The north ridge of K2 is seldom climbed because of the difficulty of getting there. It is on the Chinese side of K2 in contrast to the more popular routes being on the Pakistan side. The Abruzzi Ridge is the most popular way for those who make the summit of K2.
The first difficulty to the north ridge is just getting there. The Shaksgam River is a major obstacle. It can’t be crossed during some months of the year. Camels are used to get to the Chinese base camp. And if there is an accident there would not be the help that there is on the Pakistan side from their army and government.
There are far less attempts than on the Pakistan side. The last successful year was in 2011.
This list doesn’t contain some of the variations like the Japanese 1990 expedition where they climbed the north face initially and then joined the north ridge at about 7700m. Or the 1991 French expedition which was a combination of the NW ridge and north ridge .
In 1982 a huge Japanese expedition was successful in reaching the summit of K2 from the north ridge. It was led by Isao Shinkai and Masatsugu Konish. The first climbers from this expedition made the summit on 14th August 1982. These were Naoe Sakashita, Hiroshi Yoshino, and Yukihiro Yanagisawa. On the way down Yukihiro Yanagisa fell and died. The day after Hironobu Kamuro, Haruichi Kawamura, Tatsuji Shigeno, Kazushige Takami all made the summit too. 7 climbers in total made the summit from this expedition without oxygen.
The following year in 1983 there was a successful Italian expedition on the north ridge. It was led by Agostini di Polenza. Four climbers made the summit. The Italian camp which is where advanced camp is situated is called the Italian camp because of this expedition. All of those that made the summit did not use oxygen.
In 1990 Steve Swenson, Greg Child and Greg Mortimer climbed to the summit of K2. They had problems crossing the Shaksgam River getting to K2. Once there it took 47 days for them to reach the summit. Not all of the members of that expedition made the summit though.
They had 3 camps on K2 which in contrast to the 4 camps and the intermediate one of the present expedition. The highest camp was similar to where the present expeditions one is. They reached the summit of K2 very late at 8pm on 20th August. They went down from the summit in the dark and had to use an abandoned Japanese tent at about 8000m. Child has said in an interview that the lateness of making the summit of K2 does not matter if you are an experienced climber.
All three climbers did not use oxygen. Greg Child and Greg Mortimer were the first Australians on top of K2.
Greg Child had this to say about the climb: “The route was quite steep, but sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds … Our opinion is that it offers a safer way up K2 than the southern side, though more technical, remote and expensive!”
Source: Alpine Journal
In 1994 there was a Spanish/ Basque expedition. On the 30th July, 1994 both Jose Carlos Tamayo and Argentina’s Sebastian de la Cruz made the summit of K2 from the north ridge. On the 4th August, Juanjo San Sebastián and Atxo Apellaniz also stood atop K2. Apellaniz died on the descent. He lost his gloves on the way down. He most likely died of exhaustion at camp 2 after struggling down.
Sebastian de la Cruz said that it took about 11 hours to get to the summit and about 7 hours back from camp 4.
The first expedition to reach the summit of K2 in 1996 was a Polish one led by Krzysztof Wielicki. There were 3 climbers who made it to the top. This was the 10th August, 1996. Two of them were without oxygen. Four days later 2 more from this expedition made it to the summit of K2. One of these climbers was without oxygen.
On the same day as the last climbers from the Polish expedition made the summit a Russian expedition also made it to the top of K2 that year. The expedition consisted of Russian climbers but they were also joined by Carlos Buhler later after he had a falling out with the Polish expedition. Three members made the summit on the 14th August. On the way down there was a fatality though. Igor Benkin died on the descent. There were other attempts by members of this expedition that year but bad weather did not allow any more summits.
In 2007 two climbers from Russia made the summit of K2 from the North side. Serguey Samoilov and Denis Urubko made it to the top on 2nd October. The reason for the late summit was that they had been climbing another route,the north face of K2, but were unable to make enough progress on this route so climbed the North ridge instead.
Four climbers climbed the North ridge from the Chinese side. These were Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Darek Zaluski and Kazakhs Maxut Zumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov. For Kaltenbrunner this was her last 14th 8000m to conquer and she became the first woman to do this without oxygen. Both her and the Kazakh climbers had tried numerous times to climb K2 from the Pakistan side of the mountain. But they finally succeeded by climbing from the Chinese side. During this year there were no summits from the Pakistan side of K2 despite many climbers trying in comparison to the small group climbing the North Ridge.