Welcome to my annual coverage of the 2018 K2 summer climbing season. I will be reporting from my home in Colorado this year based on my personal experience of our successful 2014 K2 summit and covering the action the last three years. I try to report on K2 in the same style as my annual Everest coverage but accurate information is much more difficult to obtain from Northern Pakistan than from Nepal. I’ll do my best to throw in occasional coverage for climbers on Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I and II.
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The Savage Mountain
As I discussed in a post a few years ago, “Why K2 will not become Everest“, K2 is a totally different climbing experience requiring a honed set of skills and alpine experience. It is the second highest mountain in the world at 28,251’/8611m and remains the only 8000er not summited in winter.
The climbing is technical – meaning you are using feet and hands to climb; the exposure is dramatic – meaning if you fall you will most likely die; and the weather is extreme – meaning it is less predictable due to standing alone to the west of nearby mountains thus creating its own systems. It is common to have very different conditions on K2 than on Broad Peak or the Gasherbrums that are only a few miles away.
Unlike Everest, there are no long, flat sections i.e. the Western Cwm. K2 starts steep, ends steep and never lets up. Objective dangers are constantly on the minds of K2 climbers. Avalanches and rock-fall are rampant and injuries are common. These are not bravado or ego-based comments on my part given I have summited both peaks, but my effort to help readers understand that K2 is in a different league than most of the other 8000ers. Just because you summited Everest, doesn’t mean you are ready for K2. A bit of trivia, there are less than 200 people who have summited both Everest and K2.
It is well documented that K2 sees significantly more deaths than Everest. Thru 2018, I estimate 8,950 summits by about 5,500 people and 295 deaths on Everest – 3.3% compared to 367 summits with 84 deaths on K2 – 23%. Of the 8000 meter peaks, Everest has the highest absolute number of deaths at 288 but ranks near the bottom with a death rate of 1.23. Annapurna is the most deadly 8000er with one death for about every three summits (71:261) or a 3.91 death rate. Cho Oyu is the safest with 3,681 summits and 50 deaths or a death rate of 0.55. While some will quibble with these statistics, it is a measure of risk. The number one reason listed for death on K2 is “disappearance” suggesting that the climber fell in a highly exposed area, was blown away by winds or buried in an avalanche. 33 climbers have died while descending from the summit. 11 died in 2008 including my friend Gerard McDonnell when the towering ice serac just below the summit let a tiny fraction of its 100 meter vertical face loose. If you attempt K2, you must accept that dying is a real possibility.
Years with No K2 Summits
The first summit of K2 was on July 31, 1954, by Italians Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni. The first attempts began in 1902 by Brit Aleister Crowley. But it was the Duke of Abruzzi who made the most valiant attempts in the early 1900’s thus named the ridge most popular used today, the Abruzzi Spur. After five separate American attempts, Louis Reichardt and Jim Wickwire summited on September 6, 1978, and John Roskelley and Rick Ridgeway the next day. Amazingly Jim Wickwire spent a night in the open just below the summit at 27,000 feet without food, oxygen, or shelter in temperatures of -40 degrees.
According to research, plus my own research, from 1986 to 2016 there were 12 years with no summits. From 2009 to 2016, there were only three years with summits – 2011 only from the Chinese side by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner who became the first woman to get all the 8000ers san Os. In 2012 and 2014 each saw about 30 – 50 people summiting – record-breaking years as a result of a week of excellent and rare summit conditions. Everest went from 1974 to 2014 with summits every year – 40 straight years! The best year ever for K2 was in 2004 with 51 total summits followed by 2014 with an estimated 49 summits, including six female climbers.
2017 K2 Results
2017 was a mixed year on K2 with most teams choosing not to risk a summit push but one strong Sherpa team gambled and made it for the first summits since 2014. Lead by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, 31, founder of the Nepali guide company Dreamers Destination, now Imagine Climb. This was the second time he has guided a team to the summit, 2014 was his first. Long-time legend Russell Brice’s Himex team attempted the Česen route but stopped due to dangerous conditions and all the other teams on the Abruzzi stopped their attempts after an avalanche wiped out Camp 3 and Advanced Base Camp burying most of their gear.
Of course, K2 saw a rare winter attempt just six months ago. It ended poorly with botched logistics, in-fighting within the team and just plain old bad luck with the weather and snow conditions. As if that was not enough, several members of the Polish team left K2 in the middle of their acclimatization work for a rescue mission on nearby Nanga Parbat. You can read my full coverage of these events at this link.
There are 9 named routes on K2: Česen, Northeast Ridge, North Ridge, South Face (Central Rib), South-southwest Pillar (Magic Line), Northwest Face, Northwest Ridge and West Face with the Abruzzi Spur aka the Southeast Ridge. No one has climbed the East Face, due to the instability of the snow and ice formations on that side. There are no easy routes on K2.
The Abruzzi has been used for 75% of the summits. There are several technically difficult features including Houses’ Chimney, and the Black Pyramid. The Bottleneck Couloir is one of the most dangerous sections serving as a blowing alley for rock and ice fall. The Abruzzi usually has 4 camps on the mountain:
- Base Camp: 18,600ft/5669m
- Advanced Base Camp: 18,650ft/5684m
- Camp 1: 19,965’/6085m
- Camp 2: 22,110’/6740m
- Camp 3: 23,760’/7240m
- Camp 4: 25,080’/7644m
- Summit: 28,251’/8611m
The overall number of climbers and teams are a bit low this year according to Karrar Haidri, Secretary Alpine Club of Pakistan. He told me “The situation in Pakistan much better then the year  of Nanga Parbat incident, but the international media is giving one-sided story, unrest is in limited area of Pakistan, Gilgit Baltistan is now the safest place on earth, after Nanga Parbat incident n special force has been established now on KKH, and also due to CPEC route the area is fully controlled by law and orders agencies.” On a side note, I felt safe and never in danger when I was climbing in Pakistan in 2006 and 2014.
As usual, K2 will dominate the climbing with approximately 44 foreigners registered for permits, this does not include Sherpas or HAPs which could be an equal amount of climbers so look for about 80 people on K2. Broad Peak is next with 21 permits, 18 of those also include K2. The Gasherbrums are always popular, especially GI (8086M) & GII (8035M). There are 19 permits issued for them including GIV (7925). The other peaks to be attempted this summer include:
- Bainatha Brakk II (6960M)
- Dansam (6666M) & K-7(6934)
- K-7 (6973M)
- Khurdopin Sar (6310M)
- Latok 1 (7145 M)
- Ogree-II (6960M)
- Nanga Parbat (8126M)
- Spantic Peak (7027M)
- Ultar Peak (7388M)
- Urdo Kangri II (7082M)
I will not be keeping a location table like I do for Everest given the lack of detailed information. These are the teams reported to have climbing permits for the Karakorum this summer in Pakistan. Keep in mind that all foreign operators must use a local Pakistani owned and operated company to obtain permits. Also they have been required to hire Pakistani High Altitude Porters and discouraged from bringing Sherpas from Nepal/Tibet to support their teams, however many teams do albeit at a higher expense.
A few of the teams are back after being stopped in prior years. Maddison Mountaineering has a large team of 10 members, 2 guides, 11 Sherpas and 5 Pakistani High-Altitude Porters aka HAPs. Dan Mazzur’s Summit Climb is running a Broad Peak/K2 trip as is Furtenbach. Seven Summits Treks is there providing logistics for most of the other teams in addition to having their own team.
- Madison Mountaineering
- Furtenbach Adventures
- Imagine Climb
- Adventure Tours Pakistan
- Karakorum Tours Pakistan (Manzoor Ahmad)
- Karakorum Expeditions (Mirza Ali )
- Nazir Sabir Expeditions
- Seven Sumits Treks
- Summit Climb
- Himalayan Experience (Himex) – scheduled but not confirmed
One high-profile team is Japanese mountaineer Akira Oyabe who has been preparing for two years. They arrived at the end of May in Pakistan to get a jump of other teams and hopefully have the time to wait out poor weather. This is Oyabe’s third attempt after bring stopped by high winds in 2009, and heavy snowfall in 2013. However by now, many teams have arrived in Pakistan and are making the 8 day hike up the Baltoro Glacier enjoying some of the most spectacular views anywhere in the mountains.
Climbers with blogs that appear to be updated include:
- Carlos Garranzo on Broad Peak and K2
- Fredrik Sträng – K2
- Mirza Ali – Pakistani filmmaker/director
- Nathalie Fortin – K2
- Jake Meyer – for his 3rd attempt on K2
- David Roeske for BP and K2. In 2016 the American summited Cho Oyu and Everest within 11 days.
- Dávid Klein – top Hungarian climber on GI/II
And the Other 8000ers
At 26,362’/8035m. GII is often considered the most attainable of the Karakoram’s 8000ers. There have been about 350 summits of GI and 940 of GII.
The ‘Killer Mountain’ has a deadly reputation not only for climbers but also as the site of the 2013 massacre at base camp where 10 people were savagely killed allegedly by terrorists. At 26,660’/8126m Nanga is known to be one of the more technical 8000ers. – some will say harder than K2 by some routes. South African-born Swiss explorer and adventurer, Mike Horn who took the infamous photo of a decapitated head on K2 in 2015 is on Nanga Parbat. Turkish climber Tunc Findik with his Romanian partner Alex Gavan, is hoping to get his 12th 8000er. There have been around 380 summits on this difficult peak.
BP is often considered a warm-up for K2 but that grossly understates the difficulty of this 26,414’/8051m peak. About 425 people have summited Broad. Every season people talk about summiting both but it is rarely accomplished as I described in this post last year. The most recent double for Broad Peak and K2 that I can remember, was in 2014 by Bulgarian climber Boyan Petrov. I passed him descending from the summit as he was going up near Camp 2. He was young, strong and confident so I wasn’t surprised to learn he had summited. Sadly, he perished on Shishapangma this year.
If you are wondering about summer climbing in Nepal and Tibet where the other nine 8000ers are located, the summer monsoons usually prevent that. The monsoonal flow avoids hitting Northern Pakistan in July and August, but that pattern has been known to change as was experienced in 2015 and 2016.
A Busy Summer in Pakistan
If you have a team and want coverage, please contact me. Best of luck to all this summer. Hoping the winds are calm like they were on Everest last month and the K2 climbers nab a summit of two.
Memories are Everything