After a busy Asian spring that saw the South Korean Oh Eun-Sun become the first woman to climb Annapurna to summit all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks, the world's highest mountains, and shortly afterward the Spaniard Edurne Pasaban complete the same quest, all has seemed quiet on the icy peaks. But right now a new drama, one that is dramatically unreported in the mainstream press, is playing out on K2, the second highest mountain in the world.
Today a group of climbers is taking advantage of a good weather window to reach K2's summit tomorrow and again make history. The great Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is not only trying to become the third woman to complete the 8,000-meter quest but also the first woman to climb them without supplemental oxygen. If he reaches the summit, Ralf Dujmovitz, Gelinde's partner and a German guide, will have climbed all the peaks twice. And lastly, Swedish extreme skier Fredrik Ericsson will try for the summit and then ski all the way down the mountain, a daring feat never accomplished let alone attempted.
Last week, Gerlinde's attempt at K2's summit ended when her party turned back because of high winds. She noted on her website that K2's conditions are very odd this year, writing, "The route was very different this year: not a lot of ice, a lot of loose crumbly rock, and...the accumulated snow drifts made it impossible to go quickly."
Trey Cook, also on the mountain, reports on Explorer's Web that strange things are happening on K2. Temperatures inside his tent have reached 100 degrees and warm mountain temperatures are causing avalanches and rock fall. A grapefruit-sized rock even plunged through Ericsson's tent, leaving a gaping hole. Other climbers report little snow on the lower part of the Abruzzi Spur route and exposed ice on the Bottleneck below the summit pyramid.
Despite those conditions, the climbers on K2 are using the current window of good weather to go for the top. Most K2 weather windows last three or four days at the most. The current forecast calls for decent weather over the next few days, with low winds up high. It's looking, however, this is the best and probably last attempt for K2's summit. If the weather turns bad or the wind cranks up, most climbers will have to retreat lower for supplies and then wait to see if another window opens up. Stay tuned and we'll see if Gerlinde and Fredrik are able to pull off their attempts.
Photograph above: K2 is the second highest mountain in the world . Photograph © Getty Images