Khunyang Chhish East (ca 7400m), Southwest Face Attempt
Pakistan, Karakoram, Hispar Muztagh
The Polish Khunyang Chhish East Expedition comprised Janusz Golab, Stanislaw Piecuch, and myself, Grzegorz Skorek. On July 31 we started our first acclimatization climb on the 6,500m Ice Cake Peak (on the south ridge of Khunyang Chhish). We spent the night at 6,200m. Next day we climbed to 6,300m and descended to the base camp. The weather was very hot and even at 6,300m we only needed to wear polar T-shirts. The snow was very heavy and the climb was very hard work. On August 5 we made a second acclimatization climb and reached the summit of Ice Cake. We spent a night on the top. This time the climbing was easier and faster. We decided that after a few days rest we will start climbing our main objective, Khunyang Chhish East via the 2,500m, beautiful and steep southwest wall.
Unfortunately, the day we decided to start up the face the weather changed for the worse and stayed bad to August 15. After 10 days of rain and snow the weather improved and we decided to make a “last chance attempt.” We started late in the afternoon because of avalanche danger and high temperatures, which precluded climbing on lower, icy part of the wall during the day. We climbed from 5 p.m. (on the 15th) to 4 a.m. (on the 16th). We climbed over 1,000 meters up the ice field (70° maximum). In order to climb faster we did not belay. We cut out a snow ledge at 4 a.m. and made a 1-1/2 hour bivouac. At 5:30 a.m. we started climbing again. We had to force a steep mixed section. I led very hard pitch (M7) but it was on very thin ice and completely without proper protection. Consequently, it took me 2-1/2 hours. Next pitch was much easier but I climbed only 30 meters because of the snow. It was terrible. We were now at an attitude of ca 6,000m and we couldn’t climb because of the sun. The snow was too heavy to make even three or four steps. We had to wait until 5 p.m. to resume climbing again at night. This time the terrain was harder and we had to belay. The climbing became slower. We made our next bivouac at 6,300m.
Next day we started climbing early in the morning and reached an altitude of 6,700m by the afternoon. However, it was still too warm. The snow was heavy and we were now very tired after two nights of climbing. At 6,700m we made our third bivouac. Next morning the weather changed for the worse once again and we decided to go down. It wasn’t easy because we had only 25 hooks and 10 ice screws. We had to rappel from one-hook belays. Fortunately, we reached the bottom of the wall without any falls.
Next morning we reached base camp. Our decision to retreat was correct as by now it was beginning to snow heavily. Soon there was over half-a-meter of fresh snow and this was the first time during our expedition that it had snowed in base camp.
In our opinion the south west face of Khunyang Chhish East is as big and hard as, for example, the north face of Jannu in Nepal. It is really one of the Karakoram’s great climbing challenges.
Grzegorz Skorek, Poland