AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, Pakistan, Ultar Attempt

Ultar Attempt. Our expedition was composed of Britons Caradoc Jones, Stephen Reid and me and American Ed Webster. Ultar (7388 meters, 24,240 feet) is less than 3.5 miles from the Karakoram Highway, but it rises 3.5 miles (17,000 feet) above the height of the road. Since 1986, there have been 13 attempts to climb the mountain by expeditions from Japan, Germany, Norway, Spain, France and Britain (Jones and I were members of a 1991 British attempt), mostly on the south side. Since only two had been from the north, it was there we first looked. The Gulmit and Ghulkin Glaciers run parallel to each other with the heads of both fed by the northern slopes of Ultar and Bojohagur. We had reconnoitered in 1991 as far as the first Gulmit icefall and this time we put a camp above the icefall. A feasible ridge seemed to start on Ultar at 5000 meters from a plateau above a second icefall. We forced a way to 4600 meters, but the icefall was so broken that we dismissed it and returned to the south side, namely the southeast ridge valley or hidden valley. To get to the valley is no easy matter with several steep rocky cols to negotiate at 4500 meters amongst 5500-meter granite spires. Everything is in an advanced state of decay, resulting in a myriad of rock and ice avalanches. We had a troublesome time with our porters. When still a day’s carry from Base Camp, we sent all but two porters home and were glad for the ensuing peace and quiet. Base Camp, occupied on July 9, was halfway up the Sikardu Glacier at 4600 meters. In 1991, Vic Saunders and Steve Sustad had started their route from low down on the Cunus Glacier, just opposite Ultar’s great southeast pillar. In 1994, we found a higher col linking up with their route but saving us 400 meters of climbing. On July 10, we gained the col and continued up an unnamed glacier to a snow rib and campsite at 5000 meters and just below what we called “lower pt 5 gully.” All climbing on Ultar had to be done at night due to appallingly hot-day conditions and so we left at two A.M. We turned the gully on the left through steep mixed ground and through another gully, “upper pt 5 gully.” This gained us the long traverse which was as far as the reconnaissance was designed to go. The ice was boiler plate as elsewhere on the mountain. We could now get a good view of the “slanting left ramp,” of which neither Webster nor I liked the look. We abseiled to the last camp, where we stayed for two blustery snowy days during which it would have been unsafe to continue down because of avalanches coming down the glacier below. On July 17, we decided to attempt 5800-meter unsealed Gulmit Tower. The top of the Sikardu Glacier, which was quite crevassed in its middle section, gave way to a 50° slope which led to a 5300-meter col northwest of the tower, where we found a good campsite. The loose, dangerous rock on the tower kept us from getting more than a third of the way up the tower and we ended the attempt and descended. Jones and Reid left at midnight on July 26 to try the 1991 Saunders-Sustad route. Their second camp was near “upper pt 5,” where they waited out the day as the snow slope next to the camp turned into a waterfall. On the 29th, they left camp at six P.M. and traversed 400 feet left to gain a vast snow basin. They crossed the kilometer-wide basin until they could find a breach in the bergschrund and gain access to the “left-slanting ramp.” After good progress for four pitches, they found hard black ice. At seven A.M., with some of the ramp still to climb, they took shelter under rocks on the left from a bombardment of rockfall for the rest of the day. After the nighttime freeze, they began their retreat. Meanwhile, Webster and I set off up the Sikardu Glacier, intending to climb a glacial route to the left and then back up to the right to join Ultar’s east ridge. Climbing at night mostly on boiler-plate ice, we camped during the days at 5300 and 5650 meters. Despite difficult climbing with inadequate protection, finally on July 29 in the heat of the day, we reached the east ridge at 6000 meters. This was corniced over the north face and we found no good place to camp. We continued up in protectionless steep sugar snow for another 100 vertical meters, but finding no better campsite, we returned to 6000 meters and dug a platform only five feet from a cornice. The next day, the 30th, we stayed put for a rest and came to the conclusion that this being our sixth day out, we had little chance of achieving Ultar. At three A.M. on the 31st, we commenced abseiling. Down-climbing and unpleasant abseils got us to Camp II. More of that on August 1 let us complete our descent to Base Camp in seven hours.

Julien Freeman-Attwood, Alpine Climbing Group