Karakoram Successes Obscured by K2 Disaster

By Dougald MacDonald ,

The Afanasiev-Babanov route on the west side of Broad Peak (8,047m). The two men climbed for nine days and experienced difficulties up to WI5 M6, as well as a blizzard. Courtesy of Babanov.com.

Last weekend’s disaster on K2, in which 11 climbers fell or froze to death on the upper mountain after a summit push on August 1, overshadowed some extraordinary successes in the Karakoram in recent days. Here, a summary:

• Viktor Afanasiev and Valery Babanov have climbed two remarkable new routes on 8,000-meter peaks of the Baltoro region. Climbing in alpine style, they completed a 3,000-meter route on the west side of Broad Peak (8,047m), with difficulties of WI5 M6 90°, from July 9 to July 17.

Moving to the Gasherbrum base camp, the two men completed a new route on the southwest wall of Gasherbrum I (8,068m), also in alpine style, in just three days, July 29-August 1. Midway through the climb, as the men were sleeping, a rock fell into their tent and hit Afanasiev in the head. Babanov bandaged his bleeding partner, and the two men waited for dawn. They could not descend the way they had come because of dangerous conditions, so they continued to the top of their new line, where Afanasiev unexpectedly declared he had the strength to continue to the main summit of Gasherbrum I (aka Hidden Peak). The two men still hope to attempt a new route on Gasherbrum II before the season is out.

Valery Babanov and Viktor Afanasiev atop Broad Peak. Courtesy of Babanov.com.

• Hervé Barmasse and Simone Moro have made the first ascent of Beka Brakai Chhok (6,940m) in the Batura area of the Karakoram in a lightning-fast ascent. The two had hoped to attempt Batura II (7,762m), one of the highest unclimbed peaks in the world, but when they arrived they discovered a large Korean expedition already working on the peak. After a nearby acclimatization climb, Barmasse and Moro decided to leave the Koreans to their project and find a new goal. Beka Brakai Chhok has been attempted several times, notably by the New Zealander Pat Deavoll, who has made two serious attempts on the south face, including one earlier this summer with Malcolm Bass.

After waiting out 13 days of bad weather below Beka Brakai Chhok, Barmasse and Moro climbed the peak from the south in just two days. The two climbed more than 16 hours on the first day before arranging a minimalist bivouac (no tent, sleeping bags, or stoves) in a small crevasse at 6,500 meters. A ridge traverse on the upper mountain (the part that had stymied Deavoll and Bass) was extremely difficult and tenuous; “we climbed on rock and mix using all our abilities and experience,” Moro said. After reaching the top at 2:30 p.m., they descended as quickly as possible by a more direct route, reaching the base at 3 a.m.

The Barmasse-Moro route (red) on Beka Brakai Chhok, a previously unclimbed peak just under 7,000 meters tall. The descent line is in green. Courtesy of Simone Moro / Simonemoro.com.

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