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Kondus Access Denied, Dirty New Route in Nangma

The west face of Denbor Brakk (4800m), Nangma Valley, Karakoram, Pakistan. Clint Estes and Matt Hepp of Colorado climbed the south ridge, marked in red, over two days in September and named the dirty route Good From Zafar, But Zafar From Good (IV 5.10 A1, ca. 20 pitches, 550m). [Photo] Clint Estes

Clint Estes and Matt Hepp of Colorado set out for Pakistan in late August to explore, climb and provide aid in the Kondus Valley, at the heart of the Kashmir conflict, an area packed with granite pillars but usually off-limits to the public. Despite proper paperwork, Estes and Hepp were turned away. But the Americans stayed in Pakistan for five weeks and found other spires to climb and villages to assist.

The expedition was supported by donations and an American Alpine Club Zack Martin Breaking Barriers grant, which provides funding for teams with both alpine and humanitarian objectives. Estes and Hepp planned to teach villagers in earthquake- and landslide-prone areas in Kondus how to construct emergency shelters. The program helped them get a special permit to tour the closed area. But upon arrival, despite best efforts and approval from the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Defense, Pakistani Army and regional government, they found access to Kondus impossible. Estes and Hepp then decided to carry out their plans in a more approachable location, the frequented Nangma Valley in the Karakoram.

After a week of teaching villagers how to build emergency shelters in Kande and Hushe during the first week of September, the climbers, along with their cook, continued on to Nangma. Unfamiliar with the area, they scouted potential lines on three peaks under 16,000′.

Hepp with the villagers of Hushe, Pakistan and their new emergency shelter. [Photo] Clint Estes

In early September, they started up a route on the north face of Logmun Tower (aka Green Tower, 4600m). They climbed a direct, left-facing corner system before finding tat and retreating off what they later discovered was Inshallah Mi Primo (5.10b A3, 850m), climbed by Jonatan Larranaga, Gorka Diaz and Dani Ascaso in June 2006.

Their next objective was just above basecamp, on the south ridge of Denbor Brakk (4800m). They began up the obvious feature later that week and found vegetated cracks and ledges–“quite the grubby adventure route,” Estes said. After a long day, they rapped into a high gully to the east, leaving their ropes fixed there.

The next day they jugged up their descent route and climbed through more “grass-choked wide cracks,” Estes said, to the top of the formation’s south tower. From there, they rappelled off the east shoulder and called the route Good From Zafar, But Zafar From Good (IV 5.10 A1, ca. 20 pitches, 550m). The name honors their local contact outside Kondus and lampoons their route, which they also graded G3, for “steep gardening.” Estes added, “I can’t in good conscience ever recommend the route, as it was one of the nastiest, most heinously un-enjoyable climbs ever. It was good adventure though.”

Hepp climbs one of the last of the wide cracks en route to the southern summit of Denbor Brakk. [Photo] Clint Estes

On September 14, the pair set up an advanced base camp by Zang Brakk (4800m) and climbed a thousand feet though wide 5.10ish cracks and evidence of previous parties on the formation’s south face. The next day they continued past the last bolts and tat to try to link two crack systems via difficult-to-protect face climbing. A few failed attempts pushed them east, but after two more pitches, a snow storm forced them off the peak, 1,300′ up but 1,000′ from the summit.

Estes and Hepp packed up September 21 and endured the 32-hour Jeep ride through the Deosi Plains and down the Karakoram Highway to Islamabad. They spent a couple luxurious days there before flying home to Ouray a week later.

“Trips like this are extremely important because they show the distant cultures that climbers are not just extreme tourists, but most of us want to give back to the culture in a sustainable way,” Estes said. “The climbing was icing on a delicious cake.”

Sources: Clint Estes, John Parsons

Camp in Kande, Pakistan. [Photo] Clint Estes