Russians climb coveted northeast face of Muztagh Tower

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 29/09/2012
Muztagh Tower from the southeast, the right skyline the northeast buttress. Bruce Normand
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Three Russians, climbing in good style, have made the first ascent of the impressive northeast face of Muztagh Tower (7,284m) in Pakistan's Baltoro Muztagh.

Dmitry Golovchenko, Alexander Lange and Sergey Nilov, making their first high-altitude climb, spent 17 days on the 2,000m wall, much of this in poor weather.

The northeast face had been the objective of Bruce Normand's expedition in 2005. 

Although he was never able to set foot on the face, he was able to identify two possible lines; a direct route up an impressively steep buttress, and a line much further left leading to the southeast ridge.

In the summer of 2008 it was the turn of Slovenians Pavle Kozjek and Dejan Miskovic. They also decided against a direct ascent and opted for the line to the left, leading to the southeast ridge.

In 17 hours the pair climbed around 1,800m to the crest at ca 6,800m, overcoming difficulties of WI5 and M5. Next day the weather was poor and the vastly experienced and talented Kozjek suggested they descend via the southeast ridge.

They had only gone a short distance, unroped, when a cornice collapsed under Kozjek's feet and he fell to his death. Miskovic managed a highly difficult descent to 5,400m, where he waited above a crevassed and torturous icefall until rescued by helicopter.

Russians, Golovchenko, Lange and Nilov, took only four ropes; two dynamic and two static. Starting from the glacier at 5,300m they spent around eight days climbing 60-65° ice slopes right of the crest of the buttress, before joining it at ca 6,400m, where it is a knife-edge arête.

Above 6,500m they were on the headwall, vertical to overhanging snow-covered rock.

It took a day to climb through the crux section, from 6,700-6,900m, and four days later they reached the summit. One day previous they had run out of food, and on summit day they ran out of gas.

Fortunately, they managed a rapid though dangerous descent down icefalls on the north face, taking 24 hours to reach the glacier from the summit.

The team used a single tent for overnight bivouacs and left no gear on the mountain.

Back in the mid 1950s the late Guido Magnone noted, 'to anyone who has had the opportunity to admire the wonderful photograph taken in 1909 by Vittorio Sella, the Muztagh Tower must have appeared the symbol of inaccessibility'.

47 years after the dramatic photo was taken, it inspired two teams to attempt the first ascent.

Both eventually succeeded by different routes. These were groundbreaking ascents, involving small, lightweight expeditions overcoming technical ground at high altitude.

In the summer of 1956 Joe Brown, John Hartog, Ian McNaught-Davis, and Tom Patey tackled the Northwest Ridge. Brown and McNaught-Davis reached the West Top late in the day and decided not to attempt a traverse to the slightly higher (by about three metres) East Summit.

The following day, benefiting from the work put in by Brown and McNaught-Davis, Hartog and Patey were able to cross the intervening gap and reach the highest point.

Interestingly, this expedition's biggest sponsor was the recently inaugurated Mount Everest Foundation, which awarded a grant of £1,200, equivalent today of nearly £25,000.

A few days later, after climbing the sharp and difficult Southeast Ridge, top French alpinists of the day André Contamine, Paul Keller, Guido Magnone and Robert Paragot also reached the East Summit.

The mountain did not receive another ascent until 1984 when Sandy Allan, Tony Brindle, Mal Duff and Jon Tinker repeated the original route. Swedes Goran Kropp and Rafael Jensen made the fourth ascent, also by the original route, though they took a different line in the lower section.

The Russians made the fifth overall ascent, establishing the first new route on the peak in 56 years. The French route remains unrepeated.



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