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  K2: Some background and History

The local name of K2 is Chogori, which in Balti language means the king of mountains. This name is little known outside of Pakistan. It is, therefore, desirable that - K2 be used.

K2 as seen from Concordia

K2 has variously been described as the "awesome", "killer" and "savage" mountain. This is because of it's massiveness in size and the numerous unsuccessful attempts made on it by various expeditions, including many American expeditions, who have made quite a few unsuccessful attempts.

K2 is a rocky mountain up to 6000 meters, beyond which it becomes an ocean of snow. The K2 peak is situated on the Pak-China border in the mighty Karakoram range. The traditional route to its base camp goes from Skardu, which is linked with Islamabad by a good road. From Skardu the route goes via Shigar-Dassu-Askole up to Concordia over the Baltoro glacier. The exact height of the peak is 8,611 meters/28,251 ft.

It was in 1856, when the British were enforcing their control over India, provoking the 1857-War-of-lndependence, that a young Lieutenant of the Royal Engineers, T.G. Montgomerie, was quietly busy in surveying the mountains of Kashmir. During this survey he saw, in the far distance, a tall and conspicuous mountain in the direction of the Karakorams and immediately named it K1 ('K' stands for Karakorams). Later on, it turned out to be the beautiful mountain of Hushe valley in Khaplu area of Baltistan, called Masherbrum by locals. He also saw another tall and dominating summit behind K1 and named it K2, which turned out to be "Chogori". The name K2, however, still stands.

Lieutenant Montgomerie was a good surveyor. He was the person who planned and organized the survey of Kashmir. He was also an unofficial political adviser to Gulab Singh, the then Maharaja of Kashmir. After Gulab Singh's death in 1857, Montgomerie continued his survey work as he carried the same influence with Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the successor of Gulab Singh. Montgomerie trained many locals in surveying. His students did good reconnaissance work in remote areas  forbidden to foreigners because of local suspicions. A famous but unfortunate student of his was Muhammad Hameed.

In 1860, Captain Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, of the Survey of India, went to the Baltistan area and surveyed the famous Shigar and Saltoro valleys. This greatly contributed to the knowledge of the area. He was an officer in the 24th Foot Battalion, later the South Wales Borderers, and had also served in the Second Anglo- Burmese War in 1852. Earlier, he had joined Montgomerie at a survey station in Kashmir in 1857. He also surveyed the Kajnag range in southern Kashmir and was the first to put Gulmarg on the map. In 1858-59, he surveyed eastern Kashmir including Jammu. In 1861, he started from Skardu and entered Braldu valley from Skoro-La (5,043m). He then climbed and surveyed the Chogo-lungma, Kero Lungma, Biafo and Panmah glaciers. It was from Kero Lungma  that Godwin-Austen  climbed  the Nushik  pass (4,990m/1 6,371 ft) and is stated to have entered the 53-km-long Hispar glacier. He was perhaps the first European to reach it. He, however, did not survey it. He was considered as one of the greatest mountaineers of the day, had great power of endurance and was immensely brave. It is a myth that the K2 peak, which was erroneously called Godwin-Austen peak, was discovered by him. It is, however, a fact that he explored the gateway to K2 (the Baltoro glacier), along with famous glaciers including Godwin-Austen glacier. This was indeed his outstanding contribution to the geography of the area.

Another famous explorer of the area was Francis Younghusband (later knighted), a noted soldier and thrill-seeker. Showing his courage and tenacity in 1887, he crossed the Gobi desert from Peking and entered India by crossing Mustagh pass. It was during this journey that he saw K2. In this way he was the first European to cross Mustagh pass. He was also the first European to set eyes on K2 from the northern side. His guide on this inward journey was a former resident of Askole village, situated at the start of Baltoro glacier, who had been living on the other side of the mountain for a very long time. When he entered the village of Askole with his guide, Younghusband was extended due courtesies. His guide was, however, looked down upon because he had shown a foreigner the possible route of invasion. Subsequently in 1903-4, Sir Francis Younghusband became the head of the famous mission to Tibet.

It was probably for the first time in 1902 that an organized expedition of Oscar J.L. Eckenstein traveled to K-2 from Baltoro glacier. The expedition was without any guide. Its aim was to explore approaches to the mountain and possibly have a try on the peak. It was, however, harsh weather which prevented it from attempting the peak. The party, however  collected useful information about the upper Godwin-Austen glacier which was used as a stepping stone by expeditions in later years. Two members of the expedition - one a Swiss by the name of Dr. Jules Jacot Guillarmot and the other an Austrian by the name of Dr. V. Wesseley - succeeded in reaching 6523 meters (21,400ft) on the north-eastern ridge of K-2. The party also ascended Skyang La (6150 meters) to ascertain climbing possibilities of Skyang Kangri peak (7544 meters). Eckenstein was the first mountaineer who applied the principles of engineering to mountaineering and its equipment in Pakistan.

In 1909, a big Italian expedition under the leadership of resolute Luigi Amadeo Giuseppe (Duke of Abruzzi) the grandson of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, reconnoitred K2. Its members produced a very good account of the expedition with photographs and accurate maps of Baltoro area. The Duke, however, rejected the southern and western ridges of the mountain for a climb. His party attempted the peak from the south-east ridge-which later came to be known as Abruzzi ridge - but could not proceed beyond 5560 meters because of problems with porters. The party, however, carried out a thorough reconnaissance of K2 from south to north-east. Vittono Sella, a photographer and a climber, accompanied the Duke on this expedition. Sella pass, near Godwin-Austen glacier, is named after him.

Two famous British mountaineers, Harold William Tilman and Eric Earle Shipton, explored and surveyed the north face of K2 and its subsidiary glaciers in 1937. Actually they were on a survey mission to Shaksgam valley when they also visited the Trango and Sarpo Laggo glaciers. They also explored and surveyed the famous Skamri glacier. Tilman was a famous explorer, mountaineer, sailor and writer. He also distinguished himself as a planter in Kenya.

Shipton, on the other hand, was one of the significant explorers of the present century. He was Tilman's companion on most of the expeditions. Shipton was also Consul-General of India in Kashgar in 1940-42 and then in 1946-48.

In 1938, the American Alpine Club sponsored a reconnaissance party for a visit to K2 area. The party reached a height of 7925 meters after setting up eight camps. When compared with the heights climbed by previous expeditions, this seems to be a considerable advancement. Famous American mountaineers like Dr. Charles Houston and Robert Bates were in this party. Six Sherpas from Nepal were also on this expedition as porters etc. After a proper reconnaissance of the routes leading to K-2, the party rejected the north-west and north-east routes. Instead, it selected the south-east ridge (Abruzzi ridge). It was the shortage of food supplies that forced Houston and Petzoldt to return to lower altitudes. In the opinion of the party it was through this ridge that K2 peak could be climbed, which eventually proved correct.

The next year saw another American expedition on K2. It was led by Fritz Hermann Ernst Wiessner, a German-American chemist and mountaineer. The expedition, along with nine Sherpas, made very good progress on the already-identified south-east ridge. Two members and five Sherpas  set  up Camp  VIII at about 7711 meters and left one member by the name of Dudley Wolfe in this camp as he had fallen sick. Wiessner, along with one Sherpa, went up to approximately 8382 meters. On their way back they found that Wolfe was short of food. They, therefore, hurriedly brought him down to camp VII and made him stay there. They then descended in search of food and aid but found all camps abandoned until they reached camp II. Immediately three Sherpas were sent to rescue Wolfe. They, however, did not return. In this way, Wolfe and the Sherpas died on the K2. What a tragic but heroic death.

Another American attempt on K2 was made in 1953. The expedition leader was Dr. Charles Houston, who had also led the 1938 American expedition on this peak. Dr. Houston, a doctor and professor, is noted for his contribution to research on the effects of high altitude on human body and diseases originating from such effects. One Pakistani, late Colonel M. Ataullah, Vice President, Karakoram Club of Pakistan, accompanied the party. This time the party took porters from Hunza instead of Sherpas from Nepal. As against the previous expeditions, which entered Baltistan from Srinagar (in the Indian occupied Kashmir) through a very long route, the party flew into Skardu and then adopted the traditional route to K2 over Baltoro glacier.
K2 Base Camp

It was at Camp VIII, at about 7772 meters that the party was hit by a blizzard which lasted many days. On the 7th of August one member, Arthur Gilkey, developed thrombophlebitis. In view of his serious condition it was decided to start descent in spite of bad weather. At the end of the day, the party was involved in a "fall on a steep slope as a result of a slip and tangling of ropes". Luckily nobody was seriously injured. Subsequently all members assembled at the nearby camp VII. Gilkey was secured on the snow slope with two ice axes until a party could be mustered to bring him across the slope to the camp. However, when three members of the party returned to Gilkey, they found that he had been swept away by an avalanche. It took rest of the party five hard days to reach the base camp. On reaching there, the party immediately started for Skardu because one of the members, George Bell, had very bad frost-bitten feet. In spite of their very best efforts, the Americans could not climb K2 from the south-east ridge.

In 1954, an Italian expedition came to Pakistan to try its luck on K2. It consisted of twelve climbers and four scientists and was led by veteran mountaineer, Professor Ardito Desio, who had come to these mountains with Italian expeditions before the World War II. Colonel M. Ataullah and Arshad Munir accompanied the expedition from Karakoram Club of Pakistan. Captain (later Lt. General) G.S. Butt was the liaison officer.

Poor weather hindered the progress of the party for a pretty long time. As soon as the weather cleared, the party made very good progress and set up camp II. It was at this camp that one of its members, Mario Puchoz, a 36-year old guide, died of pneumonia on the 21st June. It Is believed that he had contracted high altitude pulmonary oedema (water on the lungs) which was not well known at the time and does not respond to antibiotics.

The party established six more camps on the south-east ridge. Camp IX was a bivouac. On the 31st of July, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni started from the bivouac. They continued their assault and reached the summit at six in the evening. After staying for a while they started descending and reached Camp VIII round about eleven at night. In this way the saga of K2 ended.

The peak has now been climbed from almost all ridges.

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EverestNews.com K2 2001 Expedition and News coverage is here.

K2 2002 is here...

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