Ultar Sar's Hidden Pillar


The SE Pillar of Ultar Sar (7,388m).

We spent a few days hiking among 5,000m rock spires around our basecamp, and a few days carrying gear to the correct valley (Kunoso). While carrying gear to Kunoso we caught our first glimpse of the SE Pillar (well, actually just the bottom part — I only saw the whole route one time during the entire trip!), and another problem was immediately evident — the lower buttress was much more melted out than any photos we had seen, and generally in poor condition. Steve Swenson had warned me earlier that snowpack was meager this year. We hoped that maybe it would snow enough and melt/freeze enough by the time we were finished acclimating to be in better condition, but by the time we left basecamp it looked basically the same. 

On our first acclimitazion foray we spent several nights at 5,300m and climbed a short but fun mixed ridge to the summit of a 5,600m peak. After resting in basecamp we made another acclimatization trip, this time on the far eastern edge of Ultar's east ridge. We spent a couple nights at 6,000m, and then descended in a storm. After this acclimatization venture we went to check out the approach from Kunoso to the base of the Pillar — it was significantly broken-up bare glacier — doable, but it would be slow. 

 



Photos by Colin Haley

This was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, and I told Jed that I wasn't adequately psyched to attempt the route. For any really serious route it is important to be very psyched I think, and I simply had too many doubts about this one. In addition to our poor basecamp location and the poor conditions on the lower route, neither of us have every been above 7,000m and I decided that it would be wiser to first climb a peak of similar elevation that is easier (and more importantly, a route that is less committing). 

Jed was still game for the route, but saw reason in my concerns and accepted my bailing courteously. Since we never actually got on route it is impossible to know if my decision was sane or lame, but the Pillar will still be there... 

Photos by Colin Haley

I'm not sure whether or not I will be back to Ultar Sar (a similar sentiment that Yannick Graziani expressed in his AAJ report), but I do think that it will be a very impressive ascent when it is eventually climbed. With the route proper more than 3,100 m tall, it makes the North Ridge of Latok 1 look small by comparison, and while not as technical it is still sustained real climbing — very little simple slogging. 

After leaving Ultar we went through Skardu to the Nangma Valley to attempt Drifika, which I had made a solo attempt on in 2005. Unfortunately I got very sick with an intestinal parasite the night we arrived in basecamp, and it proceeded to snow 16 hours a day for the next four days. While expelling fluid from both ends I realized that I was ready to go home and threw in the towel on our expedition. Aside from a little bit of acclimatization terrain, our six week expedition was entirely unsuccessful in terms of climbing, but c’est la vie, you can’t expect to get lucky all the time. Thank you so much to those who administer the Mugs Stump Award, and those who support it financially. Despite no summit success I know that we are both wiser from the trip, and without the grant we had no chance of making it to Pakistan at all. 

Photos by Colin Haley

Colin Haley, AAC
Seattle, Washington

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