K2: Second Highest Mountain in the World

Fast Facts About K2

Pakistan, Karakorum range, Concordia and K2 covered in snow
Art Wolfe / The Image Bank / Getty Images

K2, located on the Pakistan-Chinese border, is the second-highest mountain in the world. It is Pakistan's highest mountain; and the world's 22nd most prominent mountain. It has an elevation of 28,253 feet (8,612 meters) and a prominence of 13,179 feet (4,017 meters). It is located in the Karakoram Range. The first ascent was by Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli (Italy), July 31, 1954

Name Given by British Surveyor

The name K2 was given in 1852 by British surveyor T.G.

Montgomerie with "K" designating the Karakoram Range and "2" since it was the second peak listed. During his survey, Montgomerie, standing on Mt. Haramukh 125 miles to the south, noted two prominent peaks to the north, calling them K1 and K2. While he kept native names, he found that K2 did not have a known name.

Also Named Mount Godwin-Austen

Later K2 was named Mount Godwin-Austen for Haversham Godwin-Austen (1834-1923), an early British surveyor and explorer. Godwin-Austen climbed 1,000 meters up a spur of Masherbrum above Urdukas and fixed the approximate height and position of K2 from there, according to Catherine Moorehead, the author of The K2 Man (And His Molluscs), a biography of Godwin-Austen. This alternate name was never recognized.

Balit Name for K2

A name for K2 is Chogori, derived from Balti words chhogo ri, meaning "large mountain." The Chinese call the mountain Qogir meaning "Great Mountain," while Balti locals call it Kechu.

Nickname is "The Savage Mountain"

K2 is nicknamed the "Savage Mountain" for its severe weather. It is typically climbed in June, July, or August. K2 has never been climbed in winter.

Most Difficult 8,000-Meter Peak

K2 is one of the most difficult of the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, offering technical climbing, severe weather conditions, and high avalanche danger.

As of 2014, over 335 climbers have reached K2's summit, while at least 82 have died.

K2 has High Fatality Rate

The fatality rate on K2 is 27 percent. If you attempt K2, you have a 1 in 4 chance of dying. Before the 2008 tragedy, of the 198 climbers who summitted the peak, 53 died on K2. That is three times the 9 percent fatality rate on Mount Everest. K2 is, next to Annapurna, the second most dangerous 8,000-meter peak.

1902: First Attempt to Climb K2

British climbers Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), an occultist and hedonist, and Oscar Eckenstein (1859-1921) led an expedition of six climbers that made the first attempt to climb K2, from March to June 1902. The party spent 68 days on the mountain, with only eight clear days, attempting the northeast ridge. Spending two months at high altitude, the party made five summit attempts. The last one began on June 8 but eight days of bad weather defeated them, and they retreated after a high point of 21,407 feet (6,525 meters). Scraps of expedition clothing were later found below K2 and are displayed at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colorado.

1909: First Attempt on Abruzzi Spur

Italian climber Prince Luigi Amedeo (1873-1933), the Duke of Abruzzi, led an expedition to K2 in 1909.

His party attempted the southeast ridge, the Abruzzi Spur, reaching an elevation of 20,505 feet (6,250 meters) before deciding that the climb was too difficult. The ridge is now the usual way that most climbers ascend K2. Before departing, the Duke said that the mountain would never be climbed.

1939: First American Attempt on K2

Fritz Wiessner, a great German climber transplanted to the US, led a 1939 American expedition that set a new world altitude record by reaching 27,500 feet on the Abruzzi Spur. The party was 656 feet from the summit before turning around. Four team members were killed.

1953: Famous Ice Axe Arrest Saves Five

One of the most famous events in American climbing history occurred during a 1953 expedition led by Charles Houston. A 10-day storm trapped the team at 25,592 feet.

Abandoning a summit attempt, the climbers attempted to save 27-year-old Art Gilkey, who had developed altitude sickness, by descending to a lower altitude. At one point during their desperate descent, Pete Schoening saved five falling climbers by arresting their fall with the rope and his ice axe plunged behind a boulder. The ice axe is displayed at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado.

1977: Second Ascent by Japanese

The peak's second ascent came on August 9, 1977, 23 years after K2's first ascent, by a Japanese team led by Ichiro Yoshizawa. The team also included Ashraf Aman, the first Pakistani climber to summit K2.

1978: First American Ascent

The first American ascent was in 1978. A strong team led by James Whittaker ascended a new route up the peak's Northeast Ridge.

1986: 13 Climbers Die on K2

1986 was a tragic year on K2 with 13 climbers dying. Five climbers died in a severe storm between August 6 and August 10. Eight other climbers died in the preceding six weeks. Deaths were by avalanche, falling, and rockfall. The climbers killed by the storm were part of a group cobbled together from several failed expeditions. Three of the climbers reached the top on August 4. During the descent, they met up with four other climbers and stayed at 26,000 feet where they were trapped in a storm. Five climbers died while only two survived.

2008: 11 Climbers Die on K2

In August 2008, 11 climbers died on the upper slopes of K2 after an avalanche caused by a fallen ice serac either killed them outright or isolated them above The Bottleneck, a steep ice couloir.

Kaltenbrunner Climbs K2 without Extra Oxygen

As of 2014, 15 women had summitted K2, but four died on the descent. On August 23, 2011, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner reached the summit of K2, becoming the first woman to climb all 14 of the 8,000-meter mountains without using supplemental oxygen. Kaltenbrunner also became the second woman to climb the 8,000ers. A team of Nepali women summited in 2014, including Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, Maya Sherpa, and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa.

Books About K2

K2, having its share of epic ascents, is also a mountain of literature. Some of the best writing about the trials of mountaineering have come from gripping adventures on the Savage Mountain. Here are some recommended books if you want to read more about K2.

  • "K2: Triumph and Tragedy" by Jim Curran. The summer of 1986, nine expeditions attempt K2. 27 climbers reach the summit, but 13 die on the savage mountain. Jim Curran writes a gripping account of that bittersweet summer of success and death.
  • "K2: the 1939 Tragedy" by Andrew J. Kaufman and William L. Putnam. An account of the controversial 1939 American expedition that put two climbers within 800 feet of the summit and the subsequent deaths of four climbers.
  • "The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2" by Rick Ridgeway. A riveting account by expedition member Rick Ridgeway about the successful 1978 American ascent of K2. The book details the personal dramas, including a love triangle, as well as the epic conclusion of a new route.
  • "K2: The Price of Conquest" by Lino Lacedelli and Giovanni Cenacchi. The true story of the first ascent of K2 by its Italian victor, who tells about the lies and deception that allowed him to reach the summit without Walter Bonatti. A controversial revealing story about pride, ambition, and guilt.