If you’ve seen the documentary Cold, which American photographer Cory Richards shot on Gasherbrum II, then here’s what you know: over a 26-year period, 16 expeditions tried and failed to put a climber atop one of Pakistan’s 8,000-meter peaks in winter, when the mountains of the Karakoram Range become so barbarously cold and windy that they make the more southerly Himalayas seem like Houston. That all changed on February 2, 2011, when Italian Simone Moro, Kazakh Denis Urubko, and Richards reached the summit of 26,360-foot Gasherbrum II. The historic adventure and physical beatdown included temperatures of minus 51 Fahrenheit and a close call with a colossal avalanche that left Richards, a 31-year-old Boulder-based photographer, bawling frosty tears into his camera. Richards became the first and only American to have climbed an 8,000-meter peak in winter, anywhere.
Having barely survived that epic, Richards, Moro, and Urubko naturally want to do something even crazier: a winter assault on K2, at 28,254 feet the world’s second-highest peak—and, after Annapurna, the second-deadliest per ascent. Even during the height of climbing season, in the summer, K2 kills one person for every four who attempt it. It’s never been tried in winter.
“I love to suffer; I love how cold it can get and finding my way out of adverse situations,” says Richards, who admits the G2 trip left him with post-traumatic stress. “We fell into crevasses so often, it got to the point where we’d laugh when someone went in headfirst.”