In 1954, an Italian expedition was the first to summit K2, just a year after conquering Everest (via Much better adventures). At that time, climbers had been trying to climb K2 for half a century without success. It was not until 1938, however, that the first proper reconnaissance of the mountain was completed, when the First American Karakoram Expedition succeeded in establishing base camp at 16,600 feet, studying different routes and placing ropes, but eventually returning to just 2,250 feet. shy of the summit due to lack of supplies and bad weather (via American Alpine Club).
When the second American Karakoram Expedition, led by German mountaineer Fritz Wiessner, arrived in 1939, things looked promising, but everything changed very quickly. The 1939 party was originally supposed to include 10 people, including returning climbers from the previous year, but the number quickly dwindled to just six, most of whom had very limited climbing experience. One of the climbers was American socialite Dudley Wolfe, who would eventually become known as “K2’s first victim” (per American Alpine Club).
Despite the team’s inexperience, they could have reached the top had it not been for a series of events that began before the team even left base camp and ultimately culminated in tragedy. A significant problem was the lack of certain equipment; at least one of the climbers didn’t have the right shoes and the team didn’t have enough snow goggles, which led to snow blindness for some of the porters (Sherpas), forcing them to turn back (by American Alpine Club) .