Gasherbrum IV, Southwest Ridge, Attempt. Steve Swenson, Charley Mace, Steve House (U.S.) and Andy DeKlerk (South Africa) made an attempt on the unclimbed southwest ridge of Gasherbrum IV (7925m). The intent of the expedition was to climb the route above 7000 meters alpine style without the use of fixed rope. In addition to climbing objectives, we also installed several new toilets at popular campsites on the Baltoro Glacier. Our expedition also succeeded in collecting and carrying out more than 500 pounds of trash from Gasherbrum Base Camp.
We arrived at Gasherbrum BC on July 1. By July 7, we had established our Camp I at around 6000 meters on the South Gasherbrum Glacier below Gasherbrum IV and the Italian Icefall. We spent a couple of days carrying loads and acclimatizing by skiing up to the base of the face below the southwest ridge. On July 9, a storm forced us back to BC for five days. We returned to CI on July 14, and on July 15 we skied up to the base of the route and climbed 700 feet up the lower snow face. The initial snow slope led to difficult mixed climbing on very rotten rock. It was our intent to fix rope up this face to where it reached the crest of the southwest ridge at 7000 meters.
A storm on July 19 lasted until July 26, so that it wasn’t until the 27th that we were able to return to our Camp I. On July 28, we continued to fix rope up mixed climbing with rotten rock. The climbing was to the right of a prominent rock tower on the ridge. Below the ridge crest, much of the climbing was thin unconsolidated snow over loose rock that presented few opportunities for placing gear. The weather changed for the worse again on July 31, so after only three days of fairly good weather, we returned to BC in a storm. The storm kept us in BC from July 31-August 4.
On August 5 we returned to CI On August 6, CII was placed on two very small platforms in a notch in the southwest ridge crest at 7000 meters. On the morning of August 7, we climbed a few hundred feet to the first rock band on the ridge at about 7200 meters with the intent of trying to find a better location for CII. The ridge crest consisted of more unconsolidated snow over bad rock, and a better campsite could not be found. The weather began to deteriorate again, so later that same day we descended to CI. On August 9, the entire team left for BC in this storm.
August 9-15 was another period of bad weather, but on August 16 it cleared, so all four of us returned to CI At CI it was clear, but above 7000 meters it was extremely windy. On August 19, the wind seemed to abate, so we climbed up to CII only to return due to high winds up high and deteriorating weather.
On August 20, all members returned to BC in overcast conditions and light snow. The section of the ridge above CII looked to be difficult rock climbing and we thought it might take as long as three days to reach the summit from our CII and another day to descend. Faced with this kind of difficult climbing up high, we did not want to commit to alpine-style climbing unless there was some indication that a more stable weather pattern had been established.
We waited at BC from August 21-August 24. We were running out of time, so we returned to CI on August 25 to wait for a break in the weather. The next day a storm dropped two feet of new snow at our CI. The storm continued until midday on August 28. On the 29th, we climbed to CII and spent the night there, hoping to continue upward the next day.
On August 30, a combination of the unsettled weather and some poor health led to a decision to descend from CII and abandon the climb. On August 31, all the remaining gear was carried down from CI to BC, where the porters were waiting for us to leave. On September 1, the expedition left BC. The weather closed in again and it snowed heavily for several days.
Steven J. Swenson