Text by Kirkpatrick Reardon
Photograph courtesy Charley Mace, showing Ed Viesturs traversing K2’s Bottleneck
K2 Vs. Everest Fast Facts
Eleven are feared dead after a serac collapsed last Friday near the summit of 28,250-foot K2, located in the Karakoram of northern Pakistan and arguably the most deadly mountain on Earth.
"At this point, the various reports are so mutually contradictory that some of them have to be wrong," says Contributing Editor David Roberts, who regularly reports on mountaineering for the magazine (read his feature "The Bitter Legacy" about the first ascent of K2). "However, if indeed 11 people died in a single event, that would make this the second worst Himalayan tragedy in history. The worst occurred when 16 climbers were killed in an avalanche on Nanga Parbat in 1937—seven Germans and nine porters." In 1986, 13 climbers died on K2, but in a series of storms and accidents, not a single event.
Taking advantage of clear skies and low winds last Friday, 22 climbers pushed along the Southeast ridge to the summit of the mountain. But on their way back down, a large block of ice broke loose in a steep couloir at 8,200 feet.
"I can’t be sure, but my guess is that the serac that collapsed was this big ice cliff hanging over the Bottleneck, which, while climbing K2 in 1992, I jokingly called the Motivator—the idea being that you want to get out from under it as soon as possible," says alpinist Ed Viesturs, the first U.S. citizen to climb the world’s 14 highest peaks.