One of the most attempted and most coveted lines in the entire Himalaya has finally fallen to Americans Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk.
The three climbed the celebrated Shark's Fin on Meru Central (6,310m) in a 12-day push.
The c1,400m route takes the North East Pillar, characterized at the top by a 500m prow of granite resembling a shark's fin. The line follows an objectively dangerous snow/ice face to 5,650m, from where difficult rock and mixed climbing lead to the base of the prow.
Anker had first tried the route in 2003 with Doug Chabot and Bruce Miller, and returned again in 2008 with Chin and Ozturk. With their prior knowledge of the route and the difficult mixed and aid climbing involved, the trio this time decided to climb in capsule style.
They attribute their success primarily to a very good weather window. However, each member has certain talents that fit with the complex terrain of the route, while their familiarity with much of the ground meant that in the prevailing good conditions they were able to progress much faster than anticipated.
Before their attempt this autumn the compelling line of the Shark's Fin had been tried well over 20 times by many of the world's foremost alpinists. It also had a noted British history.
The first serious try took place in 1993, when the line caught the eye of the ever-imaginative Paul Pritchard. With Noel Craine, Johnny Dawes, Dave Kendall and South African Philip Lloyd, Pritchard climbed the objectively dangerous lower ice slopes and then started to fix ropes up towards the final 500m prow.
Dawes, Lloyd and Pritchard eventually reached a high point below the prow, with Dawes having led a couple of pitches estimated to be E5 and Pritchard some Scottish 6. By this time they had been on the face for a week and were already quite extended.
Any debate on whether to continue was taken from them by a tactical error on the part of Dawes, who joined a select band of notable mountaineers to have thrown one or more boots off a bivouac site.
The descent was not uneventful: whilst down-climbing the final section of the face, Dawes fell 200m, only stopping just short of a giant crevasse.
The next British attempt, in 1997, reached around 6,100m, a high point that was equalled but probably not bettered for the next 10 years. The relatively young and, in terms of Himalayan climbing, inexperienced team of Nick Bullock, Jules Cartwright and Jamie Fisher, made their attempt in alpine-style, forcing a few pitches up an obvious hard mixed ramp on the left side of the prow before retreating.
A more experienced Cartwright returned with two companions in 2002 but on reaching base camp the team immediately reduced to two, which proved logistically too small for the job.
In spring 2001 the Russian Valeri Babanov also attempted the Fin, solo. This forced later arrivals, Americans Dave Sheldon and Pete Takeda, to try a line on the North East Face further right.
Both failed in their attempts but Babanov returned in autumn the same year and completed the American line to the summit, making the first ascent of Meru Central. His route, Shangri La (ED: 5c/6a, A1/A2, M5 and 75°) gained him a Piolet d'Or.
In 2006 the peak had a remarkable three ascents. The first, by Malcolm Haskins and Michael Hill via the West Face and South East Ridge was ostensibly to establish a camera base to film Glen Singleman and his wife Heather Swan's successful BASE jump from Meru South.
Four Japanese then made a variant to Babanov's route, free climbing at 5.10a, M5, WI3 and 75°, while later Marek Holecek and Jan Kreisinger created a partial new route, following the established line to the base of the Shark's Fin then slanting up the snow face to the right to join the Babanov route (7a, M5 and 80°).
On the 2008 American attempt, Anker, Chin and Ozturk made a continuous push with a portaledge, and after 18 days on the face, five of these immobile in a storm, and having climbed the overhanging prow at modern A4, were forced to make a final push for the summit due to virtually zero fuel and food.
One hundred and fifty metres short of the top they were stopped by an overhanging gendarme they had neither the time nor energy to climb.
Not having any strong desire to return, they were quite happy to provide full information to the very strong Slovenian trio of Andrej Grmovsek, Marko Lukic and Silvo Karo. In 2009 these three were also repulsed below the prow, having climbed difficulties up to M8.
This made the Americans have a re-think, and with the usual unpleasant thoughts from their previous attempt dulled by the passage of time, realized they just had to go back.
The photo shows Marko Lukic embarking on difficult mixed ground during the 2009 attempt. The overhanging prow looms above.