(K2Climb.net) Out of four K2 summiteers this year, two are women and both have achieved the first national K2 ascents for their respective countries. Italian Nives Meroi reached the top of K2 on July 26 from the Abruzzi Spur route. Japanese Yuka Komatsu summited on August 1, after climbing the SSE Spur (also known as Cesen route).
Two further summiteers against the curse of K2
Before them, only six other women climbers had succeeded on the Savage Mountain. Spaniard Edurne Pasaban bagged the previous female K2 summit - exactly two years before Nives. Edurne managed to escape the curse K2 seemed to hold on all women who dare to set foot on its summit: French Liniane Barrard, and Brits Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves died on the way down. Polish Wanda Rutkiewicz and French Chantal Mauduit made it safely back from K2's top but eventually died climbing other Himalayan giants.
While united by success on a common goal, Yuka and Nives are very different - not just for reasons of nationality and age, but also for their climbing backgrounds. Still, both women fought their way up to the summit of K2. Altitude, falling rock and hanging seracs were just a few of the obstacles they had to face, but perhaps one of the toughest was overcoming social clichés and the prejudice of underestimation.
Nives, the 8000er-bagger housewife
Nives Meroi, 45, is among the best known high altitude female climbers in the world today. K2 is the 8th main 8000er she summits (she also reached Shisha central), only one peak shy from the current Himalayan Queen Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (9 8000ers summited). She has been climbing for decades, and her latest expeditions have raised increasing interest among mountaineers. She made it into the 'climber's fame hall' in 2003 by bagging the summits of GI, GII and Broad Peak in a mere 20 days.
Taking part in expeditions on a yearly basis, focused on summiting all 14 8000ers, Nives is considered a professional climber - by everyone but herself. In 2004 she got an official certificate from Nepal's Ministry of Tourism crediting her Lhotse summit, which read: "Occupation: Housewife".
The Magnificent Obsession
Climbing K2 has been a recurrent though for Nives since she first spotted the mountain. Through the years and during two previous attempts in 1994 and 2004 (once from each side) K2 became Nives' "Magnificent Obsession" in the words of good friend Manuel Lugli. Sadly, Nives and Romano have no powerful sponsors to support their dreams. Only lack of funds prevented the couple from trying K2 again last year.
In spring this year Nives summited Dhaulagiri. Then she came back home just in time to get the washing machine going at full throttle for a week in order to have Romano's and her climbing clothes operative again for their attempt at K2. On June 26 they reached BC. One month and one day later Nives and Romano, alone on the mountain after all teams had retreated, stepped on the top of K2.
Nives would kneel down at the summit - her dream was fulfilled after more than a decade.
Yuka's silent challenge
Yuka Komatsu is not a full-time climber either. Graduating Tokai University last year, she sells climbing gear at ICI Ishii Sports, a huge sporting chain in Japan. Her friends describe her as a small (shes 1,55m tall), quiet girl whose ever-present smile conceals an iron will. K2, traditionally a peak reserved for seasoned high altitude climbers, is her first 8000er and she has summited at 23!
Besides, Yuka is the only lady climber to summit K2 from a different route than the Abruzzi Spur. Yukas team was the only expedition to climb from the SSE spur, so they had to break trail and fix ropes all the way up to C3.
The Everest lesson
As surprising as it may seem, Yuka's summit was not a question of luck or marketing. It was a long fight which started one year before on an ever taller peak: Everest.
Last year Yuka learned the hard way how on some expeditions, a shot at the top is not available for everyone. She was a member of the Japan-China Friendship Expedition on Everest, climbing from the north side. However, by the time she reached BC the summit team had already been selected. Yuka was not permitted to climb above ABC.
"I will never forget how I felt at that moment. But the memory has also given me the power I needed to climb this time."
Extra work at home and on the mountain
"When I heard of the K2 expedition, I jumped at it. I love the huge dimensions of the Himalayan peaks - but it was not a question of altitude really. It was the idea of a fantastic climb from a beautiful route that got me moving."
"However, Himalayan climbing also requires tons of money! I had to keep a couple of part-time jobs besides my regular work - it was very difficult for me."
Once in K2's BC, Yuka worked with all her strength, fixing ropes on the route and higher camps, in order to be allowed a place on the summit team. Her hard work finally paid off: On July 28 she set off from BC together with Tatsuya Aoki (21) and Shodo Kuramoto (27). Kuramoto had to turn back due to health problems just hours after departure. Yuka and Tatsuya wouldn't stop until they reached the summit.
An O2 summit and a bivouac in the death zone
Apparently the Japanese team used O2 from C3; it is unclear though if they had the support of High Altitude Climbers. Still, Yukas is a remarkable achievement at her young age. In the end, she also had to face altitude without O2. According to the expeditions website, the summiteers ran out of gas shortly after summiting very late in the day. As night fell, they were forced to bivouac for the night at 8200m, without supplementary O2. It would be two more days before they reached BC.
Yuka arrived in BC on Thursday night, exhausted but otherwise healthy. "The view from the summit was like watching the territory of gods," she said.
The girl's summit-mates
As on previous occcasions, Nives climbed with husband Romano Benet. They faced K2 without O2 or high altitude porters, and they were alone on the upper slopes of the mountain on summit day. All other teams had already turned back.
Yukas companion on the summit - Tatsuya Aoki - is not exactly a veteran. The 21 year old college student has become the youngest K2 summiteer ever. The third member of the Japanese summit team (Kuramoto) had to turn round and was evacuated from BC, suffering from appendicitis according to the latest reports.
Peering into the future
Both girls will be soon back home they are sure to be hailed by the press who will ask about their experience on K2 as well as their future climbing plans. Nives will most likely keep on climbing 8000ers -hopefully this latest achievement will help her find sponsors for future trips.
As for Yuka she has taken a great first step towards what could become a fruitful climbing career. However, the final decision might depend not on her, but once again on external factors namely money. K2 might be my first and last 8000er, she said after summiting. It is too expensive.
Nives Meroi was born in Bergamo in September 17, 1961. In 1989 she married Romano Benet - since then, the couple always climb together. Nives has previously summited Nanga Parbat, Cho Oyu, GII, GI, Broad Peak, Lhotse, Dhaulagiri, and now K2. She also has reached Shisha Pangmas Central Summit. Nives had attempted K2 twice (1994 and 2004, the latter through the north side) and Everest in 1999. She typically travels light, without oxygen or high-altitude porters.
Nives summited K2 together with husband Romano Benet on July 26, 2006, from the Abruzzi Spur route.
Yuka Komatsu was born on September 22, 1982 in Akita, Japan. She graduated at Tokai University on March,2005. In terms of previous climbing experience, she has done ice climbing in Korea and Banff (Canada). In 2004, without any Himalayan experience, she led a team on the Karakonglong Mountains, Pamir Range (central Asia) achieving a first ascent on a 6300m virgin peak.
Yuka summited K2, her first 8000er, together with Tatsuya Aoki (21) on August 1, 2006, after climbing from the SSE Spur route. She used supplementary O2 on her summit day.
Acknowledgments: ExplorersWeb wants to thank Japanese climber Yusuke Hirai for his collaboration on this article. Yusuke provided ExWeb with key factual info on the Japanese team as well as translated the expedition's dispatches.
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