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Asia, Pakistan, Karakorma, Panmah Muztagh, Trango Tower (6251 m), Almost-Free Ascent of Eternal Flame

Trango Tower (6,251m), almost-free ascent of Eternal Flame. This spring, Toni met Kurt Albert, who told him about his route, Eternal Flame, on the south face of Trango Tower and the possibility of free climbing it. The result was that three months later Toni, Nicolas, and I were in the Big Wall Valley of Eden that is Trango. On July 23 we reached base camp on the Trango glacier at 4,000m. Some expeditions had nearly finished. The tower was exactly like we dreamed, and our motivation began to increase.

From July 24 to 28 we carried all our gear to the base of the route. We also started to experience altitude sickness, so we realized we must take time to acclimatize. After two days, one day to climb, one to haul all our gear (120kg), we established Camp 2 on the shoulder at 5,400m. The next two days we climbed 14 pitches of Eternal Flame. The route is almost entirely a hand or finger crack. The cracks were nearly free from ice and the temperature was quite agreeable. To describe the climb: take all your best granite climbing and put it on one route. It’s incredible; perfect and clean. We fixed ropes (ca 500 meters) as far as two hard pitches, then had to wait for four days of poor weather to clear before we could climb again. The temperature was now very cold but by the afternoon of August 7 we reached the summit. It was the first time any of us has visited the Himalaya/Karakoram and we stayed for an hour, dreaming in front of the giant peaks; K2, Broad Peak, Gl, and G4.

After a rest day we went back up the route in poor weather to look at the two famous crux pitches. On our previous summit day we had climbed these two pitches using aid and they seemed very thin and blind. We tried the moves and—oh!, what a surprise—it’s possible to climb them free. Unfortunately, we had to wait as it snowed everyday and the wall turned white. On the 13th we tried to climb, once more jumaring back up 500 meters of rope. The weather was snowy and windy, and made it almost impossible to climb such difficult moves; the shoes don’t adhere, and the hands.…

August 14 had to be our last day on the wall. The porters would arrive the following day and we had to take down all our gear. Although the weather was very unstable, it was at least a bit warmer. High on the face the rock was dry. I tried the 16th pitch first and it went at 7c (5.12d). Then the snow started to fall so I spent my first attempt on the 15th pitch finding new holds that would be good enough to use in the prevailing weather. My motivation was at its maximum; it was now or never. My last try was a good one (7c/7c+, 5.13a) and the pitch was now free.

With the weather conditions as they were, we needed 17 days on the wall to make an almost free ascent of the route. There still remains one aid pitch on a blank wall to challenge future parties. But this was a wonderful climb and my congratulations to the first ascensionists. [Editor’s note: the team did not free climb pitch 10, which has a 15-meter section of blank granite with a bolt ladder. It appears to be unclimbable without aid, though the Swiss believe it might be possible to bypass this section via a two-pitch variation to the right.]

Eternal Flame (1,000m, 7b+ and A2, Albert-Güllich-Stiegler-Sykora, 1989). An almost free ascent was made by Denis Burdet and Nicolas Zambetti, both of Switzerland, and Toni Arbones of Spain. Access to The Shoulder via the Slovenian Route [Note: this avoids the original start climbed by the Germans, which requires an approach up a dangerously stone-swept couloir above the Dunge Glacier] gave nine pitches to 7a+ (5.12a). Eternal Flame above the Shoulder gave 22 pitches, 7c/7c+ (5.13a) max with one bolt ladder. The climbing was sustained 7a (5.12a) to 7b (5.12c) on 16 pitches and the two crux free pitches (15 and 16) are above 6,000m. The total length was 31 pitches.

Denis Burdet, Switzerland