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K2 — Second Highest Mountain in the World: List of Firsts


List of Firsts on K2 -- First Ascents on the World's Second Highest Mountain
Pakistan, Karakorum range, Concordia and K2 covered in snow
Art Wolfe/The Image Bank/Getty Images
  • First Attempt: 1902. Aleister Crowley and Oscar Eckenstein led a team of six climbers and tried to climb K2's Northeast Ridge. They failed after 68 days and lots of bad weather but made it to 21,400 feet (6,525 meters). A very audacious attempt when high-altitude climbing was in its infancy.

  • First Attempt of Abruzzi Spur: 1909. Another great try for the time. An expedition led by the Duke of Abruzzi, Luigi Amedeo (IT), attempted the Southeast Ridge, now called The Abruzzi Spur. Twelve members of the party reached 20,500 feet. The ridge was the first ascent route 45 years later.

  • First Ascent: July 31, 1954. Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni with a large Italian expedition reached the summit at 6 p.m. after running out of oxygen below the top. They rapidly descended in dangerous avalanche conditions.

  • First American Ascent: After five attempts by previous American expeditions, in 1978 American climbers Louis Reichardt and Jim Wickwire on September 6, and John Roskelley and Rick Ridgeway on September 7 stood atop K2 for its 3rd ascent. The team spent 67 days on the mountain, mostly above 18,000 feet, while climbing the Northeast Ridge. In a survival test, Wickwire spent a night in the open below the summit at 27,000 feet without food, oxygen, or shelter in temperatures of -40 degrees.

  • First Female Ascent: June 23, 1986. Polish climber Wanda Rutkiewicz (1943-1992) was the first woman to successfully climb and descend K2. On August 4 that year, Julie Tullis (UK) also reached the summit but she died high on the mountain on the night of August 6 and 7. Rutkiewicz, who undoubtedly would have been the first woman to climb all the 8,000-meter peaks, died on her ninth one, Kangchenjunga, in 1992.

  • First Ski Descent: 2009. On August 4, American skier Dave Watson became the first person to successfully ski K2, although he didn't ski from the summit. Instead Watson climbed The Abruzzi Spur until he was above The Bottleneck. He skied the first 60-degree slopes to The Shoulder and continued to Camp 3 at 24,000 feet. Then he rappelled 2,000 feet to Camp 2 where he put skis on and skied 4,500 feet to the base--a 10,000-foot descent.

  • First Climbing Death: 1939. K2's first victim was Dudley Wolfe, a rich adventurer on an American expedition led by Fritz Weissner. From a high camp, Weissner and Sherpa Pasang Lama attempted the summit, climbing to 27,500 feet, 800 feet from the top. Wolfe and deputy leader Jack Durrance were at camp, but Durrance fell ill and descended. When Weissner returned, he found no supplies and Wolfe, incapacitated by altitude sickness. The trio descended but found the next camp stripped of supplies. Weissner and Lama left Wolfe at 25,000 feet and continued down. At Base Camp, Weissner sent 3 Sherpas to rescue Wolfe but none were seen again…until 63 years later in 2002 when Wolfe's remains, including bones, bits of a tent, a cooking pot, trousers, and a mitten with his name were found. The 3 Sherpas were killed trying to rescue Wolfe.

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