When Cory Richards set out to climb Gasherbrum II (also called K4) in early 2011 with Simone Moro of Italy and Denis Urubko of Kazakhstan, he didn’t initially realize he would be the first American to summit an 8,000-foot peak in winter. He just knew his team was aspiring to make the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II. “It was life altering in a lot of ways,” says Richards. “I pushed myself harder as a climber and photographer than ever before.”
Located in Pakistan, in the Karakoram Range, Gasherbrum II is the 13th highest mountain in the world at 26,362 feet. The standard climbing route on the southwest ridge has hazards such as crevasses, avalanches, and rockfall—even in the summer. Winter conditions elevate it to a whole new level.
During his six weeks on the mountain, Richards experienced winds as high as 43 miles per hour and temperatures as low as minus 51ºF (not including windchill). On the descent, the team was nearly killed by an avalanche that partially buried them. “I felt like we were wearing the margin thinner and thinner,” Richards says. “And it is something that has fundamentally altered me—both positively and negatively.”
Cory Richards climbed and photographed Gasherbrum II in 2011, becoming the first American to successfully summit an 8,000-meter peak in the winter. His footage of the emotional aftermath of an avalanche that half-buried him and his team during the descent became the cornerstone of the award-winning film Cold, an honest examination of the risks of alpinism. He now shoots regularly for National Geographic magazine. Read his Adventurers of the Year profile.
Cory Richard's Gear Pick: Camera
“Never ever leave home without your camera. Take lots of pictures. Share them. Inspire others. Tell the story ... engage in it,” Richards says. “Most of the time, you can go a lot farther and a lot harder than you think, and telling that story is often the most inspiring thing you can do for those around you—not to mention for yourself.” Richards uses a Canon EOS 1D Mark 4.