Expedition: K2
Photograph by Darek Zaluski
The north face of K2 as seen from the team's depot on the K2-Glacier.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner has stood atop all but one of the world's 8,000-meter peaks. This summer, she and a small team of climbers (among them her husband Ralf Dujmovits) will attempt to conquer the last one—K2. If she succeeds, the Austrian will become the first woman to climb all 14 of the world's tallest peaks without the aid of supplemental oxygen and high-altitude porters.

Second only to Everest in height, K2 is known as the "Savage Mountain" because it presents a more difficult technical climb and claims the second-highest fatality rate among all 8,000-meter peaks (Annapurna, the least-climbed of the 8,000-meter peaks, has the highest). About one out of every four climbers who attempt to summit K2 dies trying. [SOURCE: EBERHARD JURGALSKI] Kaltenbrunner has been thwarted on all six of her previous attempts to summit K2 by bad weather or accidents, as was the case last year when her teammate Fredrik Ericsson lost his footing and fell to his death.

Only 23 climbers—Dujmovits among them—have successfully summited all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks. Just ten have done so without using supplemental oxygen. [SOURCE: EBERHARD JURGALSKI] Climbing without supplemental oxygen is perceived by some climbers as the purest and fairest way of laying claim to a peak. Others contend that using oxygen is safer and healthier.

Kaltenbrunner and Dujmovits are joined on this expedition by two Kazakh climbers—Vassily Pivtsov and Maxut Zhumayev—for whom this is also the last unclimbed 8,000-meter peak. Also joining the expedition are Polish mountaineer Darek Zaluski and Argentinian photographer Tommy Heinrich.

The two-month expedition takes place from late June to late August. The route they have chosen—the North Pillar—ascends from the Chinese side of the mountain and is more remote, longer, and more difficult than the "Cesen Route" that Kaltenbrunner has previously attempted from the Pakistani side. Access to the North Pillar route first requires a hazardous crossing of the Shaksgam River by camel, which can only be accomplished at certain times. Once on the mountain, the team must ascend a long and steep rock ridge, navigate a dangerous hanging glacier, then scale an avalanche-prone snow couloir to reach the summit.

Follow the team's progress up the mountain through dispatches and photos—direct from K2.