The first major success of the 2011 Pakistan summer season fell to a team of four Russians, who have just made the first ascent of the West Face of Latok III (6,949m).
Climbing in capsule style, Evgeny Dmitrienko, Ivan Dozhdev, Alex Lonchinsky and team leader Alexander Odintsov spent from the 10th - 25th June ascending the left side of the c2,000m face, completing a line that Odintsov has tried twice before.
The face was first inspected in 1988 by the Italians Marco Forcatura, Marco Marciano and Enrico Rosso but they found it too plastered with snow and instead made the first alpine-style ascent of the Japanese Route on Latok III's South West Ridge.
In 1992 Americans Greg Collum and current AAC executive director Phil Powers reached c6,350m, and in 1998 another strong American team comprising Kitty Calhoun, Steve Quinlan, Ken Sauls and Jay Smith reached 6,050m after overcoming difficulties of 5.10a and A2 on less than perfect rock.
In 2000 Odintsov arrived with a strong team comprising Sergey Efimov, Yuri Koshelenko and Alexander Ruchkin. The West Face of Latok III was to be their fourth summit in the on-going project dubbed Russian Way - Big Walls of the World, an attempt to climb 10 new routes on major summits around the globe.
The team reached a little over 5,800m when they were hit by a bad storm. Stonefall broke both thumbs on Koshelenko's hands and the team decided to retreat.
While low on the face and setting up another belay to lower Koshelenko, Efimov and Ruchkin were hit by avalanche. When Ruchkin emerged, badly battered with three broken ribs and a damaged neck, he was alone.
Fearing the worse, the remaining three descended to the foot of the face, where to their surprise they found Efimov sitting to the side of the avalanche cone with a broken leg. After his 350m fall he was convinced he was the only survivor, and had radioed the doctor in base camp, Mikail Batkin, to that effect. Round one to Latok III.
Round two took place in 2001. Only Ruchkin and Odintsov were interested in a return match, but they managed to enlist Igor Barikhin, Mikhail Davy, Sergey Khadzhinov and Alexander Klenov.
This time the team reached 6,200m in capsule style. Barikhin was the last man jumaring the ropes, while the other were excavating a campsite, when a large rock fall cut loose from the summit ridge. When calm returned they realized the rope below had been cut and Barikhin had fallen the length of the face to his death.
Another Russian team, this time led by Valery Shamalo, tried in 2008 but again were defeated by injury.
This year, Mikhail Batkin, who was base camp doctor on both the 2000 and 2001 expeditions returned with Odintsov and must have spent an anxious time on the glacier until the team safely regained base camp on the 26th.
Prior to this all five had made an acclimatization ascent of a small peak dubbed Latok VI, following the same route also used for acclimatization in 2001. The four then made about eight portaledge camps on the West Face, at first up the snow/ice slopes right of the lower spur and then directly up the rock wall above to the summit.
Odintsov has now achieved his dream and, in addition, the ninth in the series of Big Walls of the World.
Thanks to Anna Piunova for help with this report.