Huber Brothers Free-Climb Trango Tower


Alex Huber leads a 5.12d pitch to bypass the 10th-pitch bolt ladder on Eternal Flame. Photo by Fritz Hinderbrandner / Huberbuam.de.

Alexander Huber climbs the 5.12a third pitch on Eternal Flame, a new variation to avoid a pendulum. Photo by Fritz Hinderbrandner / Huberbuam.de.

Alexander and Thomas Huber have redpointed Eternal Flame (5.13a), a classic 35-pitch route to the summit of 20,508-foot Trango (“Nameless”) Tower in Pakistan. The German brothers managed 5.13 crack climbing at over 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet) on the granite needle. In all, their ascent required half a dozen 5.12 or harder pitches. 

This is now the third free route up Trango Tower, after the Slovenian Route, free-climbed at 5.12a in 1988, and the Cowboy Direct (5.13a, 1995). Eternal Flame was established 20 years ago by the German team of Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Christoph Stiegler, and Milan Sykora, who free-climbed about 80 percent of the route, with pitches up to 5.12; they were unable to free four pitches. (Controversially, they also placed an average of three bolts per pitch, often next to good cracks, to facilitate future ascents.) The route follows relatively moderate climbing to a prominent shoulder below the headwall on the south face. From here, about 20 pitches on superb granite lead to more easy ground and the top. The Swiss climber Denis Burdet freed two more pitches (5.12d and 5.13a) of Eternal Flame in 2003, and Iker Pou from Spain found a possible free-climbing solution to the bolt ladder on the 10th pitch in 2005 but was unable to redpoint his 5.13b variation because of poor weather.

Trango (“Nameless”) Tower in the Baltoro region of Pakistan. Eternal Flame climbs near the sun-shadow line on the right side of the south face. Photo by Fritz Hinderbrandner / Huberbuam.de.

Huber climbs the 5.13a crux of Eternal Flame, an overhanging finger crack at around 20,000 feet. Photo by Fritz Hinderbrandner / Huberbuam.de.

After acclimatizing and hauling supplies to the shoulder, the Hubers discovered a two-pitch variation to the first free-climbing puzzle: a pendulum past a blank section on the second pitch. The two men climbed 30 meters of thin cracks above the start of the pendulum, and then found a traverse across near-vertical slabs to rejoin the route. The variation went at 5.12a. 

After waiting out some bad weather in base camp, the team returned to the shoulder and climbed the upper wall over four days in mid-August. Two friends, Mario Walder and photojournalist Fritz Hinderbrandner, climbed ahead of them, with Walder fixing ropes for Hinderbrandner to film the ascent. The Hubers swapped leads, with both the leader and the second free-climbing. 

On the second day of climbing, they reached the crux 10th pitch, the only remaining lead that had not been free-climbed. Iker Pou’s variation was coated with ice, but the Hubers found another crack about 15 feet farther right and managed to climb it in two pitches, both 5.12d. 

A 50-foot overhanging finger crack on the third day required an “intensive boulder session” before succumbing at about 5.13a, followed by a final 5.12d pitch. (These are the two pitches redpointed by Burdet in 2003.) The next day, a couple of 5.11 pitches gained moderate ground, and soon all four climbers were on top. 

Thomas Huber, Alexander Huber, and Mario Walder (left to right) on Trango Tower’s 20,508-foot summit. Photo by Fritz Hinderbrandner / Huberbuam.de.

Splitter! A 5.10 hand crack on the fifth pitch of Eternal Flame. Photo by Fritz Hinderbrandner / Huberbuam.de.

Alex Huber told PlanetMountain.com, “There's no doubt we were extremely lucky. The weather was great, which meant…the cracks which were free of ice. I take my hat off to the achievement and free climbing instinct of the first ascenders…[who] have passed on the best and most beautiful free climb on the globe. We are thrilled that we could play a little part in developing this route!” 

Dates of Ascent: August 11-14, 2009 (final redpoint) 

Sources: Huberbuam.de, PlanetMountain.com, American Alpine Journal, Alpinist.com

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