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K2 Ski Descent

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It was predawn in Pakistan, a bleak scene on the flank of a deadly peak. A group of climbers huddled together, stamping their feet, rocking and swaying for warmth in the dark, subzero air.

They gasped for breath. They waited for light.

At sunrise, Dave Watson stood up. He adjusted his footwear — ski boots equipped with crampon spikes. He kicked into the snow to start a long climb, an ice gulley ascending the second highest peak on the planet.

Dave Watson skiing high on Pakistan’s Broad Peak; K2 in background.
Photo by Andy Selters, www.andyselters.com.

It was August 4, 2009, and Watson, a ski guide and resident of St. Louis Park, Minn., was attempting to ski K2, a 28,251-foot pyramid of ice and stone.

His team would employ ropes and ice axes on the ascent. Going down, Watson would switch disciplines. He’d clip his boots into bindings and push off, ski edges slicing ice on a pitch so steep a single slip would equal death.

Watson on the ascent of K2’s Bottleneck Couloir. Photo by George Dijmarescu.

“It’s essentially skiing down a climbing route,” said Watson, referring to K2’s infamous Bottleneck Couloir, the crux section on the mountain’s freefalling southeast face.

Few people have climbed K2, a remote and statistically deadly peak in the Karakoram Range. No one has ever skied it.

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