The highly coveted first ascent of Latok I [7145m] from the North was made by a British-Slovenian team consisting of Mountain Equipment Pro-Team athlete, Tom Livingstone alongside Aleš Česen and Luka Strazar earlier this month.
Recognised as one of the last major unclimbed lines in the greater ranges, a complete ascent of the North Ridge of Latok I in the Pakistan Karakoram still remains as a challenge for the world’s best Alpinists. The team opted for a safer line via the West Col during their final push to the summit. We caught up with Tom at Mountain Equipment HQ to debrief on everything Latok I, expedition kit, and his thoughts on setting out on another big trip to Kishtwar Himalaya in a few weeks.
Interview with Tom Livingstone
ME : How did the trip to Latok come about, was this something you’d been thinking of for a while?
Tom : Luka suggested Latok at the start of this year, I was initially slightly concerned it was too close to our upcoming India expedition but it was too good an opportunity to turn down; I’m in full recovery mode for a couple of weeks now!
ME : It’s been a big news story since you’ve been back, how much of Latok’s history were you aware of, particularly the North Ridge?
Tom : I knew quite a lot about the ridge and the mountain’s reputation and that it had been tried a lot, in all honesty I thought we had a pretty slim chance of success on either.
ME : Did you see much evidence of the previous attempts?
Tom : We bypassed the initial rock spur because of the conditions so initially no, but on the way down we descended more directly and found everything from 80’s drive in screws to ancient krabs. It was some help but only really on the last part of the way down.
ME : Have you been surprised by the interest since you’ve been back?
Tom : It’s only ever Everest that normally makes it to the mainstream news! It was quite surprising, I’m looking forward to going on holiday with my girlfriend and getting back to normal after all the recent interviews! The history had certainly built up the mountain’s reputation and obviously the recent Russian tragedy and rescue.
ME : It was good to see the British Embassy in Slovenia tweeting about the Anglo / Slovenian partnership, how did you meet Aleš Česen and Luka Stražar originally?
Tom : The first time I met Luka was on a BMC winter international meet but we didn’t actually climb together, we then met in passing in the Alps and Alaska before I finally went over to climb in Slovenia with Aleš and Luka this winter. We immediately found we made a good team, they’re super experienced on big routes and nice guys.
ME : Was climbing as a three a benefit on this route, did you have different strengths?
Tom : It was a real benefit, we could share the climbing, the weight, the descent and even just melting snow, it all makes a difference on such a big route. We all took turns, everybody was equally capable of doing any of the climbing, that in itself makes things less a lot less stressful.
ME : At over 7000m, Latok was the highest mountain you’ve climbed, did you have any issues with the altitude?
Tom : When acclimatising it was pretty painful but on the route I felt ok, we weren’t gaining altitude hugely quickly which helped.
ME : How much of the climbing was more technical and how hard was it?
Tom : We pitched about a third of it that was more technical, there was lots of ground up to about Scottish IV where we predominantly moved together, the hard bits were pretty steep or rotten ice, that was felt fairly tricky at altitude with a pack on!
ME : For such a big mountain you went pretty light on kit, did you get that right or were you wishing you’d taken a bigger jacket by the top?
Tom : We got it just about right thankfully, I could have actually managed without the extra down vest I sneaked in. We got the food and gas almost exactly right but we were definitely fortunate with the weather which never got too bad other than on the summit day.
ME : Was there a standout bit of kit after 7 days on the mountain?
Tom : The combination of the Transition Jacket and the new Tupilak Atmo [coming Spring 2019] I had worked perfectly, really light and flexible to some very changeable conditions.
ME : You obviously had to bivi quite a a number of times, were you managing to get much sleep each night?
Tom : I slept relatively well over the 6 bivis, Luka and Aleš got none at all some nights. We could lie down every night, a luxury on a route like this, but it was always cramped.
ME : What sleeping system did you all use?
Tom : We used a Fireflash Sleeping Bag and the prototype Double Sleeping Bag Mountain Equipment made for us. 2 people are warmer than one. I’ve used that in Alaska and the Alps and it’ll be going to India shortly, it’s pretty specialist but it works!
ME : Did you rely on freeze dried meals or did you take any food luxuries on the route?
Tom : We predominantly ate freeze dried meals, every morning and evening, salami was the big luxury but we accepted we were going to burn more calories than we carried.
ME : How much weight did you lose on the route?
Tom : Not too much thankfully, I haven’t actually weighed myself yet!
ME : You’re heading off on the next trip to India in just a few weeks, did you have any concerns about doing 2 big trips back to back?
Tom : Yes! Ask me after India whether it was a good idea, I’m not sure I’d do it again…
ME : What’s the objective there and who are you going with?
Tom : Barnaj II. I’m going with Uisdean Hawthorn and Will Sim. We actually heard about it through Paul Ramsden, it’s an incredible looking face.
ME : That’s another very strong team, how do Uisdean and Will differ from Aleš and Luka to climb with?
Tom : All of them are really strong climbers and very experienced so not much hopefully! I’m really looking forward to it.
ME : What’s the plan after that, some rest?!
Tom : Definitely, some time off and a lot of eating before the winter!
Image Credits: Tom Livingstone | Aleš Česen | Luka Strazar
About Tom Livingstone
Tom has a fondness for trad, winter and alpine climbing. He’s psyched for big and inspiring mountain routes around the world, and devotes himself entirely to this way of life. He treasures the raw emotions at the end of a hard onsight, the pain of the hot aches and the flash of magic as the sun sets in the mountains.
He enjoys everything associated with Scottish winter climbing and alpinism – even if it’s retrospectively – and is determined to follow his ambitions. In summer he longs for pumpy trad routes high above the sea or on granite alpine spires. In winter he searches for sinker hooks at the end of a thin sequence, and the glow of the headtorch as night draws in. Tom’s recent list of recent Alpine ascents his staggering, and includes Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy, the Lesueur route (ED2, all free) on the Dru, the Frendo Spur in winter in a day (which has been managed very few times), and the North Face of Mount Alberta. He’s no slouch at trad either, with ascents up to E9.
Tom is a widely published writer and is based in North Wales, where he enjoys hanging out at Gogarth and the Pass.
A self-confessed gear geek, Tom has been influential in the design of some our new products and in making tweaks to existing designs for upcoming seasons. Whether it’s adding 1 cm of adjustment to a cuff or reinforcing one small area of a trouser, Tom will let us know what he thinks.