Americans Bag Much-Tried Hispar Sar

Sunset view from the first bivy on Hispar Sar, looking down the Hispar Glacier. Photo by Doug Chabot

Sunset view from the first bivy on Hispar Sar, looking down the Hispar Glacier. Photo by Doug Chabot

Hispar Sar's southwest face, with the obvious ice couloir leading to the south ridge. A ridge in the foreground obscures the lower part of the face. Photo by Doug Chabot

Hispar Sar

9/27/11 - American climbers Doug Chabot, Bruce Miller, and Steve Su completed the first ascent of Hispar Sar (6,400m/20,997') in the Karakoram of Pakistan in early August. After abandoning their goal of making the first ascent of Pumari Chhish East because of avalanche threat, the trio climbed Hispar Sar via a prominent ice couloir on its southwest face over a three-day round trip.

Below, the team's report, in Miller's words:

Hispar Sar was our Plan B. But it was a great Plan B.

Once in our Yutmaru Glacier base camp, it didn’t take much head-scratching for us to nix our original plan of the south ridge of Pumari Chhish East. [Su had attempted this ca. 6,900-meter peak in 2007 with Pete Takeda.] The only passage above the upper ridge was directly through a lively serac band our photographs had led us to believe could be bypassed. Other options off the Yutmaru Glacier either posed similar hazards or simply lacked the appeal of our Plan A. We would have to walk.

Steve Su leads mixed ground during the seven-pitch "exit" to the south ridge. Photo by Doug Chabot

Anyone trekking up the Hispar Glacier gets a brief glimpse of the upper southwest face of Hispar Sar. A striking couloir splits the face, a line of weakness on an otherwise very steep wall. After too many minutes on our “emergency” satellite phone, we learned the peak had seen three attempts by British climbers, including one by Simon Yates and Andy Parkin, who reached the south ridge in 2004, and a solo attempt by Rufus Duits, who stopped a bit lower.

A long day of talus stumbling, not yet fully acclimatized, put us in a high cirque at the base of the route. Another day was spent glassing the line. The afternoon rockfall and wet snow avalanches were predictable. So, we set off at midnight on August 3, and hoped for the best.

We crossed the bergschrund at 5,000 meters. The next 1,100 meters of couloir climbing was remarkable, with varied terrain ranging from WI4+ to delicate mixed pitches. Near what we thought was the end of the couloir, we exited right, in order to avoid the increasing afternoon rockfall and a looming cornice (hmm… previously unseen). This exit ended up being a full seven steep pitches of unstable snow and loose rock (M6); in other words, the best seven pitches of the route. The last of those, 20 hours after crossing the ’schrund, put us on the south ridge, where we bivied.

The remaining 300 meters of climbing to the summit appeared easy. As is often the case, though, “easy to the summit” is the description of someone who hasn’t been there. We took most of the day to climb that 300 meters and rap back to the bivy. We descended early the next morning with another 20-plus raps.

Later that day, we repeated the grind back to base camp. We spent our last available days hiking 20 miles over two days to attempt Tahu Rutum (6,651m). Bad snow conditions and continued snowfall quickly led to us abandon our attempt.

This expedition was supported by a 2011 Mugs Stump Award (

Dates of Ascent: August 3-5, 2011

Sources: Bruce Miller, Doug Chabot, American Alpine Journal