Cutting a near perfect triangle of sharp, snow-covered rock against an expansive sky, K2’s iconic summit soars 28,251 feet above the China-Pakistan border. K2 may be the second highest mountain on Earth after Everest, but the difficulty of the climb, the unpredictable weather, and the higher fatality rate (roughly one climber has died for every four who have succeeded) make it the most elusive.
Edurne Pasaban, the first woman to conquer all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, calls her 2004 summit of the remote K2 one of the most exciting moments of her life, and the adventure that made the most impact. “After summitting, looking down at the Concordia Glacier below, where I’d stood 40 days earlier looking up, I felt this overwhelming desire to be able to share with the entire world this feeling of incredible freedom,” she says.
When Pasaban attempted K2, she had already summited six of the world’s tallest mountains, including Everest. But K2 was the first time she felt fear. “According to statistics, at that time there was no woman alive who had climbed K2,” she says. “And that made me feel both scared and dizzy.”
After a 2010 summit of Shishapangma (Xixabangma Feng) in the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwestern China, Spaniard Edurne Pasaban became the first woman to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, expedition-style. Despite having lost parts of her toes to frostbite, she continues to pursue big mountains, including returning to Everest—her first 8,000-meter peak—to climb it without supplemental oxygen. Read her Adventurers of the Year profile.