Expedition hotspot K2

The 8,611-meter-high K2 in the Karakoram (in summer 2004)

Will K2 become a bestseller like Mount Everest? No, I don’t have to formulate that as a question anymore. The 8,611-meter-high mountain on the border between Pakistan and China is already a big seller among commercial expedition operators. Karrar Haidri, head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told the Pakistani newspaper “The News” that this summer more than 400 climbers would attempt to climb the second highest mountain on earth. By comparison, Nepal’s government issued 325 climbing permits for the past spring season on Everest, compared with 408 in the record year of 2021.

More challenging, more dangerous

View from the K2 “Shoulder” to the “Bottleneck”

That’s where the similarities between the two mountains end, however. The technical difficulties on the two Everest normal routes via the Tibetan Northeast Ridge and the Nepalese Southeast Ridge are manageable. On K2, the normal route over the Abruzzi Spur, the Southeast Ridge, is much steeper and more demanding – even if, as on Everest, it is secured with fixed ropes all the way to the summit.

The objective dangers on the second highest mountain are also greater than those on the highest. While Everest is somewhat protected from the wind to the southwest by Lhotse South Face and Nuptse, K2 is largely exposed and unprotected from the storms that often come from the west or southwest.

The key section of the route, the so-called “Bottleneck”, is also extremely vulnerable to avalanches. Huge seracs tower over the narrow gully at around 8,200 meters, which cannot be avoided. Climate change, which has also led to higher temperatures on K2, means there is an increased risk of the ice and snow masses coming loose.

Traffic jams inevitable

Memorial for the dead from K2, Broad Peak in the background (in 2004)

When as many climbers as this season have to share the K2 normal route, traffic jams seem inevitable in many places. This also increases the likelihood of far greater accidents occurring than the “catastrophe” or “disaster” of 2008, as it was referred to in the media at the time: Eleven people were killed then in the summit zone in a series of serac collapses and avalanches.

K2 is in any case one of the eight-thousanders with the highest fatality rates. There have been about 450 successful ascents so far and more than 90 deaths. Maybe that explains why a queasy feeling creeps in when I think about the fact that more than 400 people are en route on K2 this season. Not to mention the environmental problems.

Cheaper permits

According to Karrar Haidri, a total of more than 1,400 foreign climbers are on the mountains of Pakistan this summer – more than at any time since the attacks of 11 September 2001, which led to a slump in tourism in the country. Meanwhile, it is possible to order entry visas for Pakistan online.

The government is also enticing visitors with rather low climbing fees. A permit for K2, for example, costs 7,200 U.S. dollars for a seven-member team and 1.200 dollars for each additional member. Here, too, the comparison to Everest: For it, you have to shell out 11,000 dollars in Nepal – per person.

P.S.: You may have wondered why I have been publishing blog posts less often than usual lately. I suddenly lost my only brother two and a half weeks ago. That threw me off track quite a bit … 🙁

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