Pakistan: July weather stops most climbers

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 28/07/2011
West Face of Gasherbrum IV. Peter Thompson

After an excellent June, July's weather in the high mountains of the Karakoram has been consistently bad, thwarting a number of ambitious projects.

Following their attempt on the unclimbed South West Ridge of Broad Peak, Russian Alexei Bolotov with Frenchmen Yannick Graziani and Christian Trommsdorff decided to abandon their plans for a new route on the South West Face of K2 due to strong winds and too much snow at high altitude. Instead, they opted for 7,925m Gasherbrum IV.

When the long-awaited forecast, promising five clear days, finally arrived, the team set out to bivouac at 5,300m on the glacier below the legendary West Face, aka Shining Wall.

In 1985 Voytek Kurtyka from Poland and Austria's Robert Schauer made a committing alpine-style ascent of this great wall by a line that remains unrepeated to this day. Their ascent is still regarded as one of the greatest feats in high altitude climbing during the 20th Century.

The Russian-French team left their bivouac at 3:00am and by 11:00am had reached 6,000m. Here, despite the promising forecast, it was snowing lightly, creating small spindrift slides. After one hour of discussion, they elected to descend. Heavy snowfall later that day vindicated the decision.

Bolotov and Graziani turned their attentions to a fast ascent of Broad Peak, which they summited by the Normal Route.

Prior to this a number of climbers had summited Gasherbrums I and II via their respective Normal Routes, including veteran British Himalayan mountaineer Rick Allan, on Gasherbrum I.

Sadly, after reaching the summit of Gasherbrum II, the Iranian female mountaineer, Leila Esfandyari, was killed in a fall during the descent.

Esfandyari was a determined female, who had been leader of the 2008 Iranian Nanga Parbat expedition and reached the summit with fellow (male) team members. Buoyed by this success, she gave up her job as a microbiologist in a Tehran hospital and began a quest to climb all 14 8,000m peaks.

In 2010 she attempted K2 and reached around 7,500m, but in common with other climbers on the mountain at the time, was forced down by atrocious weather. Being an individual climber in Iran and having no major sponsor, she was forced to sell her house to pay for the trip.

Another interesting but unsuccessful project on the highest peaks this summer was an attempt to complete the huge Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat.

More or less all serious attempts on this committing undertaking have reached the start of the ridge from the far easier Rupal (south) side. However, Spanish Basques Juan Carlos 'Txingu' Arrieta and Alberto Zerain, with Argentinean Leonardo Proverbio, planned to climb a new route to the crest from the Diamir valley.

They used the standard base camp and first acclimatized on the Normal (Kinshofer) Route, before making several attempts on lines up the north face of the Mazeno Ridge, Proverbio and Zerain reaching a height of 6,200m on their best effort. This pair later made attempts to summit the mountain via the Kinshofer Route but were defeated by the weather.

The best attempt to date on this monstrous crest - and there have been many - was made in 2004 by Americans Doug Chabot and Steve Swenson. They traversed the 10km crest over multiple 7,000m peaks to its junction with the Schell Route but were simply too exhausted and extended to continue the upper section to Nanga Parbat's summit.

Bad weather also defeated the strong Italian team of Marco Majori, Bruno Mottini, Cesare Ravachietto, Ermanno Salvaterra and Andrea Sarchi on another legendary Karakoram project, the North Ridge of Latok I.

Shorter weather windows have allowed more success on smaller peaks. Notable, was a two-day repeat of the rarely climbed Spanish Route on Trango Tower.

Russians Eugeny Bashkirtsev and Denis Vertenin climbed for 15 hours on their first day, well into the night, to complete the first 14 pitches. The next day, 22nd July, they reached the summit at night and the following day were back in base camp.

The Spanish Route lies left of the original 1976 British Route and was climbed in 1989 by José Luis Clavel, Miguel Angelo Gallego, Chiri Ros and José Seiquer. They spent 19 nights on the face, completing a total of 36 pitches.
 



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