Located in the Karakoram on the border between Pakistan and China, K2 is the second-highest peak in the world. On Saturday, January 16, a team of ten Sherpa and Nepali climbers made the first winter ascent of what’s been dubbed “The Savage Mountain.”
Winter mountaineering in the Himalaya and the Karakoram is the most extreme form of climbing, requiring climbers to battle not only technical difficulties and high altitude, but also temperatures dropping as low as -65. With the addition of wind, which tends to blow stronger in the Karakoram than the Himalaya, the summit of K2 is one of the deadliest places on Earth. It’s only 700ft (200m) lower than Everest but the terrain is much harder to negotiate.
It was first scaled in the summer of 1954, but an attempt in winter was not made until more than 30 years later. Another three decades had to pass before the mountain finally welcomed climbers on its peak. A combination of extremely bad weather and human mistakes deterred every single expedition that attempted the summit, making a winter ascent of K2 the last great prize in mountaineering.
On Saturday, January 16 of this year, a team of ten Sherpa and Nepali climbers made the historical ascent, standing for the first time on the summit of K2 in winter. Instead of attributing the ascent to one individual, as it is usually done in the world of mountaineering, the climbers decided to credit the whole team with their success.
In the early days of mountaineering, local climbers acted as guides and led their wealthy clients onto virgin peaks all over the world. Initially, guides were not recognized for first ascents, with all the glory going to the climbers that were employing them. With time, guideless exploration became the pinnacle of climbing achievement, with professional Polish and Russian climbers dominating the world of winter mountaineering. However, in the Himalaya and the Karakoram, scores of amateurs are still guided by the Sherpas who get little credit and relatively poor wages for the hard and dangerous job.
In recent years, growing tensions between the Sherpas, their clients, and other climbers led to a more critical look at the relationship, often characterized by exploitation and inequality.
The Nepali/Sherpa success on K2 can be seen as a symbol of the need to give more recognition to the true heroes of the Himalaya and Karakoram. The leader of the expedition, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, stated that for his team the climb was a matter of national and mountaineering pride.