K2, also known as Mount Godwin Austen or Chhogori is the second highest mountain in the world, after Mount Everest, at 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) above sea level.
It is just 237 meters (777 feet) shorter than Mt. Everest.
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 2nd peak listed.
The name Mount Godwin Austen is for the peak’s first surveyor, Col. H.H. Godwin Austen, a 19th-century English geographer.
The name Chhogori was suggested as a local name, derived from two Balti words: chhogo meaning ‘big’ and ri meaning ‘mountain’, but its use has not been widespread.
It is a rocky mountain up to 6,000 meters (19,680 feet), beyond which it becomes an ocean of snow.
K2 was long considered unclimbable because of its great height, almost unbroken slopes of rock and ice, and precipitous overhangs.
K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the extreme difficulty of ascent.
Because K2 is prone to frequent and severe storms that make the already treacherous climbing conditions on its slopes even more challenging.
The first of several unsuccessful attempts to reach K2’s summit was made in 1902.
Fritz Wiessner, a great German climber transplanted to the US, led a 1939 American expedition that set a new world altitude record by reaching 8,380 meters (27,500 feet) on the Abruzzi Spur. The party was 656 feet from the summit before turning around. Four team members were killed.
Finally, in 1954 an Italian expedition, led by Ardito Desio, succeeded. Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, the team chosen from this expedition to attempt the final portion of the climb, are credited with having reached the summit.
It has the second-highest fatality rate among the eight thousanders. The eight thousanders are the 14 independent mountains on Earth that are more than 8,000 metres (26,247 feet) high above sea level.
With around 300 successful summits and 77 fatalities, about one person dies on the mountain for every four who summit.
It is more difficult and hazardous to reach the peak of K2 from the Chinese side; thus, it is usually climbed from the Pakistani side.
There is a base camp located on the Pakistani side from where all the major climbing routes begin.
Each route to the summit of K2 presents its own challenges and difficulties, but the lack of oxygen and extreme altitude are common for all, with only a third as much oxygen available at the summit as there is at sea level.
The standard route of ascent, used far more than any other route (75% of all climbers use this route) is the Abruzzi Spur, located on the Pakistani side, first attempted by Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi in 1909.
It is typically climbed in June, July, or August. K2 has never been climbed during winter.
A 1986 expedition led by George Wallerstein made an inaccurate measurement incorrectly showing that K2 was taller than Mount Everest, and therefore the tallest mountain in the world. A corrected measurement was made in 1987, but by that point the claim that K2 was the tallest mountain in the world had already made it into many news reports and reference works.
1986 was a tragic year on K2 with 13 climbers dying.
The worst K2 disaster occurred on 1 August 2008, when 11 mountaineers from international expeditions died on K2.
For most of its climbing history, K2 was not usually climbed with supplemental oxygen, and small, relatively lightweight teams were the norm. However the 2004 season saw a great increase in the use of oxygen: 28 of 47 summitteers used oxygen in that year.
The first woman to summit K2 was Pole Wanda Rutkiewicz on 23 June 1986.
In 2004 the Spanish climber Carlos Soria Fontán became the oldest person ever to summit K2, at the age of 65.
A documentary film, The Summit attempts to explain the obsession with K2, the dangers of climbing it, and the 2008 tragedy.
K2: Siren of the Himalayas is a 2012 documentary film that follows a group of climbers during their 2009 attempt to climb K2, chronicling the climbers’ attempt to surmount the peak on the 100-year anniversary of the Duke of Abruzzi’s landmark K2 expedition in 1909.
K2 is a 1991 motion picture loosely based on the story of two friends’ ascent on K2.
The Vertical Limit is a high-adrenaline tale of a young climber who must launch a treacherous and extraordinary rescue effort up K2, to save his sister and her summit team in a race against time.
K2, having its share of epic ascents, is also a mountain of literature.