Three of the 10-strong team from the Young Alpinist Group put their skills to the test out in the Greater Ranges in September, making two first ascents in Pakistan in fine style.
Words by Tom Seccombe. Images by Tom Seccombe, Tim Exley and Will Lewellen.
Tim Exley and I travelled from Chamonix to Islamabad to meet Will Lewellen who was travelling from the UK for our first expedition to the Karakoram. We also met Ali our tour operator and later after flying to Skardu to meet Ishaq and Ahmed our guide and cook.
We arrived in the Nangma Valley on Saturday 28th of August. We decided to put our basecamp on a comfortable grassy area (ca4300m) below Brakk Zang about six hours walk from Kande. This was an ideal location with great views across the valley to the North Ridge of Shingu Charpa on one side, and up to the immense wall of Amin Brakk on the other.
After establishing an advanced basecamp on the moraine of the East Changma Glacier (ca5100m) and sitting out some snowy, rainy days.
We turned our attention to the unclimbed Korada North (marked Lukpilla Brakk on some maps). At first we tried to climb the north west ridge but found steep chossy rock that wasn't fun to climb and so returned to basecamp. The long weather window allowed us a rest day in basecamp and make another attempt from our ABC.
This time we chose the snow slope on the west face that lead up to the top of the ridge. This turned out to be pretty straightforward starting at an average angle of 45° increasing to about 75° and 700m in length. The ridge provided a comfortable flat bivi spot so we pitched our two man tent and squeezed the three of us into it.
The next morning we enjoyed some moderate mixed pitches that lead up to the final 15m slab which gives the crux of the route. At the top of the slab is a pointy summit and another slightly higher summit a 15m traverse on from that. Tim's in reach gave us a height of 6146m. We were able to abseil the route and return to basecamp on the same day.
We named the route Hot Tang 900m TD+ M5+ 75°.
The next day was Tim's Birthday so we celebrated by eating cake and climbing a couple of pitches of welcome to Crackistan, an impressive 700m rock route directly above our basecamp on Brakk Zang.
During a week of unsettled weather we played cards, gilli danda, and eat lots of food in base camp.
Finally another long weather window was forecast. We were hoping to make the first ascent of Kapura Central. Kapura's main summit has been climbed twice and its South and south subsidiary summits have been climbed once each by different routes.
Our plan was to reach the Central summit by climbing the first day of the Czech Route called "wild wings" then branching left towards a rock tower and to the top from there. A line we had been dreaming of since seeing a photo of the West face in the spring.
To reach the west face we had to cross over a col and into the second Charakusa Cwm. We had lots of uncertainty about doing this as we didn't know what the climbing was going to be like on the otherside and how long it was going to take us, even though we had seen the col whilst climbing Korada.
We split the approach into two days staying at our ABC on the first night (now only three hours from basecamp, (feeling acclimatised). The col (c.5500m) was straight forward, but we felt very committed once we had made the three abseils down the other side and over the shrund, especially as it started to snow when we got to our bivi site on the glacier. Luckily the snow soon passed and gave way to hot sun. I stuffed my face with trail mix and my biggest freeze-dry meal whilst listening to the sound of avalanches pouring down the warm afternoon slopes. I soon regretted eating so much, felt sick and chucked up all that I had just eaten. I guess my stomach doesn't digest so well at altitude.
The alarm sounded at 1am and we slowly started melting snow. Tim took the first lead up and over the bergshrund switching lead when day started break and the head torches went off.
The angle of the slope gradually increased throughout the day, but the climbing never became difficult. The snow was mostly good, sometimes bad and sometimes just hard ice. It seemed like the overall conditions of the route were great.
At around 1pm we arrived at the bivouac, underneath a big overhang, with the help of Tim's tent footprint we were able to cut out a platform big enough for two to sit comfortably. I managed to cut out a nice narrow platform to lie on just next to this. We admired the 180° views and waited for the sun to set.
The next day a slow start meant we were starting climbing at first light. The climbing was proving more and more technical between the snow slopes. So by the time we had reached the final slope to the top of the tower where we were hoping to cut out a big comfortable bivi and pitch the tent, we were in the full sun our calves were on fire and our heads were throbbing. I arrived at the col between the tower and the summit and quickly realised that the snow was actually hard glacial ice and there was no hope of a flat spot to bivi. I looked up towards the summit and my disappointment began to turn to optimism when I saw two bits of rock that could be ledges about one pitch above. The pitch looked steep and technical so I decided to haul my heavy bag. The sun was getting low in the sky, I was pleased to be climbing technical ground without a bag. Getting to the ledges we saw they were very sloping and it was tempting push on to the summit, but it was nearly dark and reason prevailed. We began the work of trying to cut a flat ledge into the bullet hard ice. Now dark, the wind up for the first time and some spin drift, we decided to pitch the tent. Clipping the door side to the ice we noticed that half of the tent was on the ledge, the other hanging in space. We spent a sleepless night clinging to the ice like frozen limpits.
The next morning started with a tensioned traverse to get to some good ice. Neve leads us quickly to the summit cornice and finally the summit with the view of K6, K7 and Link Sar.
The summit cornice was made up of snow and strangely formed ice with holes big enough to fit your arm through.
Not long after reaching the summit we were thinking of getting down, as quickly and safely as possible.
After abseiling off a nut and a peg on the first abseil we were able to do the rest on clean abalakovs, leaving our 60m of tat and various pegs and nuts useless weight in the bag. After the first two belays Will dropped his belay plate, luckily he had been practicing making a carabiner break in basecamp. Will counted 27 abseils nearly all of them full rope length.
We were so relieved to arrive on the glacier for some flat ground and a long sleep. The next morning was even slower than the other mornings, we were exhausted. The tasty food and comforts of basecamp was calling. We had to get up and over the col. Just three pitches of easy climbing up to the col seemed to go on forever, but we made it. Over the col, down the glacier stopping briefly at ABC and down the moraine to basecamp and summit cake.
Will wanted to call the route "In the fire" after a song he liked, Tim and I weren't convinced. The day after getting back to basecamp we saw huge plumes of smoke coming up from down the valley, these got bigger and bigger throughout the day, until eventually the wild fire was extinguished by redirecting the river. The name stuck.
In the Fire 1300m ED+ M6 85°