Maxime Turgeon on the summit of Farol East (6350m), Charakusa Valley, Karakoram, Pakistan. Turgeon soloed the 1300-meter line to reach the top of this unclimbed peak from September 12-13 after his partner, LP Menard, injured his ankle and returned home. A few days later, on September 17, Turgeon joined Marko Prezelj for a 900-meter adventure of 5.10 on the south face of the farthest east pillar along K7 West’s south face. [Photo] Maxime Turgeon
Finally back to civilization! Forty-two hours of flights and transfers brought me from the Charakusa Valley to the warm Californian sun. After over thirty days on a glacier, I couldn’t resist the sound of the sea and the warm Yosemite granite.
LP [Louis-Philippe Menard] had to leave us on September 8 due to a little incident on our first acclimatization route. [LP suffered an ankle injury during a fall that led to his early return to Canada. –Ed.] With nothing better to do back home, I decided to stay with the others and see what the weather would bring. On the 11th, after my third Cipro pile–the joys of traveling in Asia–I found my way back to my tent. I had left it at the base of Farol over a week before, after spotting a narrow ice line during our attempt on the south buttress of Farol Central. The line led to the 6350-meter, unclimbed east summit.
Due to the South-West orientation of the route, I was stopped by the extreme afternoon heat and was forced to bivy as soon as I reached the summit ridge. Saved by an early start, by noon the next day I was standing on the highest summit I ever had been on, alone in the middle of the Karakoram, under a sky without even the sign of a cloud.
Over 1300 meters above the surface of the glacier, with only 50 meters of 6mm cordelette to go down, there wasn’t any time to loose. At 9 p.m., I was back to the security of my tent, soaking wet–due to an extended session of canyoning–and with barely half of the cordelette left, so frozen it could have stood up by itself.
I brought a little talk-about radio with me to have someone to talk to in case I got lonely. I had told Kelly [Cordes] I was going to try to call everyday between 7 and 7:30, but–no luck–the radio failed to work since leaving my tent two days earlier. I wasn’t too worried, because before they would wake up that morning, I would be back in basecamp.
But to my big surprise, barely twenty minutes after leaving the site of my tent, at around 6 a.m., I fell upon Scott [DeCapio] and Kelly who were totally relieved to see me alive. The previous night in basecamp, everyone had started to worry about me, and a search and rescue mission had been organized. It was a good thing I wasn’t overdue yet, or I probably would have seen a helicopter circling over Farol…
The next days didn’t bring a single cloud, and the barometer stayed flat at 600 millibars. On September 17, a day before the porters were coming to get him, Marko [Prezelj] was feeling like he still had some energy to burn. We teamed up to see what the pillars on the south face of K7 West had to offer. Without having previously scoped any particular line, our attention was caught by a shallow dihedral and crack system on the striking south face of the farthest east pillar on the south face of K7 West.
At 7:30 a.m. we were throwing rock shoes on. The pitches were passing by quickly–perfect overhanging hand cracks, steep dihedrals, mostly 5.10 to 5.10+. At 5 p.m. the summit was still a few rope lengths ahead, but it was so close that there was no way either Marko or I were bailing on that. A finish with the head lamp it would be! At 8:30, after three pitches and a few meters of aid, we were on top of the buttress.
A feeling of accomplishment is always relative. We hadn’t reached any real summit, and the formation that we had just climbed didn’t even have a name. But we left in the morning with a vision and the goal of reaching the top of that 900-meter pillar with only a single light pack between the two of us, and we had attained that goal. For us, at that time, it was as satisfying as reaching any other summit of the Charakusa or any other valley.
Thirteen rappels in a compact rock gully and four hours later we were back to our packs at the base of the route. That night was the end of the last bottle of Scotch, and at the same time the end of the trip for Marko, Steve [House] and Vince [Anderson]. On our side, there was still almost two weeks left and lots of projects in mind, but the following events proved it was the end for us as well, climbing-wise.
Our little adventure essentially ended with the arrival of winter on the Karakoram range. During the last week in basecamp, the source of the creek froze, and we got between four and five inches of new snow every day. I believe that was the price to pay for nine consecutive days of perfect weather.
It was once again a wonderful experience in an extremely wild and powerful environment among great people.
On the approach to K7 and the Charakusa Valley. [Photo] Courtesy of Maxime Turgeon