Karakoram 2016: First Casualty of the Season, Unprecedented Numbers on K2

800px Laila Peak

The 2016 climbing season in Pakistan is about to officially get underway, as teams of climbers will soon be arriving on the big peaks located there, including Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, the Gasherbrums, and of course K2. Most of the climbers will begin to arrive in country this week, where they’ll put the finishing touches on their preparation before starting the long journey to Base Camp at long last. It now appears that it will be a very busy season in the region, with plenty of expeditions to follow in the days ahead.

While most of the teams are just now starting to gather, and ramp up their operations, we already have sad news from Pakistan. Over the weekend it was revealed last week it was revealed that Italian ski-mountaineer Leonardo Comelli has fallen to his death on Laila Peak, a 6096 meter (20,000 ft) mountain located in the Hushe Valley region. He was there – along with three friends – to climb the Northwest Face of the mountain, and then attempt a ski descent. He apparently fell 400 meters (1312 feet) after losing his balance.

Even though this accident took place several days ago now, I still wish to express my sorrow and condolences for Leonardo’s family. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign of things to come in the summer climbing season ahead.

In other news, it appears that K2 is will see an unprecedented number of climbers this season. As commercial teams continue to see ways to monetize the mountain, more and more climbers are showing up on its slopes. According to Alan Arnette, more than 112 permits have been issued for the second highest peak in the world this season. That’s a dramatic ramp up for a mountain that is many times more difficult than Everest to climb. A mountain that is far more dangerous and deadly as well.

In the same post that reveals the large number of climbers that are headed to the mountain this year, Alan also shares his thoughts on why he believes K2 will never become Everest in terms of large number of mountaineers and hundreds of summits. Because it is such a technical peak, it will remain out of reach for most people. It is simply in a class all its own in terms of difficulty, and the infrastructure and support system in Pakistan is leagues behind that found in Nepal. Alan goes on to say that the weather is worse – and more unpredictable – than Everest, and its remote location makes rescue operations difficult at best.

Could these challenges be overcome in the future? Sure, if there is enough money to be made, infrastructure can be built and rescue operations can be improved. But the mountain will always be incredibly difficult to climb, and there are no truly good ways to overcome that.

As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see what the success rate on K2 will be. In the past, there have been seasons where there have been no summits at all. Sometimes the mountain goes several years without seeing anyone reach the top. Will that change with commercial teams on its slopes? Only time will tell. But it will be fascinating to watch the events unfold, particularly this year when the number of climbers has gone up noticeably.

Stay tuned.

Kraig Becker