Today’s “Planet Earth Report” –‘K2, The World’s Most Difficult Mountain May Soon Be Fully Conquered’

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There’s no one reason that K2 is often considered the most difficult mountain to climb. It’s not the world’s tallest mountain. It doesn’t have the highest fatality rate. It’s known for its steepness, yes, and for the unusually long distance mountaineers must trek just to get to its base, with no villages to stop at and restock supplies. But those factors alone don’t explain K2’s nickname, “Savage Mountain,” or its reputation as deadly and ineffable, or the power that this reputation holds over the human imagination. The legendary climber Reinhold Messner has described K2 as the most beautiful of all the high peaks: “An artist has made this mountain.”

K2 was first summited in 1954, but it remains uniquely unconquerable reports today's Atlantic. In Himalayan mountaineering, there are three major categories of “firsts”: the first ascent, the first ascent without supplemental oxygen, and the first ascent in winter, when conditions are at their worst. All of the world’s 14 mountains with peaks that stretch more than 8,000 meters above sea level have been climbed with and without supplemental oxygen. All have been summited in winter, too—except for one. To borrow a description of the once-insurmountable north face of Switzerland’s Eiger—“the last problem of the Alps”—K2, in winter, is the last problem of the Himalayas.

 

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This winter, an elite team of Polish climbers is attempting to solve this problem. After more than two years of preparation, the team began ascending K2 in early January. They’re led by Krzysztof Wielicki, one of the most famous climbers in Polish history, and include several other of the best living Polish climbers. Their journey seeks to extend a long national tradition: Until 2005, exclusively Polish teams had made every winter ascent of an “eight-thousander.” National Geographic nicknamed them “Ice Warriors.” Even the international team that broke this long run had a Pole in it.

Three previous attempts at K2 in winter by international teams, two of which included Wielicki, failed. Given what he learned from those attempts, this team’s combined experience, and an outpouring of support from fans on social media, there’s a good chance they’re going to make history. But the story of their climb is as much the story of K2 itself.

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