Climbing has begun on, arguably, the world’s most difficult 8,000-meter mountain. Standing at 28,251 feet, K2 is on the border between Pakistan and China. While many people climb Everest for bragging rights at cocktail parties, K2 remains a mystery for those partygoers but receives respect from the serious climbing community.
Five of the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks are located in Pakistan: K2, Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II. About 150 climbers have received permits for them this summer, plus a few more on various 7,000-meter peaks. Compared to Everest—where the 9,000th summit mark was broken a few months ago—Pakistan remains relatively quiet.
A Japanese team, led by Akira Oyabe, is leading the rope-fixing operation on K2. Oyabe has been preparing for two years and is on his third attempt after being stopped by high winds in 2009, and heavy snowfall in 2013. Another interesting project is by the Pole Andrzej Bargiel, who is planning to ski from the summit of K2. He was thwarted last year by poor conditions. The route is currently set to Camp 2 at 22,110 feet.
There are nine named routes on K2 but two dominate the activity: the Česen and Abruzzi Spur. The Abruzzi sees 75% of the climbing. However, there are no easy routes on K2. Harsh conditions result in many years with no summits. According to 8000ers.com, 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.
Climbing K2 is filled with objective dangers, from avalanches to rock fall to unpredictable weather. While only a mile away from another 8,000-meter mountain, Broad Peak, K2 can have drastically different weather. In 1995 high winds were assumed to have blown climbers off the summit, including the British alpinist Alison Hargreaves, the American Rob Slater and four others.
Snow Problems on Nanga
On Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet), 150 miles away from K2, 14 climbers have permits including the South African-born Swiss explorer and adventurer, Mike Horn. He has already returned to Islamabad ,saying the snow conditions were too dangerous. He might return this season, but it is unlikely.
Also on Nanga is Turkish climber Tunc Findik, along with his Romanian partner Alex Gavan. Find is hoping to score his 12th 8,000er.
One of the more interesting climbs this summer is not on an 8,000er, but on the unclimbed 6,955-meter-high Gasherbrum VII, which will be attempted by Polish climbers Adam Bielecki and Jacek Czech plus German Felix Berg. They are planning to acclimatize on the 8,035-meter Gasherbrum II.
On Gasherbrum IV (26,001 feet), an Italian expedition comprised of Alpini Valerio Stella, Marco Farina, Marco Majori, Maurizio Giordano and Daniele Bernasconi will attempt the second ascent of the Bonatti-Mauri route on the northeast ridge.
The South-Korean alpinist Kim Hong-bin, working on his 13th 8,000er, will attempt Gasherbrum I. He summited Annapurna this past spring. In 1991 he lost all his fingers to frostbite on Denali.
The 34-year-old Austrian Hansjörg Auer will make a solo attempt on the West Face of the 7,181-meter Lupghar Sar West.
Heavy snow is being reported on all the 8,000ers this week, delaying progress on establishing the high camps. The Karakoram season usually ends by mid-August with summits the last week of July into early August.
Alan Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer’s Advocate. He has completed over 30 major expeditions including four Everest climbs with a summit in 2011. He completed his 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s project to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research. Find out more at www.alanarnette.com.