(By Raheel Adnan) A remarkably successful season on K2 ends, with number of summits narrowly missing maximum ascents in one calendar year count. However, July 26th, 2014 is now the most successful day in the history of K2, with at least 32 summits, surpassing the summit-day (July 31st, 2012) of previous successful season.
Summits: The known number of summits is 48 so far; 32 of them reached the top on July 26th.
Support: The Client-HAP/Sherpa ratio is almost 2:1. i.e. For every two climbers (including those Pakistanis, Nepalese who were climbing as ‘clients’), one high-altitude-porter/Sherpa summited.
Oxygen: Almost 40% climbers who reached the summit this season, climbed without supplemental oxygen.
Success Rate: Approximately 80% of K2 climbers reached the summit, this season; a success rate which is unprecedented on this mountain.
Deaths: K2 is dangerous, particularly if a climber reaches the summit. Prior to 2014, the death rate of summiteers was 10% (one death per 10 summits). This year, however, almost all the climbers made it back to BC safely; except Spaniard Miguel Angel Perez who passed away in C4.
1. K2 was 14th eight thousander for Radek Jaros. He is the first Czech climber to complete 14x8000ers (all without supplemental oxygen).
2. Boyan Petrov became the first Bulgarian climber to summit K2. He also joins the league of those few climbers who have climbed K2 and Broad Peak in one season.
3. There were 6 female ascents on K2 this season; raising the gender’s count by 50%. Nepalese trio Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa and Maya Sherpa, Chinese Luo Jing and Aussie/KiwiChris Jensen Burke are first females from their nations to climb K2.
Times Are Changing
After ‘first-ascent fever’ was over and mountains became more accessible, K2 earned the consideration of being an ultimate 8000er challenge (which it’s still trying to hold). By the end of 1985, there were only ten successful expeditions to the mountain; at a success rate of around 33%. Summit and death count stood at 39 and 12 respectively. However, 1986 was a year of dramatic changes.
By eighties, the course of Himalayan mountaineering had significently diverted from traditional siege style climbing. Reinhold Messner had pioneered the alpine-style, Jerzy Kukuczka was dashingly negotiating unclimbed lines, and climbers were willing to go solo, unsupported and without bottled oxygen.
In 1986, an unprecedented number of K2 permits were issued by Government of Pakistan. There were around 150 tents to accommodate the climbers at BC. Tragedy struck as early as June 21st, when US climbers Alan Pennington and John Smolich died in a rock-fall triggered avalanche incident. They belonged to one of the four teams attempting South Pillar - the route known as ‘Magic Line’. Magic Line was completed later that season, by a Czech-Polish expedition.
The stories of tragedy and success continued, as by the end of the season, there were 27 summits and 13 causalities. The summit and death count were up by 70% and 110%, respectively.
Since 1986, there have been multiple years with decent number of summits; 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2012. However, it’s more important to note the summit-less years count: 11! (id est Since 1986, there are 40% chances that K2 will remain summit less, any year).
In 2004, 50 years after its first ascent, 11 teams were on the mountain to celebrate the Golden Jubilee. Thanks to collaborative efforts of different teams, the ropes were fixed “all the way from BC to summit” and 41 climbers reached the top during 3 day summit window from July 26th to 28th. By the end of the season there were 51 summits on the mountain, the numeral narrowly missed this year.
Interestingly 2004 and 2012 are also the two years with most number of HAP/Sherpa summits. The history of support climbers (HAPs, Sherpa) on K2 dates back to pioneering expeditions. Story of its first ascent is never complete without a mention of Amir Mahdi. First Sherpa summits were recorded in 1997 (although, the high altitude porters from Nepal were registered as ‘climbing members’ of Japanese K2 West face expedition). Nonetheless, recent year statistics show a major change in trends. In 2012, 16 Sherpa reached the top - more than number of client summits. This year, HAP/Sherpa summit count also nears 16.
Ironically, we are in an age where comparing a mountain with the highest mountain on earth is considered a dishonor to the former; reason being the commercialization of Everest since early 1990s. The times are changing on K2 as well. But K2 is different from Everest in every respect; technically, geographically, logistically and meteorologically. It’s unlikely that 200+ summits per day, 500+ summits per season and any climber reaching the top 21 times, will be a norm on this mountain.
K2 is dangerously unpredictable. More people on the mountain mean greater risk and bigger the scale of catastrophe, as witnessed in 1986 and 2008. Also, there are years when K2 is not climbable like 2013. These factors will be a great hindrance in lurking commercial outfitters. However, K2 summit may become more accessible in coming days.
Based in Lahore, Pakistan, telecom engineer and mountaineering enthusiast Raheel Adnan is a reporter for Explorersweb's mountaineering sections. He shares regular updates on Twitter and runs his own blog at Altitude Pakistan posting initiated climbing news from Himalaya and Karakoram.
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