Alan Arnette Explains the Dangers and Difficulty of Climbing K2

800px K2 2006b

Now that the Himalayan climbing season has pretty much wrapped up for the spring season, the attention of the mountaineering world will turn elsewhere for the summer, most notably to Denali in Alaska and K2 in Pakistan. This year, our friend Alan Arnette will be traveling to the Karakoram to attempt K2, which will provide us with some of the best coverage of an expedition to that mountain ever. But this is a peak that has a fearsome reputation, and is considered to be one of the most difficult and dangerous climbs in the entire world. In a recent blog post, Alan explains exactly why that is the case.

Standing 8611 meters (28,251 ft) in height, K2 is a mere 237 meters (784 ft) lower than Everest. But as where the tallest mountain on the planet has a summit-to-death rate of just 4.14%, K2’s stands and a staggering 26.47%, second only to Annapurna’s insane 35%. That means that for every four people who do manage to summit K2, 1 of them dies. That alone is enough to keep most people from even trying.

Alan explains that there are a couple of significant threats to climbers on K2 that contribute to the danger. He notes that rock fall and avalanches are frequent occurrences on the mountain, with regular slides occurring along the most popular routes to the summit. Falling rocks are a constant problem, and as he points out, not even the best helmets can protect mountaineers from the larger projectiles.

Additionally, the weather on, and around, K2 is notoriously fickle. It has been known to change very quickly, and turn from a very nice day, to the worst conditions imaginable over the course of a few hours. High winds are a constant danger, and heavy snows are frequent, even during the summer months, when it is safest to climb. Those snows in turn lead to avalanches, which have claimed many lives over the years.

Each of those factors would be enough to make any mountain a difficult climb, but on top of that K2 presents some serious technical challenges as well. The slopes of K2 are very steep, and require a great deal of skill and experience to even consider attempting. It is the type of mountain that will exhaust you with all of the different challenges it can throw your way, which often contributes to the fatalities that occur there.

So why would anyone want to take on such a difficult mountain? Over the years, K2 has become known as the “mountaineer’s mountain.” Year in, and year out, as Everest has turned into a bigger and bigger circus, K2 has remained mostly a pure challenge for alpinists to aspire to. It is far too difficult for most climbers to attempt, and while commercial guiding services began operating there a few years back, the scene is about as far removed from Everest as possible. Quite simply put, K2 is the mountain that most climbers would like to have on their resume, and while hundreds summit Everest in a single season (this year not withstanding), only a few ever stand atop K2, and sometimes several years can pass between successful expeditions to the top.

In a few weeks time, Alan will leave his home in Colorado and set out for Pakistan. Once established there, he’ll no doubt provide regular updates on his progress, while also sharing great insights from the mountain. As usual, he’ll be climbing to help raise awareness and money for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, a cause that is very near and dear to his heart.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of K2, so we’ll likely be hearing quite a bit about the mountain in the weeks ahead. It is the perfect year for Alan to attempt his climb, but there will be others to follow along with as well.  Stay tuned for regular updates from K2. It should be an interesting season in the Karakoram.

Kraig Becker