Asia, Pakistan, Shipton Spire, East Face

Publication Year: 1997.

Shipton Spire, East Face. Charles Boyd, Greg Child, Greg Collum, and I arrived in Islamabad the first week of June. Our good friend, Gullam Rasoul, traveled for several days from his home village of Hushe to meet us and help us go through the absurd song and dance with the Ministry of Tourism. Picture this: a country that at the time of our visit was essentially bankrupt having a group of civil servants decide if it would be advisable for a group of relatively affluent Westerners to visit one of their poorest regions to employ locals. I nearly suffocated laughing when one of the civil servants asked what they could do to increase tourism. Since he held the fate of our holiday in his hands it didn’t seem appropriate to respond that in most countries governments attract tourists by eliminating bureaucracy.

Due to poor flying weather we drove to Skardu and, after stocking up on local foodstuffs and supplies that seem to be increasingly available, journeyed by jeep toward Askole. The road at this time was washed out in several places, which resulted in some “portaging.” We walked in at a relaxed pace over the next few days, and established a base camp in a beautiful meadow on a lateral moraine across from Shipton Spire.

At this point I should note that I have been referring to the spire as Shipton Spire, but officially it is still unnamed. Greg Collum gave it its working title when he noticed a photo of the spire in Eric Shipton’s book Blank on the Map. Collum hiked up the Trango Glacier in 1989 while a number of us were climbing on Nameless Tower, spotted the spire and returned with Chuck Boyd, Mark Bebie and Andy Sellers in 1992 for an attempt. They chose a line on the right side of the spire, which they climbed only to be turned back in stormy weather about 800 feet from the summit. An attempt was made on the same line in 1995 by the Japanese climber Paniguchi Ryuji. As previously reported, he was killed by rockfall on September 21; we found a number of scraps of destroyed gear at the base that seemed to confirm this.

Our proposed line lay up the center of the wall, following a series of crack and comer systems that started off a flying buttress. We established an advance base in the same location as the previous groups. Reaching the start of our route had to be done quite early before the sun hit the upper slopes of a major central drainage system that funneled debris throughout the day. We experienced reasonably unsettled weather whilst climbing: typically, we would have two good days before deterioration settled in and lasted for the next four to six. At this point the dual-edged sword of having packed in a large quantity of fixed ropes became apparent. They were great for dealing with bad weather and no doubt allowed us to stay fresh enough to push hard when the weather cleared, but they reduced commitment—and, more to the point, were a lot of work to fix in place!

After three “camping trips” the weather cleared and off went Boyd, Child and I; Collum had elected not to join us on this push. After a couple more bivies we had surmounted the steep wall section that constituted the first 60 percent of the climb and continued up the spectacular lower angle systems. We were poised for the summit. To date the climbing had constituted about 4,000 feet of some of the best alpine granite I’ve ever been on, with a bit of mixed thrown in on the top 500 feet. I set off up the straight-forward snow ridge that led to the summit about 100 feet above our belay (actually, “wallowing up to my chest in the soft, late-day glop” would be more appropriate). About 30 or 40 feet below the top I elected not to proceed up the final section, portions of which were sloughing off as I watched in trepidation.

So, what kind of a holiday was this? A first ascent of a mountain? No. A long magnificent climb in a spectacular setting with good company that finished just below an untrod summit that awaits someone wishing to “fill their boots” with true conquest? Maybe. An interesting question in my mind about what makes a successful holiday? Yes. (36 pitches, 5.11-A4. Full alpine wall rack including ledges.)

Greg Foweraker, Canada