K2: where is world’s second highest mountain, how does it compare to Mount Everest - and who is Nirmal Purja?

In recent weeks, Nepalese climbers have been successful in their attempts at some pretty amazing feats

K2 has been in the news recently, after a team of mountaineers successfully scaled the world’s second-highest peak in winter for the first time ever.

But what and where is K2? And why are some members of the expedition getting more attention than others?

Here is everything you need to know.

KS is the second-highest mountain peak in the world, at 8,611 metres (28,251 ft) above sea level (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Where is K2?

K2 is the second highest mountain in the world after Mount Everest; at 8,611 metres above sea level, it’s roughly 250 metres shy of Everest’s famed peak.

The mountain lies in the northwestern region of the Karakoram mountain range, which rises in northwest Afghanistan, and spans the borders of Pakistan, India and China.

Dozens of mountaineers converged on K2 in December, vying to conquer one of the world's last major climbing challenges, including expedition manager and team leader Chhang Dawa Sherpa (L) (Photo: FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images)

The mountain itself is found on the China/Pakistan border between the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, and Xinjiang, China, and marks the highest point above sea level in both of those regions.

It was first summited in 1954 by Italian climbers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, a year after Mount Everest had been successfully scaled for the first time by Sir Edmund Hillary.

Why is it in the news?

K2 is in the news because earlier this month, a group of 10 Nepalese mountaineers successfully completed a winter ascent of the mountain for the first time ever.

Mountaineer Nirmal Purja once served in the Royal Navy's elite Special Boat Service, and is the fastest person to climb all fourteen of the world's 8,000 metre mountains (Photo: PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images),

Although the summit of Everest is at a higher altitude, K2 is considered a much more difficult and dangerous climb, due to its more inclement weather and steep gradients.

That weather is only more of a burden during the winter months, and K2 was the last of the eight-thousanders (a group of only 14 mountains more than 8,000 metres in height above sea level) to be scaled in winter.

The expedition – which consisted entirely of 10 indigenous climbers from Nepal – was led by Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a 38-year old who with his brother Mingma Sherpa holds the world record as "first brothers to summit the 14 highest peaks".

The large party of climbers was formed when three separate teams attempting to reach the summit were forced to team up, having lost equipment in bad weather conditions.

One of members of the group – Mingma Gyalje Sherpa – even reached the summit without the use of supplemental oxygen (there is only one-third as much oxygen available to a climber at this height as there is at sea level), where temperatures were as low as -40° Celsius.

Who is Nirmal Purja?

One member of the team who has been especially prominent in the British press following the monumental ascent is Nirmal "Nims" Purja.

Purja has been capturing headlines, likely due in part to his connection to the Royal Navy.

As a former Gurkha – soldiers native to the South Asia of Nepalese nationality recruited for the British Army – Purja was a soldier of the Special Boat Service, the Navy’s elite special forces unit.

He joined the Service in 2009, having served in the Brigade of Gurkhas since 2003, and in doing so became the first Gurkha to pass the selection for SBS.

He later served as a cold-weather warfare specialist, but left the military in 2018 having achieved the rank of Lance Corporal to focus on his mountaineering career.

As well as being part of the team to complete the first successful winter ascent of K2, Purja also holds the mind-boggling record of having climbed all 14 of the world's peaks that are above 8,000-meters in just six months and six days.

The previous record for the feat was just under eight years.