American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Baltoro Muztagh, Trango Group, Trango Pulpit, Northeast Face, Azazel

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Trango Pulpit, northeast face, Azazel. The spirit of Xaver Bongard is still alive. Grand Voyage remains the ultimate, unrepeated route on Great Trango (6,286m). The steepest flank of the Trango group is the side overlooking the Dunge glacier and our goal was to be a repeat of Grand Voyage. Martial (Cochonette) Dumas, Jean-Yves (Blutch) Fredriksen, and Yann (Mimouse) Mimet, all French, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: to fly from the top of Great Trango while they lowered the sacks and stripped the route.

When we arrived at base camp on the Dunge glacier, the reality we were face-to-face with was different from our dream. Heavy snowfalls in late spring had resulted in bad conditions, even at only 6,000m. Ali Baba, the couloir you climb to reach the base of Grand Voyage was continuously swept by avalanches, even at night. The risk seemed far too great. We changed our objective to Trango Pulpit (6,050m), a prominent shoulder on the long southeast ridge of Great Trango. There was an obvious unclimbed 1,500m line left of the Norwegian route. The first section would ascend a yellow wall that we could approach from the left, the second ascend the prow above.

Our “lightweight” expedition suddenly had more than 400kg to take on the wall: food for 15 days; two portaledges, nine “pigs,” and a water drum. We also had 500m of rope and 27 bolts. Except for bolts, we left nothing on the mountain.

It took four days to bring all the loads to Camp 1, via a snow couloir and a mixed-terrain ridge. After a few days’ rest we began our slow ascent in capsule style. The lower wall turned out to be much harder than expected, with first-class aid climbing on mostly beaks, hooks, and expanding flakes. The sky was a perfect blue for seven days, but the heat of the sun kept us from relaxing. Melting snow mushrooms near the top would fall and smash into the upper wall. We suspended Camp 2 below a massive roof—“the Bunker.” Above, we were forced to climb at night to avoid the “blitz” and safely reach the left edge of the big inclined hanging-glacier/snow-ice shelf at two-thirds height above the glacier. We established Camp 3 on the shelf at 2:00 a.m. after two nights’ work.

Starting the upper wall involved two pitches in the fall-line of “Moby Dick,” the name we gave to a huge cornice overhanging our route. On my first attempt, in daylight, there was a loud explosion: Moby Dick’s fins had broken off. Down they came, with pieces smashing into the camp and me. I got off lightly with a big fright, but it became obvious we had to move our camp lower down the shelf, where we could dig into the snow. We would also have to continue up the next few pitches at night.

The weather turned bad, and we had to sit out four days in the portaledges. Eventually, in far from perfect conditions, we pushed on. Jumaring icy ropes and hauling the bags through stormy weather was a real pain, but after a mixed pitch and some loose rock, we were able to hang Camp 4. With Moby Dick now some meters to our left, Martial spent five hours climbing the dihedral above camp, mostly through a sweet snow storm. I fixed another pitch to a black roof full of stalactites. Next day was our 16th on the face, and the weather was not bad, just misty. Mimouse radioed from the pitch above, “Sam, I think I’ve found a possible jump site.”

The weather improved, and there were only three pitches left to the top of the wall. However, for the BASE jump it was probably now or never. I checked the fall line and decided to use my winged suit I’d spent the last 10 days thinking about whether I would clear the big snow shelf at 5,300m while still flying or have to open the canopy beforehand. I knew my flying profile would be seriously reduced at this altitude, and I’d resemble a tiny bird. I cleaned a small ledge for my feet, unclipped from the last Camalot, and, “three, two, one,” jumped into the misty air.

I passed close to the first big ledge 40m below and then worked slightly right in an attempt to target the steepest icy gully descending from the snow shelf, just in case. Finally my wings began to work, and I could move left toward Ali Baba. Seracs passed close by for 45 seconds, till I opened the canopy and landed on Ali Baba's avalanche cone. I was there, with thanks to the team above.

The following day, July 8, feeling a bit sad and without food, my three friends set off for the summit. It was still misty, and at the top of the wall, in a whiteout, they decided to forego the narrow corniced ridge leading to the summit. The descent took two full days, with a night at Camp 2 below “the Bunker.” The three had spent 19 days on the wall by the time they returned to base camp.

Our new route, Azazel (1,500m, 300m approach, snow/ice/mixed and moves of 5/5+ to gain Camp 1, then 26 pitches at VII A3+ M6 WI4 6a), lies between the southeast ridge (More Czech, less Slovak; Dutka-Rinn-Weisser, 1999) and the northeast face (Norwegian Direct; Casperson-Karlsen-Skjerven-Wold, 1999).

Sam Beaugey, France

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