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Sketch of K-2

Every month one of our in-house experts will be showing you an interesting item they have selected from the Society's heritage archives.




19th Century Illustration of K1 and K2

David McNeill

David McNeill - Guest curator

The collections of the Royal Geographical Society contain many rare and valuable items but one of my favourites is a reproduction of a simple sketch drawn by a surveyor in the middle of the Nineteenth
Century. I found this reproduction in a book while researching the answer to a query some years ago and it explains the origin of one of the most enigmatic geographical names in use today.

The original sketch was drawn by Captain T.G. Montgomerie of the Royal Engineers on the 10th of September 1856, while he working for the Survey of India in Kashmir. He was taking measurements of surrounding mountains from the high altitude survey station at Haramukh, near Srinagar, when a break in the clouds enabled him to catch sight of the Karakoram mountain range, some 250km to the north east. The arakoram had not yet been fully surveyed by the Survey of India so Montgomerie took the opportunity to draw a quick sketch of the distant mountains. To enable identification of the two prominent peaks in the sketch he labelled them "K1" and "K2". Giving labels like this to un-surveyed mountains was common practice at the time
and the labels would normally be replaced with proper names once the peaks had been properly surveyed and maps drawn of the area.

Montgomerie was later placed in charge of the survey of the Karakoram and he instructed his surveyors to continue the "K" labelling for all of the snow-covered peaks in the range. Thirty two peaks were identified in this way and as the survey progressed local names were found for almost all of them, K1 became Masherbrum, K32 became Mamostang Kangri and most of the other mountains were eventually identified. However several of the peaks were so remote that no reliable local names could be found. K7, K12 and K25 all retained their labels on the maps which were produced as a result of the survey, but the most famous "un-named" peak is the one which Montgomerie himself originally labelled K2. Despite appearances in the sketch K2 is almost 1500m higher than K1, it only looks smaller because it is almost 40km further away, and the survey proved that at 8611m it is the second highest mountain in the world.