K2 is “a savage mountain that tries to kill you,” according to American climber George Bell. Rising steeply above the Karakoram Range along the Pakistan-China border and battered by atrocious weather, this pyramid-shaped mountain has always been the ultimate challenge for the world’s best mountaineers—and the graveyard of many of their ambitions. In 2008, in the worst accident in its history, 11 climbers perished trying to climb K2.
While making a documentary for the BBC, Mick Conefrey was lucky enough to meet a number of the pioneers who attempted to conquer the mountain, first summited by Italian Ardito Desio’s team in 1954. Conefrey’s book, The Ghosts of K2: The Epic Saga of the First Ascent, draws on those interviews, as well as newly released diaries and letters, to take us inside the obsessions, feuds, and acts of heroism that K2 inspires in those who dare to climb it.
Talking from his home in London, Conefrey explains why K2 brings out the best and worst in climbers, what climber Charles Houston meant by the term “The Brotherhood of the Rope,” and how the first man to attempt K2 ended up on the album cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.