The Charakusa Valley has been seeing a lot of attention recently. A beautiful valley nestled away in the Karakorum range of Pakistan it is a mountain that produced one of the winners of this year’s Piolets d’Or and it hosts some of the area’s finest climbing faces. From the predominantly huge rock faces and buttresses on K7 to the unclimbed north and northwest faces of K6, it has maybe something for everyone, even those on a humble trekking permit.
This year has been remarkably quiet at basecamp though. I suspect that so much recent activity on K7 (relatively speaking for a Greater Ranges peak) in recent years has pushed other teams to further and more exploratory pastures. Nevertheless, just because we as humans accumulate knowledge on an area it does not mean that the mountains or routes are any easier year by year.
Last year Urban Novak (SLO), Kyle Dempster (USA), and Hayden Kennedy (USA) fought their way up a new route on the east side of K7 (6935m) but were stopped just short of the summit due to deep snow and poor weather. This year they returned triumphant.
The team arrived in base camp on 5 July, 2012 armed with a wealth of experience and knowledge from Dempster, strong technical abilities from Kennedy, and an Eastern European general gnarl factor from Novak. Having learnt from the previous year to knuckle down and take whatever short weather window the Karakorum offers, they set about acclimitising as quickly as possible. Urban Novak was kind enough to give us the full story:
“After Hayden’s recovery from food poisoning after eating a porter’s chapaties (the chapatie was so bad even the porter got sick!) we headed to an acclimatization trip on nearby Sulu Peak (5959m) where we spent one night. Although Sulu peak is not interesting from a climber’s perspective (snow slogging), it does offer a nice and easy acclimatization trip. We were killing time up there by playing chess. After a stormy night we woke up to splitter weather which gave us some awesome views on the Karakoram Mountains. After that trip we all felt ready for our main objective.”
Less than two weeks after arriving at basecamp – and in a condition that most normal people would label as ‘not quite acclimitised’ – they got the call from a friend back home. Four days of stellar weather was arriving. Hurriedly packing their things they planned a one day ascent from the bergshrund – a huge 1800 meters of vertical ascent on a 6935m peak. Quite the purist alpine style!
Novak: “To be on the safe side we took two sleeping bags, one small pad and a stove. We wanted to give ourselves as much time as we could so we started climbing at 11.00 pm. During the night we were climbing on familiar terrain where the conditions were OK.”
The following day it quickly became apparent that the rather dry Karakorum winter had left the route in less than favorable condition. A heavy spring snowfall had deposited plenty of deep, unconsolidated snow on top of black ice which made for slow going.
Climbing past their high point from the previous year they settled in for an open air bivy before continuing the next day in deteriorating weather. The climbing above proved harder than they were expecting.
Novak: “We were expecting some exit gullies through the upper rock band but there weren’t any. So we climbed mixed terrain with several pitches up to M6. Route finding was quite difficult. We bivvied during the stormy night (20.00pm – 5.00am) somewhere in the middle of this rock band. By morning it had stopped snowing so we continued.”
By midday they were on the final summit slopes where the heavy spring storms forced them to dig trenches up to the summit.
Novak: “That part was a good test for our determination. We were quite tired after 28 hours of climbing and an ‘’interesting night out’’, but our determination to succeed was greater.”
By 14:00 they finally reached the summit having climbed the east face in an incredibly fast time of 39 hours. Unfortunately it was impossible to celebrate too much. The weather had now definitely turned for the worst and, cursing their failed weather forecast, they descended their route through the night until they finally arrived at their starting bivouac and dry sleeping bags 12 hours later.
Novak: “We had to descend the entire face by rappels (mostly V-threads) which was quite interesting on many traverses. For additional entertainment we were dealing with spindrift avalanches, the longest of which lasted for 15 minutes. Because we couldn’t manage to set a V-thread on those spindrifts we built two anchors with ice screws. Other than these spindrifts and one stuck rope the descent was smooth. Kyle is a V-thread machine for sure! “
Back in base camp the trio enjoyed some bouldering and rock climbing before they packed up and headed out of the valley having completed a monster new route in perfect alpine style in under 20 days. A pretty incredible achievement and one that exemplifies the new style of Himalayan alpine climbing. For now Urban is back home in Slovenia working on his next project whilst Dempster and Kennedy are heading on the Choktoi glacier for a month. Good luck to them all!
Thanks to Urban for taking the time to speak with us.