A Polish mountaineer has become the first person to ski from the summit of K2 – the world’s second highest mountain at 8,611m, just below Everest at 8,848m.
Culminating on Sunday, this was Andrzej Bargiel’s second expedition to climb and ski the formidable peak, located in the Karakorum mountain range on the border between China and Pakistan.
He abandoned his ascent of K2 in July 2017, when high temperatures and dangerous conditions forced him back.
Bargiel emphasised the difficulty of the mission afterwards when he said, “I feel huge happiness and, to be honest, it was my second attempt, so I’m glad that I won’t be coming here again.”
Only around 300 people have successfully climbed K2 since the first ascent in 1954, and 77 have died trying. Bargiel is not the first to have dreamt of skiing it, but all previous attempts have failed.
Italian mountaineer Hans Kammerlander called off his mission in 2001 after failing to prevent the death of a Korean climber. In 2009 another Italian, Michele Fait lost his life while skiing on an attempt together with Swedish mountaineer and extreme skier Fredrik Ericsson. In 2010 Ericsson was also killed on his way to the top for a second skiing attempt. American Dave Watson was partially successful in 2009, skiing from 8,350m.
Because it is notoriously challenging, K2 is also known as “the savage mountain”. But 30-year-old Bargiel, who is the ninth of 11 children, is no stranger to intrepid ski projects. His Sunt Leones missions to conqueur the unexplored and ski down the highest mountains on earth started in 2013 with the summiting and skiing of Shishapangma, 8,013m, in China. Hic Sunt Leones means “here be lions” in Latin.
He also climbed the five highest peaks in the former Soviet Union, known as the Snow Leopard challenge, in just under 30 days, the fastest ever time, and was Polish ski jumping champion three times.
Bargiel begain his successful attempt on K2 on Thursday afternoon, ascending to successive base camps, after spending several weeks acclimatising in the Karakorum. The final push started at 4am on Sunday morning, in resassuringly good weather. He was accompanied by fellow mountaineers, Janusz Gołąb, who was also with Bargiel on K2 in July 2017, photographer Marek Ogień, cinematographer Piotr Pawlus and Bargiel’s brother Bartłomiej who operated the mission’s drone.
Bargeil and his team stopped at base camps during their to acclimatise to the altitude in the KarakorumsCredit: Piotr Pawlus/Red Bull Content Pool
While summiting K2 is an achievement in itself, when Bargiel finally reached the mountain peak at 11.30am, only half of his misson was completed. At the top he put on his skis and started his descent, finding snowy sections between intimidating rocky outcrops and glaciers.
His route meant him negotiating the dangers of several of K2’s notorious climbing routes. First the Cesen route, named for Slovenian climber Tomo Česen, the first to use it in 1986. From here Bargiel traversed under huge and dangerous blocks of ice known as seracs via the extremely difficult Messner traverse named for renowned Italian climber Reinhold Messner.
He then reached a sharp ridge on what’s known as the Polish Line, used by Bargiel’s compatriots Jerzy Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski to reach the summit in 1986. Piotrowski was killed on the descent.
Even on the snow his task was far from easy – Bargiel skied across open expanses full of crevasses, and was forced to wait for poor visibility to clear at one of the intermediate base camps. “Some problems appeared when I reached the peak and started to ski down,” he said. “It was very cloudy and I had to wait for it to clear up at Base IV because the next phase of my downhill was going to be very difficult and technical on an extremely steep wall.”
Bargiel finally reached the final base camp at around 7.30pm on Sunday. Speaking straight afterwards he simply said, “I’m very happy that I’ve managed to ski down the summit of K2 and get back to the base safely.”
As well as completing the record-breaking first ski descent of K2, Andrzej Bargiel also became the 13th Pole to reach the top of the world’s second highest mountain.