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Asia, Pakistan, Masherbrum Attempt and Geological Expedition

Masherbrum Attempt and Geological Expedition. Our expedition spent three months in the Baltoro Karakoram with the dual objectives: to conduct a geological survey of K2 and the Gasherbrum group in the northeast to the Shigar valley in the southwest and to climb Masherbrum via a new route on the northern (Baltoro) side. We six geologists: British Tony Rex, Brian Windley and I, Canadians Rein Tirrul, Paul Hoffman and Marc St. Onge; two climbers British Dave Mould and American Dana Coffield; a medical doctor British Owen Boyd; and Pakistani liaison officer Attaul Haque. We left Dassu on May 13 with 70 porters. Conditions on the upper Baltoro remained very wintery with deep snow and slush covering crevasses. Windley fell into a glacial river near Goro and developed hypothermia and altitude sickness; he was evacuated from Concordia by helicopter. Hoffman and St. Onge left for Canada on May 27, leaving only Tirrul, Rex and me to do the geology. Rex and I spent one month in the Godwin-Austen Glacier area and climbed to 6500 meters on the Abruzzi Ridge of K2. Lack of permission, bad weather and Rex’s stomach problems prevented our going higher. Tirrul studied the geology of the lower Baltoro, Braldu and Panmah valleys. He also explored the little known Chongking valley east of Mango Gusor, the Mango Glacier region east of Bakhor Das, ascended the Skoro La from Askole and the Talle La from Shigar and the Baumaharel valley. The expedition reassembled at Urdokas on June 16. Dr. Boyd developed gallstone pains and left for England. Rex, Coffield, Mould, Attaul Haque and I set up Base Camp on the Yermanandu Glacier on June 18. During late June we had two weeks of continuously bad weather with white-outs and heavy snowfall but no winds. We carried loads to the base of the face west of the Masherbrum La, where we made our third dump. We planned to climb the east ridge of Masherbrum, considering most lines on the north face too dangerous with avalanches continuously pouring down. Our route looked daunting, being over four miles long with several subsidiary bumps en route crowned at the top by a 1000-foot wall of blank-looking granite. Temperatures were not low enough to freeze the fresh snow. Even climbing from midnight to dawn, we sank in knee-deep. On steeper ground, we often waded waist-deep, sometimes chest-deep! Our route was threatened by a huge line of séracs and we dared not traverse beneath them under such conditions. We abandoned the climb on June 30. Immediately after we pulled out from Masherbrum, the Baltoro experienced a continuous 15-day spell of immaculate weather. Rex and I spent two more weeks studying the geology of the upper Baltoro, South Gasherbrum and Vigne glacier systems. We also explored the Dunge Glacier and Trango Tower group with Dana Coffield and “bouldered” around the base of the Grand Cathedral. The geological exploration was a great success. We had trekked up every major glacier on the upper Baltoro and Godwin-Austen basin, studied the base of K2, Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums, as well as exploring the Younghusband, Dunge, Vigne, Yermanandu and Liliwa Glaciers. We collected 200 kgs of rock samples for geochemistry, isotope chemistry, age dating and microprobe work. We were able to compile a geological map of the Shigar-Braldu-Panmah-Baltoro and Godwin-Austen valley systems.

Michael Searle, Department of Geology, University of Leicester, England