At the end of May each year, as Everest closes down, another drama unfolds.
Early June is the Karakorum season opening in Pakistan and China, when the world’s foremost climbers descend on the area to climb the worlds toughest alpine peaks – the crown of which is K2.
K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori, is located on the border between China and Pakistan.
At 8,611 metres, it is the second highest mountain in the world, after Everest and is the highest point of the Karakoram range.
Labelled the hardest climb in the world, the routes to the summit are steeper, more difficult and more technical than those to the top of Everest and the weather is significantly colder and more unpredictable.
First summitted in 1954 by two Italians, K2 has one of the lowest successful rates with less than 300 summits, compared with over 1500 on Everest. 49 climbers have died on K2, 22 while descending from the summit, making it unsurprising that it has been dubbed the “Savage Mountain”.
As it stands, for about every four that summit one is killed in the attempt.
The chance to be amongst the minuscule proportion that have summited K2 does not come cheap. All in, a summit trek with transport and visas is likely to cost upward of $20,000 USD.
Situated in the middle of an isolated white paradise, its remoteness adds to the beauty but also increases the danger. In spite of the dangers, the mountain continues to lure climbers to its perilous slopes year on year, in search of the ultimate challenge.
If this sounds a bit much, learn more about the K2 Base Camp Trek
- 360-degree panoramic views over the Himalayas and scenery not found anywhere else in the world.
- Summiting K2 is the ultimate challenge and the equivalent of winning the Olympic gold in mountaineering.
- A stomach-knotting fear to be overcome by climbers aiming for alpine excellence.
Wherever you are coming from, every trek will start from the capital city of Islamabad. Fly into Benazir Bhutto International Airport and factor in an extra day to get trekking permits.
If the weather is good you can fly onwards to Skardu on a small plane, taking 45 minutes, otherwise you will need to travel by road on the famous Karakoram highway. This journey can take up to 30 hours due to poor road conditions.
Skardu is the gateway to the high peaks of northern Pakistan for all climbers. From here you will take a 4×4 jeep towards Askole, the last village before reaching K2. Beyond Askole is complete wilderness and glaciers and so it is trekking only from here on.
The average expedition on K2 varies in length, dependent on weather conditions and how long you choose to acclimatise at various points along the route.
Many people choose to spend around nine weeks on the mountain before a summit push can be attempted, others take only around six weeks for their round trip.
To Base Camp it takes around three weeks, then you move up in rotations through Camps 1 to 4. From Camp 4 it takes approximately 16 to 22 hours to reach the summit.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
One of the key challenges of K2 is the sustained technical difficulty, crossing a cone of ice and limestone with slopes of 45 degree angles or more.
Sections of the route such as House’s Chimney and The Black Pyramid involve sustained periods of vertical rock climbing, so you must be well versed using crampons on steep rock at high altitude.
Unlike Base Camp, you should have extensive mountaineering experience.
Because high-altitude porters are rarely employed, all of the work of carrying and setting the ropes and high camps must be done by the climbers themselves.
K2’s remote situation means that if anything goes wrong on the mountain – even at Base Camp – it is almost impossible to be evacuated by helicopter.
People take up to five years preparing for climbs like K2 and it should not be your first 8000er.
Experience can be gained by climbing Everest, Makalu or Manaslu, Broad Peak and alike.
Sufficient preparation and practice climbs are important for both success and survival.
You should also take time to improve your medical knowledge, including how to spot signs of altitude sickness, know how to stitch somebody up, deliver general first aid and how to be entirely self-reliant in life-threatening situations.
To climb K2 from the Pakistani side, you will need permission from the Ministry of Tourism in Islamabad.
The peak fee for south side expeditions is $7,200 USD for a team of up to seven climbers.
To climb K2 from the Chinese side, it is necessary to apply for permission from the Chinese Mountaineering Association in Beijing.
The permit fee is around $1,000 USD per team on this side but the miscellaneous expenses will add up to much more.
The permit fee for Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum II is $5,400 USD for a team of seven and $900 USD for each additional climber.
In addition to the peak fee, climbers need to pay a $10,000 USD rescue bond that is refunded if not used plus a $68 USD environmental fee.
A reasonable budget for a mid-size team (not including climbing gear or the rescue bond) is $8,000 USD per climber.
Guided or Self-Guided
Unlike most other summit routes, there are no commercial expeditions at K2. Mostly there are permit-sharing expeditions consisting of climbers doing their own thing with porters and supporting teams.
Those who take to the mountain will be seasoned climbing professionals that have undertaken a huge amount of planning.
On the whole, guides or tours will take you as far as base camp and the rest you must navigate alone. Having said this, there are a few specialised agencies that will take small groups right to the summit.
The best months to climb K2 are June, July and early August.
Most summit attempts happen in the last week of July and historically most accidents happen in August, so climbers tend to make their summit bids the month prior.
Even with careful planning, weather can be unpredictable and deadly, so climbers should know when to turn back.
K2’s sudden storms are because the peak is so much higher than the mountains around it, creating eddies in the jet stream, with good weather on one side of the mountain and life-threatening conditions on the other.
Most climbers choose to go up the Pakistan side via the Abruzzi Spur (South East Ridge). Although the most popular, it is statistically the most dangerous.
The route starts with approximately 1,000 metres of climbing on loose scree with significant danger of rocks falling from Camp 1 and above.
Information about the camps and the journey between them are as follows:
Camp 1 – 6,050 metres
- C1 is exposed but relatively secure with little history of avalanche danger.
- The climb to C2 includes a 50-metre off-width crack called House’s Chimney that is currently a spider’s web of old ropes.
Camp 2 – 6,700 metres
- C2 is sheltered by rock but still extremely windy and cold.
- C2 to C3 is the most technical section of the climb with approximately 400 metres of near-vertical climbing on mixed rock and ice. This section is known as the Black Pyramid.
Camp 3 – 7,200 metres
- C3 is traditionally placed on the Shoulder, with a more horizontal terrain but prone to avalanche danger and extremely high winds funnelling between K2 and Broad Peak.
- C3 to C4 is a long and snowy slog up the Shoulder, usually without fixed lines.
Camp 4 – 7,600 metres
- C4 lies anywhere from 7,600 to 7,900 metres on the Shoulder. From here to the summit is a 16 to 22 hour climb.
- Summit – 8,611 metres
- Most climbers leave between 10pm and 1am for the summit. The Bottleneck offers extremely challenging and sustained climbing and at least 10 climbers have died in this section.
An itinerary to the summit, albeit a relatively quick one, might look like the below:
Fly into Islamabad to organise permits and purchase any final gear/kit
Fly from Islamabad to Skardu
Drive to Askole in jeeps
Trek to Korofong – elevation 3,100m
Trek to Bardumal – elevation 3,305m
Trek to Paiju – elevation 3,383m
Trek to Khoburtse – elevation 3,566m
Trek to Urdukas – elevation 4,130m
Trek to Goro 2 – elevation 4,250m
Trek to Concordia – elevation 4,600m
Arrive K2 base camp – elevation 5,650m
Rest days in base camp with short hikes & climbs for acclimatisation
Climbing period with rotations climbing to Camps 1, 2 and 3 before making a summit attempt
After summiting, return to base camp. Organise gear for departure
Trek down to Goro 2
Trek to Paiju
Trek to Askole
Drive back to Skardu by jeep
Fly Skardu to Islamabad
It is important to build in at least another week on top of this for contingency days in case of bad weather.
During the trek to K2’s Base Camp and back, groups stop off at a series of seasonal camps, set apart at intervals with reasonable elevation gains.
Unlike Everest, which offers some huts and lodges, all accommodation along the K2 Base Camp Trek is in tents, which the porters carry, set up and break down daily.
At lower elevations, fixed camps have individual toilet ‘cubicles’ and a source of running water (though this water should always be treated), whereas at the higher camps, things get increasingly basic.
There is only a very small number of agencies organising summiting expeditions.
The few that do will provide porters and camping equipment en route to Base Camp and then in Camps 1 to 4 may own dedicated tents that are preset to reserve space at the beginning of the season.
Pakistan is often viewed as extremely dangerous for tourists, whereas plenty of areas are perfectly safe to visit. Spend some time at the start or end of your trek to explore this stunning country and it will reward you with your best travel experience ever.
The main destinations of choice for tourists to Pakistan are the Swat, Lahore, Khyber Pass, Peshawar, Karachi and Rawalpindi.
Take a drive on the highest road in the world – the Karakoram Highway.
This high-altitude road connects Pakistan to China and goes straight through the heart of the mountains, offering unrivalled views of Rakaposhi, the Passu Cones and the Khunjerab border, all without leaving the car.
Throughout the country you can appreciate the Mughal Architecture. As one of the greatest dynasties of the Indian Subcontinent, the Mughals are to thank for the Taj Mahal and Red Fort in India, and Lahore boasts some of the empire’s most incredible architecture.
The Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort are regularly noted as two of the most impressive buildings in Asia.
If you have a couple of days to play with in Skardu, take a visit to the Kharpocho Fort and Buddha roc, walk through the chaotic Skardu bazaar or head to the large, colourful Jamia Imamia Mosque.
|Skills Required||Climbing, Hiking, Mountaineering, Walking|
|Finishes at||k2 summit pakistan|
|Length of route||240 Km|
|Average time to complete||45 - 75 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||8611 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, Professional mountaineering gear, Specialist climbing gear, Supplementary oxygen, Trekking gear|
|Countries visited||Pakistan, China|