At 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) above sea level, K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth. But with a death rate of over 25 percent, the technically challenging mountain is considered to be much more dangerous than Mount Everest. Meanwhile, British photographer Sandro Gromen-Hayes has not only summited the K2, but he also flew his DJI Air 2S drone at the top to record one of the best mountain footage you will ever see.
K2’s so-called Death Zone starts at 8,000 meters. Humans simply aren’t meant to survive there. American climber George Bell had famously declared after failing to summit in 1953 that “it’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you.”
Small, off-the-shelf machines aren’t a fan of high altitudes, either. The $999 Air 2S, for example, has a max service ceiling of 5,000 meters above sea level. It means the drone’s performance above 5,000 meters cannot be guaranteed.
But Gromen-Hayes is not someone who gets put off easily by some specs on a sheet of paper. He has attempted flying his drone above 8,000 meters a number of times.
“I first tried to fly a drone above 8,000m on Manaslu (fore) summit, [but] the controller died before I could take off and I got frostnip trying to sort it out,” Gromen-Hayes says. “On Everest, I got close at 7,900 m, but a windy summit day made it dead weight.”
Gromen-Hayes was also a part of Nirmal “Nims” Purja’s famed expedition that made it to the top of K2 in the 2021 winter. But the summit group that year was all-Nepali.
“On K2 winter, I flew at 7,100m. The drone kept falling out of the sky and Nims turned me around,” Gromen-Hayes recalls.
“This year, the stars aligned and I flew from the summit of K2 at 8,611m.”
Interestingly, K2 has welcomed a record-breaking number of climbers in 2022. Officials say more than 200 permits have been issued for ascending the mountain amid a post-pandemic surge of summit fever.
Many will reach the top and return home with epic stories of grit and heroism. But for those of us who
may will never see the stunning views from the summit with our own eyes, there will always be Sandro Gromen-Hayes and his drone.