The Pakistan side
The Abruzzi Spur
(South East Ridge)
First climbed by Italians in 1954, this is the closest to a "normal"
route on K2, but is still very difficult and statistically the most
dangerous. The route starts with approximately 1000 m of climbing on
loose scree (bring a helmet!) with significant danger of rocks falling
from Camp 1 and above.
6050 m (20000 ft)
C1 is exposed but relatively secure, with little
or no history of avalanche danger.
The climb to C2 includes a 50-meter off-width crack called Houseís
Chimney which is currently a spiderís web of old ropes.
6700 (22000 ft)
C2 is sheltered by a large rock, but can get
extremely windy and cold. C2 to C3 is the most technical section of the
climb, with approximately 400 meters of vertical and near-vertical
climbing on mixed rock and ice in a region known as the "Black Pyramid."
7200 m (23500 ft)
At the top of the Black Pyramid, C3 is
traditionally placed on the Shoulder. Although this is more horizontal
terrain (approx. 30 degree snow fields), it is prone to avalanche danger
and extremely high winds funneling between K2 and Broad Peak. Consider
stashing camp equipment just below in the Black Pyramid; many climbers
are forced to descend when they discover
that their C3 has been destroyed by avalanches. C3 to C4 is a long snow
slog up the Shoulder, typically accomplished without fixed lines.
The primary danger in this area is the
collapse of large sections of the Shoulder (you can sometimes feel the
slope settling under you). Fixed lines are not going to protect you from
the huge avalanches that happen when a section of the Shoulder rips, so
youíre better off travelling fast and light.
C4, at anywhere from 7600 to 7900 meters on
the Shoulder, is still a solid 16-22 hours from the summit, so you
should start brewing immediately (donít spend too much energy building a
platform, you wonít have time to sleep anyhow).
8611 m (28250ft)
Most climbers leave between 10 p.m and 1 a.m.
for the summit. Consider bringing a thin line (4-5mm) for the
Bottleneck, a 100-meter narrow couloir
at 8300 meters that is 80-90 degrees. If it is windswept and cold, the
ice in this couloir can create extremely challenging, sustained
climbing. At least 10 of the climbers who have died on K2 lost their
lives in the Bottleneck.
North East Ridge.
First climbed by Rick Ridgeway, John Roskelly,
Lou Reichardt, and Jim Wickwire in 1978, this is a long snowy rib
starting at the head of the Godwin-Austen Glacier that leads to a
difficult, extremely corniced ridge. The ridge is followed to 7,900
meters, where the route then traverses the East Face and finishes on the
First climbed by a Basque team in 1994, this
variation to the Abruzzi Spur is possible the "safest" way up the
mountain. The Spur joins the Abruzzi route at C3 on the Shoulder.
South West Pillar (The
Dubbed "The Magic Line" in a widely publicized
pre-expedition tour, Reinhold Messner took one look at this route in
1979, called it "suicidal", and switched to the normal Abruzzi route. It
was climbed in 1986 by a Polish team, and is still the hallmark of
"suicidal" excellence, with exceptionally hard, steep sections of icy
rock at very high altitudes.
South Face (The "Polish
If you are not afraid of avalanches, this is
the route. With extreme serac avalanche danger in the lower section, a
curved gully (the "Hockey Stick") that crosses prime snow slab terrain,
and constant spindrift avalanches in the upper portion of the route,
this route is not for everyone.
Starting from a Base Camp on the distant
Negrotto Glacier, this route gains the ridge crest at about 5800 meters.
The primary challenge is route finding through chaotic bands of rock and
snowfields, and setting fixed lines at high altitudes while traversing
the West Face.
The Chinese side
The Chinese side of the mountain is the less
frequently visited side, and there are usually no climbers on this side
of the mountain. Historically, teams on this side of the mountain have
either been very large, or loose-knit groups of smaller international
teams working together. There are only 2
established routes on the Chinese side:
First climbed in 1982 by a large Japanese team, this route requires
approximately 5,000 meters of fixed line. It is perhaps the most
compelling route in the Himalayas Ė a vast, sweeping ridge running from
17,000 feet to the summit. Due to obstacles at 8,450 meters, the route
currently deviates from the ridge at about 7800 meters and traverses
across the north face to the North East Ridge.
With the need for so much fixed line and the
tendency towards large teams, one primary consideration is the limited
camp space at C1 and C4. C1 is typically placed inside a bergschrund (a
deep crack in the snow slope) to the right of the ridge. It is
frequently subject to heavy spindrift avalanches, and must be constantly
maintained. C4 is sometimes called the "Eagleís Nest", and has space for
only 2 two-person tents. The climbing on the route is primarily ice. It
is sustained, but without great technical difficulty and at a moderate
North West Face
First climbed by a Japanese team in 1990, this is a "king traverse"
route. Starting from the K2 Glacier, the route climbs to the North West
Ridge, then diagonals across the chaotic rock and snow fields of the
North West Face to join the North Ridge route to the summit.