SUMMER IN THE KARAKORAM
[Most of 2014 and the start of 2015 were spent recovering from a torn ACL and a badly damaged IT Band. After giving the joint a hard test climbing in the Southern Alps of New Zealand I returned to the big mountains, this time to the Karakoram.]
Scott Bennett, Steve Swenson and myself spent the summer of 2015 on a fruitful and very enjoyable expedition to the Pakistan Karakoram. We spent the months of July and August in the Nangmah Valley and during a season marked by poor conditions and bad weather in much of the range, were fortunate to open two beautiful and technical routes.
One of these first ascents was of Changi Tower a remote and technical 6500m rock tower and the other was the FA of the SW buttress of K6 West (7040m). The latter was a route which was chosen after the intended objective (the central pillar of the south face below K6 central) was deemed too dangerous to warrant an attempt.
The approach to Changi involved a technical col and a very complex icefall that on the first attempt required 2 days to navigate and a 300m ice face to reach what was established in 2010 as the 'Polish Col' (5900m). An ABC was used part way out this approach which proved very important.
We made the first ascent of Changi via it's North Ridge (M6, 5.10, A2, 600m) from August 8th to 10th in a marginal weather window. The climbing was beautiful and sustained on high quality granite.
It needs to be noted that there has been some confusion about the name Changi as a peak in the Amin Brakk group named Changui Tower (5700m) has in the past been misreported as Changi Tower. This mistake was found by a Polish team who attempted Changi Tower (6500m) in 2010 and has been confirmed by research completed our 2015 team.
After utilizing the ascent of Changi to acclimatize we had intended to attempt the central pillar on the South Face K6 Central (7100m) but were very disappointed to find that the lower 700m of the route were badly threatened by multiple huge seracs. Due to this, we removed our Advanced Basecamp (set up below the pillar) and began glassing the mountain for other potential routes.
Soon we found what we were looking for on the western end of the K6 massif. The striking SW ridge of K6 West (7040m) offered huge relief, steep mixed ground and a line free of objective hazard.
Myself and Scott put ourselves in a position to attempt the route with a cache at its base (Swenson having determined that he was not yet recovered enough from the earlier effort on Changi to attempt such a route bowed out from the attempt). On the 18th of August a weather window opened and we set off on the route with light packs and a minimum of equipment as too might move fast enough to avoid a storm forecasted 4 days out.
At 1pm on the 20th we reached the top of K6 West (7040m) making the second ascent of the peak via the FA of its SW ridge (M6, 90 degrees, 1800m). The route was very sustained with a wonderful variety of climbing.
The route started with a steep snow slope that led to the ridge crest, on which we stopped to bivy early on the 18th due to excessive heat (at 5800m). We started climbing again at 2am on the 19th. The ridge offered fantastic and challenging climbing both on the crest and on its sides, when the crest became too corniced. The route then ran into the first of two buttresses which were turned to their west side via a series of ledges. The technical cruxes of the route were found in the mixed sections between these ledges, which offered very enjoyable and aesthetic climbing. Eventually the Scott and I reached a large steep ice sheet that led to the top of the second buttress. We reached an excellent bivy at the top of the second buttress (6600m) at 730pm and were treated to a beautiful sunset over the Karakoram.
Departing at sunrise on the 20th we left our tent in place and fought through exhausting deep snow up the final 400m to the summit. From the summit the views of the Pakistani and Indian Karakoram were spectacular.
We descended to our tent reaching it at 4pm and rested till dark when we began descending the West face. We made 19 rappels down the face, working hard to stay out from under the serac that dominated the left hand side of the wall. A long traverse, a pitch of ice, and seven more rappels placed us back at the base of the route from where we walked back to basecamp which w reached at 1pm on the 21st, 12 hours before a storm came in dumping snow on camp for 3 days, after which we began their travels back to civilization.
This trip was made possible by the generous support of the New Zealand Alpine Club's Expedition Fund, American Alpine Club's Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award, The Mugs Stump Award, and the Mount Everest Foundation. Huge thanks goes to these organizations for enabling this team to make this trip happen.
This trip cold also not have been possible without the help of Nazir Sabir Expeditions who ran the in-country logistics, the teams amazing cook Rasool and assistant cooks Nadeem and Hadim who kept the team healthy and psyched throughout the trip, Jim Woodmency (mountainweather.com) who's spot on forecasts allowed the team to send with confidence, and our Liason Officer Major Abbas.
Big thanks also goes to the team members sponsors Outdoor Research, Rab, Arc'tyrex, Petzl/Alta Group, Camp, Scarpa, Exped, Thermarest, MSR, Edelweiss, Julbo, Iridium Telecommunications, CW-X, Trail Butter, Redd Bar and Goal Zero.
Lastly Scott and I would like to say a special thanks to Swenson who brought many years of experience to the expedition and allowed them to have a hell of a first trip to the Karakoram.” Steve, you are THE MAN.