In the Karakoram Range separating northern Pakistan from China is one of the killer mountains of the world: K2, also called Mount Godwin-Austen and Savage Mountain. The latter name is particularly apt. This peak has the second-highest fatality-to-summit rate for the famed eight thousanders (a set of peaks in the Himalayas that all pass the 8000m mark). Only Annapurna in Nepal outdoes it in fatality rates throughout history, with the more famous Mount Everest falling behind in this respect. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, sees one in every ten climbers dying on average. K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, sees one dying in every four.
It was part of the original set of mountains in the Karakoram Range surveyed and designated temporarily as K1, K2, K3, K4 and K5. Of these, only K2 retained its impersonal and rather short survey name: K1 became Masherbrum, K3 became Gasherbrum IV, K4 became Gasherbrum II, and K5 became Gasherbrum I. The custom at the time was to use the local names for the mountains, as was the case for Masherbrum for example, but a problem arose with the second peak in the list because no local name could reliably be proven to be the peak’s traditional nomination. The original designation for it in the temporary maps, thus held. The alternative names since then have arisen out of various circumstances-Godwin-Austen, for instance, is taken from the name of one of the first adventurers to come to the area-but it is the most curt of its names which is perhaps most frequently applied.
At the summit, the peak is 8,611 metres in height, just a little over 200 metres shy of Everest’s top elevation. Yet it is not so much the height that kills so many of the people trying to master this mountain: it is actually the climate and the topographic character of the mountain’s sides. K2 is by far the more dangerous mountain to climb between it and Everest because of the steepness of its passes combined with the mercurial turns of weather in the area. There have been several disasters of mass fatalities here where abrupt storms would materialise and batter the peak for days. This is the reason that it, unlike Everest and the mountain currently listed as the one with the highest fatality-to-summit rate, Annapurna, has never been climbed in winter. To attempt such a thing, many agree, would be purely suicidal.
A fair number of the tourists coming to Baltistan are actually coming for K2. The side facing Xinjiang in China (the North Ridge) is by far the more perilous, which is why more mountaineers take the passes on the side facing Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. Deadly though this mountain may be, savage though its appellation may proclaim it, there is no getting away from the fact that ascent to its summit would be a crowning achievement for most persons, and something worthy of interest to those who desire a challenge.