American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Baltoro Muztagh, Trango Group,Trango II (6,327m), Southwest Ridge (Severance Ridge), Not to Summit

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2006

Trango II (6,327m), southwest ridge (Severance Ridge), not to summit. Trango II is the major snow-capped peak immediately north of Trango Tower and Trango Monk. Between August 15 and 19 Jonathon Clearwater (New Zealand), Samuel Johnson (U.S.), and I (Canada) made the first ascent of a 1,600m-high ridge on its southwest side, naming it Severance Ridge. Despite taking only enough food for three days, we spent five on the climb, being battered by stormy weather much of the time. The route offers quality climbing on orange granite with splitter cracks, all in a fine place. It was the hardest, most spectacular climb in any of our alpine careers.

The route began on a steep, smooth rock face just half an hour’s walk north of Trango base camp. On the first day we worked our way up this 900m face, encountering over a dozen sustained 5.9 to 5.11 pitches. The crux two pitches involved run-out stemming in a tight corner, then underclinging beneath a steep arch before surmounting a roof. We finished the day by traversing a long knife-edge atop the smooth rock face.

On the second morning we soloed an ice/mixed gully and, as a storm moved in, climbed simultaneously up moderate rock on a steeply ascending ridge. By noon we had reached the base of a steep headwall, where we found a sheltered bivouac. The head wall, dubbed “the Shield,” is a particularly blank feature, save for a perfect hand crack up its center. However, the crack narrows, then disappears, at half-height, requiring thin aid and an aggressive pendulum. With only blankness above, we aided left, exiting the face of the Shield to arrive at an exposed hanging belay, just as a raging storm began. After nearly opting for retreat, we painstakingly aided a 40m pitch, best described as a “flaring off-width garden,” using an ice tool for excavation. At its top the crack became a parallel, clean offwidth, requiring a single tipped-out cam as a nerve-wracking moving point of aid. Climbing into the night, we finished the Shield with a pitch of burly and sustained fist cracks.

Wed anticipated that the final ridge would go smoothly but instead found the terrain to be complex and challenging. After a storm on the third night, we began climbing along the narrow ridge above. Yet another storm moved in. We soon came to a series of gendarmes that forced us onto the left side of the crest. Every pitch involved traversing flaring, thin crack systems at sustained 5.10. Overtaken yet again by nightfall, Sam attempted to lead a difficult pitch with poor protection, almost taking a huge pendulum before wisely retreating. We rappelled 60m into an adjacent gully and bivouacked. Having not eaten all day, we had trouble staying warm that night.

On our fifth and final morning we climbed several ice and mixed pitches up the gully to reach the end of the knife-edge, where it met the summit snow slopes. Exhausted but elated, we traversed these slopes and started our descent immediately, without visiting the summit. [The team traversed 150m below the summit to reach the south ridge—Ed.] We downclimbed the ridge, then made six rappels below Trango Monk to reach the Trango Tower approach gully, descending this to the valley floor. We rate Severance Ridge VI5.11 A2 AI 3 M5; it had 63 pitches.

This trip was funded in part by grants from the American Alpine Club (Lyman Spitzer Award), The Mount Everest Foundation, and the New Zealand Alpine Club.

Jeremy Frimer, Vancouver, Canada

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