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History and Details from Beka Brakai Chhok

Italians Herve Barmasse and Simone Moro have made the first ascent of Beka Brakai Chhok (6940m), a high and imposing snow and ice peak in the Karakoram’s Batura Group. The ascent and descent were completed in an impressive 43-hour alpine-style attempt with very minimal bivouac equipment, the pair overcoming exposed, poorly protected and delicate sections of hard climbing.

Beki Brakai Chhok (6940m) seen from the North Baltar glacier to the southeast. The red line marks the route of the Italian ascent and the green their descent. The 2007 New Zealand attempt climbed snow slopes on the right, then back left to reach the crest of the snow spur right of the green line, their high point being at the start of the rock barrier right of the giant serac. [Photo] Simone Moro

The mountain lies, more or less, on the dividing ridge between the North Baltar and Batura glaciers, northwest of the giant Batura peaks. Although a Japanese attempt is rumored, the first person known to have tried this peak is a British mountaineer, who climbed solo from the Batura Glacier. In a very spirited effort the climber ascended a steep snow and ice spur leading from the glacier to the summit of Pt. 6315m on the long northwest ridge. On reaching the ridge he started up the crest leading to the lower Beka Brakai North (6830m), only to discover a severe and extremely convoluted knife edge. The peak was attempted again in 2007 by New Zealand females Lydia Bradey and Pat Deavoll (the former widely accepted to be the first female to climb Everest without oxygen). From a base camp on the Baltar glacier this pair started up the mountain more or less directly below the summit and then slanted left to gain the crest of the southeast spur. Four camps were made above advanced base, the highest at 6000m below an obvious rocky section right of a giant serac. On reaching this point the two realized the way ahead was difficult and decided they did not have the resources to reach the summit. They spent three days descending to base camp, after which they made the first ascent of a 5820m peak above the West Baltar glacier, naming it Wahine. The ascent took eight hours and was made in the company of Giampaolo and Lorenzo Corona, two Italians who were sharing base camp and had also failed on their chosen objective.

This summer Deavoll returned for a second attempt, her partner now the British climber Malcolm Bass, with whom she made the first ascent of Haizi Shan in 2006 (see the November 16, 2006 NewsWire). The pair arrived in Islamabad early June, and settling into their hotel room was greeted by a huge rumble and a shaking of the building; a suicide bomber, targeting the Danish Embassy, had just blown himself and nineteen others to bits. Although an inauspicious start to the trip, the two reached base camp safely and spent several days acclimatizing by camping on Baktoshi (6100m). They then decided to try Beka Brakai via a line further south of the 2007 attempt–a convoluted glacial slope leading to the crest of the south ridge. This would avoid the difficult rock buttress on the southeast spur. By June 25, in an alpine-style attempt, they had reached a point a few pitches below the crest of the south ridge at ca. 6000m and prepared for a summit push the next day. Unsettled weather moved in, but the two decided to ration their food and stick it out. On July 1 they were rewarded by clear skies and rising pressure. Eating the last of their food on the 2nd, they set out at 1 a.m. for the top. However, the ridge proved increasingly difficult, and the snow conditions worsened the higher they climbed, until both realized that further progress would be unjustifiably dangerous. Two and a half days later they were back at base camp.

Herve Barmasse just below the summit of Beki Brakai Chhok in the Batura Range of the Western Karakoram. [Photo] Simone Moro

Barmasse and Moro had originally decided to try one of Moro’s previous objectives, the virgin Batura II (7762m). However, they planned to make their attempt in alpine style, and despite having been granted a permit, they were surprised to find, on arrival at base camp, a large Korean expedition sieging the mountain and using local high-altitude porters. Not wishing to get mixed up in this, they acclimatized on Batokshi, a peak Moro had climbed previously, then sorted out a new permit while sitting through a two-week period of bad weather.

In early August they made their attempt on Beka Brakai Chhok in alpine style. The Italian pair followed the same route as the British-New Zealand couple, starting up the face at 5 a.m. carrying not a tent, sleeping bag nor stove. They found steep, sometimes vertical, steps on the convoluted ice face and continued above the previous high point, making an extremely delicate traverse of the narrow, exposed south ridge. Five 60-meter pitches took them to the plateau below the summit pyramid and by 9:30 p.m. they were at its base at ca. 6500m. Here they decided to sit out the rest of the night in a conveniently placed small crevasse. Next day the last 400m proved sustained, with two poorly protected quasi-vertical pitches through mixed terrain. A final steep, sharp, snow crest led to the summit cornice, just below which they stopped at 2:30 p.m.

They immediately began the descent, but not wishing to reverse the narrow section of south ridge, cut down the face to the left just before the start and descended a wide, open couloir threatened by a giant serac. Climbing down swiftly, they reached their tent near the bottom of the face at midnight, packed up the gear and carried everything down to base camp, which they reached at 3 a.m.

Although this photo is slightly tilted to the left, it doesn’t disguise the difficult and delicate nature of the exposed section of south ridge climbed by well-known Italians Herve Barmasse and Simone Moro this August during the first ascent of Beki Brakai Chhok. [Photo] Simone Moro