Great Trango Tower: The Biggest Big Wall

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James Lucas
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Great Trango Tower Pakistan Rock Alpine Climbing

Photo: Ace Kvale

“The Trango Valley must be the most spectacular alpine rock climbing valley in the world,” says Kelly Cordes, an alpinist with first ascents in Alaska, Patagonia, and on the Great Trango Tower. Whereas El Chalten, Patagonia, a much more heavily trafficked alpine area, has Wi-Fi and chocolate, the high-altitude faces in the Karakoram range require visas, permits, porters, big wall mileage, rock climbing prowess, serious alpine experience, and a three-day march to a remote basecamp. And this is all in a part of Pakistan where in 2013, 16 militants shot nine climbers. But with miles of vertical granite, the Great Trango Tower is a highly sought-after alpine prize.

Located in the Baltoro Glacier region of northern Pakistan, Great Trango, the tallest formation in Trango Valley, features 4,396 vertical feet of granite, more than any other face in the world. This spire is over 20,000 feet above sea level, and combined with Trango Tower (aka Nameless Tower) to the northwest, these formations dominate the horizon on the approach to the larger mountains of K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum IV, and Nanga Parbat.

Best climbed between June and September, the cracks in the compact granite are “like Yosemite with a bit of dirt in the eye,” says Josh Wharton, who, with Cordes, established the southwest ridge of Great Trango. Their 2004 ascent of the Azeem Ridge (VII 5.11X M6 A2) required a 50-mile hike into basecamp and 7,400 vertical feet of climbing over four and a half days. The pair carried two ropes and 28-pound packs. They climbed without fixing ropes and without a bolt kit. Despite dropping one-third of the rack on the second pitch and running out of water the last two days on the wall, the duo summited in what they would later describe as “disaster style.” 

Location: Karakoram, Pakistan
Type: Alpine Big Wall
Summit Height: 20,623 feet

Notable ascents:

  • 1977—South Face; Dennis Hennek, John Roskelley, Kim Schmitz, Galen Rowell
  • 1992—The Grand Voyage (VII 5.10 A4+ WI3); John Middendorf, Xaver Bongard; 18 days
  • 1999—Parallel Worlds (VII 5.11 A4); Alex Lowe, Mark Synnott, Jared Ogden; 28 days