Kanchenjunga vs. K2: A Comparative Analysis

When someone asks you about the tallest peak in the world, Mount Everest comes to your mind. And if you are asked about the most dangerous peak, Mount Annapurna rings your bell. But what about the mixture of both high-altitude and hazardous mountains? You can go by two names: Mount K2 and Kanchenjunga. Unfortunately, they are not the tallest; they come in second and third place.

Many people are often confused regarding the introduction of Mount K2 and Kanchenjunga. There might be several reasons for this: one might be due to the high-level risks prevailing in these peaks, and the next might be the misinformation published in the past. Both mountains were once celebrated as the tallest in the world; however, Mount Everest changed every perception.

So this blog is for everyone who wants to explore the differences between Mount Kanchenjunga and K2. Let’s explore every detail in depth – stay until the end of the blog to know better.

Are Mount Kanchenjunga And K2 Same?

Mount Kanchenjunga and K2 are not the same peaks: they are different, located in two different geographical locations and timezone. Similarly, they have longitudinal and latitudinal variations and differences in environment and climates. 

The most important thing to notice is that Mount Kanchenjunga and K2 stand at two different altitudes above sea level, and that is enough to get the variation between the two high peaks.

Apart from that, the local inhabitants, surrounding environment, and landmarks are also the components that make one unique. Let’s see more of the differences between Mount Kanchenjunga and K2 in this feature blog.

Overview And History of Kanchenjunga and K2

Mount Kanchenjunga and K2 are the world’s 3rd and 2nd highest peaks. Not only are they two of the tallest mountains, but they are also the most dangerous ones to climb. These two mountains top every other peak among all the difficulty ratings due to the treacherous routes and harsh weather. Let’s look at some of the details of both of these mountains:

Mount Kanchenjunga

Mount Kanchenjunga is often called Kangchenjunga or Kinchinjunga. Situated in the Kumbhkaran Lungur mountain range, this peak is the third-highest peak on the planet.

Studies show this mountain is made up of the rocks of the Neoproterozoic (late Precambrian) to Ordovician age. By this, we can say that this mountain has stood in the eastern Himalayas on the border of Sikkim, India, and Nepal for over a billion years.

‘Kanchenjunga’ means ‘Five Treasuries of the Great Snow’ in Sikkim. It is derived from the Tibetan word Kang-chen-dzo-nga or Yang-chhen-dzo-nga. Without a doubt, the mountain has a significant history in myths and religious rituals, and the local inhabitants have been worshipping it as God for centuries.

The map of Mount Kanchenjunga was first erected by a priest named Rinzin Namgyal in the mid-19th century. Similarly, during that phase, a botanist named Sir Joseph Hooker visited the mountain region and narrated it professionally. Also, mountaineer Douglas Freshfield was next to cite mountain Kanchenjunga in 1899 AD.

The summit interest from the human side came in 1905 when an Anglo-Swiss expedition team tried Freshfield’s suggested route from Yalung Valley. During the climb, four of their crew members died in an avalanche.

Since then, many attempts have been made, including Günter O. Dyhrenfurth’s expedition in 1930 from the Kanchenjunga Glacier and the Bavarian expedition from the Zemu side in 1931. Before 1954, the highest height of the mountain was 7,700 meters (25,263 feet) in 1931.

Finally, on May 25, 1955, two British mountaineers named Joe Brown and George Band conquered the top of the mountain. As per the record, the duo had kept their promise not to violate the religious belief and stopped right before the top of the peak. Since the local inhabitants worship Mount Kanchenjunga as their God (Protector), Brown and Band were convinced not to step on its top by the Chyogal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal.

Since 1955, only 243 climbers have successfully climbed Kanchenjunga. As you know, it is the most dangerous peak to climb; the successful summit ratio is comparatively low than other mountains worldwide.

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Mount K2

When it comes to the tallest peak on Earth, the name of Mount K2 never fades away. Along with its altitude comes a vicious environment and natural builds that make the climbing expedition far more dangerous than any other peak.

Mount K2 is also called Mount Godwin Austen; local people call it Dapsang or Chogori. The peak is called Godwin Austen Mountain since Col. H.H. Godwin Austen first surveyed it. Also, its base stands on the Godwin Austen Glacier, one of the tributaries of Baltoro Glacier. K2 is located in the Karakoram Mountains range, partially in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan and partially in China.

Col. T.G. Montgomery was the man who first discovered Mount K2 in the survey of India. Since it was the second measured peak in the Karakoram Mountain Range, it was named K2. Like Kanchenjunga, the Anglo-Swiss expedition made the first attempt to Mount K2, which reached 5,670 meters (18,600 feet). The peak saw several unsuccessful attempts, including the Italian team’s expedition in 1909. Mountaineer Luigi Amedeo, Duke d’Abruzzi, was the leader of the expedition team, who opted for the southeastern ridge, also known as Abruzzi Ridge.

Similarly, Charles Houston and his team started their climb via the same route and reached 7,925 meters (26,000 feet). Other expeditions include another American Expedition from the same route reaching 8,380 meters (27,500 feet) in 1939, and Charles Houston again reaching 7,900 meters (25,900 feet) in 1953.

The successful summit did not come until 1954. Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli were the first climbers to reach the top of the second-tallest mountain on July 31, 1954. However, it cost the life of one of their guides Mario Puchoz, who died from pneumonia.

Records show that Mount K2 is also one of the least summited peaks in the world, with only 377 successful climbs (report of February 2021).

Comparison of Location and Height

Mount K2 and Kanchenjunga come second and third in their height regarding the highest peaks. While both exceed 8000 meters in altitude, they have different geographical locations. Here is complete detail about both of the mountains:

Mount Kanchenjunga

Geographically, Mount Kanchenjunga lies at 88.147881 longitude and 27.702414 latitudes. It lies on the border of Taplejung District, Nepal, and Sikkim, India. It has the Tamur River in the west, the Lhonak River and Jongsang La in the north, and the Teesta River in th east.

Three of the five major peaks of Kanchenjunga lie in India (Central, Main, and South). Similarly, two other peaks are in Taplejung, Nepal.

Kanchenjunga sits at an altitude of 8,586 meters (28,169 feet) above sea level, 25 meters lower than K2, and 262 meters lower than Mount Everest. Initially, it was believed to be the highest peak in the world; however, in 1849, the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India re-calculated and reconsidered the altitude since Everest, also known as Peak XV, was measured as the tallest.

It was in 1856 that Mount Kanchenjunga was officially declared the third tallest peak.

Mount K2

Mount K2 lies at 76.508102 longitude and 35.880981 latitudes. It lies in both China and Pakistan; one of its parts is in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir, administered by Pakistan, and the other is the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County of Xinjiang, administered by China.

K2 has Tarim sedimentary basin borders in the north and Lesser Himalayas in the south. Studies show that it is possible to navigate to Everest from K2 following the path of Kora La on the Nepal/China border in the Mustang Lo. The average altitude of this trail is around 4,594 meters (15,072 feet).

Mount K2 is the second tallest mountain, with a height of 8,611 meters (28,251 feet). It is 25 meters taller than Mount Kanchenjunga and 611 meters shorter than Mount Everest.

There were several misconceptions regarding its height, as many believed it was taller than Mount Everest. It was all after the survey of George Wallerstein came up with the inaccurate measurements in 1986. Later, in 1987 the height of K2 was reconsidered.

Mount K2 stands in glacial basins, making climbing very difficult.

Notable Climbing Routes for the Peaks

Both Kanchenjunga and K2 feature multiple climbing routes. Some are easy to moderate, while some routes are treacherous and challenging. Let’s explore the notable climbing routes of both mountains in brief:

Mount Kanchenjunga’s Climbing Routes

Generally, Mount Kanchenjunga features four climbing routes, out of which three lie in Nepal. The fourth one is in Sikkim. The Southwest, Northwest, and Northeast routes are in Nepal, while the Northeastern route is in Sikkim.

According to mountain studies, the Northwest and Southwest routes are two of the safest climbing routes. However, one should never underestimate the possible difficulty level in these routes.

The northeast route from Sikkim is considered the most horrendous one; to date, only three successful climbs have been made. As of this date, climbing from this route is impossible since the Indian Government has banned the climb since 2000.

Mount K2 Climbing Routes

Mount K2 comes with multiple climbing routes. The Abruzzi Spur Route of K2 is one of the most treacherous, with an ‘F’ rating in mountaineering. It was named after the Duke of the Abruzzi, Prince Luigi Amedeo, who attempted his summit in 1909. House’s Chimney and The Black Pyramids are some of the technical difficulties climbers must tackle for their successful K2 expedition.

Similarly, the North Ridge is the hardest among all routes of K2. Only two teams at a time can proceed with their expedition on this route located on the Chinese side. 

The other route is the West Ridge which begins from Negrotto Glacier. The first summit from this route was made in 1981.

The Southwest Pillar, also called the “Magic Line,” is said to be a ‘suicidal’ route. The 1986 summit by a Polish-Slovak expedition team was the first to successfully reach the top of K2 via this 1986 route.

The South Face or Polish Line/Central Rib is the next route in line. This route was used by Jerzy Kukucka and Tadeusz Piotrowski in 1986; however, both died during the descent. This route begins from the Pakistan side and takes the climbers through The Hockey Stick. Also, it meets with the Abruzzi Spur approximately 1000 feet below the top.

The Northwest Face of K2 starts from the Chinese geographical location. The first summit was made in 1990 by a Japanese team. This route is a mixture of rugged, rocky, and snowy terrain, which is no strange feature of K2.

The Northwest Ridge is the following route to the top of Mount K2. The ending point of the Northwest Ridge route is on the North Ridge. This route saw the first ascend via it in 1991.

South-Southeast Spur, also called Cesen Route, begins from the Pakistan side, and the first ascent to the top of Mount K2 via this route was made in 1994. It was a Spanish-Basque team who made their successful expedition. It is considered the easiest route of K2, having The Black Pyramid out of its way.

The West Face comes up with dangerous crevasses and difficulties. An expedition led by a Russian team in 2007 first climbed to the top of K2 via this route. 

Last but not least, there is one more route to the top of Mount K2: Eastern Face. However, this route has never been climbed. 

Weather Conditions in the Mountains

The essential thing climbers should know before their expedition to either Kanchenjunga or K2 is that the weather is never friendly. Since both peaks are over 8000 meters high, you will be experiencing some near-death experiences during the summit. Let’s see the weather conditions in both mountains:

Mount Kanchenjunga’s Weather

Dynamic weather condition is one of the worst characteristics of Mount Kanchenjunga. Climate can differ at several altitudes, but you are prone to altitude sickness, frostbite, HACE, and HAPE at all heights.

In the summer, the average temperature in Mount Kanchenjunga is around 10 °C to 28 °C. Summers are temperate and considered the best time to visit the region. In the winter, the temperature drops to about -5 °C to even more. The snowfall is heavy, and you are always in a freezing atmosphere – you should be prepared as per the climate if you are climbing Kanchenjunga in the winter. As of this writing, the recorded temperature in Kanchenjunga is -21 °C.

Besides that, air pressure, humidity, and wind rates are just as opposite as you might have expected here. They are unstable, making your survival very challenging.

Mount K2 Weather Condition

The winters are considered the terrifying seasons in K2. Since the temperature levels are below minus °C, you will find exercising your breathing tough. The temperature can decrease from -10 °C to -50 °C in the winter.

Unlike winter, summers are mild and temperate – relatively hotter than other seasons.

As of this writing, the recorded temperature of Mount K2 is -57 °C with a humidity of 82% and precipitation of 2%. The air is thin with depleted oxygen levels, so be prepared tightly before you pack your bags for the K2 expedition.

How Many Climbers Have Lost Their Lives In Kanchenjunga and K2?

Mountaineering is one of the riskiest adventures that is exercised in the world. Though the risk is life-threatening, people find it a pride material and fun. This has led many people to attempt climbing the high peaks; however, not everyone is lucky. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the mountains on the verge of climbing to the top.

Mount Kanchenjunga and K2 are not far from them. Both the mountains have recorded a significant loss of lives in it, and here is a detailed review of it.

Since the first ascent of Mount Kanchenjunga in 1955, more than 40 people have been demised. Some of them are famous mountaineers from around the world.

Here are some names of those who lost their life in Mount Kanchenjunga.

  • Wanda Rutkiewicz (Poland)
  • Iñigo de Pineda Blanc (Spain)
  • Alexis Pache (Switzerland)
  • Jože Rozman (Yugoslavia)
  • Andrzej Czok (Poland)
  • Benoît Chamoux (France)
  • Borut Bergant (Yugoslavia)
  • Chettan (India)
  • Chhanda Gayen (India)
  • Chris Chandler (USA)
  • Edgar Francis Farmer (USA)
  • Han Do Kyu (Korea)
  • Hyun Myeong-Kun (Korea)
  • Christopher Grasswick (Canada)
  • Takeo Matsuda (Japan)

When it comes to the death rate, K2 is not a strange name – every climber out of four dies while attempting this mountain. 91 people have lost their lives during the various summit campaigns.

Some of the names of those who tragically demised in K2 are as follows:

  • Matthew Eakin (Australia)
  • Kojiro Watanabe (Japan)
  • Akira Suzuki (Japan)
  • Petar Georgiev Unzhiev (Bulgaria)
  • Kim Hyo-gyung (South Korea)
  • Dren Mandić (Serbia)
  • Aleksandr Foigt (Russia)
  • Sher Ajman (Pakistan)
  • Peter Mezger (Germany)
  • Mohammad Ali (Pakistan)
  • Nick Estcourt (United Kingdom)
  • Pasang Kitar (Nepal)
  • Alfred Imitzer (Austria)
  • Mihai Cioroianu (Romania)
  • Lorenzo Ortiz (Spain)

Mount K2 and Kanchenjunga are two different mountain peaks, listed as 2nd and 3rd highest in the world. Climbing these mountains is considered dangerous as the climb needs elite experience in mountaineering and a clear blueprint of the routes. Both mountains feature vicious crevasses, glaciers, steep topography, harsh weather/temperature, and, most importantly, height.

Nevertheless, with a proper plan and preparation, you can successfully make your ascent to the top of these mountains. Just take the example of NIMS DAI from Nepal.

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