The Atlantic

The World’s Most Difficult Mountain May Soon Be Fully Conquered

What happens to climbing when the “last problem of the Himalayas” is finally solved?
Source: Haider Ali / Getty

There’s no one reason that K2 is often considered the most difficult mountain to climb. It’s not the world’s tallest mountain. It doesn’t have the highest fatality rate. It’s known for its steepness, yes, and for the unusually long distance mountaineers must trek just to get to its base, with no villages to stop at and restock supplies. But those factors alone don’t explain K2’s nickname, “Savage Mountain,” or its reputation as deadly and ineffable, or the power that this reputation holds over the human imagination. The legendary climber Reinhold Messner has described K2 as the most beautiful of all the high peaks: “An artist has made this mountain.”

K2 was first summited in 1954, but it remains uniquely unconquerable. In Himalayan mountaineering, there are three major categories of “firsts”: the first ascent, the first ascent without supplemental oxygen, and the first ascent in winter, when conditions are at their worst. All of the with peaks that stretch more than 8,000 meters above sea level have been climbed with and without supplemental oxygen. All have been summited in winter, too—except for one. To borrow a description of the once-insurmountable north face of Switzerland’s Eiger—“the last problem of the Alps”—K2, in winter, is the last problem of the Himalayas.

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