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Asia, Pakistan, Rakoposhi-Harimosh Mountains, Shel Chakpa and Barbachen Peak, First Ascents

Shel Chakpa and Barbachen Peak, First Ascents. I had noticed Shel Chakpa (Balti for “white broken rock”) during a 1995 trip to Haramosh II, and on subsequent visits the following two years. Though a handful of parties pass it each year en route to Spantik and the other Chogo Lungma peaks, the local men all agreed that foreign parties had never been anywhere near Shel Chakpa. As the mountain is not over 6000 meters, and in an “open area,” no permit, peak fee or liaison officer was required.

Stew Muir, Bill Church, Gus Morton and I traveled to the valley of the Basha River that drains from the Chogo Lungma Glacier in July, arriving at Base Camp on the 18th. We hoped to climb Shel Chakpa via the north- and west-facing slopes. From July 19-22, we experienced intermittent rain while we made various acclimatization walks. Stew, Bill and Gus made a reconnaissance to the site of Camp I on Shel Chakpa July 23. All members went up to camp on the Barbanchen Glacier the next day, where we hoped to climb a peak that looked lower and easier than Shel Chakpa for acclimatization and also to give us another view of our main objective. Poor weather during the next two days forced a return to BC. No sooner had we got down than the weather improved. We climbed to Camp I, then, the next morning, went down a loose gully to a basin and climbed snow and ice couloirs through the mixed face to regain the ridge above the towers near our CII site. The climbing was technically reasonable, but the recent mild weather had stripped much of the snow to leave the slopes in very icy condition. We returned to BC, leaving the gear in place for next time.

We then had a frustrating period of poor weather, including one more plod back to CI, to try our patience. On August 6, we climbed back to CII. On the rocky ridge above this camp, we were surprised to find not only ibex tracks, but also a well-built cairn. Either someone had sneaked up, or more likely, the cairn had been built by an enterprising hunter. The route above CII had no in-situ gear or other signs of previous ascent. We rose before midnight the next day and set off at around 1 a.m, climbing in pitches with ice-screw belays. At one-third height, a flat area gave a rest, then a couple of hundred feet of snow allowed faster movement to the foot of the mixed ground. We started this section at first light, taking a meandering line up icy ramps and gullies between rock ribs at about alpine TD, but with fairly good rock belays. A rock shoulder gave a welcome rest, then an open ice slope led to the top, which was reached at about 9 a.m. We abseiled from rock anchors, taking a more direct line in descent than we had in ascent. We staggered into camp at 5 p.m. after 16 hours on the go. After a day off, our abseil descent continued in the dark with another pre-dawn start that saw us back to BC. The weather worsened.

Bill and Gus left for home August 14, but Stew and I had an extra week, so we sat out a few days of snow, then went back to our previously tried “training peak.” This time the weather was kinder. The ascent was almost entirely on glacier terrain, with two bergschrund pitches that required a rope, and summit provided wonderful views of Shel Chakpa and K2.

Dave Wilkinson, United Kingdom