One of the few remaining great achievements in skiing has been realised with the first successful descent on skis of K2 on Sunday, July 21st.
The full story of the descent of the world’s second highest mountain by Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel, along with the first pictures, is only just starting to reach the wider world.
At 8,611 metres K2 in the Karakoram mountain range is just a little lower than Everest, which has been skied and snowboarded down multiple times over the past two decades, but for climbers and skiers alike is regarded as the much greater challenge.
The 30 year old attacked the summit on Sunday and when he finally reached the peak, simply strapped on his trusty skis and started back down the iconic mountain.
He is reported to have tackled the shoulder towards the Cesen Route first, then navigated under huge seracs (blocks of glacial ice) via the daunting Messner Traverse to the arête (narrow ridge of rock) on the Kukuczka-Piotrowski route.
Before he could celebrate he had to battle past snow fields full of dangerous crevices leading back to base camp and a place in the history books.
Bargiel is reported to have made the full descent on skis non-stop and not had to scale any rocks or ice. It’s not yet known how many vertical metres he descended.
The first known attempt to ski down K2 is believed to have been made in 2001 when Italian Hans Kammerlander attempted it but turned round 400m from the summit on his ascent after seeing a climber fall to his death in front of him. In 2010 the very experienced Swedish ski-mountaineer Fredrik Ericsson fell to his death when he had been close to the summit on his ascent.
Bargiel himself had an unsuccessful attempt to ski K2 a year ago when he was driven back by bad weather. He returned to the Himalayas over a month ago building up to this second and now successful attempt, acclimatising by climbing and skiing down Gasherbrum II, itself the 13th highest mountain in the world at 8,035m but seen as the most accessible of the 8000m peaks in the region.
Bargiel is also known for winning the highly respected Snow Leopard award in record time two years ago as well as being the current Elbrus Race record holder. He has also skied down Shisapangma (also called Gosainthān), the 14th highest mountain in the world and lowest of the world’s 14 8,000m+ peaks, at 8,027 metres above sea level.
Pictures Credit Red Bull and MAREK OGIEŃ