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First American Woman Climbs K2

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Vanessa O’Brien has become the first American woman to reach the top of the world’s second highest mountain known as K2. The mountain reaches 8,611 meters above sea level.

O’Brien is a 52-year-old former banker from New York. She led a 12-member team of international climbers. She placed the United States flag on K2’s top - or summit - on July 28.

K2 is on Pakistan’s border with China. It is one of the world’s most dangerous mountains to climb.

“A proud day for #woman everywhere at the top of #K2, the world's second highest mountain,” O’Brien announced on Twitter shortly after reaching the top on Friday.

This was the third time O’Brien had tried to climb K2.

In 2015, bad weather stopped her. In 2016, an avalanche, buried all the climbing team’s equipment at its high operational base.

This year O’Brien’s team made it to the top. It took them a long time, 16 hours, from their CAMP-4 at 7681 meters.

The American climber spoke to VOA Monday, after she had made it back down the mountain to the K2 base camp.

She said she was very tired, but also very grateful for her team’s success.

“This was by far the hardest undertaking I have ever come across,” she said. “Not just the 50 kilometer winds and snow pushing against you, but the pure blue ice underneath your feet that threatened to pull you off balance at any second.”

O’Brien has already climbed the world’s highest mountain - Mt. Everest - which is 8,850 meters high. But speaking before her climb, she said K2 is more difficult and interesting for mountaineers.

“K2 is the perfect triangle. Mountains are not shaped that way.” She said most mountains have many places to rest, and then go higher and stop. But not K2. “It is asking for 110 percent effort day one.”

While snow avalanches are risky, she said, climate change has brought a new risk. Rocks on K2 that used to be fixed to earth and frozen are now just broken and they come down in rock avalanches.

So, she said, there is much danger, “and that is probably why for every four that climb, one dies.”

O’Brien holds both American and British nationality. She said she was thinking about the 84 people who came before her but lost their lives climbing K2.

The first American men’s team made it to the summit 39 years ago.

Nazir Sabir is the chief organizer of O’Brien’s climbing team. He said heavy snowfall and bad weather were problems on the mountain. O’Brien’s team was the only one to reach the top.

Vanessa O’Brien has become the first American woman to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain at 8,611 meters.
Vanessa O’Brien has become the first American woman to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain at 8,611 meters.

Sabir praised O'Brien for her bravery, saying that even the best climbers from the area give up after a second try. He said “her determination paid off,” but there was smart planning too.

O’Brien is the 19th woman to have survived the climb to the top. And even before this climb, she was the fastest woman to climb the seven summits. Those are the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball adapted this story for Learning English from VOA News. Mario Ritter was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

avalanche –n. a large amount of snow and ice or of dirt and rocks that slides suddenly down the side of a mountain

grateful –adj. feeling or showing thanks

triangle –n. a shape that is made up of three lines and three angles

determination –n. a quality that makes you continue trying to do or achieve something that is difficult

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