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Trio of Basques Dodge (Most) Rock Fall on Payu Peak

Payu Peak (aka Paiju Peak), Karakoram, Pakistan. Payu “is one of the guardians to the entrance of the Baltoro,” writes Nicholas Clinch in his book A Walk in the Sky. [Photo] courtesy WOPeak Expedition

Payu Peak, Karakoram, Pakistan

On July 26, Alberto Inurrategi, Juan Vallejo and Mikel Zabala made the first recorded ascent of 6600-meter Payu Peak’s south pillar. The trio spent 10 days on the mountain from base camp to base camp. Zabala, calling via satellite phone from the top of the tower, said the climb was the “hardest route I’ve done in my life.” Inurrategi later wrote in a press release, “We climbed to the very limit, the limit of our strength. We have not rested almost nothing during the entire expedition and we have come to base camp to the last breath.” They encountered difficulties up to 5.10d, A3 and M5 during their ascent..

Payu Peak, known for its vertical rock and steep ice, sits below Baltoro Glacier’s tongue and was first climbed in 1976 by Major Bashir Ahmed, Major Manzoor Hussain and Nazir Ahmed Sabir. Heavy amounts of rock- and icefall added to the danger of their ascent this month, the Spaniards said. The group did not continue onto the main summit of Payu, stating climbing the terrain from the top of the south tower to the summit would be “suicide.”

During the ascent, Vallejo sustained a significant injury to his left shoulder when a “medium microwave”-sized block of granite fell on him close to the summit. Although the team thought the injury might hinder their progress, Zabala said Vallejo is “like granite” himself, and with some painkillers and anti-inflammatories, they continued.

“The truth is that the climbing cost us a lot in every way, physically and psychologically,” Inurrategi wrote. Despite this, the team hopes to continue their expedition with successive climbs of Jannu and Cho Oyu via new or rarely repeated routes.

(Top) The team rappels from the south tower. | (Bottom) The enthusiastic trio of Inurrategi, Vallejo and Zabala. [Photos] courtesy WOPeak Expedition
Sources: A Walk in the Sky, 1997 American Alpine Journal,,,