High Ambitions on K2

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K2’s West Face, with the Polish-Slovakian team’s proposed line marked in red. The Southwest Pillar is the right skyline. The American team will attempt a route to its right (out of sight), then cross the ridge to finish on the upper West Face.Photo courtesy of Dodo Kopold.

High Ambitions on K2

As the hordes once again plod up Mt. Everest’s normal routes this May, an extraordinary season lies just ahead on K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Four separate teams are gunning for new routes, on three different aspects of the mountain. Even more impressive, three of the four attempts will be made by very small teams, and none of them will use supplemental oxygen.

Two teams will attempt a direct route up K2’s West Face, which has only been partially climbed. A large Russian expedition will attempt the route in traditional style, with teams of four climbers taking turns fixing ropes up the giant wall. Leader Victor Kozlov successfully used the same heavy tactics to make the first ascent of Lhotse Middle in 2001 and a new route on the North Face of Mt. Everest in 2004.

Adopting a different approach on the same face, the Polish-Slovakian team of Peter Hámor, Dodo Kopold, and Piotr Morawski will make their attempt after acclimatizing on Nanga Parbat. “We aim for a fast ascent, because we know how dangerous the face is,” Morawski told Explorers Web. “We will use no high-altitude porters, keep fixed ropes to a minimum, and, of course, bring no supplementary oxygen.” Morawski made the first winter ascent of Shishapangma in 2005 with Italian Simone Moro. Kopold, who has done several very hard new routes on lower peaks in the Karakoram in recent years, already has climbed two 8,000-meter peaks this spring, making fast ascents of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma.

K2’s wild and dangerous North Face has never even been attempted. This year, two Kazakhs will go at it alone.Photo by Kuno Lechner.

High Ambitions on K2

Meanwhile, the Kazakh super-duo of Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov will attempt the little-known North Face of K2, a nearly 11,000-vertical-foot wall. The face is guarded by dangerous serac bands and has never even been attempted. The two are pinning their hopes on the relative speed of an alpine-style assault, and they have been building up to this effort over the past two years with alpine-style new routes on Broad Peak (2005) and Manaslu (2006). Earlier this month, Urubko attempted to break the speed record for climbing Dhaulagiri, another 8,000-meter peak; he had to give up the record bid to assist another climber, but still carried on to the top after the ailing climber was safe.

Finally, on the opposite side of the peak, Americans Bill Pierson and Fabrizio Zangrilli will attempt a new line on the 9,500-foot South Face. Their proposed route follows a direct line to the right of the Southwest Pillar (The Magic Line), breaching a 2,000-foot headwall just below 8,000 meters. After intersecting The Magic Line, they plan to continue to the west and climb new ground up the summit pyramid. The two climbed about 6,000 feet of this route in 2005, and they will employ the same style this time: acclimatize (on K2’s South-Southeast Spur), and then go for an alpine-style ascent. Zangrilli recently won the American Alpine Club’s Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant to support the climb and his efforts to rebuild and resupply a school in the Pakistani village of Khane.

Sources: www.k2climb.net, www.russianclimb.com, Dodo Kopold, www.americanalpineclub.org.

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