On July 21 at 10:45 p.m. Pakistan time, five mountaineers were standing on top of 28,251 feet K2. They were the first climbers to reach the top of the summit during the 2022 summer climbing season, after struggling for more than 24 hours to reach the summit. For Pasdawa Sherpa, Chhiring Namgyal Sherpa, Siddhi Ghising, Dorjee Gyelzen Sherpa and Rinji Sherpa, turning back was not an option as hundreds of climbers further down the mountain relied on their hard work. This team of elite Nepalese high-altitude workers had repaired a series of ropes that would then be used by climbers waiting in cramped tents at Camp 4.
By the time the rope fixers began their descent, a horde of climbers were already heading to the summit, leading to what was to become the busiest day at the summit.
One of the climbers ascending the mountain was Nepali guide Mingma Gyalge Sherpa, better known as Mingma G, who captured a video on Instagram that quickly circulated around the world. The video showed dozens of climbers waiting in a so-called “conga line” on the mountain’s infamous bottleneck couloir at 26,900ft.
“A lot of climbers were supposed to summit on July 20-21, but there was no fixed route to the summit until July 21 overnight, so everyone pushed the summit for July 22 , which caused the traffic jam,” Mingma G said in a WhatsApp message.
The scene marked a historic moment for K2, long referred to as the “wild mountain” in climbing circles. In previous decades, K2 was off-limits to all but the most experienced climbers due to its extreme danger and steepness. Today, K2 has exploded in popularity, driven by a generation of paying customers who seek a greater challenge than Mount Everest, and a coterie of expedition operators who specialize in ascending climbers, whatever the dangers encountered along the way.
By the end of the day on July 22, more than 100 climbers had reached the summit of K2, notorious for its brutal weather and high death rate. In the days that followed, that number continued to rise. As of Thursday morning, 145 climbers have climbed the summit since July 21, a figure that added 30% more peaks to the mountain’s tally since it was first ascent nearly 70 years ago. Prior to the historic day, only 302 people had stood at the summit.
But this bonanza on the mountains produced the cringe-worthy moment about the bottleneck and other crowd scenes.
“I never thought this would happen on K2,” Himalayan database manager and mountaineer Bili Bierling said when she saw the video of Mingma G.
The bottleneck is known for its danger. In February 2021, it claimed the lives of three elite mountaineers: Muhammad Ali Sadpara, John Snorri and Juan Pablo Mohr. The deaths sent shockwaves through the mountaineering community. In the video, the line of climbers stood under a wall of seracs which are known to send tons of ice crashing down the mountain at irregular intervals. The video also echoes a viral photo shared by Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja in 2019 from a Crowded Everest summit ridge. While in Purja’s photo the climbers are stacked on an open ridge and surrounded by blue sky, on K2 the traffic jam was positioned directly below the dangerous seracs.
The video generated over 200 comments and a lively debate about the popularity of the mountain this year. “K2 is not Everest, it can’t be marketed like that. What a pity,” read a comment on the video.
Pemba Sherpa, the founder of 8K Expeditions, a major Nepalese outfitter, said Outside that the increase in the number of climbers this year was due to multiple dynamics, among them the pent-up demand that occurred during the pandemic.
“So many people are about to climb 14 peaks,” Pemba said. “And so many people have been arrested because of COVID and the financial downturn. Now, in 2022…. people come to K2.
Pemba estimated that there were more than 200 permits in total for the mountain this year. But he downplayed the danger caused by the pile-up on the mountain. The conga line at the bottleneck was a large group that had traveled together, not a line of disparate teams trying to reach the top.
“Two hundred people on a mountain that size will be scattered,” he said. “The problem is when everyone wants to climb on the same day.”
Asked about his video, Mingma G echoed Pemba’s sentiment, saying his company has seen a steady increase in interest in guiding on K2 in recent years. “Since 2017, we’ve seen peaks every year on K2. It wasn’t like this before,” he said. “And COVID-19 has also increased the number of climbers on K2.”
Thanks to an unusually stable weather patch in the Karakoram, highs on K2 continued throughout the week. Notable climbs include Pasdawa Sherpa who, as a member of the rope repair team, became the fastest person to climb the five highest peaks on earth.
Norwegian mountaineer Kristin Harila has landed the eighth peak in her quest to climb all 14 peaks over 8,000 meters in six months and bring attention to the role of women in high altitude mountaineering. To prove his point, three women reached the summit without using supplemental oxygen: Grace Teng from Taiwan, Andorran mountaineer Stefi Troguet and He Jing from China.
Huge crowds could be the norm on some of the world’s highest peaks this year. Thanks to a recent report by German archivist Eberhard Jurgalski on his blog 8000ers.com, which provided compelling evidence that the vast majority of recent ascents of Manaslu (26,781ft) were, in fact, a few meters below the summit real, operators in Nepal expect a wave of climbers to return to the mountains this fall. Sources said Outside that they expect to see several hundred climbers on that peak later this fall.
“For my company alone, we already have 50 registered customers.” said Pemba Sherpa. “Everyone comes to repeat the Manaslu.”