K2: The Impossible Descent

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Andrzej Bargiel seen at the K2 Ski Challenge in Karakorum on July 22, 2018

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mountain-culture junkies have turned to the internet to get their adrenaline fix. In mid-July, Red Bull Media House dropped K2: The Impossible Descent, the story of Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel’s successful linkage of a non-stop ski route down the world’s second-highest peak. Perhaps Bargiel thought skiing might prove somewhat safer?

Descended from a long line of tough, stubborn, yet modest Polish climbers who take nothing for granted and let their actions do the talking, Bargiel is exemplary. He metronomically strides into the Death Zone quietly and efficiently, only to spend two nights attending to his hypoxic climbing partner. He summits later, solo, without oxygen, clips into his skinny “rando”-style skis and shoves off. We share his fear as he struggles from one butt-clenching turn to the next.

Never has “dust on crust” looked so deadly. He sideslips down a heavily corniced ridge that he estimates to be 75 degrees in steepness before sketching across K2’s fearsome Messner Traverse.

And while the skiing is decidedly not pretty, most certainly “connect the dots” survival skiing, the sheer ruggedness and scale of Pakistan’s Karakoram Range makes Bargiel’s accomplishment seem utterly surreal.

This is not a vanity project full of pumped-up, preening pro athletes; Bargiel’s team is incredibly tight-knit and sharply focused. They even rescue (with the help of a drone!) two fellow climbers caught in life-and-death situations. North Face athletes Hillaree O’Neill and Jimmy Chin are enrolled to provide context and perhaps a North American perspective on Bargiel’s incredible feat, but even they can’t quite believe their eyes.

by STEVEN THRENDYLE from Buyer’s Guide 2021

Steven Threndyle
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