On July 22nd, 2018 Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel reached a world first when he climbed and then descended from the summit of the planet’s second-highest mountain on skis, K2. At 8,611m, it’s just 200m shorter than Mt Everest. Until Bargiel’s first descent, it was one of the last of the famous peaks still un-skied from the summit.
After all, is said and done, Bargiel’s impossible achievement will go down as one of the most audacious descents on skis ever. Check out the extraordinary footage below of the historic descent.
Following his solo ascent to the summit – without oxygen – he spent the next seven-plus hours getting down. Bargiel is just 30-years old, but he has a lifetime of experience in high alpine areas, having previously skied off Broad Peak, Shishapagma and Manaslu, and he’s held the world speed record for the ascent on Russia’s Mt Elbrus for the past five years.
Bargiel set his sights on skiing off K2, and made his first attempt last year. High avalanche danger and risks of rockfall kept them off the summit, though, which saw only about a dozen climbers all year.
While much less famous than Everest, K2 perhaps deserves more respect. Following this record-breaking season (with 60+ summits), still only an estimated 417 people have ever stood on the peak, and a full quarter of those who have gone after the summit have died in their attempt. It’s considered by far most technical and deadliest peak in the world.
A handful of other accomplished mountaineers have tried to ski it before, including Italian Hans Kammerlander and American Dave Watson, who skied down from approximately 400m below the summit. While both survived their attempts, two mountaineers – Italian Michele Fait in 2009 and Fredrik Ericsson in 2010– both fell to their deaths while attempting the ski descent. K2’s most dangerous obstacle is said to be the ‘Bottleneck’ – a narrow, 50° couloir that has an extremely large serac hanging above it.
One of the unsung heroes of the expedition? The drone belonging to Bargiel’s brother, Bartek. First, using the drone, Bartek spotted Scottish climber Rick Allen, who was missing, presumed dead, and was able to help rescuers reach the injured climber. That wasn’t the only time the little drone came to the rescue, though. As Bargiel was summiting, it flew medicine up to Janusz Gołąb, allowing him to feel well enough to descend with Bargiel’s help. The drone flight to film Bargiel on the summit also set another new record for the highest known drone flight while filming ever recorded.
Bargiel’s day on July 22 started at approximately 4am. He had originally planned to climb with expedition partner Janusz Gołąb, but back pain kept Gołąb in Camp III. Bargiel decided to go for a summit attempt solo, moving quickly and without the help of oxygen.
He arrived on the summit around 11.30am, where he then clipped into his skis and began the descent, a complicated route that took about eight hours to get back to Base Camp, including an hour-long stop at Camp IV, at 8,000m, to wait for better weather. His line actually connected four different routes on K2 – the Abruzzi Rib, Česen, Messner variant and the Kukuczka-Piotrowski route. His route took him down a descent of 3,600 vertical meters.