American Team Bags Two First Ascents in Pakistan

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August 26 - Scott Bennett and Graham Zimmerman have climbed a new route on K6 West, a 7,040-meter (23,097-foot) peak in the Karakoram that had only been climbed once before. Earlier in the trip, they and Steve Swenson made the first ascent of Changi Tower (ca. 6,500 meters).

The U.S.–New Zealand team (Zimmerman was born in New Zealand but raised in the Pacific Northwest; Bennett and Swenson are both American) set up base camp in the Nangmah Valley on July 10. Most of the next month was spent acclimatizing and establishing a complex approach route to Changi Tower, a wild, unclimbed rock spire.

From August 8 to 10, in marginal weather, they made the first ascent of Changi via its north ridge (5.10 A2 M6). “The climbing was beautiful and sustained on high-quality granite,” Zimmerman said in an email from Pakistan. “Scott had an excellent showing high on this route, leading the upper cruxes quickly and allowing the team to summit just before dark on the 9th.” The descent required 18 rappels to reach the glacier.

The team had hoped to attempt the central pillar on the south face of K6 Central (7,100m), a mountain that has only been climbed once, but they were disappointed to see the lower part of the route was badly threatened by seracs. They began to look for alternatives and settled on the southwest ridge of K6 West, a mountain that was first climbed in 2013 by Canadians Raphael Slawinski and Ian Welsted, via the northwest face.

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Still recovering from Changi Tower, Swenson decided not to attempt K6 West. On on August 18, Bennett and Zimmerman set off with minimal food and gear, hoping to climb the route fast enough to avoid bad weather that had been forecasted.

The route started with a steep snow slope that led to the ridge crest, on which they stopped to bivy early on the 18th, due to excessive heat at this relatively low altitude (5,800 meters). At 2 a.m. the next morning they started climbing again. “The ridge offered fantastic and challenging climbing, both on the crest and on its sides when the crest became too corniced,” Zimmerman said. The two turned a pair of buttresses on the west side, finding the technical cruxes of the climb on mixed ground. Eventually they reached a large, steep ice sheet that led to the top of the second buttress, where they bivouacked at 6,600 meters.

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Departing at sunrise on August 20, they left their tent in place and pushed through deep snow to the summit, completing the second ascent of the peak. They returned to their tent at 4 p.m. and rested until dark, when colder temperatures would make the descent safer, and then headed down the west face. Nineteen rappels, a long traverse, and seven more rappels took them back to the foot of the route. Twelve hours after returning to base camp, a three-day snowstorm began. The 1,800-meter route had difficulties up to M6 and 90° ice.

The expedition was supported by the American Alpine Club's Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award, the Mugs Stump Award, the New Zealand Alpine Club's Expedition Fund, and the Mount Everest Foundation, as well as corporate sponsors. “We also want to say special thanks to Steve Swenson, who brought many years of experience to the expedition and allowed us to have a hell of a first trip to the Karakoram,” Zimmerman said. "Steve, you are THE MAN!"