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Mt Everest K2 Comparison Essay

For the mountain in Alberta, see Mount K2 (Alberta). For other uses, see K2 (disambiguation).

Mount Godwin-Austen
کے ٹو

K2, summer 2006

Highest point
Elevation8,611 metres (28,251 ft) 
Ranked 2nd
Prominence4,020 m (13,190 ft) [1]
Ranked 22nd
Isolation1,316 kilometres (818 mi)
Country high point
Seven Second Summits
Coordinates35°52′57″N76°30′48″E / 35.88250°N 76.51333°E / 35.88250; 76.51333Coordinates: 35°52′57″N76°30′48″E / 35.88250°N 76.51333°E / 35.88250; 76.51333[2]
Native nameچھوغوری‬
Parent rangeKarakoram
First ascent31 July 1954
Achille Compagnoni
Lino Lacedelli
Easiest routeAbruzzi Spur

K2 (Urdu: کے ٹو ‬‎), also known as Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori (Balti and Urdu: چھوغوری‬‎),[3] is the second highest mountain in the world, after Mount Everest (8,848 metres), at 8,611 metres (28,251 ft) above sea level. It is located on the China–Pakistan border between Baltistan, in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, and the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County of Xinjiang, China.[4] K2 is the highest point of the Karakoram range and the highest point in both Pakistan and Xinjiang.

K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the extreme difficulty of ascent. It has the second-highest fatality rate among the eight thousanders. With around 300 successful summits and 77 fatalities, about one person dies on the mountain for every four who reach the summit.[5] It is more difficult and hazardous to reach the peak of K2 from the Chinese side, so it is usually climbed from the Pakistani side. Unlike Annapurna, the mountain with the highest fatality-to-summit rate (191 summits and 61 fatalities),[6] or the other eight thousanders, K2 has never been climbed during winter. Ascents have almost always been made in July and August (the warmest times of year); K2's more northern location makes it more susceptible to inclement and colder weather.[7]


The name K2 is derived from the notation used by the Great Trigonometric Survey of British India. Thomas Montgomerie made the first survey of the Karakoram from Mount Haramukh, some 210 km (130 miles) to the south, and sketched the two most prominent peaks, labeling them K1 and K2.[8]

The policy of the Great Trigonometric Survey was to use local names for mountains wherever possible[9] 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.[10] The name Chogori, derived from two Balti words, chhogo ("big") and ri ("mountain") (چھوغوری)[11] has been suggested as a local name,[12] but evidence for its widespread use is scant. It may have been a compound name invented by Western explorers[13] or simply a bemused reply to the question "What's that called?"[10] It does, however, form the basis for the name Qogir (simplified Chinese: 乔戈里峰; traditional Chinese: 喬戈里峰; pinyin: Qiáogēlǐ Fēng) 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.[10]

Lacking a local name, the name Mount Godwin-Austen was suggested, in honor of Henry Godwin-Austen, an early explorer of the area. While the name was rejected by the Royal Geographical Society,[10] it was used on several maps, and continues to be used occasionally.[14][15]

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[13][16] (Urdu: 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.[17]

Andre Weil named K3 surfaces in mathematics partly after the beauty of the mountain K2.[18]

Geographical setting

K2 lies in the northwestern Karakoram Range. It is located in the Baltistan region of Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan, and the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County of Xinjiang, China.[a] The Tarim sedimentary basin borders the range on the north and the Lesser Himalayas on the south. Melt waters from vast glaciers, such as those south and east of K2, feed agriculture in the valleys and contribute significantly to the regional fresh-water supply.

K2 is merely 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 Everest, in that it is possible to follow a path from K2 to Everest that goes no lower than 4,594 metres (15,072 ft), at the Kora La on the Nepal/China border in the Mustang Lo. Many other peaks that are far lower than K2 are more independent in this sense. It is, however, the most prominent peak within the Karakoram range.[2]

K2 is notable for its local relief as well as its total height. It stands over 3,000 metres (9,840 ft) above much of the glacial valley bottoms at its base. It is a consistently steep pyramid, dropping quickly in almost all directions. The north side is the steepest: there it rises over 3,200 metres (10,500 ft) above the K2 (Qogir) Glacier in only 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) of horizontal distance. In most directions, it achieves over 2,800 metres (9,200 ft) of vertical relief in less than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft).[19]

A 1986 expedition led by George Wallerstein[20] made an inaccurate measurement incorrectly showing that K2 was taller than Mount Everest, and therefore the tallest mountain in the world. A corrected measurement was made in 1987, but by that point the claim that K2 was the tallest mountain in the world had already made it into many news reports and reference works.[21]


The mountains of K2 and Broad Peak, and the area westward to the lower reaches of Sarpo Laggo glacier consist of metamorphic rocks, known as the K2 Gneiss and part of the Karakroam Metamorphic Complex.[22][23] The K2 Gneiss consists of a mixture of orthogneiss and biotite-rich paragneiss. On the south and southeast face of K2, the orthogneiss consists of a mixture of a strongly foliatedplagioclase-hornblendegneiss and a biotite-hornblende-K-feldspar orthogneiss, which has been intruded by garnet-micaleucograniticdikes. In places, the paragneisses include clinopyroxene-hornblende-bearing psammites, garnet (grossular)-diopsidemarbles, and biotite-graphitephyllites. Near the memorial to the climbers, who have died on K2, above Base Camp on the south spur, thin impure marbles with quartzites and mica schists, called the Gilkey-Puchoz sequence, are interbanded within the orthogneisses. On the west face of Broad Peak and south spur of K2, lamprophyre dikes, which consist of clinopyroxene and biotite-porphyriticvogesites and minettes, have intruded the K2 gneiss. The K2 Gneiss is separated from the surrounding sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks of the surrounding Karakoram Metamorphic Complex by normal faults. For example, a fault separates the K2 gneiss of the east face of K2 from limestones and slates comprising nearby Skyang Kangri.[22][24]

40Ar/39Ar ages of 115 to 120 million years ago obtained from and geochemical analyses of the K2 Gneiss demonstrate that it is a metamorphosed, older, Cretaceous, pre-collisional granite. The granitic precursor (protolith) to the K2 Gneiss originated as the result of the production of large bodies of magma by a northward-dipping subduction zone along what was the continental margin of Asia at that time and their intrusion as batholiths into its lower continental crust. During the initial collision of the Asia and Indian plates, this granitic batholith was buried to depths of about 20 kilometres (12 mi) or more, highly metamorphosed, highly deformed, and partially remelted during the Eocene Period to form gneiss. Later, the K2 Gneiss was then intruded by leucogranite dikes and finally exhumed and uplifted along major breakback thrust faults during post-Miocene time. The K2 Gneiss was exposed as the entire K2-Broad Peak-Gasherbrum range experienced rapid uplift with which erosion rates have been unable to keep pace.[22][25]

Climbing history

Early attempts

The mountain was first surveyed by a European survey team in 1856. Team member Thomas Montgomerie designated the mountain "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, Gasherbrum IV, Gasherbrum II, and Gasherbrum I, respectively.[26] In 1892, Martin Conway led a British expedition that reached "Concordia" on the Baltoro Glacier.[27]

The first serious attempt to climb K2 was undertaken in 1902 by Oscar Eckenstein, Aleister Crowley, Jules Jacot-Guillarmod, Heinrich Pfannl, Victor Wessely, and Guy Knowles 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".[28] After five serious and costly attempts, the team reached 6,525 metres (21,407 ft)[29]—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.[30]

The next expedition to K2, in 1909, led by Prince 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.[31]

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.[32][33]

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.[34][35]

Charles Houston returned to K2 to lead the 1953 American expedition. The expedition failed due to a storm that pinned the team down for 10 days at 7,800 metres (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. Despite the failure and tragedy, the courage shown by the team has given the expedition iconic status in mountaineering history.[36][37][38]

Success and repeats

An Italian expedition finally succeeded in ascending to the summit of K2 via the Abruzzi Spur on 31 July 1954. The expedition was led by Ardito Desio, and the two climbers who reached the summit 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 Walter Bonatti and Pakistani Hunza porter Amir Mehdi, who both proved vital to the expedition's success in that they carried oxygen tanks to 8,100 metres (26,600 ft) for Lacedelli and Compagnoni. The ascent is controversial because Lacedelli and Compagnoni established their camp at a higher elevation than originally agreed with Mehdi and Bonatti. It being too dark to ascend or descend, Mehdi and Bonatti were forced to overnight without shelter above 8,000 meters leaving the oxygen tanks behind as requested when they descended. Bonatti and Mehdi survived, but Mehdi was hospitalized for months and had to have his toes amputated because of frostbite. Efforts in the 1950s to suppress these facts to protect Lacedelli and Compagnoni's reputations as Italian national heroes were later brought to light. It was also revealed that the moving of the camp was deliberate, a move apparently made because Compagnoni feared being outshone by the younger Bonatti. Bonatti was given the blame for Mehdi's hospitalization.[39]

On 9 August 1977, 23 years after the Italian expedition, Ichiro Yoshizawa led the second successful ascent, with Ashraf Aman as the first native Pakistani climber. The Japanese expedition took the Abruzzi Spur, and used more than 1,500 porters.[40]

The third ascent of K2 was in 1978, via a new route, the long and 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 James Whittaker; the summit party was 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 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.[41]

Another notable Japanese ascent was that of the difficult North Ridge on the Chinese side of the peak in 1982. A team from the Japan Mountaineering Association (ja) led by Isao Shinkai and Masatsugo Konishi (ja) put three members, Naoe Sakashita, Hiroshi Yoshino, and Yukihiro Yanagisawa, on the summit on 14 August. However Yanagisawa fell and died on the descent. Four other members of the team achieved the summit the next day.[42]

The first climber to reach the summit of 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 (31 July 1983). Three years later, on 5 July 1986, he reached the summit via the Abruzzi Spur (double with Broad Peak West Face solo) as a member of Agostino da Polenza's international expedition.[43]

The first woman to summit K2 was PoleWanda Rutkiewicz on 23 June 1986. Liliane and Maurice Barrard who had summitted later that day, fell during the descent; Liliane Barrard's body was found on 19 July 1986 at the foot of the south face.[44]

In 1986, two Polish expeditions climbed via two new routes, the Magic Line[45] and the Polish Line (Jerzy Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski). This second has not yet been repeated.

In 2004 the Spanish climber Carlos Soria Fontán became the oldest person ever to summit K2, at the age of 65.[46]

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". As of July 2010[update], only 302 people have completed the ascent,[47] compared with over 2,700 who have ascended Everest. At least 80 (as of September 2010) people have died attempting the climb. Thirteen climbers from several expeditions died in the 1986 K2 Disaster. Another six mountaineers died on 13 August 1995, while eleven climbers died in the 2008 K2 disaster.

Recent attempts

On 1 August 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 Ger McDonnell, the first Irish person to reach the summit, were confirmed dead.[48]
Despite several attempts, nobody reached the summit.
On 6 August 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.[49]
Despite several attempts, nobody reached the summit.
On 23 August 2011, a team of four climbers reached the summit of K2 from the North side. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner became the first woman to complete all 14 eight-thousanders without supplemental oxygen.[50] Kazakhs Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov completed their eight-thousanders quest. The fourth team member was Dariusz Załuski from Poland.[51]
The year started with a Russian team aiming for a first winter ascent. The expedition ended with the death of Vitaly Gorelik due to frostbite and pneumonia. The Russian team cancelled the ascent.[52] In the summer season, K2 saw a record crowd standing on its summit—28 climbers in a single day—bringing the total for the year to 30.[53]
On 28 July 2013, two New Zealanders, Marty Schmidt and his son Denali, died after an avalanche destroyed their camp. A guide had reached the camp they were at, but said they were nowhere to be seen and the campsite tent showed signs of having been hit by an avalanche. British climber Adrian Hayes, who was with the group, later posted on his Facebook page that the campsite had been wiped out.[54]
On 26 July 2014, the first team of Pakistani climbers scaled K2. There were six Pakistani and three Italian climbers in the expedition, called K2 60 Years Later, according to BBC. Previously, K2 had only been summitted by individual Pakistanis as part of international expeditions.[55] Another team, consisting of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, Maya Sherpa, and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, became the first Nepali women to climb K2.[56]
On 27 July 2014, Garrett Madison led a team of three American climbers and six Sherpas to summit K2.[58]
On 28 July 2017, Vanessa O'Brien led an international team of 12 with Mingma Gyalje Sherpa of Dreamers Destination to the summit of K2 and became the first British and American woman to summit K2, and the eldest woman to summit K2 at the age of 52 years old.[59] She paid tribute to Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves, two British females who summited K2 but lost their lives on descent. Other notable summits included John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Dawa Gyalje Sherpa who joined his sister (Dawa Yangzum Sherpa), becoming the second set of siblings to summit K2.[60] Both Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and Fazal Ali recorded their second K2 summits.

Winter expedition

  • 1987/1988 - Polish-Canadian-British expedition led by Andrzej Zawada from the Pakistani side, consisting of 13 Poles, 7 Canadians and 4 Brits. 2 March Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy established camp III at 7300 meters above sea, followed by Roger Mear and Jean-Francois Gagnon few days later. Hurricane winds and frostbite forced the team to retreat. [61]
  • 2002/2003 - Netia K2 Polish Winter Expedition. The team of fourteen climbers was led by Krzysztof Wielicki, and included four members from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. They intended to climb North Ridge. Marcin Kaczkan, Piotr Morawski and Denis Urubko established camp IV at 7650 meters above sea level. The final ascent started by Kaczkan and Urubko failed due to the destruction of the tent by harsh weather in camp IV and Kaczkan's cerebral edema. [62].
  • 2011/12 - Russian expedition. Nine Russian climbers attempted K2’s Abruzzi Spur route. They managed to reach 7200 meters above sea level (Vitaly Gorelik, Valery Shamalo and Nicholas Totmyanin), but had to retreat due to hurricane winds as well as frostbite on both of Gorelik's hands. After their descent to base camp and an unsuccessful call for Gorelik's evacuation (helicopter could not reach them through the worsening weather), the climber died of pneumonia and cardiac arrest. Following the tragic incident, the expedition was called off.[63][64]
  • 2017/18 - Polish National Winter Expedition led by Krzysztof Wielicki, consisting of 13 climbers, started in the end of December 2017. The team initially attempted to summit via the south-southeastern spur (Cesen route), switching to the Abruzzi Spur after an injury on the previous route.[65][66][67][68] Via the Cesen/Basque route they reached up to 6300m, while on the Abruzzi Spur route they reached up to 7400m. However, Denis Urubku reported that during his solo attempt he probably reached up to 7600m.[69]

Climbing routes and difficulties

There are a number of routes on K2, of somewhat different character, but they all share some key difficulties. The first being the extremely 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.[70] The 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. The 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 attempts there have been no successful winter ascents. All major climbing routes lie on the Pakistani side, which is also where base camp is located.

Abruzzi Spur

The standard route of ascent, used far more than any other route (75% of all climbers use this route) is the Abruzzi Spur,[71][72] located on the Pakistani side, first attempted by Prince 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 5,400 metres (17,700 ft), 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.[73]

On 1 August 2008, 11 climbers from several expeditions died during a series of accidents,[48][74] including several ice falls in the Bottleneck.

North Ridge

Almost opposite from the Abruzzi Spur is the North Ridge,[71][72] 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.[75] 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" at 7,900 metres (25,900 ft)—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.[75]

Other routes

Because 75% of people who climb K2 use the Abruzzi Spur, these listed routes are rarely climbed. No one has climbed the East Face of the mountain, due to the instability of the snow and ice formations on that side.

Northeast Ridge
Long and corniced, finishes on uppermost part of Abruzzi route. Ridge first crossed by a Polish expedition led by Janusz Kurczab in 1976.
West Ridge
First climbed in 1981. This route starts on the distant Negrotto Glacier and goes through unpredictable bands of rock and snowfields.
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 Jordi Corominas from Spain has been the only successful climber on this route (he summitted in 2004), despite many other attempts.
South Face or "Polish Line" or "Central Rib"
Extremely exposed, demanding, and dangerous. In July 1986, Jerzy Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski summitted on this route. Piotrowski was killed while descending on the Abruzzi Spur. The route starts off the first part of the Southwest Pillar, and then deviates into a totally exposed, snow-covered cliff area, then through a gully known as "The Hockey Stick", and then goes up to yet another exposed cliff-face, and the route continues through yet another extremely exposed section all the way up to the point where the route joins with the Abruzzi Spur about 1,000 feet before the summit. Reinhold Messner called it a suicidal route and so far, no one has repeated Kukuczka and Piotrowski's achievement. "The route is so avalanche-prone, that no one else has ever considered a new attempt."[76][77]
Northwest Face
First ascent via this route was in 1990 via a Japanese team; this route is located on the Chinese side of the mountain. This route is known for its chaotic rock and snowfields all the way up to the summit.
Northwest Ridge
Finishes on North Ridge. First ascent in 1991.
South-southeast spur or "Cesen route" or "Basque route"
It runs the pillar between the Abruzzi Spur and the Polish Route. It connects with the Abruzzi Spur on the Shoulder, above the Black Pyramid and below the Bottleneck; since it avoids the Black Pyramid, it is considered safer. In 1986, Tomo Česen ascended to 8,000 m via this route. The first summit via this route was by a Basque team in 1994.
West Face
Technical difficulty at high altitude, first climbed by a Russian team in 2007. This route is almost entirely made up of rock crevasses and snow-covered couloirs.

Use of supplemental oxygen

For most of its climbing history, K2 was not usually climbed with supplemental oxygen, and small, relatively lightweight teams were the norm.[71][72] However the 2004 season saw a great increase in the use of oxygen: 28 of 47 summitteers used oxygen in that year.[73]

Acclimatisation is essential when climbing without oxygen to avoid some degree of altitude sickness.[78] K2's summit is well above the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can occur.[79] In mountaineering, when ascending above an altitude of 8,000 metres (26,000 ft), the climber enters what is known as the death zone.



See also

Notes and references

  1. ^"K2". Peakbagger.com. 
  2. ^ ab"Karakoram and India/Pakistan Himalayas Ultra-Prominences". peaklist.org. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  3. ^Chhoghori, K2. "K2 Chhoghori The King of Karakoram". Skardu.pk. SKardu.pk. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  4. ^"K2". Britannica.com. Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  5. ^"AdventureStats - by Explorersweb". www.adventurestats.com. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  6. ^"Stairway to heaven". The Economist. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  7. ^Brummit, Chris (16 December 2011). "Russian team to try winter climb of world's 2nd-highest peak". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 26 September 2015. 
  8. ^Curran, p. 25
  9. ^The most obvious exception to this policy was Mount Everest, where the Tibetan name Chomolungma (Qomolongma) was probably known, but ignored in order to pay tribute to George Everest. See Curran, pp. 29–30
  10. ^ abcdCurran, p. 30
  11. ^"Convert Roman into Urdu Script". 
  12. ^"Place names – II". The Express Tribune. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011. 
  13. ^ abCarter, H. Adams (1983). "A Note on the Chinese Name for K2, "Qogir"". Notes. American Alpine Journal. American Alpine Club. 25 (57): 296. Retrieved 6 November 2016.  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."
  14. ^"Pakistan". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 
  15. ^Carter, H. Adams (1975). "Balti Place Names in the Karakoram". Feature Article. American Alpine Journal. American Alpine Club. 20 (1): 52–53. Retrieved 6 November 2016.  
  16. ^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."
  17. ^Maraini, Fosco (1961). Karakoram: the ascent of Gasherbrum IV. Hutchinson.  Quoted in Curran, p. 31.
  18. ^Zaldivar, Felipe (September 19, 2017), "Lectures on K3 Surfaces [review]", MAA Reviews, Mathematical Association of America, retrieved 2018-03-13 
  19. ^Jerzy Wala, The Eight-Thousand-Metre Peaks of the Karakoram, Orographical Sketch Map, The Climbing Company Ltd/Cordee, 1994.
  20. ^"How High Is Everest? Climbers Seek Answer". The New York Times. 18 May 1987. 
  21. ^Ian. "Which is taller, Mt. Everest or K2?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  22. ^ abcSearle, M.P. (1991a) Geology and Tectonics of the Karakoram Mountains. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York. 358 pp. ISBN 978-0471927730
  23. ^Searle, M.P. (1991b) Geological Map of the Central Karakoram Mountains. scale 1: 250,000. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York.
  24. ^Searle, M.P., R.R. Parrish, R. Tirrul, and D.C. Rex. 1990. Age of crystallisation and cooling of the K2 gneiss in the Baltoro Karakoram. Journal of the Geological Society, London. vol. 147, pp. 603–606.
Montgomerie's original sketch in which he applied the notation K2
The west face of K2 taken from the Savoia Glacier, on the 1909 expedition
K2 from the east, photographed during the 1909 expedition
The major routes to have been climbed on the south side of the mountain. A: West Ridge; B: West Face; C: Southwest Pillar; D: South Face; E: South-southeast Spur; F: Abruzzi Spur,
The north side of K2. The North Ridge is in the centre of the picture.
  1. ^K2 is located in Gilgit–Baltistan, a region which along with Azad Kashmir forms Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The Kashmir region is currently the center of a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India. India maintains a territorial dispute on Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Likewise, Pakistan maintains a territorial dispute on Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian-administered part of the region.

When asked in the 1920s why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory notoriously quipped: ‘Because it’s there.’ It was a flippant remark, of course, but also an instance of what Friedrich Nietzsche had called ‘superficiality out of profundity’. For Mallory’s retort conveyed the deep human impulse to attempt challenging, dangerous and potentially even deadly endeavours, for no better reason than that one might succeed. Getting to the top of Everest – which has now claimed around 280 lives – is not something that mountaineers do for the fame, fortune or bragging rights. They do it because inside of them there is an impulse that demands that they try. If your response to the idea of standing on the highest point on earth is: ‘Yeah, that would be pretty cool,’ then you have something of that impulse too.

Mallory never summited Everest, dying during the attempt in 1924. In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to pull off the feat. It is now repeated, albeit in far less challenging conditions, by around 500 people each year. Yet despite improved technologies and expert help, it is still an unpleasant, painful and dangerous activity. In 2015 alone, 22 people lost their lives on the mountain, while 1977 was the last year to see no fatalities. In April this year, Ueli Steck – one of the greatest mountaineers of all time – died on Everest, the first casualty of the season.

But what kind of activity is climbing Everest, or indeed mountaineering in general? According to the philosopher Bernard Suits, it is a kind of game. In his book The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia (1978), Suits defined a game as ‘a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles’. As he points out, if someone had offered Hillary a trip to the top via a free helicopter ride, he would certainly have declined and stuck to his goal of climbing Everest. For mountaineers, simply getting to the top can’t be the goal, in and of itself. Getting to the top via particular means – and thereby overcoming ‘unnecessary obstacles’ – is what counts. Hence, mountaineering is a game.

Such a conclusion might sit a little uneasily, with the label ‘game’ risking the trivialisation of the endeavour. This is because the stakes involved are so high and the obstacles faced so serious. For, in the mountains, humans are faced with a vast array of mortal threats. There are the risks posed by sudden avalanches, or of being crushed by car-sized blocks of ice and rock, or of tumbling fatally into deep icy crevasses. Then there are the potentially lethal effects of altitude sickness, which can cause deadly swelling of the brain, or the filling of the lungs with fluid until you drown in your own body. Plus frostbite, which can claim fingers, toes, noses and ears, before hypothermia sets in and you freeze to death. All of which is compounded by the fact that mountains attract storms: sudden, violent, pounding winds that can dump many feet of snow with little warning, trapping a climber for days. And if that happens, starvation and fatal dehydration threaten. (In the high mountains, you need to be able to melt ice to have enough water to drink; if you run out of stove gas, you die.)

Perhaps for these reasons mountaineering was described by John Menlove Edwards as ‘a psychoneurotic tendency’ rather than a sport. He probably knew what he was talking about: a psychiatrist as well as one of Britain’s premier early rock climbers, Edwards suffered from what was likely bipolar disorder, and tragically committed suicide in 1958, aged just 48. But putting aside the sanity of the average mountaineer, given the enormous risks associated with the pursuit, to call it a game risks unduly trivialising it. After what Hillary and Norgay put themselves through, if somebody back at base camp jauntily congratulated them on ‘winning the game’, they’d run the risk not just of missing the point, but of being outright offensive – even grotesque.

Yet there is nonetheless something right in Suits’s description of mountaineering as a game. This is due to the way that climbers continuously impose ‘unnecessary obstacles’ upon themselves: the invention and refinement of rules regarding how one is supposed to make it to the top.

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Aristotle claimed that man is a political animal. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels insisted that humans are, at base, creative and labouring creatures. (It was cutting off individuals from the products of their labour that made capitalism not just exploitative, but existentially degrading.) There is plausibility in both views. But we might add a third: that humans are rule-making animals, continuously imposing codes and strictures for a variety of reasons. Some are to do with political control (laws and official regulations), while others are for more nebulous forms of social ordering (rules about gendered clothing, how to interact with strangers, and so on). But some are rules we impose so as to engage in activities that bring us fun, enjoyment and satisfaction, or some complicated mixture of all three and more. For rules allow us to play games, and human beings like to play games – even deadly ones.

As the US writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer notes in his book Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains (1990): ‘The sport of mountain climbing is notably lacking in formal governing bodies and official rules. In spite of this – or perhaps because of this – the tight-knit community of established American climbers has always projected a very strong sense of how the game ought to be played.’ And such self-imposed rules are legion. For example, whether climbing up Everest, or a short buttress in England’s Peak District, the prestige for truly ‘sending’ a pitch always goes to the person at ‘the sharp end’: the first one up, who takes the rope along, and hence takes the biggest risks of injury or death if things go wrong.

Indeed, simply reaching a summit is not considered by most mountaineers to count, in and of itself. Anybody can walk to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro if they can hack the altitude, and hence the highest peak in Africa is not considered a proper summit but rather ‘a mere walk-up’ by mountaineers such as David Roberts, author of On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined (2005). Similarly Everest herself is sometimes scoffed at as a ‘slag heap’, where the presence of rank amateurs paying $65,000 to be guided along the so-called ‘yak trail’ of fixed ropes means it is frequently disqualified as a worthy summit. Unless, that is, one approaches it not from the popular (‘easy’) south side, but from one of the more difficult – and therefore deadly – angles. By contrast, K2 (the second highest mountain in the world) and Denali (the highest in North America) are peaks that only seriously committed and technically able climbers will manage. Getting to the top of those is recognised as a real achievement – of winning the game.

The established rule is that the most worthy ascents are above 8,000 metres, without supplementary oxygen – ie, ‘the death zone’

Another informal, but very real, rule of mountaineering is that the harder an ascent, the more prestige and respect it deserves. After the collapse of the USSR, Russian climbing expeditions were able to travel to the Himalayas and attempt its intimidating peaks. They caused outrage in the international climbing community, however, by using large quantities of ‘fixed’ ropes to ascend and descend safely, and then leaving many of those ropes behind. This was considered sacrilege by many Western climbers, who viewed fixed ropes as making things too easy (thus negating the challenge of an ascent), while leaving them behind was vandalism to the mountain.

The Russian practice was a legacy of Soviet mountaineering competition rules, which stated that teams were disqualified if any member died – so all teams used fixed ropes at all times, to maximise safety. Russians climbers expressed irritation at the death-inviting attitude of their Western cousins, and the negative judgment towards Russian prudence that went with it. Nonetheless, ‘Russian-style’ ascents are still widely considered inferior to the more dangerous ‘Alpine-style’ summits lauded by Western mountaineers.

And like in other games, the stakes can be upped. It is now an established rule that the hardest, and thereby most worthy, ascents are those done of peaks above 8,000 metres, and without supplementary oxygen. This is a mind-boggling endeavour, as above 8,000 metres the air is too thin to support human life – hence why it is referred to as ‘the death zone’. Only exceptionally strong climbers with years of experience can manage it, and the intrinsically erratic nature of altitude sickness means that even some of them can suddenly find themselves dying, without hope of rescue.

The no-oxygen rule was set in 1975, when Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed an 8,000-metre neighbour of K2’s called Hidden Peak, ‘Alpine-style’: without bottled oxygen, permanent fixed ropes, a support team or pre-established camps. Pulling off this audacious feat, they promptly declared it ‘climbing by fair means’ – implying that anything less was cheating. The gauntlet has been firmly down ever since. Many of the hundreds of climbers who have died in the Himalayas, the Karakoram and beyond in the years since were attempting to get up ‘by fair means’. Doubtless, at least some would have survived if they’d been playing by laxer rules.

The mountains have long been a powerful but ambiguous presence in human history. As the anthropologist and anarchist political theorist James C Scott explains in his book The Art of Not Being Governed (2009), for thousands of years, mountains represented areas outside of state control: places that dissident populations went to escape authoritative rule, which usually entailed taxation at best, slavery and murder at worst. Rugged and impassable terrain that is quickly shut down by unpredictable weather is the perfect bolt-hole for avoiding the clunking fist of political authority – which is why guerrillas and partisans still prefer highland terrain today.

But the very power and danger of the mountains has also meant that they have long been steeped in superstition. Up there, gods and demons dwell, waiting to unleash pain on those who trespass their lands. Zeus hurled his thunderbolts down from Mount Olympus, after all, while Shiva still resides atop Mount Kailash. As for such a mere mortal as Moses, he first had to ascend Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments directly from God.

Yet the rise of economically advanced European states eventually changed man’s relationship to the mountains. Sophisticated forms of population measurement and control, and the rise of technology that allowed surveying and regulation, as well as the efficient transportation of the state’s agents, meant that the mountains could be cleansed of subversive elements, and converted to more economically productive (from the state’s point of view) purposes. The Highland Clearances of 18th- and 19th-century Scotland represent perhaps the paradigmatic example, when unruly Jacobite-sympathising highlanders were forcibly evicted by the British, and replaced with profit-generating herds of sheep.

When Hillary got a knighthood, Norgay got the George Medal. Imperial glory was carefully tailored to be the white man’s alone

Economic development also led to the rise of an aristocratic leisure class with time on its hands – time that could be dedicated to foolhardy activities such as climbing up dangerous peaks, and imposing self-validating rules in the process. Indeed, the sport of mountaineering is widely considered to have been born on a specific day: 8 August 1786, when the doctor Michel-Gabriel Paccard made the first ascent of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, in the company of a local Chamonix hunter named Jacques Balmat. Yet this neat image of the sport being invented all of a piece conceals the fact that a great deal of social and economic development first needed to come to pass before an activity such as Paccard and Balmat’s was even thinkable, let alone repeatable.

Having opened the mountains to the leisure classes, the modern state wasn’t about to leave things there. On the contrary, the exploits of mountaineers have frequently been hitched to political ends. When Hillary summited Everest in May 1953, this was immediately claimed as a great achievement for the British Empire – word reached the new Queen Elizabeth on the eve of her coronation – and duly hailed as a sign that the British were embarking upon a fresh start after the dark decades of war and austerity. No matter that Hillary was a New Zealander. In a period of acute national anxiety due to Imperial decline, he was British enough. On the other hand, Sherpa Norgay – who saved Hillary’s life during the ascent – was never given anything like the same recognition. When Hillary got a knighthood, Norgay got the George Medal, and for many years his name was barely mentioned in popular accounts of the ascent. Imperial glory was carefully tailored to be the white man’s alone.

In a very different mode, the Soviet Union also tried to harness the power of the mountains to political effect. As well as giving the country’s largest peaks such imaginative names as ‘Lenin’ and ‘Stalin’, after the Second World War the USSR officially designated mountaineering a sport, licensing it for extensive state funding. In doing so, it shifted from a direct military responsibility (where it was used as part of elite troop-training during the Second World War) to a civilian one. Trade-union subsidies for up to 75 per cent of mountaineering expenses made it accessible to a wide range of people, in line with official communist egalitarian ideology. Individual mountaineers who summited the required number of difficult peaks in the approved Soviet fashion could eventually receive the prestigious designation ‘Master of Sport’, and the perks that came with it (not least, more time in the mountains, training the next generation). In part, this was probably an attempt to take back the mountains from their more traditional role as refuges for dissidents and malcontents, while offering structured forms of social progression and controlled outlets for the energies of restless youths. In other words, recruiting mountaineering for purposes of population surveillance and control, under the apparatus of a repressive political regime.

And it seems that, for a while at least, this might have been done with a very particular goal in mind. For the Soviet Union perhaps had designs on Everest: a mountain race, just as the space race was beginning. Looking back through the fog of the Cold War, it is hard to be sure of the facts, but according to a 1953 article in TheManchester Guardian, a failed Soviet expedition the previous year had planned not only to get to the top of the world’s highest peak, but to erect statues of Lenin and Stalin at the summit. Some of this might have been mere hyperbole on behalf of the British paper, but if the Soviets did attempt Everest, failure to achieve the summit would explain why any expedition (if it really did happen) was nonetheless kept secret – the propaganda value of Himalayan expeditions to the Russians would have been dependent upon their success.

As well as having long been bound up with the political, mountaineering is also deeply intertwined with the ethical. This is because, alongside rules of the game about how one gets to the top, there are also expectations about how one treats other players in the process. Yet here controversy reigns. In his nausea-inducing memoir Touching the Void (1988), Joe Simpson recounts how he broke his leg in the Peruvian Andes, and how his partner Simon Yates tried to lower him to safety. In storm conditions, and without a clear path of descent, Simpson was eventually left dangling over a deep crevasse, slowly pulling in Yates with him. In the end, Yates opted to cut the rope to save himself, convinced that he had condemned his friend to certain death. Miraculously, Simpson survived the fall, and then managed to crawl – with a shattered leg – back to base camp (it took him two days and nights, sleeping in makeshift snow holes dug along the way).

When the story first broke, some climbers criticised Yates for his act of self-preservation. A ropemate bond, it has been said, ought to be sacrosanct. Simpson, however, has always maintained that Yates did the right thing – and that he would have done the same if the roles were reversed.

‘There was nothing that they could have done to rescue the [falling] Indians but they could have displayed a shred of compassion’ 

Similarly, the question of proper conduct in the ‘death zone’ elicits deep disagreement. It is widely accepted that at such altitudes a climber cannot help another in difficulty: any attempt to do so will simply result in both ending up dead. Nonetheless, some believe that human decency must still be preserved, despite the perils of the situation.

Simpson himself has been an outspoken critic of climbers who ignore struggling others, passing them as if they weren’t there. In a later book, The Beckoning Silence (2002), he gives the example of the Japanese team on Everest in 1996 who didn’t acknowledge a pair of failing Indian climbers: ‘There was nothing that they could have done to rescue the Indians but they could have displayed a shred of compassion.’ Against the popular view that above 8,000 metres climbers ‘cannot afford morality’, Simpson rails: ‘When did the means ever justify the end in mountaineering?’ For him, ‘ethics and morality’ are fundamental to the sport. But when it comes to the death zone, many agree with Krakauer, who survived the 1996 Everest disaster that left eight others dead, and who argues in Eiger Dreams that there is ‘so little margin for error that climbers now commonly begin their ascents with the understanding that if things go wrong, the bond between ropemates … may be discarded in favour of a policy of every man for himself’.

But why do climbers engage in this extraordinarily dangerous activity? Fierce rhetoric about conquering the peaks – of imposing man’s will on nature itself – tends not to be how mountaineers themselves see it. For a start, the sheer destructive power of the mountains disabuses most who tussle with them of the illusion that, up there, humans are anything other than temporarily tolerated guests. Second, this gets the aesthetic and ethical relationships all wrong: the beauty and awe of the mountains are to be respected and appreciated, not beaten down.

For most climbers, if there’s something to be conquered, it’s not so much the summit as some aspect of themselves. Fear and physical pain are the things to be overcome; routes and ascents are proxies for challenging oneself, not the terrain. In this game, the true opponent is usually not the mountain, but one’s own personal limitations. As Mallory himself put it: ‘Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves.’ Having said that, it’s also true that mountaineers tend to be a competitive bunch. Being the first to claim an ascent, or the hardest climber at the crag, is not something most are truly indifferent about. Climbers are just as susceptible to the lure of being the best, and the dubious joys of ranking and comparison, as all other athletes.

It takes a privileged form of social ordering to create members willing to dice with death for the challenge

And it’s often a fine line between the profound and the pompous, the sublime and the narcissistic. William Blake was on to something when he wrote: ‘Great things are done when men and mountains meet; This is not done by jostling in the street.’ But Juvenal wasn’t completely wrong either: ‘Go, climb the rugged alps, ambitious fool; To please the boys, and be a theme at school!’ Indeed, the urge to challenge oneself, perhaps to the point of infantile foolishness, can smack of a more existential desperation, to the point of being pitiful. In his much-maligned but widely misunderstoodThe End of History and the Last Man (1992), Francis Fukuyama singled out mountaineering and rock climbing as evidence that the ‘Last Men’ (and women) of liberal capitalist democracy simply could not sit still and enjoy their peace and prosperity. The need to strive after competitive achievement and personal challenge would draw humans to such activities as they attempted – in vain – to avoid staring into the abyss of pointlessness that was opened up by modern living.

Fukuyama’s diagnosis is melodramatic, but he has a point. It takes a peculiarly privileged form of social ordering to create members who are willing and able to spend their leisure time dicing with death for no better reason than that they enjoy the challenge. And yet, it would be a mistake to make it too much about the men and women who climb, while forgetting what it is that gets climbed. The legendary 19th-century explorer and adventurer John Muir wrote: ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ Thousands of people still hear that call, and likewise they must go. Why? Because the mountains are there, of course.

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Paul Sagar

is a lecturer in political theory in the Department of Political Economy, King’s College London. 


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