Sunday, November 4, 2018

K2: Loosely based on a true story

"It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you." - American Climber George Bell

Also known as Chogori or Mount Godwin-Austen, K2 is located in Pakistan near the Chinese border. It is the second tallest mountain in the world and stands at a little more than 28,000 ft. over sea level. In comparison, Mt. Everest stands at about 29,000 ft. over sea level. It is a member of the "eight thousander" club, a grouping of 14 mountains in Asia that all rise more than 8,000 meters above sea level. 

Known as “the savage mountain” because of its extreme difficulty, K2 is less famous and less often climbed because it has racked up the second most fatalities among the "eight thousanders" and K2 has never been climbed in the winter because its terrain and weather is entirely too treacherous. Currently about 1 person dies for every 4 people that attempt the climb, because there's just a perfect storm of treachery on K2. 

In 1978 American climbers Jim Wickwire, a lawyer from Washington State, and his friend Louis Reichardt made the climb up K2. They reached the summit, took some photos, and began the descent back down. Riechart got ahead of Wickwire in the descent and with night rapidly approaching, and without a headlamp, Wickwire decided to spend the night where he was, at around 27,000 ft. Mr. Wickwire had no tent, no sleeping bag, and no water. His oxygen tank ran out in the middle of the night and his gas stove failed at some point too. Wrapped in an insulated sack with only what clothing he had on, the sack began to slowly slide downhill. Forced to get out of the sack to stop his slide he realized he was at risk of sliding into a chasm as he was at the edge of his stoney platform. Up until this point nobody had ever survived a night in these conditions. The temperature that night was estimated to be -35 degrees. The next morning two other climbers found him continuing slowly down the mountain. They assisted him down and Mr. Wickwire was helicoptered by the Pakistani army to a hospital. He lost two toes and underwent emergency lung surgery sure to blood clots on his lungs. He had also developed pneumonia and pleurisy. Several years later Mr. Wickwire was back on the mountains to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska to prep for an attempt at Mt. Everest. 

REI published a fascinating interview with both the climbers that's worth the read here

If you'd like to read more about the history of climbing K2, we can suggest a few links on this fascinating and incredibly dangerous sport: 

The World's Most Difficult Mountain May Soon Be Fully Conquered

Fast Facts About K2

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