Into The Death Zone

Everest is cool and all, but if you want to stare certain death in the face, go climb K2.

Or don't. You’ll probably die.

“If you see someone fall, leave them”

If you ever needed a definition for ‘adventurous insanity’, please look no further than those folks in the 8000m club. That is, the men and women that seek out the 14 highest peaks on the planet, throw on their down suits, cramp ons and rope bags and knowingly set off on what could well be their last adventure, on this earth anyway. Of these 8000m+ peaks the most well-known is of course Mt Everest (BORING –- amirite?). Yep, sure, because at 8848m, it’s the highest. Yeah , cool, like, we get it.

You want a one-in-four fatality rate to prove you’ve got serac-sized balls? Forget Everest, and come right this way ladies and gents...


At an imposing 8,611m, K2 stands on the border of China and Pakistan and is the world’s second highest mountain. K2 might be second in line in sheer metrics, but it’s widely known as the toughest and most deadly technical climb out there. And for good reason.


This is the part of a mountain where the sheer altitude means there’s not enough oxygen available for humans to survive. It’s not that you can die in the death zone, it’s that you are dying like it or not. All 8000ers have this zone, however K2’s is much more physically demanding and contains an ice traverse, large bottleneck and avalanche-prone, overhanging glacier.


K2 sits much further north-west than Everest, meaning it’s prone to higher levels of

humidity and therefore an increased avalanche and storm risk. Ice falls, avalanches and storms have taken dozens and dozens of lives on K2 over the past 70 years. Sometimes a dozen in a week, or day. One of the most notable, was in 2008 when 11 died in one climb.


Although similar in length to Everest, the final summit climb on K2 is almost sheer vertical. If Everest is a high altitude hike, then K2 is a real climber’s climb. The fixed ropes are known to be a placebo too, a guide. They’ve got little chance of arresting a fall.


The easy part, right? Wrong. The majority of deaths occur on the descent. A myriad of old and frail ropes litter the glaciers you need to rig-rappel down and if you pick the wrong rope, well, bye. It’s a game of inches and no one will or can have your back. Remember, everyone is dying up here.


Sadly, because K2 doesn't carry the reputation of Everest, it also doesn't carry the same skilled sherpas. With exception of course, but the majority of Nepalese sherpas aren't treated well in Pakistan and their jobs is are made all the more difficult.


A chopper rescue on Everest tips in at around $3000. On K2 that figure is $30,000, if the

chopper can fly in at all given the unpredictable and often poor weather. The Pakistani military also don’t have any helicopters that can perform in any altitude higher than base camp and it’s usually impossible to bring an injured climber back down.


Bringing a body, or injured climber down K2 is suicide. There’s a well-known rule that says, if you see someone fall, leave them. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that at this level every step is a marathon and attempting rescue is impossible. You just go on. Whether that climber is your mate, or your spouse.


Vanessa O’Brien is the real deal. She’s climbed the highest peaks on every single continent and was the first American/British woman to climb K2.

To see more about K2, click here.


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