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Europeans Find the Easiest Rock Route Up Uli Biaho

The southwest face of Uli Biaho (6109m), Trango Towers, showing the new 17-pitch route established by Matteo Della Bordella Luca Schiera and Silvan Schupbach on July 21 (red). In blue is the 1979 Giordani route (5.11 A3). Despite a tricky approach, Della Bordella thinks their new line is the easiest way to the summit of Uli Biaho. [Photo] courtesy Dodo Kopold

Last month, Italian climbers Matteo Della Bordella and Luca Schiera and Swiss climber Silvan Schupbach made their contribution to what has been a surprisingly productive Karakoram climbing season, after the Nanga Parbat attack in June cast a dire outlook on mountain tourism in Pakistan. On July 21, the trio summited Uli Biaho (6109m), in the Trango Towers region, by a mostly new and free route on the southwest face.

They originally intended to climb a new route on the southeast aspect of the tower, but a lack of features and crummy rock deterred them. On the southwest face, they found good rock and obvious route options, but were unsuccessful on their first attempt, bailing after five pitches.

“About a week of unpredictable weather pinned us down, but our meteorologist announced that a three-day window was coming,” Della Bordella said. “That was enough for us to give it another try.”

Matteo Della Bordella leads the third pitch of the new route up Uli Biaho while Silvan Schupbach belays. [Photo] Luca Schiera

They began their second attempt on July 19, starting with a 200m traverse on a 60- to 70-degree snow and ice slope to regain their highpoint. “In the first part of the route we found two or three pegs. We would find out later that they belonged to a French attempt back in 1974,” Bordella said.

The east face of Uli Biaho. The first ascentionist climbed this side in four days, including 44 rappels to get back to the base. [Photo] Ragni di Lecco collection

A system of cracks and flakes allowed the team to free climb the lower part of the route, but they resorted to aid partway up. “After the chimney, we unfortunately found a soaking wet crack and our dream of a complete free line vanishes,” Bordella recalled. “I was forced to aid 20 meters under a waterfall.”

The climbers intersected a previously established route, put up by by Maurizio Giordani, Rosanna Manfrini, Maurizio Venzo and Kurt Walde in 1988, for two pitches. “From Giordani’s route, we head up left on mixed terrain to the final arete,” Bordella says. A few short pitches brought them to the top.

The three climbers found a small exposed ledge to bivy on two-thirds of the way up the route. [Photo] Ragni di Lecco collection

The route took the climbers two full days divided with one uncomfortable bivy on a sloping ledge. They broke the 500m wall into 17 pitches to create a relatively moderate climb. “In our opinion the route is probably the easiest way to reach the top of the mountain. [B]eing on the southwest face it is much more featured with flakes and cracks and is also less steep,” Bordella says. “However the approach is long and quite tricky.”

Silvan Schupbach and Matteo Della Bordella on the Uli Biaho summit. [Photo] Luca Schiera

Uli Biaho was first climbed via its east face by Americans Bill Forrest, Ron Kauk, John Roskelley and Kim Schmitz in 1979. The climbers spent 10 consecutive nights on the wall and hauled over 300 pounds of gear and food. It took them four days and 44 rappels to reach the base again.

Nine years later, Rosanna Manfrini, Maurizio Venzo, Kurt Walde, led by Maurizio Giordani, climbed the tower’s southwest face for the first time. The team climbed for “three days ascending the red granite, which was vertical, very compact and encrusted with ice,” Giordani wrote in the 1989 American Alpine Journal. Their route rose 800m in height and climbed through 5.11 and A3 terrain.

Fabio Palma, Matteo Della Bordella, 1980 AAJ, 1989 AAJ, Climbing 60