A highly experienced American team bagged the first ascent of a huge spire in Pakistan but came up short on their main objective: the North Ridge of Latok I. After an easy acclimatization climb, Doug Chabot, Mark Richey, and Steve Swenson made the first ascent of a 6,166-meter peak they dubbed the Trident, above the Choktoi Glacier. With acclimatization for Latok in mind, the trio took two days at a moderate pace to reach a high col, then climbed to the summit of the virgin peak in half a day, finding enjoyable and moderately challenging ice runnels and mixed steps. Chabot said the climbing reminded him of the Cassin Ridge on Denali or Peak 11,300 near the Ruth Amphitheater in Alaska.
With a good forecast, the team started up the north side of 7,145-meter Latok I on July 4. They had come to northern Pakistan earlier than usual, hoping for good ice conditions that would allow them to quickly bypass the steep rock pillar at the bottom of the North Ridge, a route that has seen more than 20 unsuccessful attempts since it was nearly climbed by an American team in 1978. Indeed, they found perfect one-swing ice and climbed about 2,700 vertical feet on their first day, with Chabot leading most of the way. The next day, they motored up ice runnels along the flank of the ridge with Swenson in the lead, making rapid progress all day until, about 50 feet from regaining the ridge, Swenson ran into unprotectable sugar snow. It took him three hours of tunneling and digging to climb that last 50 feet. On Day 3, Richey took the lead but conditions got no better, and the team decided to bail, making 25 to 30 rappels back to the glacier.
Since the snow conditions were unlikely to improve during their visit, they abandoned their plans for Latok. Chabot headed home, and Richey and Swenson decided to attempt the Ogre (7,285m, aka Baintha Brakk). However, more snowfall and poor conditions prevented them from even completing the icefall approach at the bottom of the route.
As they were descending from this attempt, they noticed beautiful Choktoi Spire, a circa 5,900-meter peak surrounded by the glacier. The two climbed a long snow and ice gully to a rock and mixed ridge, ending at a blank headwall less than 10 meters below the top. Seeing no way past this obstacle, they called it good and descended, not realizing that, last year, Jeff Relph and Jon Walsh had climbed the spire, probably by the same line. Walsh overcame the headwall via a tension traverse off a knifeblade and some “committing deadpoints.”
Dates of Ascents: The Trident, June 25, 2007; Choktoi Spire, July 2007.
Sources: Doug Chabot, www.alpinist.com, 2007 American Alpine Journal