During the months of June and July, Dave Anderson, Steph Davis, Brady Robinson, and I were given a special permit to explore and climb in the Kondus Valley of Pakistan’s eastern Karakoram. The Kondus Valley had been closed to foreigners for the past 18 years due to its proximity to Pakistan and India’s Line of Control. The valley borders the Siachen Glacier, where Pakistanis and Indians sit in stalemate waiting in outposts as high as 6500 meters.
We headed off to Pakistan feeling a bit nervous, as we had no clear objective and we were going into a war zone. When we arrived in Islamabad, we were briefed at the Ministry of Tourism. They warned us that our special permit was of no use if the military decided at any point to turn us around. Fortunately, we were able to recruit Brigadier Tahir to join our cause. Brigadier Tahir sent us along with a special escort who had direct orders to see us through to our base camp.
After the requisite days spent in Islamabad, on the Karakoram Highway, and in Skardu, we finally arrived in the Kondus Valley on June 23. Within a day, we had found our objective: a giant unnamed and unclimbed tower right off the road. We decided to take the obvious line that goes up the middle of the formation.
Before we got started, Dave and I had the pleasure of experiencing the traditional Pakistani quivering-like-jello, high-fever, gastrointestinal-mayhem condition. After a week, Dave and I eventually recovered and we all began the task of moving loads to the base of the wall. After fixing lines for a few days, we moved onto the wall.
The initial slabs were loose and dirty. Since there was no water on the route, we got to load up all the water for the next 12 days into dromedary bags and an improvised water barrel. We all enjoyed the hauling, particularly Dave, the team alpinist.
As the days moved on, we gained a giant dihedral we cleverly named the “Giant Dihedral.” This continuous dihedral arced up for 1,200 feet of mostly 5.10 to 5.11 climbing, the majority of it being fingers and hands.
After six days on the wall, we moved our camp up to a small leaning ledge we dubbed the “Emergency Room.” This was where Brady steri-stripped my eye after I did a faceplant falling off an easy aid pitch.
Highlights on the route included Steph’s burly onsight lead of a steep and dirty 40-meter 5.11 offwidth, Brady’s big- wall cragging sessions, and Dave’s loose 5.10 X pitch, the crux of which actually went to the belayer (me), who tried to belay while digging out as many knifeblades as possible and adding them to the chossy seam that held the rest of the anchor.
The final pitch was a fitting end to our route. The desert-tower-like finger stuck up in the air with a summit the size of a pool table. After ten days on the wall, we finished our route, All Quiet on the Eastern Front (VI 5.11 A3, 3500').
Of course, climbing was secondary on this trip. Our real goal for the expedition was to shoot AK-47s. On our way out of the valley, we were invited for a banquet at the military base camp in Dansam. Here our dreams were fulfilled, as the captain of the Special Forces allowed us to fire off a few rounds.
*Recipient of an AAC Mountaineering Fellowship Fund award and an AAC Lyman Spitzer Climbing Grant