American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Gasherbrum IV, West Face and Northwest Ridge Attempts

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984

Gasherbrum IV, West Face and Northwest Ridge Attempts. In the spring and early summer, eight Americans attempted Gasherbrum IV (7925 meters, 26,000 feet) by two routes. Attempts on both routes on this very difficult mountain failed to reach the summit. The peak still awaits a second ascent. It was first climbed via the northwest ridge in 1958 by a strong Italian team. Very strong parties attempted the mountain in 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982 by various routes but none was successful. We left Skardu on May 8 and arrived at Base Camp at 15,800 feet on the West Gasherbrum Glacier on May 19. On May 21 the entire team carried loads to Camp I in the glacial cirque at 19,000 feet below the northwest ridge and west face. From here, the west-face team, Michael Kennedy and Mugs Stump, would begin their alpine-style attempt; the rest would climb the snow-and-ice couloir to a camp on the crest of the northwest ridge and up the ridge proper, fixing ropes to 23,000 feet before striking out alpine-style to the summit. Stump and Kennedy occupied Camp I on May 24, beginning an acclimatization period before attempting the West Face in a single push. The following day, Gary Lee and I moved to Camp I and began placing ropes toward Camp II. During the next three days Matt Kern, Jack Lewis, Tom Bauman and Carlos Buhler also took turns fixing rope. The west-face party climbed the initial ice slope at the bottom of the face on May 27 and left a cache at 21,000 feet. They reached the site of Camp II on the northwest ridge on May 31. High winds and snow forced a retreat to Base Camp at this point. On June 5 Camp I was reoccupied despite deep snow. Camp II was established on June 7. Buhler and I explored the route towards Camp III on June 9, while Kennedy and Stump returned to Base Camp for a final rest before making their attempt. On the northwest ridge, steep rock towers prevented a direct route up the crest of the ridge from Camp II; the route instead traversed steep snow slopes below the crest to a snow couloir which we followed to regain the ridge. Camp II was stocked and rope fixed between Camps II and III. On the 14th Buhler and I established Camp III in a snow cave at 22,800 feet. On June 15 we two made the first summit attempt but turned back in bad weather at 23,500 feet. Bauman and Lee came up to Camp III but on the 16th we other four of the northwest- ridge party descended to Base Camp in a major storm. Meanwhile, Kennedy and Stump had started up the west face from Camp I on June 12. They bivouacked at the top of the initial ice slope after 13 hours of continuous climbing. The following day snowed-up conditions slowed progress on steep rock, ice and mixed pitches and they bivouacked sitting on small ledges cut out of the ice after another long day. At midday on June 14 they reached a good bivy site at the base of the Black Towers, the prominent feature that had stopped the three previous attempts on the face. That afternoon they fixed one of their two ropes on a very steep and difficult mixed chimney cutting through the lower section of the Black Towers. On the morning of June 15, despite deteriorating weather, they climbed three more pitches to the top of the Black Towers. This included a spectacular and difficult double-pendulum pitch led by Stump. While the storm continued, they were forced to stay at their bivouac at the base of the Black Towers through June 18 with dwindling food. Perhaps five feet of snow had fallen and avalanche danger made going on unjustifiable. They retrieved their ropes and descended on June 19, having reached a high point of 22,500 feet. Continuing unstable weather and doubts that snow conditions would improve led to their decision to return to the USA. Lee and Bauman were stuck in Camp III until June 21 when they descended to Base Camp. On June 20 Kern, Lewis, Buhler and I returned to Camp I and to Camp II on June 22, but Lewis returned to Base Camp due to acclimatization problems. We three continued on to Camp III and on June 25 made a second summit attempt. Dangerous windslab conditions forced a retreat at 23,000 feet. Since time would not allow us to wait for the long period of good weather needed for conditions to stabilize, we abandoned the climb.

Steven J. Swenson

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