American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I), Southwest Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1978

Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I), Southwest Ridge. In March we got permission for Gasherbrum I, Hidden Peak. It was only two months before the expedition left and it took great effort to put together money, food and gear. We were Janez Loncar, leader, Filip Bence, Borut Bergant, Franc Canžek, Drago Bregar, Andej Stremfelj, Dr. Martin Košak, truck driver Matinko Pintar and I. On the thirteenth day of the approach, we saw a rocky pyramid shining in the setting sun, high in the cold blue sky. The next day we paid off porters and built Base Camp. We decided on the yet unclimbed southwest ridge, between the American and the Habeler-Messner routes. The next morning at four A.M. we left Base Camp and looked for the way through the icefall to Camp I under the ridge. The sun softened the snow and the way through the icefall was very complicated. At noon we were at the first rocks in a little cirque under the south face and established Camp I. From there rises a steep couloir, which narrows more and more into a rocky chimney. A long, steep ice slope leads to a narrow snow rib before we climbed a vertical rock and ice pitch to a good camp site. Camp II was at 18,900 feet. The next day we returned to Camp II up fixed ropes with heavy loads. While our group descended to Base Camp, the others made their way up from Camp II to the White Dome, the real beginning of the ridge. Later we climbed the White Dome’s 50° south face on potential avalanche snow to the beginning of the narrow, corniced ridge. Just when we had reached the start of the ridge, the whole south face went down, the greatest avalanche I had ever seen. It was within a hair’s breadth of us. Two hours higher we were wading through bad snow to the Black Cap, where we placed Camp III at 20,800 feet. It was snowing as we descended to Camp I and the next day to Base Camp. Our leader Loncar fell ill and Bence didn’t feel well and we were only five in good health. Andrej Stremfelj and I went back to the mountain immediately after an afternoon’s rest, carrying all the gear for Camp IV. In one day we reached Camp II from Base. We were in excellent form. At Camp III we met Bence and Bergant; the latter had fixed 450 feet of rope on the beginning of the summit pyramid at the end of the snow slopes. By sunrise we were at Bergant’s ropes and, loaded like donkeys, began to climb the west face, steep snow and ice with bad, crumbling rock. After five pitches, the ropes were finished and we climbed on without protection. The face went over to a 70° couloir. Above were two snow shoulders, the first only a narrowing of the west ridge, but the upper was better, a gentle slope. At four P.M. we began to dig a small shelf for Camp IV, but there was so little snow and ice that half the tent hung over the face. We cooked a great quantity of tea and tried to sleep. The night was endless. The wind increased. The morning of July 8 is windy and cold. To the south is a black wall of clouds. We hurriedly mix up potatoes and salt fish and drink milk and honey. At seven A.M. we leave Camp IV. The face gets ever steeper and the wind stronger. At eight o’clock it is foggy and the first snow flakes begin to dance. We are on dangerous wind-slab and icy rocks. I lead all the way, breaking trail. We are desperately cold. After some steps I dig a small shelf and standing on one leg, wave the other to get blood to the toes. Conditions are terrible, but the will is stronger. At noon we climb the last rocks. We are in a small gap just below the summit. Through the fog we can see a light ball, the sun. It has stopped snowing but the wind picks up. We climb the last meters with frozen tears on our faces. We tie Yugoslav, Pakistani and Slovene flags to an ice-ax and take photos. Fog, wind and snow. Then down, down, down. Descending is harder than going up. The snowstorm increases, snow freezes on our glasses and we have to make every effort to find the way. At four P.M. we fall into our tent at Camp IV, dead tired. In this weather we did not expect anybody from the lower camps, but Drago Bregar comes. At the beginning of the fixed ropes Drago and Franc Canžek separated. Franc descended, but Drago reached Camp V at five P.M., hoping later to get to the summit. He cooked tea for us and forced us with food, but we couldn’t eat. The next morning was gray and dull. In the roaring wind we tried to persuade Drago to descend with us, but he was determined to stay on at Camp IV to wait for better weather. Andrej and I disappeared in the furious snow dance, sorrowing deeply about Drago’s staying on. We missed the beginning of the fixed ropes and descended a vertical chimney. It took six hours to reach Bence, Bergant and Canžek at Camp III. At darkness Andrej and I were at Camp I. On the 10th there was no more radio contact with Drago. The weather was better. We tried to reach the upper slopes of the mountain to look for him, but on the 14th it started to snow again. From all the faces, avalanches were roaring. Sadly, we returned to Base. On the 19th the weather was better and the porters came. I sat at Base Camp, looking at my second 8000er, Drago’s grave.

Nejz Zaplotnik, Planinska Zveza Slovenije, Yugoslavia

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