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Asia, Pakistan, Haramosh II, First Ascent and Tragedy

Haramosh II, First Ascent and Tragedy. Our trip was run in as lightweight style as possible. The cost was initially estimated by a remarkably simple calculation: “Nunn’s Law,” which states that the net cost per head of any expedition is about “a thousand quid.” Of course, bigger and more distant objectives are more expensive, but Nunn’s Law recognizes that the scope for external funding is also greater, thus leaving the net cost roughly constant. If a trip costs significantly more, then there’s something wrong with its objective, style or planning.

We had decided to approach our mountain via the Chogo Lungma glacier. After ten days in ABC waiting out bad weather, it was time to do some climbing. After an initial reconnaissance, Brian Davison, Colin Wells and Dave Wilkinson began climbing, followed by Paul Nunn and Geoff Tier, and reached the crest of the middle part of our spur. An easy snow ridge then led to level ground where we made our Camp 1. We had climbed 1000 meters with full loads. Before Paul and Geoff joined us, it had closed in, and it snowed for the next 24 hours. After our enforced rest day, we decide to blitz it to the top and back in one day. We left camp at midnight in the same teams of three and two. We had seen nothing fall in all our scrutiny. The big snow dump of the previous fortnight was only part settled, and gave us a few worrying moments. A corniced ridge led to a flat place. Across this a snowy bump with a sharp-ridged top was the summit, which we reached at about 10 a.m. Creeping cold encouraged us downward. After 20 minutes, we met Geoff and Paul on the upward trudge, and stopped for a brief chat. The team of three got back to Camp 1 at about 3 p.m. Soon the others appeared below the skyline following our tracks. They will have reached the top about midday. The snow was softening in the sun, and they climbed down slowly but surely. They were out of sight below the bump in the ridge above us, but we could hear their voices. A brew was put on for them. Then we heard the crash of a detaching serac fall. At first it seemed a routine matter on this serac-swept mountain, but Brian popped his head out of the tent in time to see it fall. When the noise died away, the silence was ominous. In mounting worry, we put our boots on, grabbed axes, and staggered up the bump in the ridge to where we could see. No sign of them. Instead the slope was covered in a mass of car-sized blocks of ice, with a line of footprints above and below. Their fate was clear. The light faded as we stood in dumb witness to this icy grave of our friends. If mountaineers must die in action, this wild spot would be a fitting place for burial. The three survivors were then trapped at the camp by two further days of snowfall before they were able to return to Base Camp.

Dave Wilkinson, Alpine Climbing Group