Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pakistan 2011 Recap!

“Isn’t there anywhere else you can climb?” “Good to know you…” Generally reactions to us traveling to Pakistan were not positive. My previous year’s experience and that of every climber I know who has traveled to this country told me this was not the case. As I stepped out of the Islamabad baggage claim along with Pat Goodman and Will Meinen and into a sea of foreign faces I was nearly blindsided by friend and trekking agent Ghulam Muhammad as he rushed to excitedly greet me. Similar greetings followed as we ran into familiar faces and new ones a like, all ecstatic at our arrival and eager to share their country with us.

Our cook and guide Fida Hussain, 60+ years old and veteran of countless espeditions

A two day’s walk from the stone and mortar village of Hushe, the Charakusa Valley holds a diversity of climbing I wager is hard to find elsewhere in the world. From granite bouldering to massive unclimbed mixed faces which dominate the landscape, the Charakusa holds several lifetimes of objectives both climbed and unclimbed. The unclimbed southwest pillar of K7 West was our main objective and from my perspective is one of the most striking alpine objectives in the world currently. Poor weather would plague our time in the valley with frequent rainstorms and snow and rime constantly forming on our intended line. Windows of good weather proved to be only 2-3 days long.

Pat with Naysser Brakk in the background

Pat and I took advantage of our first window by climbing the north ridge (British Route) on Naysser Brakk. One of the three immaculately cut ridges forming the pyramidal shape of Naysser, the North Ridge has become a classic of the valley and provided a good acclimatization mission. After following the final several pitches that resemble Matthes Crest in the Sierra’s, we sat on the surprisingly flat summit of the pyramid in the blazing Karakorum sun blown away by all of the potential we could see in the valley below.

A short video of our Naysser Brakk ascent

Searching for one more acclimatization objective and an opportunity for Pat and I to climb with Will who we had not yet roped up with, we decided on an unclimbed granite Pillar across and valley and next to Farhod Brakk. “We’ll probably be able to simul-climb most of it…” we discussed in the days prior as we waited for the incessant drizzle to clear. Pat and I swapped blocks up the blocks following surprisingly hard climbing. Thin seams and cracks would follow a dangerously loose pitch. One pitch found me screaming as if at the sport crag as I bear- hugged my way up a arête above small rp’s. Pat fought his way up a finger crack nearing the 5.12 mark. Above our bivy I completed my block and Pat took us out left of the arête with delicate traverse that led to the the summit pillar.

Following many rappels, we reached our boots and ice gear as the light faded. We downclimbed the snow couloir as rain began to fall more and more steadily, narrowly dodging some rockfall. We named the pillar “Fida Brakk” after our friend and cook Fida Hussain. The route we named the “Jenga Spur” V+ 5.11+R A.0 1050m after the numerous loose pitches and the way the route just barely seemed to come together.

"The Jenga Spur" on "Fida Brakk" V+ 5.11+R A.0 1050m July6-7

Pat on one of the many 5.11+ pitches encountered on the "Jenga Spur"

As often seems to happen on expeditions, numerous factors kept us from more climbing. We explored different options with Pat and I spending two nights camped below an impressive unclimbed line in the Farol Peak cirque but ultimately ended up leaving the valley content with the climbing we had done and excited to return to explore the multitude of granite that Pakistan holds.

On our way home we visited the village of Haldi where Fida, Ghulam, and all of the Blue Sky Treks and Tours crew lives. Thanks to the generosity of the Burlington Vermont climbing community that donated $200 dollars plus tons of addition school supplies, we delivered a full expedition duffle to the teachers and children of the village. We spent the afternoon visiting with a new schoolteacher of the village who is working to develop the new primary school.

The juxtaposition of western views of Pakistan versus my experiences here continues to amaze me. As Fida’s son put is so well, “The are miscreants and dangerous areas in nearly every country.” This is very much the case in Pakistan where there are certainly dangerous areas and people. The northern area of Baltistan has been a safe and welcoming place for thousands of climbers and I imagine will continue to be so.

We felt extremely fortunate and honored to have the generous financial support of theCopp-Dash Inspire Award and the Gore Shipton-Tilman Grant. THANK YOU!

A recap at

Look for a full film telling the rest of the story to be released later this fall!

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