K2: Why K2 is Dangerous and Difficult

K2 MessageThanks for following my attempt on K2 to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s non-profits: Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. Thanks again for Abila for their support.

Remember if you donate $1, 000 or more I’ll call you from K2 basecamp. 🙂

This post is a quick update on my training a brief discussion on the hazards around K2.

K2 has the reputation of being the world’s most difficult mountain and one of the most dangerous. Other mountains and routes may surpass K2 in difficulty but when combined with the altitude, the world’s 2nd tallest at 28,251′ has to be near the top.

There are about 10 named routes on K2. When asked what is the easiest route, most people who have climbed K2, say simply there are no easy routes on K2. If forced, they cite the Abruzzi as the one most climbed thus the “easiest”,  however it also has the most deaths due to its popularity.

The Facts

As for danger, this table summarizes it well:

8000m deaths and summits
8000m deaths and summits through 2013/14source: Himalayan Database, research

The most significant danger on K2 comes from rock fall and avalanches. The huge ice serac looming near the summit is the clearest objective danger as it can release large parts with zero notice falling directly on the most popular route.

The rock fall is ever-present, sending large and small objects directly on top of climbers in the narrow gullies that cannot be avoided.  The helmets cannot protect climbers from these meteors.

Also K2’s weather is notorious for its unpredictability and sudden development trapping climbers high on steep slopes.  High winds can develop sweeping climbers off the high ridges, heavy snowfall can destroy fixed lines and escape routes plus accelerate the avalanche danger.

Given the steep, icy and avalanche prone terrain, falls are prevalent. Some climbers fall even when attached to fixed rope but most are not clipped in, a mistake or perhaps unavoidable, slipping down steep icy slopes where self arrest is not an option.

As if all of this is not enough to make any sane person avoid K2, there is the fact that climbers are above 20,000 or 25,000 feet, struggling for oxygen, pushing their bodies to the physiological limit climbing steep and dangerous terrain with no relief. Many climbers die simply from exhaustion, for lack of a better term.

According to 8000ers. com, the 81 deaths can be broken down as follows:

Cause of Death  Number
Avalanche 24
Falls 23
Altitude Illness/Exhaustion 18
Disappearance 12
Illness 4


A look at the Dangers

These two videos will give you a bit of insight into the climb. I don’t expect you to watch the long one from my friend Tunc Findik all the way through but if you have an interest it is very well done.

Fast forward to 27:04 to see the most difficult part of the climb or often called the crux. It is an area called the Bottleneck at 27,200′ which is near vertical rock wall covered in ice and snow. Note the climber in the middle at 27:17 making a delicate move across the face.


Another video is a trailer lasting about 2 minutes that is good providing a fast overview of climbing K2. Also the film, The Summit, is an excellent documentary that covers the tragic events of 2008 where my friend Ger McDonnell died after his summit along with 10 more climbers. Kami Sherpa, whom I climbing with this year was on K2 that season.

My Fears

So, why am I doing this and do I know what I am doing? If you want me to be candid, the bottleneck is the section that has me worried so I am practicing that move here on rock walls in my big boots and crampons as shown in the photo gallery in this post.

I know from my 2006 climb of nearby Broad Peak, the terrain starts steep and never lets up. It will be physical, demanding and push me beyond anything I’ve ever, ever experienced.

I will lose weight, perhaps as much as 10% of my body weight or 17-18 pounds, I will get some kind of upper respiratory infection, I will get the normal traveler GI problems.

I will get discouraged and down, missing home, looking back on life, and I will consider my future.

And I will climb in the moment.

I will draw on the love of my family and friends, I will rely on my previous climbing experience. I will draw on my purpose that fuels my passion.

I know clearly why I am climbing K2 and I will say this today and forever – it is about the cause, not the climb.

You Can Help

I can never say this enough but thank you for your support of my Alzheimer’s advocacy work and this climb on K2. Please consider becoming a K2 Team Capitan to raise awareness and funds. Any amount is genuinely appreciated. If it is meaningful to you, it is meaningful to me. Sign up at this link or make a donation today. This is why I am climbing K2.


My training is going well as I’m spending a lot of time in the Colorado mountains. I’m focusing on fitness through long days -12 hours of demanding climbing at 12,000 – 14,000- feet plus shorter days of technical climbing to work on skills. I am feeling stronger with each climb. I leave home later in June.

Follows are a few shots from my recent climbs here in Colorado.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything







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49 thoughts on “K2: Why K2 is Dangerous and Difficult

  1. I am just a no body from a small town in Ohio.. I have never climbed more than a foothill in a national park. I am deathly afraid of heights. I have been off of work since December due to complications from my total knee replacement, and stroke following surgery. I have become so interested in all the documentaries on Netflix showing the climbs of K2 and Everest. I cant tell you how much they have inspired me to work hard at my physical therapy and to set new goals every day on my road to recovery. I have become hungry to learn all I can about the mountains, climbing and the Sherpa’s.. I am total awe that the human body can be trained to do such things. Thank you for giving me inspiration each and every day. I will keep your team in my prayers as you climb k2.. Hugs from just a nobody in Ohio, Laura

  2. Looking at the serac overhanging the bottleneck frightens me from the comfort of my living room. I cannot imagine seeing it in person. I have all the confidence in the world for your climbing abilities and your common sense. I think it will be more dangerous actually getting to the Baltoro! That is one scary ‘highway’!! Good luck Alan, as always I wish you the best and look forward to your posts and pictures.

    1. Thnaks as always Ginger. Yes the KKH is one tough road, sharp corners, next to rockfall prone dirt slopes! There is nothing simple or easy about this one!!

  3. Alan, I admire your courage to tackle the mountain of mountains in the name of such a worthy cause. I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog, and I am proud to donate towards alzheimer’s research to support your mission. Would it be possible to breakdown the K2 climbing route in the same way you have described the everest south col/ north col routes? I know I would find it very interesting, and I am sure others here would also appreciate it.

    I wish you a happy, safe and rewarding trip.

  4. Alan,

    In fact, using “modern numbers” (1992-2014), K2 is the most dangerous 8000er, with fatality rate of 20,15% (Kangchenjunga has 12,37, Dhaulagiri 12,22 and Annapurna I 13,13%), updated to March 2014.

    So, you are facing the most lethal 8000er and also the one with the hardest “regular route”.

    I desire you a great climb and let you a hug from Brazil.

  5. The Webster dictionary defines a conqueror as “one that defeats an enemy or opponent”.

    Your enemy is Alzheimers, and your inexhaustible efforts WILL, in no small part, aide in finding a cure. Your opponent is K2, the adversary you’ve chosen to conquer, in the quest to defeat the enemy. You’ve conquered many other worthy opponents, while climbing with noble purpose, and no doubt you WILL stand on top of this mountain, once again the conqueror, then return home knowing the enemy is being weakened day by day, dollar by dollar.

    I leave you now, with a quote by Walt Whitman, that seems to describe your well-lived life:
    “Oh while I live, to be the ruler of life, not a slave, to meet life as a powerful conqueror, and nothing exterior to me will ever take command of me.”

    I will follow your climb praying and cheering, for you, throughout.
    Carolyn LeBrun

  6. I have been over your postings once and intend to do it again. You are one brave, fearless guy and our love and best wishes go with you. Cheers Kate

  7. Alan, I am a huge fan of yours and your dedication to climbing and the charities, leave me humbled. Have a safe climb and your followers, like me, will keep on following your blog the whole way through. God speed. Jacqueline

  8. I love you Alan and trust that you will conquer this mountain. I will pray for your safety and health and will ask others to do the same. I would be interested in being a team captain. What do I need to do? I am also hoping when everything calms down I might have you come over my way so we can hang out. Just a thought.

  9. Alan , I always heard that its not good to get new boots ? When you are planning to climb a big Mt ? Karen and Jim

  10. Great to read your blog and updates and also to see great pics from your training. You mentioned the Summit film in your report, You would also be interested in the Summit Book by Pat Falvey and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa which tells the same story of that tragic event, but with lots more detail from a Sherpa’s experience. It’s a great read. http://www.thesummitk2.com/

  11. Dear Alan,
    I respect your spirit & the cause for you are fighting to encourage climbing these great & dangerous mountains of the world inspite of all the odds. The chart provided by you for the details of all the 14 8000ers in this issue of your blog is very useful as far as Statistics is concerned. Please confirm whether this statistics is upto Spring 2013 as per Himalayan Database & research. Himalayan Data Base already published statistics uptil Spring 2013 but research is lagging far behind. But there is some difference between assessment between your statistics & gathered by me almost from the same source. As for example Total ascents in K2 mentioned by you is 306 ,however taking the huge tally of 30 climbs in 2012 it comes to 336. The same is with Kangchenjunga where the total ascents comes to 298-300, & deaths to 45. You may not have taken 15 climbs in 2013 & 5 deaths in 2013 spring. Further the total number of ascents in Kangchenjunga in 2011 was 38 as per research’s Eberhard ,however this was mentioned to be 236 as per Himalayan Data Base. However this doesn’t matter as far as your main aim for the K2 Climb this year & the successive details for the same for which i shall be eagerly awaiting for. Thanks again for your spirited adventure & the noble cause for the same.

    1. Thanks Asim, as you note finding update summit numbers is difficult and I appreciate those who do the research for the rest of us.

  12. Alan I always wish you the best on all your climbs , and your safe return, remember its not getting up to mountain its coming down I and Jim will follow you no matter how far you go ,climb for me too Karen

  13. Hi Alan,

    Great job on Long’s Peak and some nice training shots with the new boots. One thing I just wanted to point out is the rubber on the Vibram soles of the Olympus Mons is rather soft and the tread is not very thick. I wouldn’t advise climbing on rock with them without crampons during your training because you will wear the soles before you get to K2. Tread wear has historically been the one issue with these excellent boots. Best of luck with your training!


    1. Yes Marta, it is common for bodies to be left on the world’s highest peaks either because they are impossible to retrieve (fall into a deep crevasse) or simply cannot be found. Most climbers I now prefer ot that way, me included.

  14. Alan, best of luck on your climb of K2. If anyone has trained harder at your age, I’d be surprised. Given your experience, you will summit.

  15. Your devotion to end Alzheimer’s disease and risking your life in the process is beyond my comprehension and very much admired. Thank you from the bottom of my heart…..

  16. I’m still drop jawed from the footage in that video. That climb is ridiculous! Alan , good luck!

  17. I have to say Alan, watching the Bottleneck section absolutely made my blood run cold. I admire your courage.

  18. Godspeed Alan. Be safe and I’ll be following your journey with immense interest

  19. Alan,

    I have been a long time fan and supporter. Many years ago you took “pencils and crayons” with you for the Sherpa children. For this expedition I wish for you to only carry positive thoughts and know that YOU HAVE made a significant difference in this World.

    You have a huge fan club and want to celebrate with you when you return.

    Climb on!


  20. I believe with all of my heart that your Mother will be right there with you every step of this climb, and will keep you safe.

  21. I admire you so much, thank you for literally going to extreme heights to end Alzheimer’s. You are a true hero!

  22. Hi Alan,

    Are you planning to use supplemental oxygen and if so, how many liters per minute? I have been enjoying your blog for several years now and we’ve even corresponded about the Mt. Blanc Traverse. With all of your success, why take on a mountain as dangerous as K2? This mountain has taken many world class professional climbers. You could always attempt G2, Lhotse or Broad Peak a second time. It seems like a huge risk for someone who has so much going for them. And this is coming from someone who has climbed for 25 years. Well, if you do decide to go, be ultra conservative up there…think Viesturs.

    All the best,

  23. Good luck! I have only just started climbing at age 31, I have watched every Everest video I can and always think “it looks do-able”. K2 on the other hand makes my brain just say “NOPE”. I am sure you will do well and hope you return home safe.

    Will you have communications to update us from basecamp?

  24. I can’t bring myself to “like” this post about the danger; but you have my admiration and total support in this endeavor. I am praying for your safety and success and WILL be celebrating with you upon your return! Climb On and thank you for your relentless – maybe I should say, extreme – advocacy on behalf of all impacted by dementia.

  25. I hope and pray for you to have a successful summit and get down safe and sound,my friend!

  26. Great descriptions of the difficulties and dangers of K2 on the Abruzzi, Alan. Love the videos too! Great training pics and I like the new boots!

    When do you leave for Pakistan?


  27. Alan – do you have guesstimate numbers on how many ATTEMPTS on each mountain? I’m frequently asked about the attempt/death ratio vs the summit/death ratio…Would be an interesting number to crunch (and I love crunching these numbers!)

    1. Thanks Jennifer, as you probably know the Himalayan database shows the number of people “above basecamp” but it is very unclear who is going for a summit. There is no similar data for the Karakorum peaks.

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