One of the most coveted unclimbed lines throughout the entire High Asian mountains has seen-off yet another super-talented team, this time the Japanese Giri-Giri Boys.
Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Katsutaka 'Jumbo' Yokoyama were defeated by highly dangerous snow conditions about half way up the North Ridge of Latok I (7,145m) in the Pakistan Karakoram.
Prior to this, the team had attempted the even more impressive North Face, reaching a height of c5,900m, a similar altitude to their subsequent attempt on the ridge. To this point they had found the route dangerously exposed to falling rock, ice and snow.
Already this year Yokoyama has put up a huge new route on Mt Logan, while Ichimura, who with Sato was a recipient of a Piolet d'Or in 2009, climbed a hard new route on Cholatse last autumn.
Despite 25 or so attempts on the 2,500m Latok I North Ridge – often dubbed the Walker Spur of the Karakoram - by a variety of highly talented parties, no one has come even remotely near the high point of c7,000m, achieved on the first ever attempt in 1978 by Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy, George and Jeff Lowe.
These four, arguably the strongest American alpinists of the time, spent 21 days on the ridge climbing over 100 pitches. They had probably surmounted all the difficulties, when a combination of wind, cold and Jeff Lowe’s rapidly deteriorating condition due to altitude sickness, forced a retreat.
Since then the ridge has gained a formidable reputation, enforcing the fact that the 1978 attempt was one of the most impressive in the history of alpine-style in the Greater Ranges.
Writing recently about the attempt, Donini said, 'If we had climbed to the summit it would be just another footnote in climbing history. [The North Ridge] has attained a mystique like no other route because of the myriad failed attempts over so many years'.
The list of climbers to have tired this line reads like a who's who of world mountaineering, with names such as the Benegas brothers, John Bouchard, Doug Chabot, Catherine Destivelle, Colin Haley, Wojiech Kurtyka, Mark Richey, Steve Swensen and Josh Wharton, and includes British alpinists Rab Carrington, Choe Brooks, Martin Boysen, John Yates and Dave Wills, the latter partnered on two of his attempts by Brendan Murphy.
The slightly smaller North Face is more futuristic and has been attempted several times. French-Canadian Maxime Turgeon, who tried it with Louis-Philippe Menard in 2006, described it as an 800m mixed ramp leading to a magnificent quasi-vertical 600m of water ice. The long mixed headwall that looms above might prove to be the crux.
The vast majority of teams that have tried the aesthetic North Ridge have employed a commendable lightweight approach. It is hoped the team that finally climbs the route respects those efforts and completes it in the fine style it justly deserves.
The summit of Latok I itself has been reached only once; by a Japanese Expedition in 1979 via a difficult and objectively dangerous route on the South Face.
Thanks to Hiro Hagiwara for help with this report