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A skier has defied Himalayas’ K2 intimidating history and imposing slopes, to become first to climb the mountain and then slide down its entire 8,611 metres (28,251 ft) on skis for the first time in history.
With nearly a decade of extreme skiing and climbing feats behind him, the feat was achieved by record-holding Polish mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel (30), whose undoubted skills and excellent physical conditioning made him the ideal candidate and a worthy opponent for the feared mountain.
First, let us meet the ‘contestants.’
K2 – Himalaya’s Deadliest Peak
K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori, dominating the famed Karakoram range in the borders of China and Pakistan, is the second-highest peak on earth (beaten only by Mount Everest by around 800 feet).
It is without doubt one of the world’s most perilous peaks.
Not just because of its tremendous height, but also for its general morphological characteristics, as well as the extreme weather conditions, which are known to change rapidly within the same day.
Contrary to Annapurna (the mountain with the highest fatality-to-summit rate, with 191 summits and 61 fatalities) and all other peaks higher than 8,000 metres, K2 is the only one that has never been climbed during the winter – and not because no one has tried it.
Taking all these into account, it is not surprising that no more than 300 people have ever managed to reach its top and tame its slopes.
This is just a small percentage of those who have actually tried to do it.
Unfortunately, many of those who failed during the last century paid it with their lives.
The ratio is staggering: for every four who has summited K2’s peak, one has perished.
This includes very skilled and experienced mountaineers that had climbed the mountain before.
Deaths on K2 amount to 77 in total.
The fact that its celebrated rival, Everest, has been conquered more than 5,500 times, is indicative of how much more difficult an ascent to K2 really is.
That is why it was given the sad nickname ‘the Savage Mountain’, holding the second-highest fatality rate among all peaks exceeding eight thousand metres height.
Who is Andrzej Bargiel?
Described as one of the most talented Mountaineers alive, Bargiel has won fame and acclaim for record-breaking climbs, despite his relatively young age.
The fearless Pole has devoted the last 10 years of his life in extreme skiing and rapid climbs, but, according to him, he is far from reaching his prime.
Having climbed the five summits over 7,000m in the former Soviet Union in less than 30 days (namely 29 days and 17 hours), Bargiel was awarded the renowned Snow Leopard prize for his tremendous achievement.
The mountains include the Lenin Peak (23,406 ft), Peak Korzhenevskaya (23,310 ft), Ismoil Somoni Peak (24,590 ft), Khan Tengri (23,000 ft) and Jengish Chokusu (24,406 ft).
Striving to find new challenges that could test his skill and determination, he set a record in 2014 for climbing another tough and treacherous summit, the Manaslu of the Nepalese Himalayas, reaching the almost 27,000ft peak in a little more than 14 hours!
Previous Failed Attempts
Almost 17 years ago, the famous Italian mountaineer Hans Kammerlander hurled down K2’s slopes on skis but was forced to stop before reaching down when daylight faded.
Laterly, other skilled skiers repeated the attempt, and actually succeeded in skiing down most of one of its routes – but without first reaching K2’s fierce peak.
Two of the bigger names are Fredrik Erikson (Sweden/Chamonix) and Dave Watson (Minnesota, USA).
While neither of them has had success, both have experienced tragic events.
Fredrik’s partner Michele Fait (Italy) slipped while skiing and fell to his death while descending from Camp 2.
Understandably not wanting to continue, Fredrik aborted his attempt.
According to Bargiel, it was these previous failed attempts that convinced him the descent is feasible.
The key, as Bargiel says, in successfully climbing and skiing down K2 lies in careful, diligent and strenuous preparation, excellent physical condition and prior experience in high-altitude descents.
There are numerous routes on K2, of different difficulty level, but all feature certain important adversities.
Besides the obvious problem of the lack of oxygen due to K2’s extremely high altitude, the mountain is hit by extreme storms that often last several days; in fact, this factor is considered mainly responsible for most of the deaths around the summit.
Last but not least, K2’s steep, exposed, and committing routes make retreat very difficult, particularly in bad weather.
Hence, there are factors Bargiel admits are out of his control, especially the weather conditions and the state of the snow in various parts of the mountain.
Uncharacteristically good weather on K2 meant the mountain saw the most summits in it’s history.
Following his solo ascent to the summit – without oxygen – he spent the next seven-plus hours getting down.
Check out the video of Andrzej’s hair-raising descent!
Apart from being an evident adrenaline addict, he now sees his name carved into Himalayan mountaineering legend.