The Second Highest Mountain in the World (and Why it’s Better than the First)

When it comes to mountains, is tallest always the best? Does the highest elevation equal domination? The second highest mountain in the world puts this notion to the test.

Travel and Exploration
5 January 2023

At 28,251 feet, K2 is an undeniably magnificent mountain. Indeed, it is the second highest mountain in the world. But not the very highest. That accolade goes to another peak you might have heard of: Mount Everest. Yet, despite the mere 778 feet between them, there is a world of difference in how they are perceived.

Of course, wanting to climb the very highest peak is a natural instinct, but does taller mean better? For those in the know, K2 is just as fascinating and challenging as its iconic rival. Some would even say more so. Let’s find out more.

K2: Introducing The Second Tallest Mountain in the World

K2 covered in snow (Photo: Art Wolfe via Getty Images)

K2 is a vast pyramid-like behemoth that straddles Pakistan-administered Kashmir and China-administered territory of the Kashmir region. Its status as the 2nd highest mountain in the world is thanks to its elevation above sea level, which is 28,251 feet or 8,611 metres. Although a 2014 survey put it at 8,609 metres.

What’s in a Name?

When surveyor Thomas Montgomerie named the second highest peak in the world K2, he probably didn’t imagine it would stick.

He was carrying out a survey of the Karakoram Range in 1856 and gave all the mountains there such monikers. There was a K1, K3 and so one. The K stood for Karakoram and the numbers… Well, that was the order in which Montgomerie saw the mountains. In time, all the other Ks were renamed. But not so for K2.

Fortunately, this miserly moniker is not the only name K2 goes by. The Chinese fittingly call it Qogir, meaning Big Mountain.

A Savage Mountain that Tries to Kill You

K2 as seen from Broad Peak base camp (Photo:Brad Jackson via Getty Images)

The American climber George Bell is responsible for another name by which K2 is known: Savage Mountain. Bell, who was part of an abortive 1953 attempt to climb K2, told reporters that the second highest mountain in the world was ‘a savage mountain that tries to kill you’.

K2 Versus Everest

Mount Everest, Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal (Photo: Feng Wei Photography via Getty Images)

K2 is the 2nd highest mountain in the world to Everest’s first, but has the edge in other respects.


It may rank as the 2nd largest mountain in the world, but K2 is considered the harder, more technical climb. Not only is it steeper than Everest, but it has more extreme, unpredictable weather and avalanches. It is in fact ranked as the third most dangerous mountain in the world, with a terrible fatality rate of almost 30 percent. That’s around double that of Everest.


Climbing mountains such as K2 and Everest requires permits and the ones for K2 are markedly cheaper.


While Everest has developed an industry around its ascents, K2 is comparably less commercialised.

The Second Tallest Mountain in the World

Dawn Light Over K2 (Photo: Feng Wei Photography via Getty Images)

The lesson seems to be, bigger isn’t always better. K2, the second largest mountain in the world, is arguably more technical, more difficult and wilder than Everest by quite a distance.


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