The Savage Mountain, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen, and more infamously known as K2, stands at 28,251 ft. above sea level. Of the five tallest mountains on earth, K2 is easily the most vicious, cruel, and dangerous mountain in the world. George Bell, a previous climber told reporters “it’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you”.

If you decide you want to face K2, experienced climbers will spend about $8.000 to undertake the journey. Less experienced climbers can easily drop anywhere between $60.000 and $70.000, depending on which company they choose to guide them up the mountain

That’s a pretty wide disparity, with the serious, veteran climbers that arrive with all of the necessary gear and expertise will have to spend the least amount to reach the summit and return. However, there is another potential cost, and this cost is infinite. One out of four climbers who dare to climb K2 will lose their lives in the attempt.

Breaking down the costs of climbing K2

All smiles while climbing rock up high in the Washington Cascades
Photo by Luke Helgeson / Unsplash

As you can see from our above potential costs statement, there is a pretty large disparity in terms of how little or how much climbing K2 may cost. There are a lot of factors to calculate to reach a certain number.

We’re first going to take a look at the cost for more experienced climbers followed by the costs for climbers that’re just starting out.

Average costs for veteran climbers

The first thing that you have to take into consideration is the mandatory fees that you have to pay, excluding everything else. Fortunately, these fees cover a team of seven climbers, so everyone can divide up the costs.

  • The ‘peak’ fee for climbing K2 is $7.200
  • You also have to have a permit, which will cost $5.400
  • An environmental fee is also applicable, and it costs $68
  • Finally, the service fee costs $300

That’s quite a bit as far as fees are concerned, and it’s a good thing that you have no choice when it comes to going up the mountain in teams of 7, allowing the total amount to be divided up individually. That comes out to nearly $2.000 per person.

There is also the matter of a rescue bond, which costs $10.000. You get that back if you happen to make it back down alive, and (this might sound morbid, but it’s true), you’ll probably get more back than you put in because the odds are highly against all 7 of you coming back.

However, unless you and your team of 7 are hardened veterans, it can get a lot more expensive in a hurry.

Extraneous costs

If you travel up the mountain with a Pakistani Officer, you have to cover that person’s costs, which amount to $1.50 per meal, which can add up in a hurry, depending on how long it takes to reach the summit, and come back down to base camp.

There is a $14 per night cost for staying in adjacent hotels that can add up because the weather has to be in ideal condition before attempting the climb. It also costs roughly $2.000 for a round-trip flight from the United States to the K2 area and back again.

Average costs for less experienced climbers/guided tours

Guided tours are the way to go for climbers who lack the necessary experience for something like K2. This means hiring a company, something that you will complete long before you reach K2.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do a large breakdown of the various expenditures for everything since hiring a company for a guided tour essentially covers everything. It will include meals, a certain number of sherpas, unlimited oxygen supply on your way up and down, HAPs (high altitude porters), and even internet access while you’re at base camp.

All of this will usually amount to somewhere between $60.000 and $70.000. Of course, there are cheaper packages that sacrifice some of the luxuries that come with the more premium guided tours.

You can pay around $30.000, but you won’t get local guides. It will be people that don’t live anywhere near K2, and the packages usually don’t include things like internet access, and you won’t get unlimited oxygen.

Last but not least, you can simply hire a couple of locals who don’t mind risking everything to make sure that you make it up and down the mountain safely. They’re known as local operators, and they will run you from anywhere between $15.000 and $20.000.

The human cost of climbing K2

A beautiful day, shared with my brother, while doing the grand traverse of the Breithorn in Switzerland.
Photo by Jef Willemyns / Unsplash

There’s no getting around the fact that K2 is one of the deadliest mountains to climb in the world, if not the deadliest. Virtually no one attempts to climb during the winter months when conditions on the mountain simply won’t support human life.

In the many decades that climbers have attempted to scale it, just a shade over 300 climbers have made the ascent successfully. In comparison, Mount Everest sees more than 500 successfully reach the summit each year. K2 is seemingly a living, breathing giant, with huge walls of towering ice that it frequently sheds in colossal sheets. If you get caught beneath it, there won’t be any pain.

The most nefarious neck of the climb is through what is called the “bottleneck”, where the calving of ice can mean a sudden and inglorious end to those who happen to be caught beneath it during the climb.

The very first successful climb took place in 1954, a short time ago in terms of the history of mountaineering. Later, a book was written about the account, called The Ghosts of K2 written by Mick Conefrey.

Many attempt to climb it, with many more being stretchered off, like George Bell, who uttered the original quotation at the top of this writing, as his feet suffered from severe frostbite. The most dangerous aspects of the Savage Mountain are the avalanches and calving ice, along with the chaotic randomness of the weather.

If there were a place on earth that resembled another planet, it would be K2. A nearly equal number of climbers have died in the attempt to those that have successfully reached its summit. Like Everest, K2 even has a graveyard of sorts, with bodies long left on the mountain because of the sheer danger of trying to recover them.

When is the best time to climb K2?

Discussing the options in the North Cascades of Washington
Photo by Luke Helgeson / Unsplash

Choosing the right time is less about affordability and more about when the chances of having good weather improve. K2 is as treacherous as they come, with sheer cliffs of ice that have to be scaled while constantly worrying about avalanches.

Hypothermia is an extreme risk, and it doesn’t take long to fall under its deadly spell. K2 should never be your first mountain attempt and not even in your first ten or fifteen. Only the most experienced climbers with over 10 years of climbing experience should dare to challenge it.

If it is your first time trying to reach K2’s summit, one of the more expensive options is the way to go. It should only get cheaper with each successive attempt. If you have no proof of successfully climbing 8.000-meter mountains, don’t bother applying

You should also have another number of factors under your belt before you try to go with nothing more than a simple team and $8.000.

Level of necessary experience

  • You should have experienced at least two, 8.000-meter or higher climbs
  • You should have a grade III or higher as your Ice Technical Grade
  • A grade III with the National Climbing Classification System

There are 9 different grading systems in the world, but the most recognized are the Yosemite Decimal System and the National Climbing Classification System. However, you can have equivalent grades in the other systems as well, so long as you have extensive experience with technical ice climbs, rope and harness systems, and waterfall ice climbing.

In other words, attempting K2 at a bare minimum cost is likely to be a death sentence for all but veteran mountain climbers who have seen just about everything an icy mountainside has to offer.

It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on things like the Bottleneck, the Black Pyramid, and the Shoulder. If you have experience climbing ice at extreme elevations, looking at those things will have context as you will have a common frame of reference.

At the end of the day, no amount of money that you spend trying to chase a dream of reaching K2’s summit is worth your life. As we mentioned rather frequently above, lives are exactly what many prospective champions have paid to tackle the K2 monster, some of whom still reside on the mountain. A cold grave indeed.

Final thoughts

Depending on your experience level, you could pay anything from $8.000 to $70.000 for the chance to climb to the summit of K2. It’s also a devil’s gamble, with your life in the balance. Of all those who climb, 25% never return home, so the ultimate cost to risk the Savage Mountain could be far more than your bank account.