Not only is it dangerous, climbing Mount Everest is not cheap, either in terms of lives or dollars. And yet, hundreds are drawn each year to climb it. Commercial expeditions can cost climbers $60,000 to $75,00 each. Nepalese government charges fees ranging from $25000 for one member expedition to $70,000 for seven members. The total cost for climbing is steep, according to CNN. An expedition to the world's second highest peak, K2 in Pakistan, runs around $50,000 per climber. A trip to Everest has the steepest price at $65,000. Individual climbers can easily spend $5,000 on equipment. The total Mt. Everest annual revenue runs into tens of millions of dollars and provides employment to several thousand people. 3,681 people have made the summit so far, but thousands more have tried. About 170 climbers have died in their attempts to reach the summit.
While Mount Everest is considered the tallest peak at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet), it is K2, believed to be the second tallest at 8,611 meters (28,251 ft), that is documented as the most dangerous. In fact, there have been rumors circulating in the mountaineering world that new measurements show that K2 is actually taller than Everest. Rumors that it might actually be much, much higher - 12 feet taller than Everest - began in 1987 after a British expedition measured K2 and found it to be 29,041 feet. If confirmed, this new measurement, along with the greater challenge of K2, could hurt significant tourist revenue stream of Nepal and bring it to Pakistan.
In contrast to Mt. Everest summit's total of 3,681 successful climbs, only 280 climbers have reached the K2 summit. "It's enormous, very high, incredibly steep and much further north than Everest which means it attracts notoriously bad weather," says Britain's most celebrated mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington, who lost his colleague Nick Escourt in an avalanche on K2's western side during an expedition in 1978. In 1986 13 climbers were killed in a week when a vicious storm stranded numerous expeditions. It is often said that if you were to summit K2 with a climbing partner, it is best to say your goodbyes well ahead the descent, because the statistics claim that one of the two will not come back alive. 46% of the attempts end in death, most during descent, according to a K2 climbers website. The fatality rate for those who reach the summit at 27% is about three times higher than that for Mount Everest, according to BBC.
The latest news of more fatalities seems to confirm K2's status as the most challenging, if not the tallest. At least eleven climbers including three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis, and French, Serbian, Norwegian and Irish climbers had died on the mountain, according to Pakistani authorities. The climbers include Koreans, Pakistanis, Nepalis, a Dutchman and an Italian, reports say, but exact details remain unclear. As about 25 climbers descended from the peak of K2 in the darkness on Friday, an avalanche swept some climbers away and left others stranded. An Italian member of the group has been reached by Pakistani rescuers and taken to an advance base camp on the mountain. The latest reports indicate Pakistani military helicopters have rescued two Dutch climbers stranded on K2. The survivors are being treated for frostbite at Pakistani military hospitals, according to media reports.
While there have been many inspiring stories of success and survival of climbers after storms and avalanches on K2, the story of Greg Mortenson stands out. In 1993, Mortenson, an American from the state of Montana, went to climb K2 in northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Two local Balti porters took Mortenson to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where he recovered.
To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to found the Central Asia Institute. A non-profit organization, CAI's mission is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hoerni named Mortenson as CAI's first Executive Director. Reviewing Greg Mortenson's book "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One Sch...", New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff argues "a lone Montanan (Mortenson) staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration". Kristoff quotes Greg Mortenson, an Army veteran, as saying “Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country".
While some international and Pakistani climbers and tourists may be dissuaded by the extreme dangers of K2 climbing (or rather descending) or the fear of the Taliban, many more would be drawn to it for the very same reason. As the stories of the challenging mountain reach the worldwide audience, I expect much larger numbers to flock to it for the risks and thrills it offers. With relatively modest investments for average tourists and serious climbers facilities such as access roads, hotels, restaurants, guided tours, a climbing history museum, a climbing skills school, mountaineering equipment and clothing stores, Pakistan can develop a strong revenue stream to create jobs, build schools and promote opportunities for the friendly natives in its picturesque northern areas.
The truth is Pakistan could be — should be — an incredible tourist destination. It offers wonderful Mughal ruins, evocative British colonial architecture, world-class hiking and climbing in the Karakoram Mountains, gorgeous rolling green meadows, captivating culture, great food (especially the fruits and kebabs), and some of the best carpet shops in South Asia. Unfortunately, it is also regularly described as the world's most dangerous country — which, while more intriguing than slogans like "Malaysia, Truly Asia" or "I Feel Slovenia," is not exactly an inducement for people to visit.
Here's a video clip of a K2 Canadian Expedition in 2006: