Karakurum Two (K2)
On these big mountains we’re taking 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. I know if I disappear on a mountain, I’m just gone. It’s those people at home, it’s my family, that it’s gonna affect their lives for years and years to come. And while that might happen, inevitably, because of something I didn’t plan, and I accept that risk, I just never want it to be because I knew it and I pushed on anyway.
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 where 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 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.
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.
Up going 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 119 years of expeditions to K2 from 1902 to June of 2021, less than 400 people have ever reached the summit of K2 and lived to talk about it.
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. But K2 is n’t some malevolent being.
It’s indifferent to suffering but it isn’t cruel. It’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
Professional mountain guide Adrian Ballinger has spent the majority of his adult life climbing and guiding in the high Himalaya. 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. Second and we’re about to go up.
Almost all of my climbing on 8000 meter peaks was with supplemental oxygen, bottled oxygen. Finally, in 2016, I really wanted to test myself
to my true limits in the biggest mountains and that’s why I tried Everest without supplemental oxygen. I failed and almost got myself killed.
Only a couple of hours from the summit after a two month expedition battling cold and energy levels up high, even though I was really disappointed in that experience, it was exactly what I had come for and it led to me putting the entire next year putting guiding on hold, my company on hold. I went back in 2017 with my same Eddie Bauer team and summited without oxygen. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Getting to the summit I knew I could do,
getting down was really actually pretty scary for me, it was pretty hard and I needed all of my teammates to keep me awake, to keep me moving.
I kind of found that limit, that line, if Everest had been 50 feet higher
I truly don’t know if I could have gotten on top of it and so, it’s taken two years since that experience to kind of build that feeling back up to be willing to work that hard again.
I’ve trained for a full year, been really focused on my diet and my physical training, to come in as strong as I possibly can for this mountain that I know has increased risk and that the one thing that keeps you safest here is speed, you have to be fast.
Although it is only 237 meters lower than Everest, K2 is a 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. There’s a lot more risk attached to K2 than, let’s say, Mount Everest, and so I never wanted to go without the right people and Carla Perez and Topo Esteban Mean and Palden Namge and Pemba, these are people that I just trust implicitly
and have spent so much time in the mountains with that when they finally invited me, you know really this was Carla and Topo’s trip originally
and they invited me on the trip and it was, like, just all of the sudden
it was like it’s absolutely the right time.
As a Certified Ecuadorian mountain guide, Carla Perez had guided on big mountains all over the world. She has successfully summated three of the 14 8000 meter peaks. And she’s done each one without using supplemental oxygen. Manaslu in 2012, Cho Oyo in 2014 and Everest in 2016.
Now I have been climbing for 20 years. I think in these trips, most of the time,
you are really close to death and you really face the death, so you want to enjoy more your life, enjoy more the people and all these small details and things in life that sometimes we didn’t think about, one day when we are there and we are scared and we are really close to death we feel that the small things are the real important things. It’s actually only Carla and I are trying without oxygen, and then we have three team members who are supporting us up high. That’s Topo, Palden and Pemba.
They’ll actually all be using supplemental oxygen which helps them make clearer decisions and gives them more power and strength while we know we’re struggling for our lives up there. I’m at a point in my career, where I want to have help making those impossible decisions up high when things go wrong. 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.
This year we have more people trying to climb K2. I’m not sure how many they want to try without oxygen or how many they want to try with oxygen,
but for sure, in this mountain that is more technical, we will have more neck bottles, traffic jams, and that is a dangerous thing. That intimidates me.
On this mountain, you need to be independent, you need to be fast, you need to know everything instinctually when the shit hits the fan which, it inevitably it does on this mountain every year. And I don’t believe you can have the level of experience necessary to do that without at least three 8000 meter peaks
before coming here and that’s what I’m alread