Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

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Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by Jbrow327 » Sat Mar 20, 2021 11:16 pm

Or is it seldom climbed because it's extremely remote and very expensive? Does anybody here have experience on 8000 meter peaks? Is there lots of hype around these mountains or are they 100 percent legit?
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by jaymz » Sun Mar 21, 2021 12:29 am

Remoteness and cost isn't going to deter most hardcore/pro climbers. It's the absurd risk involved. K2 is incredibly deadly, along with Annapurna and several others. I think Annapurna has something like a 33% fatality rate. K2 isn't that far behind I don't think. Others more in the know can correct me on any of this (too tired to look it up), but my thinking is that while climbers can be crazy, there aren't a whole lot who want to roll the dice on odds like that.
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by pvnisher » Sun Mar 21, 2021 2:16 am

All the adjectives (hard, tough, difficult, risky) mean different things, and when you're trying to use the superlative form, it's important to make distinctions about the definitions. Are we talking technical difficulty? There's boulders in my neighborhood which are harder problems. Are we talking oxygen? Yeah, it's up there. Weather? Again, up there, especially for the duration that's required. Success rate? There's sport routes with lower success rates. But none of those people die. The logistic involved are certainly non-trivial, as well.

But there are undoubtedly more difficult mountains, likely hundreds of them. But because they aren't in the "tallest" category, they aren't considered. If the foot (or meter)had been defined slightly differently and Sunlight Spire crossed the magical round number mark, you can bet there'd be a lot more attempts on the Spire, and likely fewer 14er finishers!

I haven't been to the Himalaya, but I'd wager there are multiple mountains there which are harder technically, with higher objective dangers, and far less research and infrastructure support. But no one wants to climb a peak that's ranked #176.

Can you imagine the marketing pitch to TNF and Netflix?
"So yeah, it's really tough, almost assuredly going to end in failure. But the story isn't about the mountain. It's about the friends you make along the way..."
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by XterraRob » Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:45 am

I don't believe it's been solo climbed either?
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by Scott P » Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:59 am

No, there are harder ones, but K2 is the hardest 8000 meter peak and probably the hardest of the famous mountains.

The problem with trying to decide what the hardest mountain in the world is is that you would need to find someone who has climbed a lot of the contenders and who is qualified to make the decision.

Gasherbrum IV is sometimes mentioned as a contender to K2.
There aren't many people who have climbed or have got close to climbing both K2 and Gasherbrum IV though.

Steve Swenson climbed K2 and got close to the summit of Gasherbrum IV. He said that Gasherbrum IV was probably harder. He also said that some of the Latok Peaks are harder still and might be the hardest in the world. So they might be a contender.

Some mountains that aren't that high are considered hard for different reasons. Cerro Torre was once considered to be the hardest mountain in the world. Then it lost its status because someone put a bolt ladder up it with a compressor drill. Now the bolts have been chopped and the climb is much harder once again.

Comparing something like K2 and Cerro Torre poses a problem. They are hard for completely different reasons. K2 is about 2.5 times higher, the air is thin, and is plagued by avalanches. Cerro Torre is much more technical than K2, but doesn't have altitude problems or a lot of the other problems that K2 has. K2 has a much higher death rate and by most criteria is more dangerous. When you look at technical difficulty, the hardest pitch on the standard route on K2 is only 5.4 (which would be trivial at sea level with climbing shoes rather that mountaineering gear). Of course there is a lot more to the difficulty of the mountain than just the YDS estimate of the hardest pitch and the technical aspects of K2 are sustained for a very long time. It's hard to say which is the harder of the two mountains. Since the bolts have been chopped on Cerro Torre it is probable that a lot more people are capable of climbing K2 than they are climbing Cerro Torre. It is also true that someone headed for Cerro Torre has a better chance of returning alive than someone headed for K2.

Some of the tropical mountains are hard to climb for other reasons. The hardest mountain I ever climbed was only arounf 2700 feet high and in the tropics. Of course there are a lot harder ones than the ones I have done. How to you climb a crumbly volcanic plug that is nearly vertical on all sides and covered with thick slime and tropical vegetation? Pitons and bolts will just pull out of the mud-like "rock". So will the vegetation if you try and use that as an anchor. Further, the "rock" is covered with organic slime. Trying to climb without protection would be suicide. Even on touristy islands such as Bora Bora, the highest peak remains unclimbed. The only really technical routes that have been tried on the nearby island of Moorea ended in death. So difficulty can mean a lot of things.

Anyway, it's hard to say. There are a lot of hard mountains that are hard for different reasons.

Edit: now that I think about it, Anak Krakatau might be the hardest.

Image

It has been continuously erupting most of the time since Anak Kakatau (child of Kakatau) first rose out of the ocean after its parent peak (Kakatau) exploded. I'm guessing such a mountain would be really hard to climb. Finding a way to protect yourself from 2000 degree lava would not be easy.
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by tjmartn1 » Sun Mar 21, 2021 7:21 am

XterraRob wrote:
Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:45 am
I don't believe it's been solo climbed either?
Didn't alberto zerain essentially solo it in 2008?
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by I Man » Sun Mar 21, 2021 8:40 am

tjmartn1 wrote:
Sun Mar 21, 2021 7:21 am
XterraRob wrote:
Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:45 am
I don't believe it's been solo climbed either?
Didn't alberto zerain essentially solo it in 2008?
What does solo even mean on a busy, commercially guided peak like K2?

I agree it is tough to quantify what is the most 'difficult." The Cerro Torre vs K2 comparison shows that well.
K1 (Masherbrum) and G4 are both VERY hard and very high (top 25 in the world). Also there is no infrastructure there. K2 is not what it used to be, but those mountains still have little to no attempts each year with a small few that have ever been on the summit. Decades of fixed ropes, ladders and teams ahead of you fixing new ropes for the season certainly change what the climb is on any big mountain. The high 7000ers that are just shy of 8000m do not have this and you must break trail, climb them, etc...
In general, I have found that the second you step off the beaten path, things become much more difficult. For example you can mostly easily walk up Denali, even un-roped, on the standard route. But getting anywhere at all on one of the other mountains from Denali basecamp requires way more experience and skill.
K2 certainly remains the most difficult 8000m peak due to its steep slopes, altitude and position (northernmost 8000er).

I agree with Scott that there are likely hundreds of more difficult mountains in the world than K2

Remoteness and cost have little, if anything, to do with this. K2 is not "that remote" since it is so popular. It takes about a week of hiking to get there. Basecamp is a happening place in a typical summer.

As far as 8000m peaks being hard? I don't know how to answer that other than yes, they are hard. Like everything it depends on conditions, the style you climb in, your experience, etc.
A friend and I attempted Broad Peak in 2017. My dream has always been to climb 8000m peaks, but I have to say it is a bit of a let down when you get there and see what is going on on the biggest mountains these days. That aside, the mountain itself does not care about all the adventure tourism happening on its slopes, and remains majestic. I would say I maintain a love/hate relationship with the 14.

Next time I go on a trip it will likely be for an 8000er, mostly because I don't think I have the risk tolerance to try something else these days. Masherbrum used to be my ultimate dream, but there's simply no way.
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by Jbrow327 » Sun Mar 21, 2021 9:34 am

For those here who have been to 8000 meter peaks, are they pretty much the biggest mountains you have ever seen, in terms of vertical rise?
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by Salient » Sun Mar 21, 2021 9:38 am

Jbrow327 wrote:
Sat Mar 20, 2021 11:16 pm
Or is it seldom climbed because it's extremely remote and very expensive? Does anybody here have experience on 8000 meter peaks? Is there lots of hype around these mountains or are they 100 percent legit?
Well it depends what you mean by “hardest” really. There are many factors that people value at different amounts. Now, K2 is either the most or 2nd most difficult 8000er at the least (Annapurna is more dangerous but K2 is considered harder) and K2 has the 2nd least amount of oxygen of any peak on Earth. On the plus side, K2 is significantly less expensive than Everest is. A lot more is left on how skilled and prepared you are for K2. The mountain has been getting easier in modern times (as all mountains have been) thanks to modern technologies. So that covers the 8000ers, but what about 7000ers or even lower mountains? Sure, not being able to breathe is a pretty big thing that is sure to kill you. But, there are many other things like technicality to consider. There are many many mountains more technical than K2. A big one is Cerro Torre which many people considered on of the hardest (Cesare Maestri ruined it tho). Or how about a combination of the 2? Well, there is always Gasherbrum IV. Or how about legality? Well, there is always Gangkhar Puensum. Or the highest unclimbed mountain, Muchu Chhish is also another ridiculous one that could be argued as harder than K2. I might as well throw in Ngadi Chuli as well for its extreme difficulty. Or how about the Latok Peaks which have the description of “All of the summits are notable for their extreme technical difficulty, and they have been the scene of some of the hardest climbing done at high altitude anywhere in the world.” There are many other extremely difficult peaks that are extremely remote and still have many of these factors such as the high point of Myanmar, Hkakabo Razi which has only ever been climbed once. There are also many smaller peaks that many people don’t ever climb for various reasons that have their various reasons for being extremely difficult.

In short (TL:DR) K2 is probably the hardest 8000er but really isn’t the hardest mountain overall.
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by Jbrow327 » Sun Mar 21, 2021 1:38 pm

Scott P wrote:
Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:59 am
No, there are harder ones, but K2 is the hardest 8000 meter peak and probably the hardest of the famous mountains.

The problem with trying to decide what the hardest mountain in the world is is that you would need to find someone who has climbed a lot of the contenders and who is qualified to make the decision.

Gasherbrum IV is sometimes mentioned as a contender to K2.
There aren't many people who have climbed or have got close to climbing both K2 and Gasherbrum IV though.

Steve Swenson climbed K2 and got close to the summit of Gasherbrum IV. He said that Gasherbrum IV was probably harder. He also said that some of the Latok Peaks are harder still and might be the hardest in the world. So they might be a contender.

Some mountains that aren't that high are considered hard for different reasons. Cerro Torre was once considered to be the hardest mountain in the world. Then it lost its status because someone put a bolt ladder up it with a compressor drill. Now the bolts have been chopped and the climb is much harder once again.

Comparing something like K2 and Cerro Torre poses a problem. They are hard for completely different reasons. K2 is about 2.5 times higher, the air is thin, and is plagued by avalanches. Cerro Torre is much more technical than K2, but doesn't have altitude problems or a lot of the other problems that K2 has. K2 has a much higher death rate and by most criteria is more dangerous. When you look at technical difficulty, the hardest pitch on the standard route on K2 is only 5.4 (which would be trivial at sea level with climbing shoes rather that mountaineering gear). Of course there is a lot more to the difficulty of the mountain than just the YDS estimate of the hardest pitch and the technical aspects of K2 are sustained for a very long time. It's hard to say which is the harder of the two mountains. Since the bolts have been chopped on Cerro Torre it is probable that a lot more people are capable of climbing K2 than they are climbing Cerro Torre. It is also true that someone headed for Cerro Torre has a better chance of returning alive than someone headed for K2.

Some of the tropical mountains are hard to climb for other reasons. The hardest mountain I ever climbed was only arounf 2700 feet high and in the tropics. Of course there are a lot harder ones than the ones I have done. How to you climb a crumbly volcanic plug that is nearly vertical on all sides and covered with thick slime and tropical vegetation? Pitons and bolts will just pull out of the mud-like "rock". So will the vegetation if you try and use that as an anchor. Further, the "rock" is covered with organic slime. Trying to climb without protection would be suicide. Even on touristy islands such as Bora Bora, the highest peak remains unclimbed. The only really technical routes that have been tried on the nearby island of Moorea ended in death. So difficulty can mean a lot of things.

Anyway, it's hard to say. There are a lot of hard mountains that are hard for different reasons.

Edit: now that I think about it, Anak Krakatau might be the hardest.

Image

It has been continuously erupting most of the time since Anak Kakatau (child of Kakatau) first rose out of the ocean after its parent peak (Kakatau) exploded. I'm guessing such a mountain would be really hard to climb. Finding a way to protect yourself from 2000 degree lava would not be easy.
Very informative, as always.
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by I Man » Tue Mar 23, 2021 12:20 pm

Jbrow327 wrote:
Sun Mar 21, 2021 9:34 am
For those here who have been to 8000 meter peaks, are they pretty much the biggest mountains you have ever seen, in terms of vertical rise?
You are speaking about prominence.

Denali and Kilimanjaro are examples of ultra prominent mountains. When viewing Denali or Kilimanjaro from a nearby town, you are seeing almost the entire peak from near sea level to its summit. This is not the case in places like the Andes or Himalaya *typically).

Denali basecamp is approximately 6,000 FT and the summit is over 20,000 FT so you climb 13,000 FT.

Broad Peak basecamp is at 5,000M and the summit is at 8,000M so you climb 3,000M. Of course you have to hike for a week to get there (and travel for a week to even get to the hike!)

To me Alaska feels the biggest, mostly because it is glaciers between the peaks instead of valleys. The biggest mountain I have been on is Mt Logan in Canada, the summit plateau is gigantic. It is also the largest mountain by mass & diameter on the planet.

The altitude for 8,000m is unparalleled tho. Sure 6,000m in Alaska feels high, but not 8,000m high
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Re: Is k2 really the toughest mountain to climb?

Post by Scott P » Tue Mar 23, 2021 7:12 pm

Salient wrote:
Sun Mar 21, 2021 9:38 am
The mountain has been getting easier in modern times (as all mountains have been) thanks to modern technologies.
Great post and I'm discussing this further not to debate, but because it is interesting.

A lot of technical climbs are actually becoming a lot harder. This is especially true in much of the Andes and Himalaya, but in other ranges too such as the Alps.

Melting ice and glaciers have increased a lot of the difficulty on many mountains such as in the Cordillera Blanca and the Huayhuash. Some of the harder peaks in both ranges have had hardly any ascents in recent decades due to the difficult and dangerous conditions. Peaks like Jirishanca, Yerupaja, and Suila Grande are almost a suicide mission now days.

Even outside the rugged peaks even peaks such as several of the Ecuador volcanoes have significantly gotten harder (though they still won't rate high on the difficulty scale compared to other world mountains).

The same is true of some of the technical Himalayan routes. They are becoming more dangerous and difficult. Even some of the standard routes on 8000ers are becoming more difficult and dangerous.

Even in the Alps some of the routes are starting to "fall apart" as the ice melts. The North Face of the Eiger, for example, is becoming increasingly dangerous to climb in summer.
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Anyway it is great that you mention those other peaks. :thumbup:
(Cesare Maestri ruined it tho)
A lot of his bolts have been chopped, so the route is much harder again.
such as the high point of Myanmar, Hkakabo Razi which has only ever been climbed once.
Twice, but the second party never returned.

Anyway, another peak that could be mentioned is Kawa Korpo. 19 deaths and zero ascents, making its death rate infinity. Climbing is now banned, but none of the major peaks in the range have been climbed successfully, despite several attempts.

If anyone is curious, the mountain with the highest death rate, but that has a long climbing history (Kawa Korpo has an infinity death rate, but a shorter climbing history) is Gongga Shan. It has a 66% death rate (deaths to successful summits) beating Annapurna by a long shot.

Amazingly Gongga Shan (known as Minya Konka at the time) was first climbed by an American team in 1932. To this day there have only been nine ascents of the mountain (by 32 climbers) despite it being one of the first mountains China opened to foreign mountaineering expeditions. It is amazing that it was pulled off in 1932. Sadly, the 1932 American ascent seems to be mostly forgotten, but it was one of the most impressive mountaineering achievments in history.

Gongga Shan is probably not a candidate for the hardest mountain in the world, but it is a candidate for at least one of the most dangerous.
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