The Ultimate Ski Descent
On July 22nd, 2018, 30-year-old Polish ski mountaineer, Andrzej Bargiel became the first person to ski down from the summit of K2, the world’s second highest peak.
Picture this. You have just run a marathon -- sleep deprived with no water and a plastic bag over your head, fueled by nothing more than a couple of muesli bars over three days. Now imagine, on top of that, skiing icy slopes much steeper than any black run with a 2000 km cliff below your feet and sky-scraper-sized blocks of ice above your head that can topple at any moment. There’s no map to tell you where to go through this treacherous jungle of snow, rock and ice full of dead ends and alpine booby-traps. And there’s no way out if you change your mind. Then, after being on the go for four hours, the slope finally eases off to a blue run. Now you play a game of Russian roulette in the near dark with the bottomless holes - that could just as well be land mines - that litter the slope for several kilometres between you and the tiny dot of light that signifies the relative safety of basecamp.
The final frontier in extreme skiing
Bargiel 'cruised' down from the Pakistani peak -- which stands at 8,611 m - in a swift seven hours, having topped out on the summit after three and a half days of climbing without the aid of supplementary oxygen -- a feat unto itself.
Four routes were reportedly connected by Bargiel’s descent: the Abruzzi Rib, the Česen, the Messner variant and the Kukuczka-Piotrowski routes. Bargiel was able to link snowy sections throughout his entire descent apart from a 50 metre abseil above what is known as the Bottleneck.
Some of the conditions encountered on his adventurous descent included delays due to poor visibility at camp IV, technical skiing on an ‘extremely steep wall’, being forced to ski under huge seracs and navigating the crevasse-strewn snowfields back to base camp.
In the league of Eight Thousander’s, Bargiel’s other successful ski descents to his name include: Shishapangma’s Central summit, Broad Peak and Manaslu. A ski descent of K2 however, is a feat that many considered the final frontier in extreme skiing, and for good reason.
Speaking directly after completing his descent, Bargiel said, "I’m very happy that I’ve managed to ski down the summit of K2 and get back to the base safely! . . . 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." Bargiel aborted his 2017 attempt on K2 due to high temperatures and dangerous conditions.
Not without help on his mission, Bargiel’s support team included Janusz Gołąb, Piotr Pawlus, Marek Ogień and his brother, Bartłomiej as well as a team of highly experienced Sherpas.
Video of Andrzej Bargiel's world first ski descent of K2
Some Stats about K2
K2, rising to 8,611 metres above sea level is the second highest mountain in the world and the highest peak in Pakistan. The towering summit was so named because it was the second peak in the Karakorum range to be surveyed. K2 is also known variously as “Chogori,” Balti for big mountain, “Mount Godwin-Austen”, “Mount Qogir” and “Savage Mountain”.
The moniker “Savage Mountain” came about due to its extreme difficulty of ascent and unforgiving nature. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying.
Despite the bad odds, K2's treacherous slopes are not without ski attempts. As early as 1998, Italy’s Edmund Joyeusaz skied from around 7000 m. The first attempt from the summit was made in 2001 by Hans Kammerlander, who skied only 400-metres before abandoning his attempt to save a Korean who was in trouble. In 2010 Swedish ski mountaineer, Fredrik Ericsson, fell to his death from the Bottleneck whilst in pursuit of his long-held dream to be the first to ski from the top of this alluring peak. Bargiel’s was the first continuous descent from the summit to Base Camp without taking off his skis.
There’s also a happy afterword to the Andrzej Bargiel triumph. While Andrzej’s brother Bartłomiej was scoping his brother’s line of descent, he picked up a moving spot on Broad Peak. The moving spot which was detected by Bargiel’s high-altitude DJI Mavic Pro drone turned out to be British climber Rick Allen - feared missing and presumed dead. Bargiel’s drone work was instrumental in Rick Allen’s rescue from Broad Peak. And, incidentally it was the highest a drone has flown to a record-breaking altitude of 8,500 metres.
K2 was reportedly summited on 22 July by 31 other alpinists. At the time of writing, the total number of summits for the season was 63, the one by Bargiel will surely be the summit that will be remembered most.