K2 (also known as Chhogori/Qogir, Ketu/Kechu, and Mount Godwin-Austen) is the second-highest mountain on Earth, after Mount Everest. It is located on the border between Baltistan, in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan, and the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County of Xinjiang, China. With a peak elevation of 8,611 m (28,251 feet), K2 is the highest point of the Karakoram Range and the highest point in Pakistan.
K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the difficulty of ascent and the second-highest fatality rate among the eight thousanders. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying. It is more hazardous to reach K2 from the Chinese side; thus, it is mostly climbed from the Pakistani side. Unlike Annapurna, the mountain with the highest fatality-to-summit rate, K2 has never been climbed in winter.
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 Haramukh, some 210 km (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 (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.
Lacking a local name, the name Mount Godwin-Austen was suggested, in honor 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 (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 …[
Climbing routes and difficulties
There are a number of routes on K2, of somewhat different character, but they all share some key difficulties. First, 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 attempts there have been no successful winter ascents. All major climbing routes lie on the Pakistani side, which is also where the base camp is located.
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 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.
On 1 August 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 were impeded by the high altitude. Eleven were never found, 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” 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.
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 Spanish 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. Piotrowski was killed while descending. 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—possibly safer alternative to the Abruzzi Spur, because it avoids Black Pyramid, the first big obstacle on Abruzzi), 1994.
West Face, technical difficulty at high altitude, first climbed by Russian team in 2007
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. In mountaineering, when ascending above an altitude of 8,000 metres (26,000 ft), the climber enters what is known as the death zone.