Welcome to Crackistan

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Anne Arran launching up the 5.11+ cracks of pitch 14 on Bloody Mary. The belay bolts were placed by the first-ascent party three years ago.

British couple John and Anne Arran had a very successful expedition to the Nangma Valley in Pakistan, making almost entirely free ascents of two very hard and continuous big-wall routes.

On 4,800-meter (15,750-foot) Denbor Brakk, the two spent seven days climbing capsule-style to free the 500-meter route Bloody Mary, established in 2004 by the Czechs Václav Šatava and Pavel Jonák. This route already had free pitches up to 5.12c. Of the two remaining aid pitches, the first went on natural gear at 5.12c, just left of the original offwidth roof. The second aid pitch (A2) was freed on toprope at 5.12d, starting a bit right of the knifeblade aid line. The Arrans opted not to add bolts to the existing pitch to protect free climbing without the consent of the first ascensionists, and so they did not attempt to lead the pitch. “The addition of two further bolts to the pitch would be in keeping with the nature of the other hard pitches and would make the climb one of the best, hardest, and most varied lines in the region,” said John Arran.The two then turned their attention to Zang Brakk, also 4,800 meters, looking to find a free-climbable line up the Southeast Pillar. An Austrian team had previously free-climbed half of this pillar at about 5.12c before running into blind seams. By opting for a variant line (and by climbing two pitches of 5.12d), the Arrans were able to continue their free ascent almost to the top of the 1,300-foot pillar. However, hampered by five days of unsettled, snowy weather, and out of food and water, they ran out of time to redpoint the crux pitch, which they had aided on tiny blades and Peckers at A3. “I had a quick play on toprope,” John said, “and the fingertip layback crux would make a great free pitch at around 5.13b, although it may need a bolt or two for protection.” They pressed on to the summit on day nine, having onsighted all of the free pitches.

The line of Welcome to Crackistan on 15,750-foot Zang Brakk. All but one pitch of the line was free-climbed, with difficulties up to 5.12d.

Nearly all of the route’s 17 pitches involve hard crack climbing (including six pitches of 5.12), making Welcome to Crackistan one of the most continuous hard jamming routes on any big wall. This expedition was supported by the British Mountaineering Council and Mount Everest Foundation grants, along with equipment from Arc’teryx, Boreal, Lyon Equipment, and First Ascent.

John and Anne Arran are two of the most accomplished big-wall free climbers in the world. Among other destinations, they have done huge new free routes in Kyrgyzstan and Venezuela, including the first free ascent of the Angel Falls wall, a 31-pitch 5.13 with no bolts for protection.

Date of Ascents: August 2007

Source: John Arran, www.thefreeclimber.com

Anne and John Arran on the summit of Zang Brakk after completing their new route. The sharp-edged north ridge of Shingu Charpa, nearly climbed by Ukrainian and American teams last year, is in the background.Photo by John Arran / www.thefreeclimber.com.

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