July 28, 2015 - Score one for perseverance: Alpinist and photographer Jon Griffith and partner Andy Houseman, both from Great Britain, reached the western summit of Link Sar in Pakistan during a seven-day climb. It was Griffith’s fourth year of attempts on Link Sar and Houseman’s second.
Link Sar (7,041 meters/23,100 feet) is an unclimbed peak in the Charakusa Valley of the Karakoram mountains. Difficult to approach—or even to see possible routes in full—the peak has seen few attempts.
The two men climbed the northwest face of the peak, roughly the same route followed by Griffith and American climber Kevin Mahoney last summer. However, as Griffith explained, "we topped out in a different location. Kevin and I topped out to a really horrible ridge last year, which is only something you could find out by actually being on the route. So [Andy and I] topped out further up and left on the face. We still had a short, awkward ridge section, but nothing like what me and Kevin encountered last year.” Griffith and Mahoney had climbed through several days of storm during their 2014 attempt, which Griffith described as "one of the toughest mental and physical challenges I’ve ever been through in the hills.”
This time Link Sar didn’t go much easier. "Various reasons meant we could only climb three out of the five days we were on the mountain,” Griffith said.
Griffith and Houseman left base camp on July 12 and started up the face the next day, reaching a bivouac at 6,100 meters. They rested here for a full day to let the face clear of fresh snow. On July 15 they climbed 700 meters over 17 hours to crest the top of the face. That evening, however, Griffith came down with a fever, so they stayed at their bivouac at 6,800 meters all next day to give him time to recuperate. On July 17 they crossed the ridge and reached the western summit of Link Sar, at 6,938 meters, by midday. (The main summit was a kilometer away across an extremely corniced ridge and remains unclimbed.) It was too warm to descend safely in the afternoon, so they bivouacked on top as Griffith’s fever returned. At 3 a.m. on July 18 they started down a couloir on the south face, then continued down a glacier and ice fall to return to the Charakusa Glacier, reaching base camp at 5 p.m., seven days after leaving. They called their route Fever Pitch.
"I feel it was a success," Griffith said. "It was a shame not to head to the main summit, but we’d run out of food and weather window. We came off the hill just as the bad weather rolled in, and it's really not a mountain you want to come down in bad weather. It could easily turn to a very serious fight for survival that descent! I think if I hadn't been so ill we could have given it a good shot, but that's the luck of the game out there. We had a tight weather window, and we used it to the best we could."
Grffith and Houseman previously attempted Link Sar in 2013, but Houseman’s illness prevented them from getting far on the route. In 2012, Griffith and Will Sim (a pair that just made the first ascent of Mt. Deborah’s northwest face in Alaska this spring) mostly reconnoitered the mountain without making a serious attempt.