Amin Brakk, Czech Express. Based on the experience of previous groups, we arranged to arrive in the Amin Brakk area at the end of June. The unclimbed west face of Amin Brakk, situated in the Nangma Valley, was the object of our interest. Our climbing team was composed of three members: Filip Šilhan, Marek Holecek and David Štastný.
We arrived at Khande, the village that serves as the starting point for Base Camp, on June 22. We met the Koreans in the lower valley as they were descending from BC. We exchanged a couple of simple words. They looked like Napoleon’s soldiers after the Battle of Waterloo. I asked them about their ascent; one of them answered that they hadn’t been successful. We never saw the video showing the Korean attempt. I saw the camera (Sony DV1000 3CCD), but the Koreans were too tired to keep [up a] longer discussion. There were also communications problems.
With the help of five porters, we established our BC on June 26. At BC, we discovered a serious problem. We forgot our carabiners at home. We had just three single carabiners, three quickdraws, 80 bolts, 15 Friends with ’biners, two figure 8 rappel devices, three sets of stoppers and many slings. Fortunately, we found some ’biners hanging on our backpacks as well as on my photographic gear. Later, on the wall, we found more ’biners and many Friends.
Troubles with a locally purchased kerosene stove forced us to go back to Hushe in the main valley. The trip turned to be an excellent acclimatization. After getting geared up, we bivouacked beneath the wall on June 28, ready to make a serious attempt on the west face of Amin Brakk. At this time there was already one team of Spaniards who were attempting to climb the blank face at the far left. We were ready for a more obvious line on the wall, which was originally attempted by Spaniards in 1996 (see AAJ 1997, pp. 312-13, and Desnivel #114, 1996, pp. 53-58) and most recently by a South Korean team (see above).
On the first day of climbing we discovered that previous parties had left much fixed rope on this line. At that moment we didn’t even dream that the ropes were fixed up to pitch 26. It was a bit disappointing to climb just a couple of centimeters away from fixed ropes, but there was no other way. We used the old ropes to descend and I used them twice for taking the photos. We never used the ropes for the ascent. From the base of the route to the very end, we climbed only under our own power. We used old bolts at the belays, which saved us a lot of time. There was no sense to place new bolts ten centimeters away from old ones.
On the second day, David dropped the bolt bag containing 70 bolts. He rappelled down on the glacier to look for them but found only seven. At that point, we had ten bolts and about 40 pitons.
The first third of the wall is a rotten slab with many features on it. It took us four days and 12 long pitches to get to an obvious ledge. Mostly vertical to slightly overhanging climbing started from this point. Deteriorating weather trapped us in the portaledges for two days. After one night’s snowstorm, the wall turned to a big icefield, so we decided to descend back to BC. We used old fixed ropes (probably from the Spanish ’96 attempt) for rappelling down as well as for jumaring back onto the ledge two days later when the weather improved. We nicknamed the ledge “Cracked Bucket Ledge,” because of the leftovers of our predecessors. (The cracked bucket we found on the first bivy ledge was obviously too old to belong to the Korean climbers.)
The upper two thirds of the wall looked really challenging. The climbing was on solid gray, almost featureless granite. About half of the wall is dissected by huge overhangs. The distance between the ledge and the overhangs is about 300 meters and the wall is clearly divided by a continuous crack. The climbing demands a lot of jamming and liebacking with good possibilities for protection. We freeclimbed six long pitches, the hardest one rated IX- (5.12b). The seventh pitch above the Cracked Bucket Ledge is mostly overhanging and the most difficult technical pitch on the route. David started this pitch, but after placing a couple of pitons in a shallow crack, he fell and ripped out some of the gear, cutting his face. Marek finished this ugly overhanging section and graded it A4. (After our experience on the El
Regalo de Mwomci route on the Central Tower of Paine [see page 272], we had to downrate the most difficult technical pitch on Amin Brakk to A3.)
Above the overhangs is a quite comfortable ledge, though not as good as the Cracked Bucket Ledge below. We found a broken A5 portaledge, so the name of this place was pretty clear. A tricky greasy crack that led from the ledge took us almost half a day to climb. It was the 20th pitch; we had spent nine days to this point on the wall. We climbed five more pitches that day, mostly crack climbing, until an evening snow storm stopped us. It snowed during the night and the next morning the weather looked about the same. In spite of that, we decided to go for the summit. We took just the necessary gear, with sleeping bags and food for two days, and jumared to our highest point. We found the blue haulbag full of gear [at 5700m], but we didn’t use any of it.
The 26th pitch, climbed the day before, was the most difficult free climbing pitch on the route. Below the overhang, the thin crack gets greasy and loose; it’s overwhelming climbing at IX (5.12c) with just a little space and a little time for protecting. All the moves on this pitch were done free, but with rests. There was no time to try a redpoint attempt, but it would be possible. We did one more pitch and reached the high point of the South Koreans.
At this point it was already snowing hard and after two more pitches, the snowstorm became outrageous. The visibility lowered to eight or ten meters. We barely knew where to climb. A couple of meters of crawling in the snowy couloir took us to a rocky projection on the far south part of the west face. In the frozen snow, we dug a poor bivy site and spent one night—the longest one of all. It was snowing all the time but the next morning, the weather looked pretty stable.
It took us a short discussion to decide to continue. We started at about 5 a.m. With crampons on, we traversed a bit to the right and climbed up a long snowfield on the south side of the summit pyramid in 300 meters of mixed climbing. The gradient of the wall was up to 70 degrees. We didn’t use a single ice screw on this section. We reached the top on July 12 at 1 p.m. just between two snowstorms. There was unpleasant electrical tension up on a snowy bulge, which is actually the summit. Because of a poorly functioning altimeter, we did not get an accurate height. The visibility was pretty low, but it was clear that this bulge is the true summit. From the rocky outcrop, which is about 20 meters beneath the top, we rappelled down to the saddle from where we had started our push for the top that day. It took four 50- meter pitches to reach the traverse.
On the descent, there were a couple of tough moments (we left two 9mm ropes on pitch 29 because they got stuck), but at the end of the summit day we reached the camp at the broken portaledge. It was still snowing. The following day, the 13th of the climb, we rappelled down on the frozen fixed ropes. With the heavy pigs on the rope, it was more than an adventurous performance. During the descent, one of the Spanish climbers looked out of the portledge. It was Pep Masip. He was asking me something. I shouted “yes” to him, as I thought he was asking me if we had reached the top. Later on, I realized that he asked me if we were retreating as well. Anyway, we survived even this descent down the west face. Back on the ground, we named the route Czech Express (9 A3 70°).
Filip Silhan, Czech Republic