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Gasherbrums Update

Gasherbrum IV (7925m) from the First West Gasherbrum Glacier. Marked is the line of the northwest ridge (Child-Hargis-Macartney-Snape, 1986; descended from the north summit by Kurtyka and Schauer in 1985). Directly below the summit lies the 2500-meter west face or Shining Wall, climbed in 1985 by a line slanting up from the right to exit at the north summit, and again in 1997 via the Central Spur to the left. In 2006 two Spanish climbers attempted the south ridge in alpine style by climbing the broad snow couloir right of the west face, left round its prominent capping serac, and onto the crest, where they retreated in bad weather from a high point of 7200m. [Photo] Oriol Baro

Briefly reported in the August 22, 2008 NewsWire, a super-strong team comprising Alberto Inurrategi, Ferran Latorre, Jose Carlos Tamayo, Juan Vallejo and Mikel Zabalza, regular players in Al Filo de lo Imposible, a Spanish TV documentary series that has now been running for twenty-five years, made the third ascent of the northwest ridge of Gasherbrum IV (7925m). In late June the five set up base camp at 4700m, close to Concordia and the entrance to the First West Gasherbrum Glacier, which flows down from the west face of the mountain. Camp 1 was established in the West Gasherbrum Cwm at 5500m and Camp 2 close to the notch at the start of the ridge at 6500-6600m. Twelve-hundred meters of rope were fixed in the ca. 55 degree snow/ice couloir leading up to the notch from the head of the cwm, subsequently making it possible to climb from Base Camp to Camp 2–1800 meters of ascent–in one day. However, poor weather meant that it was not until late July that the team was able to make a final push for the summit.

Regaining Camp 2 on the 29th, they climbed to ca. 6900m the following day (Camp 3) and on the 31st camped again at 7400m. On August 1 all five set out at 4 a.m. for the final section of the ridge. They reached the north summit and continued along the connecting ridge to gain the highest point after twelve hours of hard climbing above Camp 4. All five safely regained the tents that night but during the descent the following day Latorre was hit on the leg by rockfall and needed full help from his mates to get back to base camp. Fortunately, his injuries were not severe, but enough to make the long walk down the Baltoro impractical, so a helicopter was summoned, and he was evacuated to Skardu and taken to a hospital.

Gasherbrum IV was first climbed in 1958 by Riccardo Cassin’s Italian expedition via the northeast ridge. From Camp 6 at 7350m Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri made a long summit push, first reaching the north top, then traversing the pinnacled connecting ridge to the main summit. It was this latter ridge that provided the crux of the climb. The route is long, complex and has an objectively dangerous approach; it remains unrepeated. During the late 1970s and early ’80s a number of parties tried their hands on the western aspect of the mountain, some attempting the great prize of the west face–the Shining Wall–and others going for the safer northwest ridge. The highest point reached, by an eight-member American team in 1984, was a little over 7300m on the ridge. In 1985 two of the world’s finest Himalayan climbers of their day, Polish Wojciech Kurtyka and Austrian Robert Schauer, climbed the west face. Their bold, alpine-style, two-man push remains one of the greatest climbs in the history of Himalayan/Karakoram mountaineering, and the route is unrepeated to this day. Close to the top of the face, a storm pinned them down for two days, and when they were able to resume climbing, food and fuel had run out. Close to the edge and hallucinating wildly, the two abandoned the traverse to the main summit, exited the face at the north top and descended the northwest ridge, barely making it back to base camp alive.

The ridge was finally climbed–in an upward direction–the following year by Greg Child, Tom Hargis and Tim Macartney-Snape. A summit push from Camp 4 at 7350m involved 50-60 degree snow/ice and around eight pitches through a difficult marble rock band. By the time the three reached the north top it was too late to continue, so they bivouacked with no stove, in the clothes they were wearing. The next day they continued the remaining half a kilometer to the summit. Instead of following the difficult Bonatti-Mauro crest, they crept down onto the snowfields of the upper west face and traversed these until they could climb up to the top.

Koreans climbed the 2500m Central Spur on the west face in 1997, with Bang Jung-ho, Kim Tong-kwan and Yoo Huk-jae reaching the main summit after a sieged ascent that had rock difficulties quoted at 5.10 and A3. Two years later Kang Yeon-ryong and Yun Chi-won, part of a thirteen-member Korean team, reached the summit again having repeated the northwest ridge. Mindful of the high difficulties close to the top, they established a fifth camp at 7800m before going for the summit. The recent Spanish ascent is therefore only the fifth of this magnificent mountain, one of the most difficult of the world’s highest.

As reported in the July 25, 2008 NewsWire, Viktor Afanasiev and Valery Babanov climbed a new route on the northwest face of Broad Peak before successfully completing a larger objective: a partial new route on Gasherbrum I (8068m), following the left facet of the southwest face to join the upper section of the west ridge, as briefly detailed in the August 4, 2008 NewsWire. The pair started from the next major glacier basin south of the Standard Route, following the same glaciated terrain toward the base of the southwest face used by Jerzy Kukuczka and Wojciech Kurtyka in 1983. This accomplished Polish pair, who shortly before had climbed a new route on Gasherbrum II over 7772m Gasherbrum II East, traversed up right onto the big snow slopes of the southwest face above its serac-torn lower section. After failing twice to climb through the headwall they crossed right onto a south-facing spur and finished up slopes on the right flank to the summit.

Afanasiev and Babanov climbed much further left, up a subsidiary snow and ice face, squeezed between the southwest face proper and the 1977 Slovenian Route on the west ridge. They made their second camp high on this face, and it was during the night (July 30-31) that Afanasiev was hit by a rock. The following day, feeling that retreat back down the face was too dangerous, the pair continued up to an exit on to the crest of the west ridge, some distance above the Slovenian “Black Cap” at over 7200m. From this point they had the option of reversing the west ridge or making a rather more precarious traverse left across the northwest face to join the Standard Route. In fact Afanasiev, obviously a tough cookie, now felt up to continuing, and the two proceeded upward, following the Slovenian line (the first ascensionists, the renowned Andrej Stremfelj and Nejz Zaplotnik, climbed snow slopes left of the ridge leading to the base of the summit pyramid, where the difficulties increased; steep snow, ice and crumbling rock). Eventually, the route intersects with the now Standard Route of the Japanese Couloir, which comes in from the left. The two Russians spent another night out before joining the Standard Route, where on August 1 and completely by chance, they encountered other members of their primarily Russian expedition, Pavel Chochia, Elizabeth Revol (France) and Valery Shamalo, on the final section of the ascent. All five reached the top at 3 p.m. The 2300m Afanasiev-Babanov route, climbed in perfect alpine style, had difficulties of WI4 and M5.

After their ascent the two Russians returned to base camp for a well-deserved rest, hoping subsequently to attempt a new line on Gasherbrum II. However, weather dictated otherwise, and after a week in camp they decided to return home.