American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Trango Valley, First Ascent of The Flame, New Route on Shipton Spire

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Trango Valley, first ascent of The Flame, new route on Shipton Spire. In August Josh Wharton and I, hailing from Colorado, put up two new routes in the Trango Valley of Pakistan. Following a 40-day stint of rain, broken up by two clear days to relieve the monotony, splitter weather arrived. We climbed the Flame in blocks. Once we gained the ridge, a 600-foot pitch up straightforward but avalanche-prone snow and ice brought us to the base of the pillar for which The Flame is named. Wharton led the summit pitch with a 160-foot runout of 5.10 slab climbing. With no cracks on top, Wharton slung its rounded summit and drilled the second hole of the route while I jugged to the top of Under Fire (VI 5.10+X A3 M5 AI4). The route took 18 hours tent to tent, and brought us to an untouched summit 20,700' above sea level. (See “The Flame,” in this Journal, for a more complete story.) (Note: three Austrians attempted the Flame in 2001. We have no details of their attempt other than their names: Herbert Kobler, Tony Neudorfer, and Norbett Reizelsdorfer.)

After a rest day at Shipton base the weather was still good and we made the jaunt to Shipton Spire in the hope of finding a new line left of the skyline visible from base camp. Three hours later, we were heading up block style. The second jugged with a pack with two sleeping bags, some water, a handful of energy bars, and two cans of sardines, topped off by a pair of down jackets and waterproof tops. The first day ended on a large ledge, The Hotel California, more than halfway up the wall.

After an energy bar each for breakfast we continued up, with only one major routefinding mistake, which necessitated the only bolt hole of the climb—for a retreat off the middle of a blank face. Following a great deal of excellent free climbing, with only one section of aid to free a wet roof, we reached the summit at about 8 p.m., and began the rappels—which we finished the next morning after a second night spent at The Hotel California.

We named the route The Kanadahn Buttress (VI, 5.11X Al, steep snow) which means “The Family Buttress” after our families who supported our decision to travel to a post-9/11 Pakistan in the midst of the nuclear crisis.

Brian McMahon

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