Britons risk death to conquer the Pyramid of Storms: Will Bennett on climbers competing to reach the summit of K2, harder to scale than Everest

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The Independent Online
NO BRITISH climber has ever reached the summit of the notoriously dangerous Himalayan peak, K2, and lived to tell the story. Now two expeditions are competing to be the first to end a record of failure and tragedy.

K2, the world's second highest mountain, has rarely attracted the publicity which regularly surrounds Mount Everest, in spite of being harder to climb and having exacted a terrible death toll among those who have tried.

At 28,250ft high, K2 is only 800ft lower, but has been climbed by just 70 people, compared with almost 500 who have scaled Everest. It is steeper, demands more skilled mountaineering techniques and has earned its nickname, The Pyramid of Storms.

Yesterday Alan Hinkes, 37, from Newcastle upon Tyne, and Victor Saunders, 41, a Londoner who lives in the Scottish Highlands, set out from their base for Camp 3 about 3,500ft from the summit of the mountain in the Karakoram range on the Pakistani-Chinese border.

Today Roger Payne, 36, and Julie-Ann Clyma, 31, a husband and wife from Manchester, hope to join them, while Dr Caroline Williams, 29, from Devon, the expedition doctor, stays at the base.

Eastern Electricity, the sponsor, said yesterday: 'If they can have four or five clear days then they should be making their assault on the summit this week. But they are not going to do anything which will jeopardise their chances.'

Meanwhile, two other Britons, Dr Andrew Collins, 27, and Jonathan Pratt, who climbed Everest last year, are with a joint Anglo-American team on K2. They are also believed to be trying for the summit this week, although friends in Britain have heard the expedition is held up by bad weather.

But their problems will not be over once they get there. Many of those who have reached the top have died on the way down from frostbite, exhaustion or falls. Among them were Alan Rouse and Julie Tullis, who in 1986 became the only Britons to climb K2. Ms Tullis died in her sleep, Mr Rouse was last seen delirious and exhausted in his tent. At least 11 climbers were killed on the mountain that year and five have died this year: a Slovenian, an American, two Germans and a Swede. Three of them died 10 days ago as they were on their way down.

Many teams, including the Britons now there, climb without oxygen, which means that they can make mistakes as physical exhaustion and bad weather takes its toll. But using cylinders can lead to dependence and terrible problems if they run out.

(Photographs omitted)