Andrzej Bargiel completes historic first ski descent of K2
Sunday 22 July 2018 is an absolutely historic date for high altitude steep skiing thanks to Polish mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel who made the first ski descent of K2, the second highest mountain in the world and the peak widely recognised as the most dangerous and difficult of all.
30-year-old Bargiel travelled to the Karakorum in mid-June, acclimatising on the slopes of Gasherbrum II. Conditions proved prohibitive for a summit bid and with his team he then made his way to K2 base camp, where he quickly got to work on the Cesen route up the SE Spur. On 19 July he ascended to Camp 2 and the next day he reached Camp 3 at 7,000 m together with Janusz Gołąb. On Sunday 22 July he set off on his own and, climbing without supplementary oxygen, he reached the summit at circa 11:30. Here he strapped on his skis and began his historic descent, down the shoulder towards the Cesen route, below the huge seracs that loom above the difficult Messner Traverse, to reach the arête on the line climbed by his compatriots Jerzy Kukucka and Tadeusz Piotrowski in 1986. Bargiel returned safely to basecamp at around 19:30 in the evening after having made one abseil circa 50 meters above the Bottleneck and after having been forced to wait in Camp 4 as clouds cleared and visibility improved.
A ski descent of K2 is a feat that many considered the final frontier in extreme skiing and the 8611 mountain had obviously been attempted in the past. As early as 1998 Italy’s Edmund Joyeusaz skied from 7000 m circa, while in 2001 Hans Kammerlander skied circa 400 meters off the summit before abandoning his attempt after witnessing a Korean fall to his death. In 2009 Italy’s Michele Fait fell to his death while skiing from Camp 2 with Fredrik Ericsson, while in 2010 the Swede fell to his death from the Bottleneck attempting to realise his dream of the first ski descent.
Bargiel’s descent was supported by Gołąb, Piotr Pawlus, Marek Ogień and his brother Bartłomiej who had been instrumental not only in rescuing Scotsman Rick Allen on Broad Peak but who had flown his drone to a record-breaking altitude of 8500 meters to scope the line of descent. In 2016 Andrzej Bargiel aborted his first attempt to ski K2 due to high temperatures and dangerous conditions. In 2013 he had skied off Shishapangma’s Central summit, and after summiting Broad Peak in 2014, in 2015 he skied off Manaslu. It is worth noting that, according to Alan Arnette, K2 was summited on 22 July by 31 other alpinists. While at present the total tops this season are 63, the one by Bargiel is certainly the summit that will be remembered most.