Everest. The first successful summiting of K2 was by an Italian team on July 31, 1954. A little over a year earlier, on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay were the first on top of the world at the summit of Everest.
Whitefish’s answer is correct as far as what history records, but it is not without controversy. Everest may have first been successfully summited in 1924. In that year a British expedition led by George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine tried to scale the mountain, the second major attempt after a previous climb failed two years earlier. The expedition was plagued with bad luck. After two previous summit attempts failed, Mallory and Irvine made a third attempt on June 8, 1924, leaving their Camp VI. They never returned, but they were believed to have been spotted in the distance at a feature called the Second Step which is not far from the summit; given its location and the time they were supposedly seen, it is more likely that if they were seen there they were on the way down from the summit rather than the way up. The question remains open as to whether they died after reaching the summit or before they could get there. Irvine remains missing, but Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999, remarkably preserved after 75 years. Some of the clues found then, together with other bits of evidence (such as Irvine’s ice axe that was discovered in 1933 at a higher altitude than expected), make a circumstantial case that Mallory made it to the summit. For instance, he is known to have carried a photograph of his wife that he said he was going to leave on the summit. The photo was not found on Mallory’s body in 1999. Mallory’s camera also remains missing and it is possible that one day it may be found. Given the frozen environment, if the camera is located it’s very possible that the film inside, if unexposed, could be developed. A photo showing Mallory or Irvine standing on the summit of Everest in 1924 would single-handedly change the history books, and we can be certain that if they made it up the mountain they would have taken such a photo.
The available evidence does not point to a definitive conclusion, but from what I’ve read, my personal belief is that George Mallory was killed on the way down and was thus the first human being to stand on the top of Mt. Everest. This means that Everest was first scaled 30 years before K2, not just one year. Without absolute proof I don’t think we can demote Hilary and Norgay quite yet, but it is a possibility that history will change on this topic someday. It would not change the fact that Everest was climbed before K2 was which is undeniable whether it was Mallory or Hilary who set foot there first.
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