American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Karakoram, Baltoro Mustagh, Uli Biaho and Trango Groups, Uli Biaho Tower, North Face; Hainabrakk East Tower and Shipton Spire, Attempts

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Uli Biaho Tower, north face; Hainabrakk East Tower and Shipton Spire, attempts. From July 21 to 23 Slovakians Gabo Cmárik and Jozef “Dodo” Kopold made the first ascent of the north face of the spectacular 6,109m Uli Biaho Tower. They climbed the 1,900m route, named Drastis- sima, in a 54-hour roundtrip that involved hard, thin ice climbing rated VI/6. The pair used the dangerous 800m couloir originally climbed in 1979 by first ascensionists Bill Forrest, Ron Kauk, John Roskelly, and Kim Schmitz, before tackling the steep icy face right of the Americans’ east pillar. Prior to this, the two had climbed a prominent couloir to the left of the central pillar on 5,650m Hainabrakk East Tower, completing the 1,000m line, named Dolzag Dihedral (VI/6), to the east ridge. They attempted to continue to the summit but were stopped by a steep rock tower on the crest 300m below the top. An attempt on the unclimbed north face of 5,885m Shipton Spire was thwarted after 500m when Cmarik became ill from sunstroke. Kopold’s account appears earlier in the Journal. Cat’s Ears Spire, second ascent, partial new route. Eric DeCariaMichael Schaefer, and I planned to climb something on Uli Biaho, but on our first night during the approach, just two hours out from Askole, Michael became seriously ill. We first thought it was the usual sort of illness caused by contaminated food and decided the best thing was to continue at Michael’s pace.

After 15 miles in nearly as many hours we arrived at Jola, the first of two stages on our route to Trango base camp. The next morning Michael was feeling a little better, so we decided to continue. Again moving at Michael’s pace, we pushed on to Paju, where we rested for a day so Michael could regain strength before we moved up to base camp.

Two days later we were on our way again and eventually reached base camp, ate dinner, and went to sleep. At 1:30 a.m., 12 hours after our arrival, Michael came to my tent in significant respiratory distress. After contacting a doctor in the United States by satellite phone, we decided to stay put and hope that Michael would recover, now that we were in a cleaner mountain environment. It was to no avail; 48 hours after our arrival I was on the phone again, speaking with the Pakistani Army and initiating a helicopter evacuation. There was no avoiding the fact that Michael was extremely sick. By 3 p.m. of our third day on the Trango Glacier, two Puma helicopters arrived, and I handed Michael off to a Pakistani Army crew. An overwhelming sense of sadness came over me; I knew Michael was going to miss out on the adventure of a lifetime. As it turned out, the decision to evacuate him was a good one. His x-rays upon arrival in Skardu showed one lung nearly full of fluid and the other on its way. This was most likely due to a bacterial infection exacerbated by the altitude.

Given our position and the prevailing good weather, it seemed a good idea to climb what was closest, so by noon the next day Eric and I were five pitches up Cat’s Ears Spire. To climb as fast as possible, we left behind sleeping bags and brought little more than two Clif bars and one packet of noodles per person per day. We led in blocks of three or four pitches, with the second jumaring while carrying the pack.

The first night saw us in a small cave 12 pitches up. The pitches we climbed that day were independent of the route taken by the first ascensionists [Americans Jonny Copp and Mike Pennings in 2000 via the 1,000m route Freebird, VI 5.11d Al]. We’d encountered difficulties up to 5.11+ on serious terrain. As we eased into our bivouac that night, we gazed across the valley at Great Trango and Trango Tower, thinking that for a rock climber, this must be one of the most spectacular views in the world.

On the morning of the second day Eric and I crossed from the top of the first buttress to the base of the main wall and spent several hours trying to find a new line. However, our options were limited. In order to climb the wall above in the style we wanted, i.e., no bolts or pins and as free as possible, we unknowingly found ourselves on the first ascent route. Eric led off on difficult run-out terrain, free-climbing his entire first block. I took the lead a few pitches later. The climbing was wide, burly, sustained, and at times loose, leaving me with what I call “that A5 feeling.” On July 30, after two and a half days of climbing, we found ourselves on the needle-like summit of Cat's Ears Spire (ca 5,550m) in a snowstorm. We each led and down- climbed the tiny summit block, becoming the second team to stand on it. We called our partial new route, which had 23 pitches, Super Cat of the Karakoram (1,000m, VI 5.11+R Al).

This expedition was supported by an AAC Lyman Spitzer Grant.

Micah Dash, AAC

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