American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Gasherbrum IV, West Face Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

Gasherbrum IV, West Face Attempt. The idea of attempting the unclimbed west face of Gasherbrum IV was formed in 1976 by Martin Boysen and me from the summit of Trango Tower. Even from a distance of 30 miles, the face was impressive; from its base it rose in a single sweep of nearly 10,000 feet to its 26,000-foot summit. The mountain was first climbed via the southeast ridge by Italians in 1958. The first ascent proved extremely difficult even by this route, comparatively easy compared to ours. Our team finally comprised Bill Barker, Boysen, Pete Minks and me. We flew with a ton of equipment to Skardu on May 21. We selected 38 porters and a 14-day walk-in followed. Base Camp was placed at Concordia on the Baltoro Glacier on June 4. While Minks and I, with the help of two porters, erected a stone and tarpaulin shelter, Barker and Boysen climbed the West Gasherbrum Glacier to the foot of the face. They returned with the news that the central couloir was extremely prone to avalanche and rockfall and that the central rib would have to be followed. A convenient ramp led onto the rib and the next day the same pair reached the rib and secured 800 feet of fixed rope. On June 7 Minks and I climbed to the previous high point and fixed another 500 feet up to a glacier basin near the proposed site of Camp I. On our return to Base Camp, I remarked that the fixed pegs were not very good except for one I had placed. The next day, while the other three were climbing the ropes, the “excellent” peg pulled out and Minks fell 30 feet, breaking his left ankle. He hopped, crawled and was helped to Base Camp. We were confined there for 48 hours of continual snowfall and on June 12 the three fit members and two porters ploughed an exhausting track back up to the site for Camp I. We established the camp the next day at nearly 20,000 feet. The following morning we started climbing the steep snow-and-ice face that led to a small exposed col on the ridge, a possible site for Camp II. We gained 800 feet on each of the next two days. On June 17 we resumed our attempt on the ice slope.

The weather was perfect—too perfect! The high temperature caused a rapid snow melt, which released fusillades of rocks from the vertical walls above. After only three more rope-lengths above our previous high point, we retreated to Camp I. On June 18, after a very early start to avoid rockfall, we reached the site for Camp II at 22,000 feet, a minute perch on an icy col, before returning to Base Camp for a rest. On June 21 we did a heavy carry to Camp I and next day Barker and Boysen took up residence in Camp II while I ferried loads—or attempted to. A falling rock had severed a fixed rope and I unwittingly pulled up on it and fell 40 feet. I returned shaken to Camp I. Meanwhile Barker and Boysen had fixed a few hundred feet of rope up steep, loose rock above Camp II but had to return to Camp I for supplies. Barker and I returned to Camp II and on June 26 climbed a few hundred feet above the previous high point on appallingly loose rock. The temperature was so high that rocks continued to fall throughout the night. The next day was crucial—if the standard of difficulty remained the same, we had an outside chance of success but if it increased, then the expedition was over. At midday on the 27th I breasted a subsidiary ridge at 23,000 feet and immediately knew that retreat was the only answer. The next section was definitely very hard and the summit still 3000 feet away. The mountain was falling to pieces due to abnormal temperatures. Barker confirmed my opinion. The descent turned into a minor epic with constant stonefall. Though the fixed ropes were cut through in many places, eventually we reached Base Camp unscathed.

J.V. (Mo) Anthoine, Alpine Climbing Group

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