Big mountains big risks. We need to be aware of those risks and mitigate those risks to the greatest level we can, and we have to know when it’s time to go home. If one disappears on a mountain, he is just gone.
Death Zone of 8000 meters
8,000, for most people, a somewhat meaningless number. But, for mountain climbers, it can be the number that defines their lives forever. There are only 14 mountain peaks on Earth that stand taller than 8000 meters. All of them lie in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in central Asia. They’re the only mountains on the planet that tower into an area called the death zone.
Shortage of Oxygen
Here the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is insufficient to sustain human life. Yet, despite the danger and objective hazards of the world’s tallest mountains, every year teams of alpinists (a climber of high mountains) come from around the world to try to reach these summits. It is a calling for some, almost a religion for others: the chance to truly test one’s own limits and do what so few have done before.
The Giant of Karakoram K2
In the Karakoram range, on the border of China and Pakistan, stands K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Standing at 8,611 meters, or 28,251 feet, it is widely considered to be the world’s most difficult mountain to climb. Climbers regard K2 as the ultimate achievement in mountaineering, and for good reason. More people have been to outer space than have stood on its summit. In the 117 years of expeditions to K2 from 1902 to June of 2019, less than 400 people have ever reached the summit of K2 and lived to talk about it.
K2 the Savage Mountain
After the third American K2 Expedition in 1953, outfitted by Eddie Bauer, climber George Bell told reporters “K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you” giving the mountain the nickname it carries to this very day, the Savage Mountain. Of all of the peaks over 8,000 meters, K2 has the second-highest fatality rate next to Annapurna. Approximately, one person dies on K2 for every four who reach the summit.
K2’s environment is hostile, but it isn’t angry. It doesn’t have a voice but it does speak. One of the greatest lessons a climber can learn is how to listen to the mountain. Professional mountain guide Adrian Ballinger has spent the majority of his adult life climbing and guiding in the high Himalayas. As the Founder and CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions, Adrian has spent his career helping others live their adventure on the big mountains of the world. Adrian says that all of his climbing on 8000-meter peaks was with supplemental oxygen, bottled oxygen. Finally, in 2016, when he really wanted to test himself to his true limits in the biggest mountains and he tried Everest without supplemental oxygen. He failed and almost got himself killed. It led him to put the entire next year putting guiding on hold, also his company on hold.
K2 is lower than Everest, still much more difficult to climb
Although it is only 237 meters lower than Everest, K2 is much more difficult to climb. The terrain is steep, requiring advanced mountaineering skills in both rock and ice climbing. The exposure is extreme in places where even the smallest mistake could prove fatal. Bad weather is common and the risk of avalanche and rockfall is high. And on top of that, the high altitude and lack of oxygen make it hard to breathe. Professional climbers find that kind of challenge intoxicating. It’s the kind of fuel that stokes their fire. A test to be taken by those who believe they have what it takes to reach the summit. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page
Previously the greatest number of climbers to attempt K2 in a single season was 80. But in 2019, Pakistan issued more permits than ever before. No less than 200 climbers would be attempting to reach the summit of K2, and for many, it would be their first time climbing on a peak above 8000 meters.
K2 mountain is more technical, we will have more neck bottles, traffic jams, and that is a dangerous thing. On this mountain, you need to be independent, you need to be fast, you need to know everything instinctually. Climbers should have the level of experience necessary to do that without at least three 8000 meter peaks before coming here.
A low oxygen environment stimulates red blood cell production
While the camps set higher on the mountain, certainly offer up more spectacular views, the necessity behind them has more to do with science than with scenery. Spending prolonged periods in a low oxygen environment stimulates red blood cell production in the human body. The more red blood cells there are, the more oxygen they can carry to the brain and vital organs even when the air is thin. This is called acclimatization. There are no shortcuts to the top of any mountain, especially when climbing without supplemental oxygen. And because every individual is different, proper acclimatization at extreme altitudes takes patience, persistence, and a lot of practice.
Route and Climbing Differences
On K2, routes are not well laid out, since there aren’t many people who feel up to the challenge of this foreboding mountain. The mountain is shaped like a triangle, so you will face a steep climb from day one, regardless of the route you choose. Every day is a technical climb on K2, with many really difficult obstacles along the way. This climb is much more technical as well, with mixed rock, ice, and alpine climbing the whole way up. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page
More Avalanches on K2
K2 is situated farther north than Everest, making for incredibly foul weather that’s highly unpredictable. You really never know what you will face, so you can’t count on a lull in the weather giving you the window you need to reach the summit and get back to safety. Avalanches are also much more common on K2 than on Everest. For this reason, a successful summit on K2 is as much ascribed to luck as it is a skill. When you have a look at the list of fatalities on K2, you will see some very prominent, highly accomplished mountaineers among them, which is a really scary thought. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page