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Asia, Pakistan, Charakusa Valley, Various Ascents

Charakusa Valley, Various Ascents. Conrad Anker, Peter Croft, and Galen Rowell spent the month of July climbing five rock spires in the Charakusa Valley east of Masherbrum above Hushe. The longest climb of the expedition was Conrad and Peter’s 23-hour round-trip on Spansar Brakk via a huge ridge traverse right from the Charakusa Glacier. The line is wholly visible from Saitcho Camp, one stage above Hushe, as the longest chunk of granite in front of K7 on the left side of the glacier. The route followed a knife-edge of granite for over 8,000 feet of ridge line. Doing Spansar in “normal” style with multiple ropes, sleeping bags, water, food, etc., would have taken the three of us at least three days, but Peter, who holds the El Cap speed record of four hours, 22 minutes, saw the possibility of doing it with one partner, one rope, one water bottle each, a few PowerBars, and no bivy gear. Peter calls the route “the biggest and best climb I’ve done—or seen—in my life.” It was a 5.11a free climb with lots of simul-climbing for speed. From the first time Peter saw the continuous line of sharp ridge rising from the glacier to the summit, he was focused on it as his primary objective.

Before that climb, Conrad and Galen spent a day making the first ascent of Lucky Shinmo Spire (5.11b, 900'). This is the Balti name for index finger, referring to a set of three spires shaped like fingers on a hand in a side valley east of Spansar Brakk. From a camp in the same side valley, Galen soloed Nakpa Brakk (5.9, 1,200'), the third and final spire on the main ridge of Spansar, and a couple of hundred feet lower than the main summit. He set off to explore the 17,500-foot spire for a later, roped ascent, but found an easy traverse ledge and decided to continue to the top in just a few hours.

While Peter and Conrad were preparing and resting up for Spansar, Galen decided to explore a possible route up the north arete of Nayser Brakk, an incredible dark granite spire shaped like the Luxor Pyramid between K7 Base Camp and Spansar on the north side of the Charakusa Glacier. He brought a rope and hardware for a safe self-belay and climbed a new 5.10b route up the 1,000-foot face to the left of the north arête, which we later learned had been climbed in 1988 by David Hamilton’s British expedition using direct aid. At the time, Galen thought the summit to be unclimbed because he found no sign of passage above a rappel anchor 500 feet below the top, and the loose rocks on top had not been made into a cairn. An Italian party of Lecco Spiders camped below K7 said they knew of an attempt to climb a face route that failed well below the summit, where Galen’s watch altimeter read only 16,500 feet. The report of Nayser’s first ascent in the 1989 AAJ says that the spire, unnamed on maps, is 18,700 feet. Since our watches matched closely at other altitudes, but seemed low compared to maps, we would estimate that Nayser could be over 17,000 feet, but probably not over 18,000.

The day after Conrad and Peter’s Spansar ascent, Galen teamed up with two Lecco Spiders, Villa Natale and Luca Maspes, to make the first ascent of Iqbal’s Wall, a 1,100-foot dihedral of steep cracks up to 5.10d beneath the massive 6,000-foot granite wall of K7 (still off-limits to climbing because its other side borders a glacier linked to the ongoing Siachen Glacier war).

Galen Rowell