First American Woman Summits K2

Vanessa O’Brien is the first American woman to summit one of the world’s deadliest mountains, K2.


The second tallest mountain in the world saw its first American female ascent this past weekend. Vanessa O’Brien, age 52, along with 12 other climbers, summited K2 on July 28. Due to her dual citizenship, she is also technically the first British woman to make the summit.

The 28,251-foot summit came after climbing for 16 hours from a final high camp. O’Brien donned the requisite high-altitude mountaineering suit and also paused on top for a photo opp with a “Make America Great Again” cap.

The first woman of any nationality to ascend K2 was Polish climber Wanda Rutkiewicz in 1986. The peak, on the China-Pakistan border, has turned back hundreds of attempts since its first ascent by an Italian expedition in 1954.

K2: A Deadly Mountain

K2 is universally seen as a harder climb than its taller cousin Mount Everest. It sees routine avalanches and is known for bad weather. It’s among the world’s most deadly mountains, claiming the lives of nearly 10% of those who attempt it.

O’Brien and her team summited K2 from the Pakistan side and descended safely. She had tried to conquer K2 two times before, but harsh weather in 2015 and an avalanche in 2016 thwarted attempts.

“This was by far the hardest undertaking I have ever come across,” she told VOA. O’Brien holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest woman to climb the seven summits, the tallest peaks on every continent.

At the summit, she raised national flags for the United States, England, and Pakistan. She holds citizenship in both the U.S. and England, and is a Board Member of the American Pakistan Foundation.

Professionally, O’Brien works in finance and has held executive-level positions at several institutions. Now, she adds this impressive climbing accomplishment to her mountaineering resume.

K2
K2: Photo by Stefanos Nikologianis

First American Woman Summits K2

K2 has seen just over 300 summits in its climbing history. For every four that reach the summit successfully, one dies.

K2
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“K2 fascinates me because while it is not quite as high as Everest, it is technically more challenging with exposed rock, steeper terrain and higher avalanche risk,” she said before her climb in an interview with Forbes.

O’Brien climbed Everest in 2012 in the effort to become the fastest woman to climb the Seven Summits.

She summited back-to-back 8,000-meter peaks eight days apart; has skied the last degree to the North and South poles; and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Explorers club.

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Midwest born, Nate Mitka started with Gearjunkie after a short stint as “intern”. An advocate of all outdoor activities he’s developed some habits, like running without headphones, eating raw vegetables, and fixing the chain on his ratty old bike.

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