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No One Has Climbed K2 in Winter. This Year, 55 Will Try

Push is on to claim 'one of mountaineering's last great prizes'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2021 8:54 AM CST
No One Has Climbed K2 in Winter. This Year, 55 Will Try
K2 is pictured on Aug. 7, 2010.   (Wikimedia/Maria Ly)

About 1 in 4 people who climb K2, the world's second-highest mountain, die in the process. That's compared to about 4% of those who climb Mount Everest, which is 800 feet taller but less of a challenge for mountaineers. And the 28,251-foot-tall K2 is the only one of the world's 14 tallest mountains not to have been summited in winter, per the Kathmandu Post. That could soon change. Some 55 climbers in various expeditions hope to claim "one of mountaineering's last great prizes" with a K2 summit before the end of February, reports the Telegraph. That could mean facing temperatures below -58 degrees Fahrenheit and winds topping 125mph, reports the BBC. The wind will have stripped away snow, leaving "a terrain of rock and ice," Romanian climber Alex Gavan, 38, tells the outlet. As if that’s not enough of a challenge, Gavan and his climbing partner Tamara Lunger, 34, plan to go without supplemental oxygen.

More than 30 attempts at a winter summit have already failed, with or without oxygen, with climbers reaching no higher than 24,300 feet, per the Post. If successful, Lunger, who became the second Italian woman to summit K2 without oxygen in the summer of 2014, will become the first woman to complete a winter summit of any of the world's 14 mountains over 26,000 feet, per the BBC. She's already climbed two of those mountains. Gavan has conquered seven. "I feel like everything in our lives came to this, and now is our chance," he says. The pair, who set off Dec. 25 for a week-long trek to base camp in Pakistan, hope to reach K2's summit by mid-February, though they'll be competing with other expeditions for space. Nepal's Nirmal Purja, who climbed the world's 14 tallest peaks in a record 189 days, plans to lead a team up the mountain after reaching base camp around the end of January, per the Telegraph. (More K2 stories.)

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