By Saad Sayeed
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A group of Polish mountaineers set off for northern Pakistan on Sunday to start an attempt to be the first to scale K2, the world's second highest peak, in wintertime.
K2, in the Karakorum mountains along the border between China and Pakistan, is notorious for high winds, steep and icy slopes - and high fatality rates for climbers. In winter months, scant snowfall means the summit approach can turn into bare ice.
More than 70 people have died climbing the peak, many of them at the Bottleneck, where a wrong step can send a climber hurtling off the South Face, where bodies are unlikely to be recovered.
Team member Adam Bielecki, 34, told Reuters that the chance to make history is a "strong motivation" for the Polish group.
Polish climbers have written a "beautiful chapter" of exploring peaks of more than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), and scaling K2 in winter would "the last chapter of this book".
The Polish team comprises 13 mountaineers led by Krzysztof Wielicki, 67, who in 2003 headed a winter expedition of K2, which was unable to clear the 8,000 meter threshold.
K2, slightly shorter than Mount Everest, is 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) high.
Wielicki told Reuters that his team would begin their ascent on Jan. 8 or 9 and, if successful, expect to return to base camp by mid-March.
Pakistan is a hot destination for climbers. It rivals Nepal for the number of peaks over 7,000 meters (22,966 feet) and in all, it has five of the world's 14 summits higher than 8,000 meters.
Bielecki said the group expects to be away from home for around three months.
"If you ask me what's the hardest part of the expedition or what I fear the most, it's actually the separation from my family," he said.
(Reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Richard Borsuk)