Karakoram winter: Laila climbed

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 21/02/2013
Laila Peak. The west face is in profile on the right. Vlado Linek

Although difficult weather conditions have so far shut down teams attempting 8,000m peaks in Pakistan, a Spanish pair have succeeded on the lower Laila Peak above the Ghondogoro Glacier.

Laila (6,096m), well seen on the standard trek from the Baltoro Glacier over the Ghondogoro La to Hushe, is certainly one of the most spectacular snow/ice peaks in the Karakoram.

After one previous attempt that came close to the top, José Fernandez and Alex Txikon reached the summit on the 18th February after a gruelling 10-hour push up the west face from their top camp.

Earlier, the pair had ploughed a trench through deep snow to reach Camp 1 at 5,200m, and in improving weather arrived at Camp 2 (5,600m) the following day.

They then took 10 hours, battling through snow reported to be sometimes chest deep, a temperature of -35°C, and winds estimated to gust 60 km/hour, before reaching the summit. Another four hours was needed to return to Camp 2, where they reunited with two other team members.

With an altitude below 6,500m, today this peak needs no official permit. However, this was not the case 20 years ago.

Laila had several ascents before the "first official" in 1997 by an Italian team via the northwest ridge.

However, the first ascent had been made 10 years earlier by Andy Cave, Tom Curtis, Sean Smith and Simon Yates, during a productive trip to the Hushe region that also saw the first ascent of Namika (6,400m). They climbed Laila by the great snow and ice slope of the west face.

Elsewhere four teams were attempting the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat.

The Italian Daniele Nardi and the accomplished high altitude French female mountaineer Elizabeth Revol attempted the Mummary Rib on the Diamir face.

On their final push they reached 6,000m, only to be pinned down by 100 kph winds and temperatures at a reported -48°C. With no improvement forecast, they descended and abandoned the expedition, Nardi suffering from frostbite.

An American-Hungarian team attempted the northeast face (well left of the existing Diamir Face routes) via the line tried in 2000 by Hanspeter Eisendle, Hubert and Reinhold Messner, and Wolfgang Tomaseth, which stopped on joining the 1978 Czechoslovak Route at around 7,500m.

Hungarian Zoltan Acs left early due to frostbite, and David Klein and Ian Overton were unable to make much progress before abandoning their attempt.

Poles Marek Klonowski and Tomek Mackiewicz, on their third Nanga Parbat winter expedition, were attempting the Schell Route on the Rupal side. From a bivouac above the Mazeno Gap, Mackiewicz made a bold solo attempt on the summit but turned back at around 7,400m.

The fourth team was actually one man; the little-known Joel Wischnewski from France, attempting an highly-ambitious, lone climb of the southeast pillar.

At the time of writing nothing has been seen or heard from him for some time, and his agent in Pakistan recently launched a search and rescue operation. Three experienced Pakistan mountaineers climbed up the lower part of his proposed route but have so far found no trace of the Frenchman.

On Broad Peak the veteran and legendary Polish winter mountaineer, Krzysztof Wielicki, is leading a team attempting the Normal Route.

Included in his group are Adam Bielecki, who last year made the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I, and an accomplished climber from the 1980s, Maciej Berbeka.

In the winter of 1988, at the end of the unsuccessful first winter attempt on K2, Berbeka made a fast ascent of Broad Peak foresummit, alone. In poor visibility and high winds he thought he had arrived at the main summit. It was only sometime after the event, when studying photos, that he realized his mistake.

On their first summit push from Camp 3 Bielecki and Artur Malek were turned back at a little over 7,800m by a large crevasse they were unable to cross.

Berbeka and Tomasz Kolwalski, in a second summit attempt, failed to reach this point before they were driven back by fierce winds. The expedition is currently in base camp waiting another weather window.

In many ways, one of the most impressive attempts this season is being made by three Russians on Amin Brakk in the Nangma Valley.

Although only 5,850m in altitude and therefore not experiencing the same problems with high winds as the bigger peaks, Amin Brakk has a ca 1,250m sheer granite wall - the largely sunless (and that's in summer) west face. The Russians plan to try a new big wall line left of the 2000 Spanish route, Sol Solet ("Sun, little sun"; 6c+ and A5).

Eugeny Dmitrienko, Andrew Glen, Sergey Grachev, and Alexander Shabunin   only recently arrived in base camp and are currently working on the initial section of the route.
 



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