A peak to inspire fear

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Many mountains inspire awe among climbers. But K2 generates something approaching fear, for it has a deadly reputation. Since its first ascent in 1954, there have been fewer than 130 confirmed ascents, and more than 40 deaths.

Everest may be higher, but it sees more than a hundred successful summits each year, and only a handful of deaths. In 1986 alone, 14 people died on K2 - including Julie Tullis, who had been the first British woman to reach the summit.

The principal reasons why K2 represents such a huge challenge to mountaineers lie in its position and form. Everest, though higher, is further south, and less steep near its summit: the location makes the weather more predictable, while its gentler gradient near the top makes the climbing less strenuous above 8,000 metres.

But K2, almost 6,000 miles further north, is both steeper near its summit - calling for greater climbing skills than Everest - and calm weather can suddenly turn to storms with 100mph winds that can easily last up to a fortnight, burying or destroying tents and camps.

The ridge and steep summit carry a double danger. "The snow slopes have increased avalanche dangers, and there's very technical climbing before you reach the summit," said Julie-Ann Clyma, a New Zealander who has been on three expeditions to K2.

The standard route to the summit lies along the south-east "Abruzzi ridge", after the leader of an unsuccessful Italian expedition in 1909. The mountain was named by Colonel Montgomerie of the Survey of India, who discovered it in 1856: it was the second peak measured in the Karakoram range.