British climber Jake tells his story of scaling the second-highest mountain in the world (Picture: Jake Meyer)
If you ask a child to draw a mountain, they draw a triangle – and that’s pretty much K2.
Its slopes average 45 degrees of steepness over 3.5km of vertical gain, and its peak is 28,251ft high.
Nicknamed Savage Mountain, K2 is one of the toughest climbs in the world. Last month was only the first time it’s been scaled during the winter, when it’s especially hard because the temperature doesn’t get much above -15C.
I’ve always wanted to climb it. I got into climbing when I was 12 and almost everything I did from then on had a climbing element.
My physics project was about rope elasticity, for a design project I made a portaledge (a hanging tent that enables climbers to rest or sleep on the side of a mountain) and my English projects were about climbing books.
I dreamed of conquering the Seven Summits – the highest mountains across the seven continents, including Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro.
K2 is nicknamed Savage Mountain for it’s notoriously dangerous slopes (Picture: Jake Meyer)
The summits get more challenging and by the time I attempted Everest in 2005 I was ready for it. Afterwards, I wanted to test myself on a harder climb at a similar altitude. I’d always been aware of K2 as this Mecca for the greatest Himalayan climbers.
You’re attached to ropes most of the time and, for much of the route, if you fell, you wouldn’t stop until you reached the valley floor. One of the most dangerous bits is the Black Pyramid, between Camp 2 and Camp 3, where you’re basically climbing on loose rock and ice.
But the greatest threat is The Bottleneck, a gully overhung by a huge serac (a block of ice), with steepness of about 50 or 60 degrees.
The routes are constant bowling alleys of rockfall – even the campsites offer little protection. Camp 3 is in a highly avalanched area and in 2016 our tents were wiped off the mountain.
I remember being in a tent when a rock tore through the canvas like a meteorite. My helmet went back on there and then, and stayed on.
Jake had three failed attempts before he finally reached the top (Picture: Jake Meyer)
I tried to summit three times but every time I didn’t make it, my resolve strengthened. Finally getting there (at the age of 34) was a huge adrenaline rush. I’ll never forget getting to base camp and seeing people coming out of their tents and clapping, inviting us in for tea.
The biggest difference for the climbers who made the first wintertime summit would have been the temperature.
The worst injury I’ve had from K2 is sunburn but it would be constantly cold for them. There was a risk of frostbite. Mental fortitude becomes very important. Their achievement is immense, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit jealous, but there’s also a good reason why it’s defeated so many brilliant mountaineers.
My pursuit of K2 taught me so much about perseverance, determination and failing gracefully. You don’t always get what you want first time but if you learn from your mistakes, that’s where true learning comes from.
Crazy facts about record-breaking army reservist Jake
- Jake reached the summit of Kilimanjaro at the age of 15, starting his bid to become the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountain on each continent.
- He nailed the challenge aged 21 and 134 days, when he also became the youngest Briton to climb Everest. He climbed the ‘Bass variant’ of the Seven Summits, which also includes Aconcagua (Andes), Denali (Alaska), Vinson (Antarctica), Elbrus (Caucuses) and Kosciuszko (Australia).
- In 2006 Jake set a record of the fastest ascent of the highest mountain in every state in US mainland (barring Alaska). He did it in 23 days, 19 hours and 31 minutes.
- He’s also visited the highest point, including Scafell Pike, in every English county – and he did all 82 in seven days, four hours and 20 minutes. Phew!
*As told to Tamara Hinson
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