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Full Report: Two Attempts, Two New Routes in Pakistan

Troubleshooting on the way to the village of Askoll. They bridged the gap with broken 2x4s and tree branches. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

Hayden Kennedy and Kyle Dempster capped off a successful season in Pakistan this summer, establishing two routes on two peaks in the Karakoram. They climbed in a 49-hour push on the east face of K7 (6934m) with Slovenian Urban Novak to complete the first in their two-part installment. The duo then roped up with Josh Wharton for a new route on the Ogre I (7285m).

After spending a night at the foot of K7’s east face, the trio of Dempster, Kennedy and Novak began climbing at 11 p.m. on July 17 and reached their high point from a 2011 attempt within a few hours. As the early morning light illuminated the route, the climbing grew increasingly more difficult.

Hayden Kennedy passes the time in camp. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

By late afternoon on July 18, “[C]onditions were grim. We were tired, cold and snow pelted our faces. The route ahead was unclear and the three of us spoke about our options for bailing,” wrote Dempster. “That was when Urban commented, ‘But this is what we came for, we knew it would be this way, we must continue.’ Urban’s words made the stark misery of the situation seem manageable. After all, K7 was our choice.”

Twenty-two hours later, after multiple sections of technical mixed terrain, the team bivied on an icy ledge for a few hours, where they shared two sleeping bags and one ground pad. Exhausted, the team would “boot up” in earnest the following morning.

“Climbing up easy ice was a task,” Kennedy later wrote. “Our packs felt heavy but our legs kept pushing.”

Porters pass under the north face of Latok I on the way to the Ogre I base camp. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

In a thick whiteout, the team gained the final snow slope below the summit. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Novak forged ahead through waist-deep snow in the final 200 meters of the climb. Kennedy describes Novak’s final push as “by far the [most] impressive effort I have ever seen.” Soon the team stood atop the summit.

“Some climbers in the past have sought out the summit of K7 as a means to their salvation. For us, the summit felt anti-climactic and was merely a place to begin 10 hours of rappelling,” Dempster and Kennedy wrote from Skardu. “The process of climbing K7 was where we found our fulfillment, most specifically climbing with our Slovenian friend and his calm wisdom when the shit was hitting the fan.”

After establishing their new route on K7, Dempster and Kennedy parted ways with Urban Novak. They met up with friend Josh Wharton on the Choktoi glacier, for their soon-to-be successful bid on the south face of Ogre I.

Hayden Kennedy below the North Ridge of Latok I. In 1978, his father Michael spent 26 days attempting the line with Jim Donini and Jeff and George Lowe. “Damn, those guys were tough… and stupid,” he said. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

On August 19, just after midnight, the team began a several thousand, 60-degree slog up a field of snow and ice from the Choktoi glacier. “Kick, punch, breathe, kick, punch, breathe. Why can something so simple at times be so painful? You must meditate,” reflected Dempster. The team simul-climbed for several hours by headlamp until they “felt the increasing exposure under [their] feet.”

By midday the team reached a spot clear of several imposing seracs. From this safer location the team began a “long traverse that would gain the snowfields from which the seracs spilled forth.” The team theorized that this traverse would be the “key” to unlocking their route. However, as Hayden embarked on the 55-meter traverse, rock quality worsened significantly. “The pitch made the worst rock in the Canadian Rockies look like dream stone,” Dempster said.

Kennedy and Josh Wharton climb the serac fall up to the basin between the Ogres I and II. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

Hayden tentatively continued upward, at times pulling off microwave-size blocks that exploded on the ledge just below his feet. Wharton told Dempster at the belay, “I wouldn’t question him for a second if he decided to bail.”

Kennedy revises his definition of “choss” at 6300m. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

After several hours, all three climbers successfully navigated the chossy section. Roped together, they headed up steeper snowfields. At the base of an overhanging granite headwall, the trio found an “incredible” place for a tent and turned in for the day.

In the morning, they stretched, brewed coffee and gathered gear. They started their day, and at 6500m, Dempster and Kennedy began exchanging leads on “some tricky, leftward-traversing mixed pitches.” Although the rock quality improved, gear placements were sparse as the climbing steepened to include sections of increasingly unconsolidated snow.

A short day brought them to a bivy on a small snowfield at around 6800m. Wharton struggled through the night, his face swollen, and he strained to breathe. He coughed through the night, spitting blood in one instance. It became clear to the team that Wharton was suffering from some measure of cerebral edema. The weather worsened during the night and, faced with their partner’s declining health, they were at a crossroads.

Kennedy leads some “cold and scrappy” mixed terrain below their second bivy on the Ogre, circa 6800m. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

Dempster and Kennedy finally decided to leave Wharton in the tent during their summit bid and pushed onward up the final 350 meters to the summit. The final section of climbing proved to be “the most enjoyable on the entire route.” Dempster and Kennedy swapped leads up a red granite corner of mixed climbing to gain a corniced ridgeline that lead into a final mixed pitch below the summit snowfield. Dempster lead the waist deep, steep snow just below the top.

Kennedy climbs the last few meters of the Ogre I up to the summit. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

Reflecting on the climb, Dempster wrote:

Maybe Hayden and I were blinded by the summit, maybe it was a dumb decision for Josh to say, ‘Go.’ The three of us had cast aside the mantra of ‘stay together in the mountains,’ and surely our decision deserves some level of scrutiny. However, in the mountains and in every moment with the people that we choose to have adventures with in the mountains, we must constantly be aware of ourselves, our surroundings, and communicate these perceptions. If Josh had said that he needed to go down, Hayden and I would have done so. If either Hayden or I had felt a strong enough conviction that leaving Josh was not a good idea or that the terrain above was too dangerous then would have gone down. If any of us had felt differently about the circumstance, then we would not have made the decision that we did. Each moment in the mountains is different, every decision unique, and this one made collectively by the three of us felt appropriate.

Sources: Kyle Dempster, Hayden Kennedy, (K7), (Ogre I).

Dempster and Kennedy chalk up two new routes in two attempts in the Karakoram with the completion of their line on Ogre this summer. [Photo] Kyle Dempster

Dempster, Kennedy and Wharton’s new line on the south face of Ogre I. [Photo] Kyle Dempster