Masherbrum attempt, Charakusa Valley exploration, Haji Brakk first ascent. With Slovenians, Marko Prezelj and Matic Jost, I arrived at base camp below Masherbrum (7,855m) on May 31, after experiencing a difficult approach due to winter snow. We put our camp on the Mandu Glacier at approximately 4,200m. Unfortunately, we eventually realized that to access Masherbrum s North Ridge we first had to get to the Yermanendu Glacier, even though our decision to site base camp on the Mandu was well-researched through discussions with the leader of a previous expedition to the mountain (R. Renzler, Austrian Expedition 1985). Due to different glacier conditions and an abundance of snow, we were to cross a small pass above base camp many times to get to and from the Yermanendu Glacier.
A few days after we arrived, Marko and I climbed a small 5,000m peak near base camp. Here we triggered a 30-40cm slab that ran down a steep couloir for ca 600 meters. We had been expecting a summer snow pack, but it turns out we were dealing with something different. Our next acclimatization foray was to ca 5,880m to the northwest of Biachedi, where we slept for two nights. Matic and I didn’t feel too well, but Marko continued upward, only to be forced back from 6,000m due to poor conditions. We descended to base camp in a blustery storm.
It was now time to inspect the north ridge. Above the col a snowy crest led to the start of the ridge itself. While breaking trail, I triggered another slide, which hit Prezelj below and swept him 80 meters down the slope. Fortunately, he was unscathed, but for the rest of the trip all snow climbing was belayed. Later the same day Prezelj triggered another slab, this time 30cm deep. He was able to run on top of it until it broke up and slid away below. The following day we arrived at a nasty avalanche-prone slope that we were simply not prepared to cross, and at that point any attempt on Masherbrum was abandoned until conditions improved. Sadly, during the next three weeks conditions failed to change.
The trek out proved to be mostly pleasant, as we took three extra days and explored the Charakusa and the Nangma Valleys, which promise fantastic climbing venues for future trips. When the Slovenians left, I made a solo expedition back to the Charakusa. This valley is home to K7 (one ascent, by Japanese in 1984) and K6 (7,246m), and the soon-to-be-famous rock towers of Fati Brakk, Farhoud Brakk, and Spanser Brakk. Spanser Brakk was the site of Croft and Anker’s 56-pitch, 5.11a ridge climb about four years ago. [For a photo see House’s feature article in this Journal.]
On July 31 I climbed a new route on an unnamed and unclimbed peak that I called Haji Brakk after my good friend and cook, Ghulam Rasool, who became Haji this past year. Haji is the title given to those Muslims who have made the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy sites in Mecca and Medina. My trekking permit required a cook/guide, and allowed me to climb any peaks up to 6,500m. Haji Brakk is approximately 5,985m according to my altimeter watch. I climbed a broad ice face leading to an ice-choked chimney system. I self-belayed a total of five pitches. The chimneys gave sustained climbing up to mixed 5.9. The pitches on the summit tower were 5.7 and 5.6 on beautiful alpine granite. The route (measured from bergschrund to summit) was 1,200m, and I ascended and descended the line in 19 hours.
I saw just one westerner the entire time (an American trekker). This valley is the most amazing alpine area I have ever seen. Those climbers who have been here tend to return (e.g. Conrad Anker, who did his first trip with Rowell and Croft, and then another with Robinson and Chin). The variety of objectives is unmatched. From rock towers to super-alpine objectives, there is something for everyone. Plus most of the peaks are under 6,500m, which means no permit fee and no liaison officer. As the valley is just a two-day walk from the end of the road, this is a very affordable Karakoram expedition. These climbs are further described in an article earlier in this Journal. I would like to thank the Mugs Stump Award for financial assistance on this trip.
Steve House, AAC