottled oxygen

For most of its climbing history, K2 was not usually climbed with bottled oxygen, and small, relatively lightweight teams were the norm. However the 2004 season saw a great increase in the use of oxygen: 28 of 47 summiteers used oxygen in that year.

Acclimatisation is essential when climbing without oxygen to avoid some degree of altitude sickness. K2's summit is well above the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can occur.

Women climbers

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 Kangchenjungamarker in 1992. This led to the legend that K2 carried a "curse on women". 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, died during the descent along with 10 other climbers in the 2008 climbing accidentmarker. In addition, Mi-Sun Go became the eleventh woman to have summitted, also on .

Climbing routes and difficulties

There are a number of routes on K2, of somewhat different character, but they all share some key difficulties. First, of course, is the extreme high altitude and resulting lack of oxygen: there is only one-third as much oxygen available to a climber on the summit of K2 as there is at sea level. Second is the propensity of the mountain to experience extreme storms of several days' duration, which have resulted in many of the deaths on the peak. Third is the steep, exposed, and committing nature of all routes on the mountain, which makes retreat more difficult, especially during a storm. Despite many tries there has been no successful ascent during the winter. All major climbing routes lie on the Pakistani side, which is also where the base camp is located.

Abruzzi Spur

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. This is the southeast ridge of the peak, rising above the Godwin Austen Glacier. The spur proper begins at an altitude of ), 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 summitted the peak in 2002 and 2003.

On August 1, 2008, a number of climbers went missingmarker when a serac in the Bottleneck snapped and broke their ropes. Survivors were seen from a helicopter but rescue efforts were impeded by the high altitude. Eleven were never found, and presumed dead.

North Ridge

The north side of K2.
The North Ridge is in the centre of the picture.

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 Rivermarker, 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, 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.

Other routes

[[Image:K2 south routes.jpg|thumb|right|The major routes to have been climbed on the south side of the mountain. A:West RidgeB:West FaceC:Southwest PillarD:South FaceE:South-southeast SpurF: Abruzzi Spur]]
  • Northeast Ridge (long and corniced; finishes on uppermost part of Abruzzi route), 1978.
  • West Ridge, 1981.
  • Southwest Pillar or "Magic Line", very technical, and second most demanding. First climbed in 1986 by the Polish-Slovak trio Piasecki-Wróż-Božik. Since then the Catalan Jordi Corominas was the only successful climber on this route, despite many other attempts.
  • South Face or "Polish Line" (extremely exposed and most dangerous). In 1986, Jerzy Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski summitted on this route. Reinhold Messner called it a suicidal route and no one has repeated their achievement. "The route is so avalanche-prone, that no one else has ever considered a new attempt."
  • Northwest Face, 1990.
  • Northwest Ridge (finishing on North Ridge). First ascent in 1991.
  • South-southeast spur or "Cesen route" (finishing on Abruzzi route. A possibly safer alternative to the Abruzzi Spur because of avoiding the first big obstacle on Abruzzi called Black Pyramid ), 1994.
  • West Face (technically difficult at high altitude), done by a Russian team in 2007 Official site.

Topographic characteristics

K2 is only ranked 22nd by topographic prominence, a measure of a mountain's independent stature, because it is part of the same extended area of uplift (including the Karakoram, the Tibetan Plateau, and the Himalaya) as Mount Everestmarker, in that it is possible to follow a path from K2 to Everest that goes no lower than (at Mustang Lomarker). Many other peaks which are far lower than K2 are more independent in this sense.

However, K2 is notable for its local relief as well as its total height. It stands over 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 above the K2 (Qogir) Glacier in only of horizontal distance. In most directions, it achieves over of vertical relief in less than .

In the media


  • Ascent of K2 Second Highest Peak in the World by Ardito Desio. 1955
  • In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods by Galen Rowell (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1977) ISBN 0-87156-184-0
  • K2, Mountain of Mountains by Reinhold Messner and A. Gogna, ISBN 0195202538. 1982
  • K2, Triumph and Tragedy by Jim Curran, ISBN 0-395-48590-8. 1987
  • The Endless Knot: K2, Mountain of Dreams and Destiny by Kurt Diemberger, ISBN 0-89886-300-7. 1991
  • K2. Challenging the sky by Roberto Mantovani and Kurt Diemberger. Smithmark Publishers, New York 1995, ISBN 0-8317-1072-1, 144 pages, album 36 x 25 cm format, history, map, routes depicted on photographs (2nd edition: The Mountaineers, Seattle 1997, ISBN 0-89886-518-2 etc., 3rd edition: 2004 — 1st edition was in Italian, White Star S.r.l., Vercelli 1995)
  • Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains by Jon Krakauer ISBN 0-385-48818-1. 1997
  • The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2 by Rick Ridgeway, ISBN 0-89886-632-4. 1999
  • K2, The Story of the Savage Mountain by Jim Curran, ISBN 0-89886-683-9. 2000
  • K2, The Savage Mountain by Charles Houston & Robert H. Bates (McGraw Hill, New York, 1954) ISBN 1-885283-01-6. 2000
  • The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti, ISBN 0-375-75640-X. 2001
  • K2, Quest of the Gods: The Great Pyramid in the Himalaya by Ralph Ellis, ISBN 0-932813-99-2. 2001
  • K2: One Woman's Quest for the Summit by Heidi Howkins, ISBN 0-7922-7996-4. 2001 (Paperback by National Geographic Societymarker, ISBN 978-0792264248, 2002)
  • K2 Kahani by Mustansar Hussain Tarrad, in Urdu. ISBN 9693505239. 2002
  • Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2 by Jennifer Jordan, ISBN 0-06-058715-6. 2005
  • Zvezdnate noči (Starry Nights) by Dušan Jelinčič, EAN / ISBN 961-6387-75-8. 2006
  • No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks by Ed Viesturs. ISBN 0767924711. 2007
  • Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. ISBN 9780143038252. 2007



  • In 1988, the British rock musician Don Airey released the album K2 (Tales of Triumph and Tragedy) (feat. Gary Moore and Colin Blunstone), which was dedicated to the 13 K2-victims in 1986.
  • Hans Zimmer created a score for the movie K2. This score was unused in the film: the soundtrack was released separately in 1992 as K2: Music Inspired By The Film

See also

References and notes

  1. K2 –
  2. K2 list of ascents and fatalities
  3. The most obvious exception to this policy was Mount Everest, where the local name Chomolungma was probably known, but ignored in order to pay tribute to George Everest. See Curran, p. 29-30.
  4. Curran, p. 30
  5. H. Adams Carter, "A Note on the Chinese Name for K2, 'Qogir'", American Alpine Journal, 1983, p. 296. Carter, the long-time editor of the AAJ, goes on to say that the name Chogori "has no local usage. The mountain was not prominently visible from places where local inhabitants ventured and so had no local name.... The Baltis use no other name for the peak than K2, which they pronounce 'Ketu'. I strongly recommend against the use of the name Chogori in any of its forms."
  6. CIA Fact Book, Pakistan
  7. H. Adams Carter, "Balti Place Names in the Karakoram", American Alpine Journal, 1975, p. 52–53. Carter notes that "Godwin Austen is the name of the glacier at its eastern foot and is only incorrectly used on some maps as the name of the mountain."
  8. Carter, op cit. Carter notes a generalisation of the word Ketu: "A new word, ketu, meaning 'big peak', seems to be entering the Balti language."
  9. Quoted in Curran , p. 31.
  10. Charles S. Houston (1953) K2, the Savage Mountain. McGraw-Hill.
  11. A timeline of human activity on K2
  12. Reprinted (2000) by First Lyon Press with introduction by Jim Wickwire
  13. Curran, pp.73-80
  14. Curran pp.81-94
  15. Reprinted (2000) by First Lyon Press with introduction by Jim Wickwire
  16. American Alpine Journal, 1979, pp. 1–18
  17. American Alpine Journal, 1983, p. 295
  18. Andy Fanshawe and Stephen Venables, Himalaya Alpine-Style, Hodder and Stoughton, 1995, ISBN 0-340-64931-3
  19. Audrey Salkeld, editor, World Mountaineering, Bulfinch Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8212-2502-2
  20. American Alpine Journal, 2005, p. 351–353
  21. Jordan, J. (2006) Savage Summit: the life and death of the first women who climbed K2. New York: Harper. ISBN 0060587164
  22. Climbers killed on K2
  23. Altitude oxygen calculator online
  24. [1]
  25. American Alpine Journal, 1991, pp. 19–32
  26. R. Messner and A. Gogna [1981] (1982) K2 Mountain of Mountains. Translated from German by A. Salked. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195202538
  27. Jerzy Wala, The Eight-Thousand-Metre Peaks of the Karakoram, Orographical Sketch Map, The Climbing Company Ltd/Cordee, 1994.

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