It Has Been a Record-Setting Summer on K2

While the spring belongs to Everest, the summer is all about K2. The world’s second highest peak always takes center stage in July and August and this year has been no different. But it has been a record-setting climbing season on this formidable mountain, which seems to be going through a significant transformation.

Photo Credit: Mingma G

The Savage Mountain Tamed?

Since it was first successfully summited back in 1954, K2 has had a reputation of being a “mountaineer’s mountain.” At 8610 meters (28,250 ft), the peak is just 238 meters (781 feet) shorter than Everest but is far more challenging to climb. The ascent is steeper and much more technical, which limited the number of climbers to complete that climb to a select few for decades. While Everest has frequently been climbed by alpinists who weren’t considered “elite,” K2 was always the realm of the best mountaineers in the world.

While K2’s slopes remain daunting, there is no denying that the peak has been tamed—at least to a degree. In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing number of commercial teams on the mountain each summer—something that was almost unheard of just a decade ago. And while it isn’t quite as crowded as Everest just yet, this year’s numbers are eye-opening. On July 22, 145 people reached the summit, completely shattering the previous record.

In a recent post, Adventure Journal helps put those numbers into perspective. Prior to the record-setting day, roughly 500 people had summited the mountain. But on July 22, that number went up by more than 20%. The previous record for most summits for a year—not a single day—was 62. As of this writing, 2022 will likely see around 200 total summits.

Speed Climbs

A pair of Sherpas made speed climbs to the summit of K2. First, Mingma David Sherpa launched his ascent from Base Camp and reached the top in 14 hours and 22 minutes. That’s a fast ascent and gave Mingma David his fifth successful summit of the mountain.

Meanwhile, Chhiring Sherpa upstaged his fellow Nepali by making the same ascent more than two hours faster. He went from BC to summit in just 12 hours and 20 minutes. That sets a new speed record for this incredibly difficult mountain, which hasn’t been especially conducive to speed attempts in the past.

K2 Nordseite
Photo Credit: Kuno Lechner

Denis Urubko Goes Solo

Russian-Polish climber Denis Urubko skipped the crowds and made a solo summit of K2 on July 29. This was his 26th summit of an 8000-meter peak without the use of supplemental oxygen, which ties the current record held by Juanito Oiarzabal. Urubko—who topped out on his 49th birthday—now plans to head to Broad Peak, where he hopes to get the record-setting ascent.

Urubko is a legend in the 8000-meter climbing season, but a few years back, he announced his retirement from the big mountains. At the time, he said he wanted to focus on rock climbing and improve his skills in that arena. It seems the lure of the 8000-ers was too much for him, and it seems he will lock down this record in the near future.

Two Climbers Lost

Not all of the news from Pakistan has been good this summer. Two climbers on K2 lost their lives on the mountain, casting a pall over some of the accomplishments. According to The Himalayan Times, Canadian Richard Cartier and Australian Matthew Eakin perished while descending from an acclimatization rotation.

The two men—along with their third climbing partner Justin Dube-Fahmy—had reached Camp 4 and were on their way back to BC to rest ahead of a summit push. During the descent, an unspecified accident occurred between Camp 1 and Camp 2. Cartier’s body was later found near C1, while Eakin was discovered near Advanced Base Camp.

Our condolences to friends, family, and climbing partners for their loss.

K2’s Commercial Future

With the continued success of commercial ventures on K2, expect more teams to arrive in Base Camp in the summers to come. It seems that like Everest, a winning formula has been found, which means the number of alpinists on the mountain is likely to increase in the years to come. As with most things in life, if there is money to be made, someone will do it, and that includes leading paying clients up the “Savage Mountain.”

As someone who has followed the 8000-meter climbing scene for years, these changes on K2 are somewhat bittersweet. While I applaud the success of the teams on the mountain and appreciate the economic impact this will have on the Pakistani support teams, I still can’t help but feel that this once-great adventure has been somewhat diminished. Make no mistake, climbing K2 remains an impressive accomplishment. It just isn’t as an exclusive club as it once was.

Congratulations to everyone who climbed the mountain this year. It has been a record-setting season indeed.

Kraig Becker