American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Masherbrum, South Face Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Masherbrum, South Face Attempt. Our expedition endeavored to climb the South Face of Masherbrum (7821 meters), first climbed by a strong American team in 1960. Our team consisted of Tod Andersen, my brother Sean Moore, Bill Pierson, Dr. Doug Redosh, and me as leader. We established Base Camp on June 30 at 13,800 feet. Our route picked its way up the middle of the first icefall and then avoided the broken second icefall by ascending the right-hand gully known as Scaly Alley. Due to significant rock fall we were forced to consistently be out of Scaly Alley before the sun had time to loosen the rocks on the steep faces above. Camp I was established above the second icefall at 16,000 feet on July 5. We were unable to find a route through the third icefall due to severe melt-out. We ultimately avoided this icefall by ascending a second right hand gully to a bench. We crossed this bench and dropped back down to traverse the basin directly under the large hanging glacier that defines Serac Peak. On July 9 Andersen had to be assisted off the mountain by Redosh and Moore due to a knee injury. Camp 2 was established at 18,000 feet at the foot of the Snow Dome on July 9 by Pierson and myself. Conditions on the Snow Dome consisted of poorly consolidated sugar snow with rotten bridges across the crevasses. Pierson and I required three attempts to find a repeatable route angling west across the Snow Dome. A cache was made at 20,000 feet at the top of Snow Dome ridge on July 14. All members then descended to BC for two days’ rest. On July 17 we returned to the mountain, reaching the high cache on July 19. From there we dropped down to set Camp 3 on the north side of the Snow Dome at 19,600 feet. From here the route crossed the long basin leading to the base of the south face of Masherbrum and north face of Masherbrum East. After waiting out a storm, Camp 4 was set at 21,400 feet on July 21. From here Redosh and Moore returned to Base Camp while Pierson and I continued on to attempt the upper face. We again encountered poorly consolidated snow conditions. A cache was made at 22,600 feet with our food, fuel, equipment and extra clothing. We intended to move into this camp the next day and from there make a two-day summit push allowing for one night at the rockband at the bottom of the summit couloir on the ascent.

That evening a massive storm hit without warning. Several feet of snow fell amidst heavy winds. We waited a day and a half for the storm to break until we ran out of fuel and food. On July 25 we retreated to Camp 3 through blizzard conditions and hip-deep snow, navigating by compass. We waited two more days for the storm to break and the severe avalanche conditions to stabilize. However, no end to the storm was apparent and we were again very low on fuel and food. Necessity forced us to descend the Snow Dome in severe avalanche conditions. Fifty meters from Camp 3 Pierson set off a slab that buried part of the camp. We crested the Snow Dome and began our descent only to get lost in a white-out. Pierson stumbled off a four-foot fracture line where a slab had recently swept the face clean for 1,200 feet. This proved to be our salvation as it was a rapid if unsettling descent route. We then had to dig a trench through waist-to chest-deep powder which traversed the bottom of the Snow Dome and on to Camp 2. The relatively sheltered Camp 2 was buried under five feet of snow. On July 28 we spent ten hours digging a four-foot-deep trench across the basin at 18,000 feet and were dusted by several avalanches attempting to gain the bench leading to the second gully. It took a miserable two full days to tunnel down from Camp 2 to Camp 1. A huge avalanche had wiped out a good portion of our route down the second gully all the way to Camp 2 itself. On July 30 we left Camp 1 and descended an unrecognizable Scaly Alley choked with debris and on to Base Camp. While this route may no longer be cutting edge technically, it can certainly be a long and physically demanding route with considerable exposure to objective hazards.

A. Scott Moore

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