Great Trango Tower and Trango Nameless Tower, Attempts. During July and August, Miles Smart and I spent almost 50 days camped atop a lateral moraine on the Trango Glacier. We departed the U.S. on June 24 and arrived in Pakistan two days later. After a week of rummaging through the seething markets and racing streets of Rawalpindi and listening to the bureaucratic loop tape of Islamabad, we headed north to Skardu. Two jeeps carried us to the first of two natural roadblocks on the way to Askoli, forcing us to porter our loads past a river- ravaged section of the road and across a raging creek. (The jeep travel was perhaps the most dangerous part of our trip.) We chose our porters while a police official wildly swung a stick to drive the extremely eager porters away. Three days later, we were at base camp. We camped at the toe of our intended line of ascent: the southwest ridge of Great Trango Tower. The weather was unusually unstable this season and provided three distinct weather windows, one of five days and two of three days.
We established a high camp at the col between Great Trango Tower and Trango Nameless Tower. We climbed the snow and ice (up to 80°) that leads to the west summit of Great Trango Tower in a 14-hour push as part of our acclimatization plan.
The southwest ridge was originally attempted in 1990 by a Spanish team of five that relied on fixed ropes and established high camps (high on the route we found disappointing amounts of trash and fixed ropes). We decided to begin our attempt several systems to the east of the original line to avoid the initial aid pitches. Our first attempt ended with a forced bivy at 18,000 feet after we had climbed for 12 hours through 4,000 feet of 4th class to 5.10. The climbing was over very mixed terrain with mostly solid rock. We descended for 12 hours the following morning, soaked, muddy, and eager for a cup of hot chai.
On our next and final attempt we decided to alter our style of ascent. Considering the likelihood of weather forcing us down, we opted to bring extra food and an I-tent that required the fatal employment of a haul bag. Hauling cost us the time and energy that were requisite for success in this season’s weather patterns. We spent five days reaching our high point, which was about 300 meters below the west summit. As Miles was leading the splitter cracks at the top of the final headwall, the snow began to blow. It would not cease precipitating for more than 15 minutes in the next 48 hours.
The following morning we awoke to fresh and falling Himalayan powder. We began a series of over 40 rappels and reached base camp, completely exhausted and frayed, 17-plus hours later. I personally vowed to never again compromise my original objectives, which explicitly prohibited the suffering inflicted by the service of a “pig.”
We then attempted a one-day, single-push climb of Trango Nameless Tower via Eternal Flame. We began from the col at 5:30 a.m.; after 12 hours of climbing, we were within six pitches of the summit. After discussing the complications that can arise from cold, altitude, and an ill-equipped forced bivy, we decided to descend to base camp.
Three days later we blasted from the col for another try on Eternal Flame. We began at 3 a.m. to give us a jump-start on the six pitches with which we were not familiar. Two pitches below our high point, three pitches into my second “leader’s block,” the hand of Allah came to catch me and then subsequently thwack me into the wall. I fell over 100 feet after short fixing the rope and blowing out a fixed nut from our previous ascent. The prophetic name given by the first ascent party to the pitch that I whipped from was “I believe it’s meant to be.” We had been climbing for eight hours when the accident occurred.
Miles lowered me from 19,000 feet to the Shoulder Camp, where we were met by Mario Oñate and Armando Datolli from Mexico City, Mexico. They were in the process of declaring “chisponbanda” (“Let’s get out of here”) and were on the Shoulder collecting their gear. They assisted us down the remaining ten pitches of fixed ropes and in the process taught me some more Spanish: “cerca la bala” (“close to the bullet”).
*Recipient, with Miles Smart, of an AAC Lyman Spitzer Climbing Grant