On September 1, the team started up the first of their main objectives: unclimbed K7 West (22,500 feet/6,858m). Prezelj, Jeff Hollenbaugh, and Steve Swenson had nearly climbed the West Ridge of this peak in 2004, but turned back because of dangerous avalanche conditions near the top. This time, the team identified a devious line on the south side of the peak.
The route began with a rock wall that the trio had reconned as a way to bypass a huge hanging valley guarded by an active serac band. On the first day, they free-climbed this wall with pitches up to 5.11-. Since the leader couldn’t carry his heavy pack on the seven most difficult rock pitches, one of the climbers had to follow each lead twice to shuttle a pack. After a good bivy at around 5,200 meters, above the seracs, the team simul-soloed several hundred meters of moderate ground, and then climbed a beautiful ice and mixed couloir in about a dozen pitches up to WI5. That afternoon, the expected snow ledge for their second bivy, at about 6,000 meters, didn’t materialize, so they were forced to spend two hours chopping a ledge for their tent from an ice cornice. In the morning, the weather had deteriorated somewhat, but they continued on a long traversing line of ice and mixed pitches to the summit ridge. Here, they found snow conditions more like the Peruvian Andes than the Karakoram, requiring insecure tunneling and exposed traversing under fragile snow mushrooms. At one point, a “UPS-van size mushroom” broke off, clearing the way ahead. They reached the top in strong winds and whiteout. Or at least they thought they did.
On his blog (alpinestyle.blog.com), Anderson described what happened next: “When we arrived at the summit, we all high-fived, celebrated, took many photos, and expressed our joy in the climb…. That is until it cleared for a brief moment and we could see that in addition to the other beautiful summits surrounding us was the actual summit of K7 West, about 20 to 30 meters higher and just a little beyond.”
They continued toward the real summit, with Prezelj in the lead. “Upon getting on top, which is nothing more than a large, overhanging cornice, he noticed a long fracture in the snow propagate from just beyond where he was,” Anderson wrote. “He stopped right there, just short of the absolute highest point, fearing breaking off the cornice, and told Steve and I not to get any closer…. After a much more brief summit celebration, we turned around and began the process of retracing our steps down.”
After descending to their tent at the ice cornice, they continued rappelling the next morning, making 30 rappels in all, before reaching the glacier on the afternoon of the fourth day.
“We were all satisfied with the complete test of our versatile skills, knowledge, and intuition,” Prezelj said of the ascent.
No jumars here: The two seconds followed the hard rock pitches on the first day of climbing with huge packs. Since the leader didn’t carry a pack, one climber had to descend after each pitch to follow it again with another pack. Photo by Steve House.
After a week of poor weather and a rock climb on the long ridge west of Naisa Brakk.—more than 2,000 meters of climbing, up to 5.10—the team prepared for their second major goal: the first ascent of K6 West (ca 7,100m/23,295 feet) via the Northwest Face. The approach led through a wild and difficult ice fall, leading to a plateau covered with deep, newly fallen snow, threatened by seracs overhead. Deeming this too dangerous, they bivied and then retreated the next morning. Prezelj said, however, that with glaciers and seracs changing rapidly in the Karakoram, approaching K6 and K6 West from the Charakusa Valley might soon be feasible.
With the expedition winding down, Prezelj teamed up with Canadian Maxime Turgeon to climb a big rock pillar at the base of K7. Several hundred meters of scrambling led to 15 pitches of steep rock, up to 5.11. See a photo of this climb in Monday’s report.
Dates of Ascents: August-September, 2007
Marko Prezelj, Steve House, and Vince Anderson (L to R) summited K7 in a white-out, took photos, and then realized the true summit was above them and they still had a little ways to go. Photo by Marko Prezelj.