Trango Tower, free ascent; Trango Monk, second ascent. After an unsuccessful expedition to the Trango group in 2004 with 26-year-old Matevž Kunšic, I decided to return to the wonderful people and mountains of Baltistan. Matevž and I were joined by the brothers Aleš (23) and Nejc (21) Cesen (the sons of Tomo Cesen) and with another five Slovenian climbers [see above] we hit the road to the best golden granite I have ever seen. Our goal was an alpine-style ascent of Trango Tower, but, more important, we wanted to climb it free.
From our first visit to the Karakoram we learned that the most stable weather is in September. On August 19, after four days in base camp, we summited Great Trango Tower (6,286m), for all of us our first peak above 6,000m. No one had problems, and the view was absolutely magnificent. As expected, it provided a great opportunity to check out the Slovenian route on Trango Tower. The next day we climbed Garda Peak (4,700m) via Karakoram Khush (300m, 6b A0), but the weather then became unstable for two weeks. We did shorter climbs above base camp and nice bouldering. On one of the sunny days the Cesen brothers repeated the American Route (250m, 5.9) on Little Trango (5,450m). [The first ascent of this tower was made in 2000 by McMahon and Wharton, who rated their route 5.10+.]
On September 7, after a few days of fine weather, we climbed onto the biggest rock needle in the world. It was cloudy and windy, but we managed to free climb, the second also following free with a seven-kilo rucksack, as not everything fit into our 70-liter haul bags. After nine pitches we reached the spacious Sun Terrace and met the three Slovenian girls climbing Eternal Flame. The next day we were graced with more sun, though it was still quite chilly. We had a great time jamming excellent 5.12 splitters and reached a good series of ledges at 5,900m. We had climbed 11 pitches and had a clear night, with a full moon rising from behind Gasher- brum IV. It was hard to believe our eyes.
On the 9th we continued up icy 5.11+ pitches before they melted. The best pitch of the day was a 50m, overhanging 5.11 crack with enormous jugs. It led to easier ground, and at 5:30 p.m. the four of us stood on top of the Tower. Ales and I had free-climbed every centimeter from the start. Although I felt happy standing on top, I was also sad, because I realized the best climbing of my life was over. We rappelled Eternal Flame, meeting the girls, who summited later that day. They joined us in the middle of the night on Sun Terrace, where we all bivouacked. In the morning we sat in the sun, drinking coffee and enjoying being tired. We climbed the Slovenian route (1,000m, 5.12), in alpine style, and the three girls had made an alpine-style ascent of Eternal Flame.
After three days rest we decided to repeat Trango Monk (5,850m). September 14 should have been a sunny day, but it was already cloudy and cold when we started at 7 a.m. Matevž was experiencing problems with one of his feet so did not join us. The first six pitches, mostly mixed, with lots of fresh snow, were led by Aleš in crampons.
I led the next four. There was a bit of sunshine and, wearing rock shoes, I found the 5.11 offwidth easier than what we had done, so was happy with my block. Nejc had the hardest job, leading through a strong wind into the cold darkness, to take us to the summit at 9 p.m. The descent was a horror story in the wind; ropes jammed many times, and we were lucky to save two 35m lengths from our two 60m ropes. It took us six hours to reach the ground and another two before we could drink hot tea in base camp.
MatjaŽ Jeran, Slovenia