Thursday, 9 November 2006

Arête des Cosmiques (II AD, 4a), Aiguille du Midi

In mild blizzard conditions we managed to climb Arête des Cosmiques. The lower part of the route had virtually no snow but after the abseils the route was in good condition.

Phil on the first abseil
Enjoying the conditions
(Photo by Phil Davis)
Jon on the crux slab

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Decorps-Perroux Couloir (D/D+ / II 2), Tour Ronde

With an acclimatisation climb under our belts we decided to up the anti a little bit today. We rose before dawn and trekked around to Tour Ronde. During my my June trip I had taken note of the line to the right of the North Face route called Decorps-Perroux Couloir (or North Couloir in the AC guide). It appeared to offer more mixed terrain compared to the North Face and went at a slightly more challenging grade.

The Walk-in (Tour Ronde directly ahead)
Phil did not feel up to the climb so Jon and me climbed as a pair today. The lower portion of the route was thin on ice so we started to the right. There was some good ice in the middle pitches. Towards the top the snow was a bit powdery. Rather than veer left onto the North Face towards the top we chose to stay right of the summit, which seemed the natural continuation for the route. It was dusk by the time we reached the top of the route. We down-climbed the Gervasutti Couloir in darkness and walked back to the Abri Simmonds Hut feeling exhausted. A great mixed route and a fantastic day's climbing.

Beneath the route - we started up the obvious snow funnel
(Photo by Phil Davis)
Our route vs the normal route - The dashed lines show our variations

Monday, 6 November 2006

Contamine-Grisolle (II AD, 350m)

Jon, Phil and me climbed Contamine-Grisolle on the Tacul Triangle for acclimatisation purposes. The lower slopes of the Triangle were icy and lean but the snow conditions on our route were excellent. The route was of no great difficulty and we moved together for the entirety. We abseiled down the Western side of triangle on completion.

Phil between my legs. On the lower slopes of Contamine-Grisolle 
Phil and Jon in tow
Near the top

Friday, 18 August 2006

First Ascent of Ghorhil Sar

Peter had light alloy crampons that didn't work but a good axe...

Lee had a light walking axe that didn't work but good crampons...

We left the rope and rack...

“I know of an easy, unclimbed six thousand meter peak that I might try up Chapursan way” mentioned Peter. To date the unclimbed peaks above 6000m that we had tried to climb during our long summer in Pakistan had proved to be either very hard or very dangerous – or both! Twice we had summited a virgin peak only find the altimeter reading less than 6000m.

Much of the summer had been spent climbing soft snow, sugary ice and poor rock. I was tired of crap climbing conditions. The walk-ins had been long and many-a-day had been spent crossing glaciers and climbing endless scree. One peak had involved a day and a half walk from base camp just to start the climb! I looked forward to being abe to take a cable car from Chamonix up to the Aiguille du Midi station and be on a route next morning without too much effort. I liked the sound of the peak Peter had in mind… short walk-in… over 6000m… easy… unclimbed… exactly what I was looking for to round off the summer!

My flight home was in two weeks. The original plan to finish off the summer had been to climb Punji Peak, an easy 5800m mountain in the Hindu Raj. The trip would be a good reconnaissance as I had still not visited the Hindu Raj in four trips to Pakistan and the area’s remoteness attracted me. My peak plans were limited however by the fact that I knew little about the Hindu Raj and it would be another minor peak under 6000m on the climbing CV. Peter’s plan seemed better thought through, Peter having first seen the peak in 1999. We were due to head our separate ways that day for the last couple of weeks of our trip but I decided to stick around and join Peter to try the aforementioned peak in Chapursan.

View of Ghorhil Sar (left) from our base camp
The area of Chapursan is located in the far north of Pakistan’s Karakoram, close to the Afghan border. It is on the south side of Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor from where the Tajik Pamir rises to the north side. While the area is technically the Karakoram the transition to Pamir is evident as the densely packed aggressively angled peaks giving way to rolling mountains and broad grazing pastures.

The Lupgar valley east of the the Lupgar Pir pass
It had been a two day 1500m climb to base camp from the village of Raminj along a beautiful, narrow canyon that opened up in to a broad valley as we approached our peak. Soon after leaving Raminj I some how I managed to sink my left foot in a water channel to the right of me then fall on my right rib! I untwisted myself and picked the grit from my cuts cursing my lack of attention to the path. Weather had been dire during the walk-in just as it had been for weeks but looked to have improved just at the right time. Our peak looked impressive from base camp and we reckoned it was the highest in the valley. Next day we moved further up the valley beneath the mountain in preparation for an ascent next morning…

Approaching our bivi site during early evening
We rose at 1am and started climbing at 2. Our starting point was a significant distance east of the summit and the first half of the climb involved a combination of ascending and traversing to a col at around 5300m. We had chosen to bivi further east because to get right under the mountain would have taken another hour’s walking and we would have descended one hundred meters in the process. A traverse line looked just as easy.

Our Ascent Route
From the bivi sight we avoided an immediate steep section of ice by skirting to the left of it before straightening up. I initially broke the route. My torch light was weak but I had studied the route the previous evening. I knew I had to initially climb in a straight line, passing between a couple of gigantic crevasses, then start traversing towards the col. We climbed quickly. For the first time this summer there had been a proper freeze in the night prior to ascent and the snow under foot was solid. Having started the traverse I momentarily had to straighten up again to skirt round another large crevasse that dropped down the mountain. Once past this I continued the traverse west.
Traversing towards the col at around 5300m
Mountains to the east at sunrise
View towards the peaks above the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan
Towards the col we had to traverse above a couple of crevasses. On the second occasion it would have been easier to have stayed below the crevasse. Peter led the latter half of the traverse. Despite the excellent snow conditions he was struggling to get his alloy crampons to bite in to the ice. I was also having minor difficulties getting the pick of my walking axe to stick in the hard ice. The good snow however meant that we were able to kick in a good ledge so never really felt vulnerable. It was the first sign of having bought the wrong equipment though. By the time the sun had risen we were on the col with everything going to plan.

I took the lead for the most remaining climb. After the exhausting walk-in I was feeling revitalised and glad to be above the snowline again in the high altitude coolness. We climbed the north-east ridge with ease, a tricky small rock buttress being the only obstacle. The gradient was only 30° to begin with but this increased to 45° half-way up and then to 50° towards the top of the ridge. While climbing there were great views of Peaks 6156m and 6105m to our left. The ridge then broadened out towards the summit and the final hundred meters was easy climbing. From a plateau we climbed a small cone to what appeared to be the highest point. Peter led the last few meters and soon we were shaking one another’s hands on the summit. Views north towards Kuk Sar 2 (6925m) were awsome. I set about setting my tripod up for a few photos. “I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Peter. He was looking at the same step of ice that had caught my eye. On the other side of the plateau below us was a point that looked a few meters higher than where we were currently standing. The peaks to both our left and right were both also clearly higher than where we were standing. The altimeter also read 5800m and so our summit proved a bit of an anti-climax.

Peter climbing the NE ridge of Ghorhill Sar
Peter close to the summit
Summit of Ghorhil Sar
“We’ll just have to climb that over there as well” I stated. If we could gain the step I was sure we could climb the ridge to the summit of the next peak further east with no problem. The step was about six meters high and overhung however. With no ice screws a direct climb was almost impossible without two technical axes. Had I bought some screws and slings I could probably have aid-climbed my way up. The only option was to traverse round on to its back side where there was a slope to the top. Shortly after we started Peter backed off not trusting his crampons enough in the sugary ice. I continued alone but soon had to back off myself as the ice was deteriorating the further I traversed. “Can I borrow your axe, Pete”? “Sure”. I had two axes but my walking axe wasn’t suited to the conditions so was really only a backup for Peter’s short axe. I tried to traverse a lower line, determined not to give up. Again the ice deteriorated the further I traversed. Close to where I could gain my intended slope the ice became too fissured for comfort. The harder I swung my axe the bigger the holes that I would find under its surface. I found myself delicately hooking on brittle ice. One of my crampons slipped from its hold. I glanced across at Peter who was anticipating having to descend to the Yoksugoz glacier after I had fallen to verify I was dead! “Are you sure about this?” Peter enquired. That was all I needed to hear to make me back off for a second time. “No! I’m coming back”.
In light of my failed attempt to gain the ice step I started the descent in a subdued mood. The ridge had to be down-climbed, facing inwards for much of the way as both our crampons were balling up. After a long summer climbing in the Karakoram my anti-balling plates had developed small holes that were causing them to be ineffective, evidence that some of my equipment was approaching retirement. Peter’s crampons on the other hand simply didn’t have anti-balling plates. The first half of the descent therefore took longer than would normally be expected. A couple of times when I tried to down climb facing outwards I soon slipped as a result of the build-up on the underside of my boots. By the time we reached the col it was late afternoon.

The snow was becoming very soft in the afternoon heat and a straight descent from the col definitely looked easier than trying to traverse across and down the way we had come to the bivi sight. We opted to make a straight descent however much of the col was corniced and below the col lay steep ice and crevasses. A starting point was not obvious. Peter identified a break in the cornice but when we tried to traverse above a crevasse in order to gain a snow slope we were forced to back off as the snow conditions became more and more desperate. With a rope we could easily have abseiled off a snow bollard and been on easier ground in no time.

Another possibility to get off the col was via a short, steep ice gully that lead to easier ground after only ten meters. This seemed our best bet. Peter went first, taking his time to find good axe placements in light of his crampons’ ineffectiveness to bite in to the ice. It looked desperate! There was a loose top layer of snow that skated down the face like water each time Peter disturbed it with his feet however we were not overly concerned due to its shallow depth. Once off the initial ice section it was my turn. I descended trying to hook my walking axe into Peter’s placements with little success. In light of my axe’s ineffectiveness my forged crampon front points were my saviour allowing me to kick in firmly where Peter had been unable to do so… that was until I had kicked in hard and one of my crampons fell off!

The crampon hung from my boot by its bindings. I tried to place weight on the boot that had lost the crampon but the ice was to hard, steep and smooth to be able to gain any footing. I held on to the ice with one crampon and one axe that didn’t work. Lactic acid was quickly building up in my calf through which all my weight was being applied. I flexed my knee so as to take some of the weight at my hip. Peter had no choice but to climb back up to me to reattach the crampon. Fortunately Peter was able to reattach the crampon quickly and efficiently but could only do the binding up loosely from below. The crampon felt secure however and I was able to down climb the remainder of the section where I could tighten them properly. Had I led the descent then it would have been virtually impossible for Peter to manoeuvre around me and reattach the crampon and I would have probably fallen a long way, unable to continue down-climbing with one leg and one ineffective axe. Why the crampon fell off I am not sure. Maybe the front clip on my step-in crampons was not contoured closely enough to my boot. Whatever the case my crampons are in the process of being replaced for obvious safety reasons!
We were soon both on easier ground however the descent route through the seracs and crevasses was still not obvious. Peter led the way but soon fell in to a crevasse up to his hips a few hundred meters down. It was the first of many! His hands were becoming cold as a result of his mittens becoming soaked through so I lent him one of mine. As the gradient eased I was able to down-climb quicker due to my crampons greater effectiveness. I moved ahead searching for a way down. Crossing a large crevasse filled to the brim with avalanche debris, I bared left to a spot where I was able to see the general lie of the slopes. To continue descending on our current line was impossible due to imminent seracs below. The lower slopes to the left looked a good exit however the crevasses and seracs in-between were certainly impassable. To my right there appeared to be a way down following an initial traverse in order to gain the decent line.

Light was fading and I was keen to descend as far possible before it was lost altogether. Peter was struggling with his crampons however and not keeping in touch with me. Snow conditions were starting to improve however and as the sun was setting it was already starting to refreeze. We managed to make the traverse just before dark. By the time darkness fell we appeared to be on a good line off the mountain and I descended towards a prominence I had observed from my aforementioned viewpoint. The ground was heavily crevassed and I fell in three narrow crevasses in succession which were a matter of meters apart. Next it was Peter’s turn to fall in the biggest crevasse up to his waist. With a bomber deep axe placement he was never in any risk. Then I fell in my fourth! It was becoming a bit of a joke with regards to the number of hidden crevasses on our descent route. A lot of snow had fallen in the days preceding our climb and many of the crevasses were still well hidden.

Our descent route from the col
I was struggling to route find due to my LED torch’s short range. From the prominence we bared right and continued descending only to encounter deep crevasses. A steep descent line looked possible close-by however we were reluctant to follow it due to being under equipped for such steep slopes. The ice was of the sugary consistence that we had become familiar with in the Karakoram and the prospect of down-climbing it was not a pleasant one. We tried to find an alternative way through the crevasses but it quickly became evident that we were wasting our time. We reluctantly opted for the steep line. Peter went first but didn’t look comfortable. He backed off then tried again. “Pull yourself together Pete” he muttered under his breath. “We could always see the night out and descend in daylight Pete”, I pointed out. Peter immediately backed off for the second time feeling as though he could fall at any time. The night was calm and roughing it on the mountain’s lower slopes didn’t seem that desperate. I proposed that we climb back up to the prominence where it looked slightly flatter than our current position and without the company of crevasses. I also felt that this was the point where we had taken our wrong turn and from where we could resume our descent in the morning.
The spot didn’t look so great for spending a night on second inspection however. To our left there looked to be an easier route down. Figuring that we would not get any sleep during the night we decided to try it immediately. The descent line thankfully proved fruitful although the ice became steeper as we approached the main glacier. I became increasingly annoyed with my axe’s ability to stick in the ice as it became steeper but my crampons felt secure with each step down. By the time we were off the mountain it was 10pm… twenty hours after we had set foot on it!

Peter immediately proposed that we crash nearby for the night but I was keen to find our bivi bags and get a proper night’s sleep. We spent an hour weaving in and out of crevasses trying to recognise the landscape and identify the spot where we had started climbing in the morning. In the end we gave up. Peter looked exhausted and didn’t want to walk any more. I felt much the same. We found a spot where the ice was covered by moraine and there were a few large rocks. I found a small rock just about big enough for me to curl up in the foetal position. Peter meanwhile made a flat area on the rocks to sleep even finding a suitable rock to use as a pillow. It was a fairly mild night but even wearing all our clothes we were still not warm enough and both of us slept little. When we did manage to sleep we would soon wake up feeling colder than ever. Both of us used our rucksacks as a kind of sleeping bag although I don’t think it made any difference.

The sun began to rise after 4am and we made ready to move. Having removed his rucksack from his legs Peter was struggling to stand up. Every time he tried he would loose his balance and fall to the ground again which was quite funny for me to watch. By 4.30am it was light enough for us to effectively navigate and by 5am we had already found our bivi bags… which proved to be only a few hundred meters away! Packing everything up, we headed back to base camp. The good weather through the night extended into the morning with clear blue skies above all the surrounding peaks. Not surprisingly I spent much of the day in my sleeping bag, rising only to eat food. Despite the epic I was proud of my efforts on the mountain. After feeling totally exhausted during the walk-in I felt I put in a good performance on summit day with renewed energy. The route we climbed was definitely not the easy line that Peter saw in 1999. That was higher up the valley towards the Lupgar Pir Pass.

After a good night’s sleep we trekked backed to Raminj stopping at the stone huts at Ghorhil to share tea with a friendly shepherd called Rahmet Karim. Weather deteriorated in the afternoon again. Having reached the water channel that I fell in to during the walk-in we expected to be in Raminj soon after. A full tide of rocks was falling on our path however and many section of the path were now buried in scree. We often found ourselves waiting for rocks to stop tumbling down the scree before making a dash to safety.

We reached Raminj by 6pm and found a Jeep to charter back to Sost soon after. As with many ‘private hires’ in Pakistan it wasn’t so private and having agreed a price a number of locals jumped aboard for the free ride. I have never been happier to spend a night in the awful border town of Sost. We were in bed by 8pm and quickly fell asleep despite a loud generator outside our room.

I dreamt of taking that cable car down from the Aiguille du Midi on my next climbing trip!

Thursday, 27 July 2006

First Summit of Haigutum East

26/07/06: Day one

I slept through my alarm which sounded at 1am but was woken soon after by an avalanche somewhere on the slopes above our bivi sight. Not sure if it had been a dream I rose, packed my sack and had breakfast. Our bowls were still lined with grease leftover from the fatty Chinese noodles from last night having been unable to scrub it off. We ate our porridge with few complaints however. Within minutes of donning my crampons my newly installed front points clumsily struck their first target of the day in the form of my only platypus water bottle putting a big splice in its side. Fortunately Peter, my climbing partner, had two one litre water bottles, one of which he kindly leant me.

Crossing the Hispar Glacier before sunset
We had bivi’ed at the bottom of the glacier descending from the unclimbed peak of Haigutum East that we were to attempt. The mountain forms part of the stunning Bal Chhish peaks on the southern side of the Hispar Glacier. Our route to the high bivi, which we had identified from our base camp on the north side of the Hispar Glacier, involved a significant rising traverse from west to east with apparent serac fall danger for much of the way. We had only arrived at base camp yesterday morning but with good weather having lasted for almost a week we were keen to get something climbed before it changed for the worst. Having identified a potential route we had crossed the Hispar glacier that same evening arriving at our bivi sight shortly after sunset.

The route we took to the summit. The red line marks the route we should have taken. The blue line indicates the route we did take to the summit.
Initially we actually needed to climb away from our peak in a south-westerly direction, skirting around a broad area of impassable crevasses until we were almost beneath the 6000m peak to the right of Haigutum East. Despite our best efforts we soon came face to face some huge crevasses. ‘I thought we were going to skirt further west’ enquired Peter on the tail of the rope. It was clear that we had not collectively studied the route closely enough the previous day and both had our own ideas about how we were going to navigate the lower slopes. I started to think we had been too hasty in trying to climb this mountain. Maybe we should have taken a day to explore the possibilities of climbing a more direct and safer line to the bivi sight that Peter thought might have been possible, or at least look at our current route a bit more closely. I let Peter take the lead thereby cleverly relieving myself of all responsibility of getting us lost amongst the many crevasses. In places the crevasses were up to around 6 meters wide but we managed to skirt around those that we encountered or cross them via a snow bridge and continue climbing.

Crevasses were numerous near the base of Haigutum East
Another avalanche was heard crashing down somewhere above us and we both stopped in our tracks. ‘I think that avalanche fell on our route Pete.’ You think so?’ Peter was peering in to the darkness ahead clearly unsure where it had come from. I wasn’t 100% sure myself. ‘Maybe tonight is a bad night to be trying to climb this mountain.’ I thought aloud. The night was a warm one and there had not been a freeze. It was only 4am yet the ice was wet and streams were flowing down the glacier. Having been avalanched by a large cornice in Kyrgyzstan only the previous year I was maybe slightly more cautious than Peter. In the end we made the decision to climb a little further as sunrise was at hand and soon we would be able to make a more informed decision as to what to do. The avalanche incident was soon forgotten however and we refocused on climbing the mountain.

Haigutum East's north face from close to the base of the mountain
When the time was right we switched direction and started heading east as we were above the worst of the crevasses. We picked a good spot to begin the traverse however made life hard for ourselves by climbing higher than necessary. Convinced I was too low on the mountain we climbed an awful route riddled with crevasses hidden amongst soft snow that proved to be the crux of the day. Near the top of the section I heard something fall off the side of my rucksack. I glanced round to see the water bottle Peter had leant me sliding down the slope we had just climbed and come to rest in a patch of rotten snow below. Expletives run from my mouth. We now only had one litre of water between us thanks to my carelessness. Fortunately the warm night proved a blessing in this respect because we found water a short distance higher at around 4800m. We both sat and drank for five minutes making sure we were fully hydrated before continuing.

Our route had brought us out on an extensive snow field covered in a blanket of avalanche debris. The prospect of traversing it with seracs lining the route above us was not inviting but the snow field descended gently down to meet the way we should have come and probably wouldn’t take long to cross. Some of the snow looked fresh and I put two and two together to conclude that we were walking through the spot where we heard the avalanches fall earlier in the morning. The crossing fortunately passed without incident and we were soon on easy ground leading to the high bivi. Only a number of isolated crevasses presented an obstruction however these could all be skirted around. The only real tricky spot was crossing a thin strip of snow between two crevasses which looked undercut. Peter reminded me to jump the opposite way to him in the event of a fall but things passed without incident. Having been ill only a few days before this climb I was feeling more tired than normal as we approached the bivi sight and was glad that the day’s climbing was nearly over. A short distance before we reached the bivi another avalanche hurtled down the avalanche field we had crossed only an hour ago. Judging by its volume, and more to the point the high speed at which it tumbled down the mountain side, it would likely have been fatal had we been in its path.

The avalanche that missed us by 1 hour
We reached our bivi sight at around 5150m by 9am and were promptly greeted by a stunning panorama with the Hispar La and peaks around Snow Lake visible to our east and the Kunyang Chhish and Pumari Chhish massifs rising in the other direction. Above us all we could see were seracs however we fancied our chances of navigating through them along the north-eastern ridge that started directly above our bivi spot. A face route looked possible to the left of this but it was steeper and after the warm nights figured it might prove problematic.

Peter and I spent the afternoon in our bivi bags sleeping and watching nearby avalanches go off. The avalanche that had crashed down our route after we had crossed it was plaguing my mind. After being avalanched on Khan Tengri the previous year I was supposed to be adopting a less gung-ho approach to Alpine climbing but it was clear that I still played the odds too much.

I had slept poorly the previous night but found it hard to sleep in the baking midday sun. Peter on the other hand had no problem. I managed to finally get some kip after I used my walking poles to create a canopy inside my bivi bag and provide some ventilation. After more fatty Chinese noodles and a beautiful sunset where the mountain turned a lilac colour we retreated to our sleeping bags.

View west to the Kunyang Chhish and Pumari Chhish massifs 
View towards Snow Lake from high camp at 5150m 
Sunset over Haigutum East from our high bivi at 5150m

27/07/06: Day 2

The alarm sounded again at 1am and by 2 we were starting our ascent. After days of good weather my first thoughts of the morning were pessimistic ones as I looked upon the lightning storm in the west. Hopefully it was too far away to interfere with our summit attempt I told myself.

Route to the summit from our bivouac
Our route to the summit ridge weaved in and out of crevasses and seracs and through deep snow. The night was warm again and it quickly became apparent that the snow was frozen only superficially. I initially lead the way and within minutes we encountered our first tricky crevasse to cross marking the start of steeper snow and more crevasses. A short climb further another crevasse caused particular problems. I tried to step over it and mount the steep, soft snow directly above but found it difficult to do so without collapsing in to the crevasse. With perseverance I passed it but soon my feet were sinking like the Titanic and I was wasting a lot of energy and going nowhere. Peter took over the lead as he seemed to be coping with the conditions better. The steepest sections on the ridge were in the latter half and the seracs became harder to navigate through. As we approached the main ridgeline we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise.

Haigutum East's summit ridge
The main ridge that approached the summit from the east involved a moderately steep traverse for half of the way followed by some more steep snow slopes. Snow conditions improved and did not take long to complete compared to the main north-eastern ridge. One mixed section required particular concentration however as all the rock was loose. Cloud moved in as we approached the summit and I considered that the main event of the day might be getting off the mountain and back to our base camp. By the time we reached the summit it was 7.30am. Peter and I congratulated one another and I whipped out the camera and tripod for a few photos. I for one was particularly chuffed to have climbed my first virgin peak. While it was only 5783m the route had been an interesting one that was less than straight forward. To have climbed a peak on the Hispar Glacier, one of Pakistan’s most famous glaciers also bore significance for me.

Me and Peter on the summit of Haigutum East
The weather appeared to be stable for the time being however we were both keen to get off the summit with relative haste. An abseil was initially required to get us on to easier ground however a further three more abseils were later needed. Having only bought one 60m half rope all the abs were relative short. The Abalikov threader had also been left at base camp however Peter managed to hack out an ice bollard so as to avoid leaving an ice screw behind which looked particularly precarious but served its purpose. We down-climbed most of the ridge back to our high bivi sight as the snow was becoming increasingly unstable. Not far below the main summit ridge I fell through soft snow into a crevasse but fortunately didn’t fall far. I was fine and easily climbed back out again. It seemed the safest way to cross crevasses from here on was to leap them often in an ungainly fashion. We reached the high bivi sight at around 1pm. With only one litre of water I had been munching on snow for much of the climb and so prompted melted some snow.

Our descent back to the Hispar Glacier was problem free, avoiding the avalanche fields that we had crossed during our ascent. I also managed to retrieve Peter’s water bottle that I had dropped the previous day. By the time we reached the Hispar glacier it was 5.40pm. With over two hours of daylight remaining I could potentially have reached base camp by nightfall, however I was tired and dehydrated and soon fell behind Peter. Within days of climbing Haighatum East I was feeling sick again and it became apparent that I had climbed the peak between bouts of gardia. I stopped to rest and to drink water however urgency soon enveloped me and the thought of spending the night on the glacier was not an appealing one. A highway of ribbed white ice weaved its way along the centre of the Hispar Glacier and was broken up by numerous streams. I donned my crampons so that I could follow a direct line across the ice however a small glacial river on its northern edge with steep banks on either side blocked my path. I impatiently walked up and down its bank a short way hoping to find an easy way across or, even better, find the easy way by which we had come two days ago but could find neither. Dusk was closing in and I opted for a precarious crossing across some large boulders. I also split the seams of my sallopettes during the cross after stretching a few inches more than they would give at the crotch.

Descent across the avalanche fields on Haigutum East
Descent route
 The final leg across the glacier was a nightmare. With little energy I stumbled in the dark across loose scree and rocks in the vague direction of our camp site. Peter was already across by this stage and shined his torch so as to provide me with a bearing. The final hundred metres was the most frustrating of all as the way appeared to be blocked by a wall of steep black ice that descended to a stream separating me and the base camp. I walked back and forth, stumbling and tripping frequently on rocks becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to find a way off the glacier. Finally I spied a patch of glacier with enough embedded rocks on to act as stepping stones down and off the ice. I still had no idea where the camp sight was in relation to my current placement however, fortunately for me Peter came in search of me. I was totally exhausted on reaching the camp site. It was 9pm - 20 hours after we had woken at the high bivi sight this morning. Since then it had been poor conditions underfoot for much of the way. My salopettes were in tatters with the stitching having burst from the crotch down to the knees (I would later have to dedicate a full day re-stitching and gluing the seams only to bin the pants before my flight home). For dinner we had some tinned Chinese pork that we had bought in Karimabad that proved to be disgusting, resembling dog food. I promptly went to bed after tipping half of my dinner in the bushes. 

I slept for about 14 hours!

The Chinese tinned pork we bought in Karimabad that I wouldn't feed to a dog! 
I spent a day stitching my salopettes back together after the climb

Monday, 3 July 2006

Rocked by Shimshal Whitehorn

The morning started in the worst fashion! Both Ben and Peter failed to hear their alarms sound at midnight and it was not until I happened to look at my watch at 12.45 that we rose. We ate and packed quickly however, and were soon climbing towards the ‘couloir of 1000 gutters’, nicknamed by the previous French expedition because of the constant rock fall that hurtled down the couloir’s numerous runnels. Despite the late start I was feeling fresh having retired to my bivi bag before sunset. We had bivied at approximately 4600m on a patch of glacier beneath the north face of Shimshal Whitehorn where we figured we would be safe from any rocks or avalanches hitting us in the night. We initially made good progress towards the couloir however more delays were soon to arise. Ben who was leading the way at a good pace dropped his pack close to the bergschrund and started sifting through its contents. 'Shit, I’ve left my bivi bag behind!' he confessed. I sat on my pack beside Peter saying little, and waiting for his return frustrated and eager to push on. As I waited I looked at the skies. The weather looked good and the stars formed a blanket from east to west. It was an hour before Ben reappeared and the time was now 3am. In about 1 ½ hours the sun would start rising and snow conditions would slowly begin to deteriorate. Ahead of us still remained 800m of steep climbing before reaching the col at the top of the couloir.

Shimshal Whitehorn at night
We climbed in a solo fashion making good progress taking less than three hours to knock off 700m and to bring us within reach of the top of the couloir. We followed the many deep runnels that descended down the couloir taking it in turns to lead the way. Snow was often thin but the crunchy underlying ice was easy to kick into. We approached the top of the couloir in a blaze of sunshine and it looked to be beautiful day ahead of us. Up until now the mountain had been well behaved!

Peter climbing the Couloir of 1000 gutters
Ben climbing Shimshal Whitehorn's Couloir of 1000 gutters before it all went wrong! 
Close to the col my thoughts switched to how far we could make it up the NW ridge of Whitehorn before conditions deteriorated significantly and we would be forced to find a bivi. If we maintained the momentum of the last few hours then we would certainly be in range for a summit attempt tomorrow, I considered to myself despite the late start. Peter led the way, bearing up the right side of the couloir to bring us to an easy finish.

‘Rock!’ came the call from the front as Peter swiftly ducked under it having seen it late. It whizzed over his head. Ben, who was second in line had little time to react. Barely had he heard the call before the large rock struck him directly on the thigh resulting in a string of expletives that clearly indicated he was in pain. From my position below it looked as though Ben had been struck directly on the side of his knee, no doubt causing significant injury to the joint capsule I calculated.

The ‘rock’ quickly proved to be ‘rocks’ with the majority of them tumbling down the very runnel that we were climbing. Peter opted to keep his head low and make himself as small as possible whereas Ben had somehow managed to scamper to the right away from the main bombardment clutching his leg in pain. I was the next to be struck receiving a direct hit on the back of my helmet that also left a large bruise at the top of my neck. Having never been hit by a rock of such magnitude before, I was convinced that my helmet must have cracked down the middle (it later proved that there was hardly a mark) and decided it would not be a good idea for skull to take any more impacts. I initially ducked down in the same fashion as Peter but quickly realised a second strike was inevitable if I remained in the chute. Another rock bounded over Peter’s head and I decided it was time to take evasive action. I leapt to the right out of the runnel but on 50° ice quickly began to side down the couloir having not considered my landing too carefully. With my axes flapping from my wrists, I urgently self arrested myself before I had travelled too far with some relief. At some point my Gore-Tex jacket incurred a five inch rip on the underside of the arm.

Shortly after Ben was hit by the rock
The rock fall only lasted about ten seconds but it had been intense and largely directed at the very spot that we perched. Ben was clearly in pain and I rushed to his attention. Peter, unaware of the events that had transpired behind him initially started climbing to the safety of the col. ‘Hang-on Pete’ I called up to him. ‘Ben’s been injured quite bad’. ‘How bad?’ Pete returned. ‘Bad’! Ben’s trousers were already soaked in blood, the rock having punctured a hole through three layers of clothing leaving a clean hole in his thigh below. First thing was to control the blood flow then get him off the mountain. The summit attempt was over and there were new priorities at hand. I cut the clothing away around the wound to expose a hole that went right down to the muscle but it was fairly clean cut. Strangely, despite the initial blood flow, the wound had virtually stopped bleeding within minutes. I cleaned the wound as best I could without iodine, bandaged it and applied a tourniquet (my base layer!).

In light of Ben’s injury a descent seemed the only sensible option despite the high risk of more rock fall in the couloir. Ben, who could not flex his knee on the injured side, lowered himself the 700m on his axes in a painfully slow manner using almost entirely upper body strength. He was clearly digging deep. ‘We’re almost there’ Peter optimistically remarked. We were barely half way down! I hung back checking for rock fall so that the others would have more time to react, however the only follow-up was a single rock that tumbled down a long way from where we were descending. After hours of down-climbing we escaped the couloir with some relief.

Retreating down the Couloir of 1000 gutters after Ben was hit on the thigh by a large rock 
Back at the bivi site we packed everything and descended to our base camp - a further 200m down the glacier crossing two ice falls on route. Ben couldn't down-climb one section so we set up a short abseil off an ice screw. We spent the night at base camp as Ben was not surprisingly too exhausted to make the 1400m descent back to Shimshal that day. After swabbing the wound with iodine it appeared clean at least and there were enough bandages for another day. Using elastic bandage I tried to apply some compression to limit the inflammation. The following day we descended back to Shimshal meeting the doctor of a German expedition on route who examined the wound. He also examined the wound again in Shimshal days later and was a great help.

A further attempt was made on the mountain by Peter and me however this went little further than the top of the couloir when bad weather resulted in a swift retreat. We did however have time to climb the neighbouring peak Shifkitin Sar (5750m) which was a minor result compared to the main objective that we had aspired to. Ironically this was the mountain that dropped the rock on Ben. Ben was keen to try the third attempt but decided his leg was too painful at the last minute on the morning of the ascent.

Within weeks of our failure to climb the mountain a German team summited from a different valley. With the quick access afforded by the Jeep road from Passu there will no doubt be future attempts by other parties, attracted to Shimshal by its beautiful mountains and hospitable people. I myself will no doubt return to the region, however whether I will ever try and climb Whitehorn again is another matter. Having tried three times I now have other peaks in mind and new objectives. The couloir that we climbed was potentially the most direct vs. easiest route to the summit but is also a dangerous route. There is no easy and totally safe way to climb this mountain however. The local kids were right when they shouted at us ‘Whitehorn, bad mountain, bad mountain’ prior to the climb!

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

A New Route on Yazghil Sar (5964m)

Back in Pakistan

I was going back to Shimshal, the remote mountain village in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, home to an amazing twenty villagers (at last count) who have summited an 8000m peak. It was only twelve months since I had first visited the village but I had seen enough to prompt a quick return. Our main goal was to climb the beautiful Shimshal Whitehorn, whose intimidating north face rises above the village. The first objective however was Yazghil Sar, which was intended to use for acclimatisation. The previous year I had seen this peak on route to the Shimshal Pamir and it struck me as being ideally suited for acclimatisation due to its easy gradient and minimal objective dangers.

The expedition consisted of Peter Thompson and me (Lee Harrison), who were in Pakistan for the duration of the summer of 2006, along with Greg Nunn and Ben Cheek who were in Pakistan for the first month to be spent in Shimshal. Greg is a fellow climbing club member at Salford University.

We had rendezvoused in Gilgit. Greg, Ben and Peter had flown to Islamabad and made the hellish 16 hour bus ride north together, whereas I had landed in Hong Kong and made a subsequent four day crossing of China by plane, train and bus. After long journeys by all of us we were finally in the mountains and keen to get some climbing done.

21st June: Shopping in Gilgit

Most of the day had been spent food shopping in the bazaars of Gilgit. Among other things we bought 25 kg of dried apricots, (I had miscalculated that we could get through a kilo bag a day on the assumption that everybody had the same appetite as me), twenty boxes of porridge, eighty packets of biscuits and twenty-five packs of happy cow. On completion of the food shopping we went shopping for some shalwar kameezes, the loose fitting clothes worn by many locals. They were not essential for customary reasons but comfortable to wear nonetheless. I bought an unusually glossy silver (not grey) number, which was the only one available in my size. By the time we had finished our shopping the day was pressing on and we needed to hurry in order to catch the last minivan heading north to Hunza. Because there was no gas in Gilgit we had to travel to Karimabad, the capital of Hunza to buy some there. I had previously bought a full case of gas canisters in Urumqi, China, however these were confiscated when trying to board my train to Kashgar on the grounds that they could potentially explode. With great annoyance I banged one of the canisters against the floor to demonstrate they do not simply explode but then realised I had best stop else face arrest on some sort on terrorist charge. Fortunately there were numerous ex-expedition gas canisters for sale in Karimabad, although many were half empty. Peter and I spent time weighing, shaking and comparing canisters before eventually making our final selection.

22nd June: Travel to Shimshal village

Peter comfortably travelled direct to Shimshal in a hired Jeep with the food and gear while the rest of us roughed it on the local public transport to Passu on the Karakoram Highway, where we could catch the passenger Jeep onward to Shimshal. Despite our early start the Shimshal Jeep had already left by 9am. Not wanting to waste a day in Passu we hired a second Jeep which blared out a kind of bangra trance music for the duration of the journey. We arrived in Shimshal not long after Peter and checked into the Sifat guest house.

Shimshal Expedition 2006 sponsored by Coca Cola

Lunch was due and Greg and Ben were to experience chelpindook, the popular local delicacy, for the first time. This was their first trip to Pakistan and so far their diet had been lentils and chicken karahi, washed down with copious amounts of chai. 

Guesthouse in Shimshal

Chelpindook was new information and their mixed facial expressions indicated this. The dish consists of stacked chapatis with each layer covered with clarified butter and melted qurut, a hard yak cheese that is somewhere between delicious and disgusting depending on tastes. I personally like the dish but then I also like Tibetan tsampa so maybe my opinions on cuisine should be taken with caution.

The evening was spent sorting gear and packing porter loads ahead of our departure for Yazghil Sar. It quickly became apparent on our first day in Shimshal that no one wears the shalwar kameez – at least until we arrived. Westerners trying to dress as locals and locals trying to dress as Westerners…

23rd June: Trek to Goat Camp

Our youthful, amiable porters Atabar and Manzur arrived at 8am. Having painstakingly packed everything in sacks the previous night they proceeded to transfer everything out of the sacks into there own rucksacks. Not that I blame them as the wooden frames that most porters use look far from comfortable. We clumped out of Shimshal wearing our climbing boots in order to keep the pack weights down. Ben with his meagre 35 litre rucksack appeared to have more items strapped to the outside than within. The base of Yazghil Sar was a short day’s trek east along the broad Shimshal valley crossing the Yazghil Glacier immediately prior. Unlike most of Pakistan’s glaciers the Yazghil glacier is a beautiful white river of ice descending from some of the highest mountains in the Karakoram. It was relatively easy to cross although on the far side the ice was littered with rubble and the going was slightly harder. Then at the small ablation valley on the far side of the glacier Greg fell asleep while the rest of us made tea.

Crossing the Yazghil Glacier
Greg on day 1...

We climbed a further 600m to our first camp at around 3900m, adjacent to a shepherdess’s hut that we nicknamed “Goat Camp” for obvious reasons. Greg was feeling exhausted from the effects of the altitude but Manzur was on hand to help him with his rucksack while one of the shepherdesses related to Atabar and Manzur was on hand to run (literally) up the hill with Manzur's porter load.

Climb to 'Goat Camp'

Views north up the Yazghil glacier towards the Hispar Muztagh from the camp were astounding with the Kunyang Chhish, Pumari Chhish and Distaghil Sar massifs all partly visible. Having set up camp it transpired that there was no water locally, however we were assured that some lay relatively close by. I volunteered to climb the hill to this location but after an hour of searching I gave up and headed back to the tents around dusk. Fortunately the shepherdesses had a tankard of water that they could spare so we were not short for the night.

Goat Camp
The Yazghil Glacier and Hispar Muztagh

24th June: Goat Camp

We had released our porters the previous evening and now set about moving our gear up to a higher camp at around 4600m, before descending to spend another night at 3900m. Ben and I departed first with the plan to again try and find the water source. We took with us the 25 litre container leant to us the previous evening. Manzur gave us vague directions, which were just as vague as the directions from yesterday evening and off we went. Comically we climbed all the way to our next camp at 4600m before finding water. Even here we had to spend time channelling a small trickle of water into something useful that we could fill a bottle with. Peter and Greg soon arrived with their loads and quickly departed whilst we continued to fill the bottles. Ben meanwhile spent half an hour building a gigantic cairn to mark this spot. Unlike the water close to the lower camp this water was at least clear. During the descent Ben and me took it in turns to carry the 25 litre water container on our backs using makeshift knotted rope for shoulder straps and Ben’s thermal trousers for shoulder padding. The best technique was to lift the container and run as fast as possible until the rope cut in too much and the container had to be dropped. We would then swap over. Carrying the water was hard work but we made good progress and were soon down at the lower camp after two runs each. To think the shepherd ladies carry these containers everyday! It’s no wonder the local women are so strong.

Having collected water Ben and I still needed to carry our loads up to the base camp, just as Peter and Greg had already done. We began climbing at 4pm after a short rest and were not back until dusk. Peter had been let loose with the stove, conjuring up some stodgy pasta unfit for Oliver Twist’s workhouse (and nobody asked for more).

Ben climbing to our second camp (for the 3rd time)

25th June: Ascent to our second camp

The climb to our higher camp at 4600m was easy as we now knew the route well (particularly Ben and I). The shepherdesses gave us the some more qurut cheese as a departing gift and sung songs as we began our climb. Ben responded by dancing like a fool.

Views were again amazing at the higher camp. The north ridge of Shimshal Whitehorn, which was our next objective, looked worryingly longer and longer the higher we climbed. It supposedly finished at 6400m but dominated the surrounding peaks from this perspective.

In order to gain a view of our forthcoming route on Yazghil Sar Peter and I scrambled up the ridge above camp to the top of a small arête consisting of dangerously stacked loose rock. From here we could look down on to the glacier below. There appeared to be a number of ways to the summit but the simplest looked to be up the far left hand of the glacial slopes, staying west of the rocky north-north-westerly ridge. Descending our viewing perch proved a more treacherous than the ascent, as loading any given rock more than necessary would likely lead to its collapse.

At dinner time Peter was mistakenly allowed near the stove again, this time conjuring up some remarkably thick custard that was green coloured. Greg later noted that the box Peter had used was supposed to serve forty people rather than four, which explained its consistency.

26th June: Ascent to High Camp

We woke at 3am. Firstly we needed to descend a loose scree slope 100m to reach the glacier. Once on the glacier we climbed only a short distance before donning our crampons to cross some sloping hard ice. I traversed the ice first and promptly removed my crampons as the ice underfoot was now crunchy and easy to walk on again. The lower section of the glacier presented a brief exposure to seracs high above, so there was cause not to delay until safely out of their range to the left.

We climbed a horrible gully full of loose rocks before the snow and ice commenced proper. After crossing a broad snow slope we followed vague but this time attractive snow gully on the far left of the glacier. The climbing was relatively easy, with the angle gradually increasing to no more than 45 degrees. The gully remained in the shadows until late morning as so the snow remained firm. We then met the broad expanse of the north-north-west slopes, where the going became harder.

Peter climbing north-north-west slopes. The vague gully is visible on the left

Peter took over the trail-breaking, as the snow had become softer through the morning. We began to feel the affects of altitude. Ben and Greg gradually fell behind while Peter up front regularly prostrated in the snow in response to exhaustion and breathlessness. I felt like I had it easy following Peter’s prints behind him. Peter and I reached the heavily corniced north ridge, which would eventually lead to the north-east ridge and then the summit. We followed the ridge a short distance before reaching a flat area where we rested. The previous day I had envisioned a high camp directly below the summit ridge, which was still a couple of hundred meters above us, and so was happy to push on. I broke the route a further fifty metres before being struck by concern as to where Greg and Ben were. I had last seen them not far below the start of the north ridge, so figured they should have been in sight by now. I peered down but saw nothing. Had they given up and descended because of altitude sickness? I stopped in my deep tracks and descended back down to Peter who was still resting.

Peter approaching high camp

An hour later I looked down the slope from our position to see the grinning faces of Greg and Ben approaching. As soon as Ben and Greg reached us they fell asleep within minutes. It was clear that we would be camping where we were tonight! Both had fallen asleep during the climb although not at the same time. We levelled the slope and pitched the tents next to the rotten snow of a hidden crevasse.

Greg & Ben climbing to high camp

The rest of the day was spent melting snow, drinking chai and eating. By dinner it soon became apparent that we were running out of fuel. After seemingly bring to Shimshal months of kerosene fuel supply we had not bought enough gas up the mountain. Cooking our evening dinner was an anxious affair to see if the kerosene would last the distance. We pumped the fuel bottle each time the stove started to splutter and held our breath but on this occasion were spared the need to eat raw noodles.

Summit viewed from high camp at sunset

27th June: Summit Day

We slept through our 1.30am alarms and woke shortly after 2am. By 2.40am we were climbing. I broke the trail as I had a good idea of the route. The snow was soft and deep and it wasn't long before I was treading snow and going nowhere. I tried traversing to my right but the snow was merely collapsing with each attempt to gain height. Peter took the lead and he soon found some snow that took his weight. I followed his footprints as nimbly as possible but Greg became stuck in the same spot as me and quickly lost his temper. “I’m not having a good day”! We had only been climbing for around half an hour! I managed to haul him over his ledge on the rope and Ben soon followed. Thankfully that was the worst of the soft snow and soon we were approaching the main north-east ridge. Peter broke through the cornice and soon we were presented with a dramatic 360 degree panorama, just as the sun was rising. West lay the prominent peak of Karan Koh, and north were some of the Hispar Muztagh's finest. Kunyang Chhish, Pumari Chhish, the Yazghil Domes, Yukshin Garden Sar, Kanjut Sar and Shimshal Whitehorn were all visible from the ridge among other lesser known peaks. The weather was perfect with virtually no wind on the ridge. The climbing now became due to the gentle gradient and considerably better snow conditions.

Start of the north-east ridge
Yazghil Sar's north-east ridge
Sunrise over Distaghil Sar, the Yazghil Domes and Shimshal Whitehorn
The Khurdopin Glacier from the North Ridge

I took the lead for the remainder of the climb but breaking the trail had become a relatively easy affair. The cornice on the ridge was significant and needed a safe margin. There were also a few hidden crevasses, one of which was introduced to my right foot. Tiredness from altitude began to set in as we moved along the ridge. Breaks became more frequent and the rate we were climbing became slower and slower. Meanwhile the snow was evidently starting to soften under the intense sun rays as the morning progressed. I was becoming frustrated and eventually raised my concerns that none of us were going to summit at our current rate. The upshot was that Peter and I un-roped and soloed the final steeper section from the north-east summit to the main south-west summit, whilst Ben and Greg stayed put and soon fell asleep again in our absence. We climbed the remainder of the mountain without a break and by the time I was on the summit I felt exhausted. Peter was much the same. We shook hands and took in the stunning views that greeted us in all directions. The weather was perfect and the scenery had to be savoured. It was good to get the summer Pakistan expedition off to a successful start and I was happy to be back in the Karakoram. It was a shame that Greg and Ben didn't make it all the way but I'm sure they will have other opportunities in the future.

Approaching the summit (left)
(Photo credit: Peter Thompson)
The Summit!

When I came to the descent it quickly became apparent that I was significantly under the effects of altitude and dehydration. My vision started to appear a little two dimensional with poor judgement of distance. I nervously stepped down from the summit back on to the ridge and cautiously gave the neighbouring cornice sufficient berth. I retraced my well-beaten footprints back down to the north-east summit, taking care with each step, knowing a simple slip could lead to a long fall down the slopes to my right. Ben and Greg were out of sight and on their way down by the time we reached the place where we split so Peter and I continued down un-roped. I managed to step in the same crevasse as on the way up but in a different spot having totally misread which direction it was running. My water bottle was dry so I was keen to get down to the high camp. Peter who was feeling the altitude even more than me descended more cautiously and soon we became separated. The way down was well-trodden now that we were back on the trail that all four of us had climbed. The descent down from the north-west ridge proved easier than expected and the anticipated problems descending the soft snow slopes above final camp never developed. Soon I was back at the tents. Both Ben and Greg were out for the count in their tents but both were healthy.

I was keen to head down to base camp immediately as I knew the altitude induced nausea would soon start if I stayed put with no water. Greg said he would descend if I carried the tent and Ben said he would descend but in one hour. Peter arrived and crawled into his tent, proclaiming that he was too exhausted to descend and would spend the night at high camp, even though no fuel, water or food remained. I relented and climbed in to the tent to let my head start spinning. Ben was true to his word though and soon prepared to descend after an hour or so. Peter realising that we were going to leave him eventually decided to join us below the snowline for the night. We started to pack around 4pm and shortly after starting down found clear water running off some rocks. I stopped to drink a couple of litres before continuing down. The snow was soft in the afternoon sun but the descent didn't take long. The final climb up the scree from the glacier to base camp was exhausting for all of us and the steep loose ground did not complement my rigid plastic boots. Peter, Ben and I arrived back at base camp around the same time but having started cooking dinner there was still no sign of Greg. The sun had set so Peter went to look for him. He soon found him near the top of the scree slope. Greg had got lost in the dark and was on the brink of rolling out his bivi bag and sleeping at the spot where he was. Peter did not cook tonight but my efforts were not a lot better and my spicy curry proved too hot for any of us to eat. Ben was also later sick in the night so my culinary skills were not fully appreciated on this occasion.

28th June: Descent to Shimshal

After a lie-in (relatively speaking) we descended down to goat camp and gave the shepherdesses our surplus food. In return we received more yak cheese and also some yak yoghurt. Having hardened to a yak dairy diet during my time with Tibetan nomads I made a better effort of drinking my yoghurt (and Greg’s) than others.

Re-crossing the Yazghil glacier was largely problem free although there were some minor navigational errors that left us wondering aimlessly at times. I also ripped the stitching on the back side of my salopettes after sliding (purposefully but uncoordinated) down a short ice slope.

Ben recently upgraded his 35 litre pack for a 45 litre model

The trek back down the Shimshal valley was slightly tedious and all our feet were starting to blister. It soon became more interesting when the broad trail that we were following stopped abruptly at a high stone wall. Was this an illusion? Whilst deciding whether or not to backtrack and loop around the wall’s perimeter Ben expertly climbed over the stacked stone wall without so much as rattling a rock. A fine boulder problem completed! Peter and Greg quickly followed. I on the other hand with the grace of a three legged elephant nearly bought the whole thing down. Carefully we rebuilt the wall to hide my presence.

Before arriving at Shimshal we took off our boots to cross a shallow river and were soon back at out guest house and changed into our shalwar kameezes. Dinner was dhal and chicken for the umpteenth day in Pakistan but after the culinary lows of the last few days no one was going to complain!

2016 Footnote

Ten years after climbing Yazghil Sar it became apparent to me from looking at further maps that our route differed greatly from the original first ascent route. After some further research it seemed that we had in fact climbed a new route. The map below shows our route in red in relation to the black dotted line of the first ascent route. Both routes are vaguely on the NW aspect, which largely led me to beneath our route was likely the same as the first ascent route described in the 1988 AAJ. Both are however completely independent, apart from maybe the final climb to the summit from the subsidiary northern summit. Our route is best described as the NNW Face and NE Ridge. The final NE Ridge measures 2.4km on Google Maps and made for a spectacular skyline finale in retrospect. Of course being so close to Shimshal there is always the possibility that a local climber may have already climbed our route nothing at least has been recorded or made public on the internet.

Our route marked in red. The black dotted line is the line of first ascent
Map cutting is taken from the 2005 Jerzy Wala Hispar map
Our Route: The NNW Face and NE Ridge
The original route lies to the right of the serac band
The NW aspect of Yazghil Sar.
Our route lay to the immediate right of the small rocky ridge in the left of the photo.
The first ascent gained the summit via a more direct line further right. Possibly via the ridge in the right of the photo