Jeff Relph nearing the summit of ?Choktoi Spire? (5900m), Karakoram, Pakistan, on July 5. Rockfall to Relph?s head during the descent would inspire the route?s name, Pain is a Privilege (V 5.10 A2, 800m). [Photo] Jon Walsh
Near the end of June, Jeff Relph and I found ourselves at 6800 meters getting thoroughly abused by vicious snow and avalanches on a new-route attempt on the southeast buttress of the Ogre (7285m). We made it down safely, but there was not enough time for a second attempt.
After a short rest, we turned our attention to an attractive nunatuk 1200 meters above our advanced base camp and completely encircled by the Choktoi Glacier. On its north side, a steep couloir led for 600 meters from the bergschrund to a notch, then a southeast ridge of red granite rose steeply to a pointy summit, which we were fairly certain remained unclimbed. We set out to climb it at 12:30 a.m. on July 5. From the notch 200 meters of vertical mixed and rock terrain led to the summit. The higher we got, the steeper and better the climbing became. The last pitch, the best of the route, was a splitter 5.10 corner crack with fingers, hands and an offwidth section ending below the boulder problem of an overhanging arete.
Although the summit was only ten meters above, we appeared to have reached a deadend. I managed to tension off a pitch-saving, bodyweight-only knifeblade placement, just enough to be able to reach some key face holds. A series of committing deadpoints led to a perfect anchor horn on the summit.
As we descended the couloir in the early afternoon, a rock came flying down the snow so fast neither of us saw it, and hit Jeff in the head. Blood exploded across his face. His helmet brim was dented, his forehead split open and his sunglasses and nose broken. We used a bandana to stop the bleeding and then hurried down to the safety of the glacier where I stitched him up with Steristrips. We called the route Pain is a Privilege (V 5.10 A2, 800m) and the nunatuk Choktoi Spire (5900m).