American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Skyang Kangri Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981

Skyang Kangri Attempt. Our lightweight expedition, consisting of Jeff Lowe and me, attempted Skyang Kangri (7544 meters, 24,750 feet) alpine-style. May 27 saw us in Dasso, May 30 in Askole and June 6 at the site of the French Base Camp at the foot of K2. The porters on the approach performed very well. The French Base Camp was a shock. An area the size of a football field was littered with cans, broken crates, gas cylinders and all manner of debris. On June 8 our liaison officer Captain Tariq Ihtisham and I carried loads to 18,500 feet on the upper Godwin-Austen Glacier and established our Advanced Base Camp opposite the northeast ridge of K2. Two days later Jeff and I carried another load there and on June 12 we both moved up to camp. For acclimatization, on June 14 we started up the Japanese route, the east ridge, reaching 21,000 feet before turning back on the 15th in bad weather with much new snow. Then, on June 20, we went back to our original objective, the west face. The face rises 6000 feet above the glacier, with 1000 feet of easy glacier walking, another 2000 feet of moderate snow-and-ice and mixed climbing and a rock headwall the rest of the way. We were to attempt the prominent buttress in the center of the face. We spent five hours on June 21 reaching a good bivouac in a bergschrund at 20,000 feet. On the 22nd we continued up moderate snow-and-ice slopes with several mixed pitches at the end. We bivouacked at the start of the upper buttress at 21,700 feet. My gut feeling of dread continued and I felt compelled to retreat, which we did after a single pitch on June 23. In retrospect, we still disagree about the feasibility of the climb. The limestone rock, contrary to our expectations, was very soft, crumbly and crackless. We returned to the mountain on July 2 and attempted the south buttress, starting at 19,000 feet. We bivouacked on the night of July 3 in hammocks at 20,000 feet, having climbed a number of easy snow-and-ice pitches interspersed with harder mixed ones on the lower third of the buttress. On July 4 we continued through the major difficulties of the route, a 1000-foot rock band between 20,500 and 21,500 feet, bivouacking again in hammocks. The hard pitches had been F8 and F9. Late that night it began to storm. Having completed the greatest difficulties, we decided to continue to the crest of the east ridge, climbing through knee- and sometimes waist-deep snow. We reached the final rocky outcrops and again bivouacked in hammocks at about 23,200 feet. Jeff felt nausea and we rested for the day in our hammocks, hoping for an improvement in Jeff’s condition and in the weather. He, however, developed altitude sickness, with signs of pulmonary edema and so we had to retreat again. Jeff was so weak that he felt unable to climb the few hundred feet to the east ridge. We had to rappel diagonally into a large gully that bounds the right side of the south face and then along easier, but very avalanche-prone slopes toward the “Cat’s Ears.” We spent the night of the 7th in a crevasse, the 8th at the Cat’s Ears and returned to Advanced Base on the 9th. I had been without food for two days, but Jeff had been unable to eat for close to five. We returned to Base Camp on July 10, where Jeff made a rapid recovery.

Michael Kennedy

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