What is K2?

Mary McMahon

K2 is a mountain in the Karakoram Range within the Himalayas. It is the second highest mountain in the world, after Mount Everest, and while Everest tends to attract more attention from the press than K2, this mountain is considered infamously difficult to climb by the mountaineering community, with one of the highest mortality rates of any mountain peak. Some of the world's best climbers have attempted K2 and failed, sometimes even dying in the process, and it is widely regarded as the challenge of a lifetime.

K2, the world's second highest mountain.
K2, the world's second highest mountain.

This peak straddles the border between China and a section of northern Kashmir under the control of Pakistan. The peak is shaped roughly like a pyramid, creating a very distinctive profile, and the mountain stands 28,250 feet (8,616 meters) tall. Like other extremely high peaks, K2's upper reaches have very thin oxygen levels, which adds to the difficulty for climbers, and the mountain also has very changeable and often capricious weather.

Mount Everest -- the only mountain taller than K2.
Mount Everest -- the only mountain taller than K2.

This mountain was first surveyed by Europeans in 1856, when it was dubbed “K2” to indicate that it was the second mountain in the Karakoram Range to be surveyed. By convention, surveyors tried to find out if the mountain had a local name which could be used on maps, but no widely-used local name could be discovered. The survey crew suggested that the remote location of the mountain might have made it less prominent than Everest, called Chomolungma in Tibetan, and other neighboring notable peaks. Therefore, K2 bears the dubious distinction of being one of the few mountains in the world which goes by a surveyor's mark.

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Some surveyors suggested naming the peak Mount Godwin-Austen, after a notable British surveyor, but this never caught on. Climbers sometimes refer to K2 as the Savage Mountain, referencing the difficulty and danger involved in climbing it. In fact, for almost 100 years after the mountain was surveyed, K2 was assumed to be impossible to climb; numerous teams made the attempt, but failed to reach the top.

In 1954, two Italians, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni successfully summited K2 in very dangerous conditions. It wasn't until 1986 that Wanda Rutkiewicz of Poland earned the honor of being the first woman to successfully summit K2. In fact, some people suggested that K2 was cursed for women, since so many female climbers had difficulty climbing the mountain, although women weren't the only ones who had problems on K2. During the climbing season in 1986, 13 climbers died on K2 due to poor weather conditions, with 11 more dying during the 2008 climbing season after the collapse of a serac; all told, over 70 climbers have perished on the slopes of K2.

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Discussion Comments


K2 Sports was founded near Seattle and was named for the mountain, but also for its founders, Bill and Don Kirschner. K2 skies and k2 snowboards are premium quality and used by some of the best.


K2 skis and k2 snowboards are really popular and I was wondering if they had anything to do with the actual K2 mountain discussed above?

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