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 Category:  Children Non-Fiction
  Posted: March 7, 2021      Views: 9

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Childrens' story of the history of climbing K2
"Secrets of K2" by Norm Valentine

Most kids know that the world's highest mountain is Mount Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border. But did you know that the second highest mountain is called K2? Do you know where it is or how it got its name? Or how much higher K2 would have to be to look down on Everest? I'll answer these questions as well as tell you some interesting stories about events that have shaped K2's past.

K2 is not called by that name because it is the second highest mountain. Actually, the name represents the second mountain spotted by British Lieutenant T. G. Montgomery as he surveyed northern Pakistan's Karakorum Range in 1856. The summit of K2 stands 28,251 feet above sea level. It would need to add 777 feet vertically (over 2 1/2 football fields) to stand as tall as Mount Everest.

K2 has been called by other names in the past, but currently K2 seems to be the name most people use to identify the mountain. Other names include Mount Godwin-Austen for the director of the original 1856 survey and Chogori, which locally means "Great Mountain". The Balti's, a people who often provide porter service to climbers, sometimes refer to K2 phonetically, as Ketu.

On a map you would find that K2 sits on the border between Pakistan and China. However, most access has been through Pakistan. If you went on such a trip, you probably would fly to Islamabad, then fly or drive to Skardu, then drive to Askolie at over 10,000 feet in elevation. The rest of the trip is on foot with few comforts of home as you cross rivers and minor glaciers to reach the Baltoro Glacier on which you hike east for 36 miles, then 15 miles north over the Godwin-Austen Glacier to the base camp near 17,000 feet altitude just south of K2.

K2 is not an easy mountain to climb. Despite the difficulties of climbing at high altitude (such as lack of oxygen, wind and bad weather, and snowy and icy conditions), K2 is steeper, more remote and further north than Everest, extremely large and subject to avalanches. It is considered by most climbers to be a more difficult climb than Mount Everest. The best time of year for climbing K2 is generally considered to be June through August.

After the initial attempt in 1902 and several other failed attempts by other climbers, the first climb to the summit of K2 was in 1954 by Italian climbers, Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli. This was accomplished only after their oxygen tanks ran out near the summit and by descending in complete darkness. The mountain was not climbed again until 1977 due to the volatile politics of Pakistan.

Many other notable, exciting and tragic events have occurred on K2. Among the most exciting is the story of a 1953 attempt by an eight-man American group led by veteran climber, Charles Houston, who had unsuccessfully attempted K2 fifteen years earlier.

On August fourth, all eight team members were ready to attack the summit when 26-year-old Art Gilkey became ill with problems in his legs and his lungs. At the same time a raging storm came up, lasting for several days. On August tenth it was determined that Gilkey needed to descend in order to survive.

The other members made a stretcher for Gilkey and strapped him to it. On the first day they were able to descend only a few hundred feet due to the weather and the awkwardness of the contraption to which Gilkey was bound. At dusk, with Gilkey tethered into a secure location with ice axes, five party members began to fall down a steep ice and snow slope, gathering speed. As their ropes tangled and as everyone began to slide to their apparent deaths, team member Pete Schoening planted his ice axe hard into a pile of ice and rocks. Miraculously, the ice axe held the falls of all five of the men.

Later, however, when they had been able to gather their emotions and senses, a search of the area where Gilkey had been stationed, revealed that he was not to be found. He had apparently been caught up in a small avalanche that had dislodged his ice axe protection. It seems ironic that ice axes determined the fates of both the party that fell and the individual who had been helplessly anchored. Gilkey has been honored with a base camp memorial cairn (rock pile) covered with plaques commemorating many of those who have died on the mountain.

Another story of tragedy on K2 occurred in 1986 when 27 climbers reached the summit, but 13 climbers lost their lives. Among the dead were a French husband and wife team named Liliane and Maurice Barrard. To accomplish reaching the summit together, which they did on June twenty-third, they had to spend three nights at the very upper regions of the mountain. A storm and their exhaustion finally caused them to become disoriented during descent, and they fell to their deaths.

Liliane's body was found later in 1986, apparently having fallen possibly over 10,000 feet from one of K2's major ridges. However, Maurice's body was not seen again until 1998 when he was discovered frozen into the Godwin-Austen Glacier at over 16,000 feet by an American climbing team. Both Maurice's and his wife's remains now rest in the Gilkey Memorial with many other fallen climbers.

Another more positive story from the same year involves two other French climbers, Michel Parmentier and Benoit Chamioux. Becoming separated from the Barrards after reaching the summit with them, Parmentier chose to try to find them and help them descend. Finally, he realized that they were not to be found and began to descend alone. But it was dark, a heavy storm was on the mountain, and he didn't know where he was.

Fortunately, Chamioux, a solo climber who was at base camp, was able to make radio contact with Parmentier. For nearly a day, Chamioux talked Parmentier down the mountain to the French camp at nearly 24,000 feet. At that point Parmentier was able to find a fixed rope line that would help guide him down. Imagine the excitement of seeing him stumble into base camp after spending a total of three days descending.

I could not write about K2 without discussing the great Italian climber, Reinhold Messner. His accomplishments in the high mountains are legendary. Messner was the first person to climb Everest without oxygen and the first person to climb all of the world's fourteen 8000 meter (26,247 foot) peaks. But his greatest challenge was perhaps his 1979 climb of K2.

What made this so special? Well, Messner climbed K2 alone, without oxygen and in alpine style. Most high altitude climbing is done expedition style where a succession of camps are made, rope is fixed for climber protection and the camps are stocked with supplies as they are established. Alpine climbing is done by starting at the bottom of a mountain and going to the top carrying all your necessary equipment throughout the climb. Camping, eating and resting are done as needed without being preplanned and without fixed rope protection as in an expedition style climb. The goal is to climb light and fast. Messner was able to accomplish the summit of K2 with this style in only two days.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief discussion of the mountain and the lore of K2. If you are interested in perhaps eventually trying this yourself, start learning and climbing now on lesser mountains than K2. Some good places for preparation are Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood and Mt. McKinley. Be in good physical and mental condition, but the greatest factor of success in reaching a summit is the attitude of wanting to be there. Good climbing!

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