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Hard trail breaking during the first ascent of the ca. 3000-meter north (Chinese) face of Gasherbrum II East (7772m). The summit is directly above the climber’s rucksack, while Gasherbrum II (8035m) is the obvious pyramid to the right. [Photo] Cedric Haehlen

One of the finest achievements in the Karakoram this season was the first ascent of the Chinese face of 7772-meter Gasherbrum II East by a primarily German-Swiss expedition. The nine-man team followed the K2 north side approach then continued up the Shaksgam River, entered the North Gasherbrum Glacier and eventually established advanced base on the East Nakpo Glacier hoping to climb the “Magic Line,” the northeast pillar leading directly to the summit of Gasherbrum II (8035m). After watching gigantic ice avalanches sweep the approach to this pillar on a very regular basis, they wisely decided to look elsewhere, finally opting for an objectively safer spur on the left side of the face, leading to the crest of the east-southeast ridge.

Amid unsettled conditions the climbers decided to fix some rope on the lower section, where there were several technically difficult pitches, and establish two camps, the highest at ca. 6800m. By this stage continuous unsettled weather and poor snow conditions had exerted their tolls on most of the members, leaving only Cedric Hahlen, Hans Mitterer and Ueli Steck motivated for a summit push. These three reached Camp II on the July 9 and after a short rest broke trail to 7100 meters before returning to their tents. They slept from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., then left for the summit half an hour later. Laborious snow and ice climbing up to 60 degrees led to the ridge, which Mitterer noted was “in perfect conditions–for powder skiing!” The three reached the East Summit at 7 a.m. on the 10th, but deteriorating snow conditions in the morning sun forced them to forego the main summit. This appears to be first time this high summit has been reached since its original ascent by legendary Poles, Jerzy Kukuczka and Voytek Kurtyka, during their traverse of Gasherbrum II. In addition, it is only the second major route to be completed from this part of the Shaksgam: the other, which took place in August 1992, was the first ascent of the Chinese (east) face of Broad Peak Central (8006m) from the North Gasherbrum Glacier by a Spanish-Italian team.