K2 Summit Seen As Never Before: From a Drone

Photographer Sandro Gromen-Hayes had a history of poor luck with K2. He was a member of Nirmal Purja’s team during the 2021 winter expedition but he was not included in the (all-Nepali) summit group. Six months later, he hoped to climb K2 in summer, but he injured his ankle during the approach trek.

Now on his third attempt, he has finally succeeded, and he has made the most of it. : He came down with amazing drone footage from the summit.

Risky thin-air flight

It was nearly a miracle that the drone worked at 8,611m. Especially since Gromen-Hayes struggled previously to pilot drones at high altitude.

“[When] I first tried to fly a drone above 8,000m on Manaslu, the controller died before it could take off, and I got frostnip trying to sort it out,” he explained. “On K2 in winter, I flew at 7,100m, and the drone kept falling out of the sky.”

Nevertheless, he carried the drone to Everest last year and managed to fly it at nearly 7,900m. But then, a windy summit day made it nothing but dead weight.

“This year, the stars aligned [on K2],” he said.

Sandro Gromen-Hayes on the summit of K2. Photo: Sandro Gromen-Hayes

 

Previously, Gromen-Hayes of the UK took much of the footage on Nirmal Purja’s 2019 film about his Project Possible. He also worked with Elite Exped in spring 2021. Since then, he has climbed and filmed independently.

Drones unveiling summit secrets

In autumn 2021, Purja hired Australian couple Jackson Groves and Pema Chinyam to film Elite Exped’s Manaslu expedition. Most of the team only reached the foresummit. There, the expedition leaders saw that Mingma G had fixed a rope across the steep snow slope toward the actual highest point. According to Eberhard Jurgalski, Purja and Mingma David eventually went for the real summit with one client each. It is not clear why the rest of the team didn’t follow.

Jackson Groves told ExplorersWeb at the time that he didn’t know he wasn’t on the actual summit. He did, however, manage to fly his drone. He recorded the entire summit area, shared the video on social media…and changed mountaineering history. The images showed exactly where most climbers were and how much higher the real summit lay.

Amazing shot by Sandro Gromen-Hayes of climbers queing at the great Serac traverse, with surise breaking behind them.. Photo: Instagram

Climbers traverse the Great Serac at sunrise. Photo: Sandro Gromen-Hayes

 

Gromen-Hayes has not changed history in the same way. The summit of K2 is quite obvious. Nor is this the highest small drone flight ever: Bartek Bargiel also flew a drone around the summit of K2 (from far below) before his brother Andrzej started skiing down it. And Renan Ozturk flew one at 8,630m on Everest.

Still, Gromen-Hayes has managed to pilot a small, off-the-shelf drone while standing at last on the summit of K2. By the way, don’t miss his hilarious summit day Instagram report.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specialised on high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporates, press manager and communication executive,and a published author.