HAR Pinnacle, Corn Beef Chili Pasta à la Wahab; Pt. 5,500m, G-Strings and Plastic Boots, not to summit; Latok I, north face and north ridge, attempts; Sus Galinas. On August 12 Louis- Philippe Menard and I set up base camp on the Choktoi Glacier, beside Damian and Willie Benegas, who were there for a third attempt on the often-tried north ridge of Latok I (7,145m). During the flight transfer in London British Airways lost one of our bags, which contained all of my partners essential equipment, including boots, gloves, and down jacket. Fortunately, in the Skardu bazaar we managed to buy some replacements, dating from the 1980s.
On the second day after our arrival we went for a route on HAR Pinnacle (5,600m), across the glacier from Latok I. The peak had been climbed once before, by the south ridge. [John Bouchard and Mark Richey made the ascent in 1997, by 300m of easy mixed gullies followed by 11 pitches of rock up to 5.10b. They estimated the altitude to be around 5,700m and named the summit after the initials of their three base camp staff.] After bivouacking at the base, we opted for a crack system that split the west face. We found nice climbing, with pitches up to 5.10 on good granite. There were splitter hand and finger cracks and a stellar view of Latok and the Biacherahi towers. After less than 12 hours we were back on the glacier, having completed Corn Beef Chili Pasta à la Wahab (600m, 5.10), named after the good meal our cook prepared when we returned to camp.
After three days of bad weather, we went for a mixed route on Pt. 5,500m, on the east ridge of Latok III. By the end of the day we were a few pitches below the summit ridge. Then it began to get epic. First a huge disk-shaped block missed one of us by a foot during a traverse. The thing was spinning vertically like a saw blade and could have easily cut someone in two. Three pitches later, with us in a steep groove, the slope below the col avalanched and passed right over L-P's head. It flushed twice again by the time we both reached the belay. That’s the advantage of steep terrain, even if it pulls on the arms. The next pitch was by far the worst we have climbed in the mountains: a one-meter roof of loose blocks with a waterfall at the lip. When we finally got over it, we were soaked but had finally reached the col. We started to downclimb immediately and returned to camp at 10 p.m., after zigzagging through a nightmare of an icefall. We missed the first ascent of the peak by 150m but got off alive. We decided to give the route a name, just for ourselves and to preserve the “good” memories, and not forgetting L-P’s new footwear: G-Strings and Plastic Boots (900m, M7).
On August 19 at 4 a.m. we left for our main goal: the north face of Latok I. Even as we were sticking the first ice pick over the bergschrund, we realized fragments of ice were falling down the wall, across its whole width. When we looked up, we were hit in the face. We managed four desperate pitches on steep unconsolidated slush and then called it a day. Seracs twice swept the base of the wall, and we ran down the approach slope with our tails between our legs.
It was obviously too warm to climb the face. With only two weeks left, our only chance to summit Latok I was to be the 26th team attempting to complete those final unclimbed meters of the north ridge. We wanted to climb alpine-style, without fixed ropes or jumars, but to do this we decided to climb the first 700m with fuel, food, and bivouac equipment, leave it at a comfortable site at 5,300m, then descend to base, rest, and climb back up with the remaining gear. There was no way we were going to climb 5.10 rock with 20+kg sacks on our backs. On the 26th the initial 700m rock section went smoothly, and we slept at 5,300m to improve our acclimatization.
We waited out continuous snowfall in base camp for two-and-a-half days before a good weather forecast, sent to the Benegas brothers from Argentina, allowed us to try again. The rock was covered with fresh snow, and we had to mixed-climb sections. We were forced to bivouac without sleeping bags 100m below our previous high point. The next day we reached it, dug out the gear, put up the tent, and slept.
Thirty-six hours later the terrain was buried under two meters of fresh snow. Seven hours later we regained the glacier and swam five kilometers to base camp. Just before the porters arrived we climbed an easy rock ridge above base camp. It was not a big route but was just what we needed to regain our spirits. We walked down the couloir to the right and were back in camp three hours after leaving. We called the route Sus Galinas (250m, 5.8), in memory of the Benegas brothers’ chickens, which almost got back to Askole after a months stay in base camp but eventually succumbed to our hunger. I thank the Mugs Stump Award and other sponsors for their support on our first Himalayan experience.
Maxime Turgeon, Canada