The Deadliest Mountain In The World!
Normally such titles might indicate melodrama. After all, K2 is the world's second-highest mountain, at 8,611 m above sea-level, so one expects that it might build up a mystique. However, in this case, the name seems to be deserved; K2 is generally regarded by mountaineers as the world's most difficult and dangerous peak. Although Everest is taller, K2 has a far more precipitous rise to the summit from the surrounding terrain (3000 metres of steep ascent up one of several possible ridges) and is also afflicted by weather even more terrible than Everest's famous sudden storms.
Its bland name is a result of the fact that, being so remote even for the Himalayas, it does not even have a local name, since there are no locals. The "K" refers to the Karakorum Range, which is the Pakistani section of the Himalayas, and the "2" to the fact that it is the 2nd peak in a series of 5 in that range. K1, K3, K4 and K5 were renamed eventually, but due to its fame, K2's appellation stuck for Westerners. The Chinese refer to this peak as Qogir, a name which is derived from Chogo Ri, which was an artificial name used to refer to K2 by some of the early 20th Century explorers, itself derived from the Balti for "Big Mountain". Other sources give its official name as Mount Godwin-Austen, based on the mistaken assumption that it was first surveyed by Captain Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen in 1860 - however its first survey was actually by Lieutenant T.G. Montgomerie in 1856, the man who gave it the "K2" indicator. Godwin-Austen did, however, establish the best route to K2 (via the Baltoro Glacier) and explored many of the surrounding features, such as the Godwin-Austen glacier.
The first serious attempt to reach the summit of K2 was by Aleister Crowley and Oscar Eckenstein in 1902. Crowley and Eckenstein could only reach 6525 metres, despite breaking the record for the most days spent at 5000 metres or higher - among the many reasons for their failure were exceptionally poor weather conditions, which saw clear weather on only 8 of the 68 days they spent on the mountain. To be fair, their attempt was mainly regarded as reconnaissance, and their discoveries about the possible routes were of great benefit to later expeditions.
Subsequent attempts to scale K2 came in 1909 by Luigi Amadeo (reaching 6250 m), 1938 by Charles Houston (reaching 8000 m), 1939 by Fritz Wiessner (coming within 200 m of the summit, but then 4 of their climbers disappeared), and 1953 by Charles Houston again, an expedition that could not reach further than 7800 m due to a terrible storm which trapped them on the mountain. Finally in 1954 an expedition lead by Ardito Desio enabled climbers Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni to reach the summit.
Since then, the trickle of successful ascents has not turned into a flood as it has for Everest, which was climbed just one year earlier. The reason is simple: K2 is much more dangerous. For every four successful ascents there has been one death; compare this to Everest, where the statistic is 1 in 10, However, even these statistics belie the disparity in difficulty, because Everest attracts a much higher proportion of tourists and inexperienced climbers, whereas K2 is only climbed by experts. 80 women have climbed Everest, but only 8 have managed K2, and 3 of them died on the way back down. In fact, the mountain was for a long time reputed to have a "curse on women", since 3 of the successful (and still-alive) women have scaled the mountain since 2004. In total, only 280 people (as of November 2007) have ever reached the summit of K2, as compared to over 2600 for Everest. The worst disaster in K2's history was in 1986, when 13 climbers from several expeditions were killed in a single severe storm with sub-zero temperatures and winds of 160km/h. More recently, on August 1, 2008, 11 climbers were killed when a chunk of ice ripped away a section of the fixed ropes during an avalanche. Included in the dead was Gerard McDonnell, who was the first Irishman to reach K2's summit.
The dominating factor for the fatalities is the unpredictability of the weather. On an 8000-metre mountain you are truly on your own - helicopter rescue is possible (just about), but extremely difficult due to high-altitude jetstreams and a whole host of other problems, and on K2 these problems are exacerbated by its remoteness. On Everest, the weather follows a certain pattern which is related to the monsoon season, but on K2, which is in Northern Pakistan, there is no such pattern, and storms tend to develop very quickly and with a high level of ferocity, with heavy snows and winds sometimes reaching hurricane force. Also, because of K2's unique topography, the climbing routes are all particularly exposed and "committing", which means that once you've gone a certain distance, you've no easy way to take cover or retreat if the weather goes bad. It forms a visually beautiful but unforgiving pyramid with steep drops of approximately 3000 metres in all directions to the glacial valley floors below.
No one has ever climbed K2 successfully in winter.
K2 history in detail (K2News): http://www.k2news.com/k2history.htm
K2 general information (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K2
K2 climbs by women (The Observer): http://observer.guardian.co.uk/osm/story/0,,990332,00.html