American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Karakoram, Gasherbrum II East, First Ascent from China

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

Gasherbrum II East, first ascent from China. On June 12, after two days by jeep from Kashgar to Mazar, we started our approach to base camp with 40 camels. On some of the river crossings during our trek to the Gasherbrum Glacier, the water reached the bellies of the animals, and we became anxious about our return in July, when the rivers would probably be higher and more rapid.

After five days we reached a gorgeous place for base camp at 4,300m. We then continued for a further 18 tedious kilometers across glacier and moraine, to establish advanced base at 4,800m on the East Nakpo Glacier, a safe distance from the north face of Gasherbrum II (8,035m). Our aim was the “Magic Line,” the northeast pillar leading directly to the summit. However, after watching gigantic ice avalanches, emanating from large serac barriers on the right and left flanks of the pillar and sweeping the approach regularly, we looked elsewhere. We opted for an objectively safer spur on the left side of the face, leading to the crest of the east-southeast ridge. An unknown route of such length seemed hard to achieve alpine-style under prevailing conditions, so we established a second camp and fixed difficult passages.

The first section included a difficult snow mushroom that we had to bypass by rappel and a tricky traverse. Then came a huge bergschrund, crossed on partially frozen snow, and an extremely loose rock barrier: delicate mixed climbing on “vertical” scree for 65m. Above, the route to Camp 2 at 6,800m was largely an exhausting trudge up poor snow. After nine days of nonstop work in great weather, we had the camp well established, and Cedric Hählen and I, now sufficiently acclimatized, descended to base camp to prepare for a summit push. Stefan Siegrist and Ueli Steck wanted to capitalize on the good conditions and begin immediately, but they had to give up due to bad headaches.

Unsettled weather, more snowfall, one aborted attempt, and days of endless waiting chewed on our nerves. Six members decided against a further attempt, so there were only three of us: Ueli, Cedric, and I.

On July 8 we were again in Camp 1 and the following morning at 9:30 a.m. settled down for an obligatory coffee break at Camp 2. A little later all three of us broke trail to 7,100m and returned to camp. We slept from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., thanks to a shared Dormicum pill. Half an hour later we were panting behind Cedric, as he led up our previous tracks. The pockets of our down suits were filled with everything we needed; our packs stayed behind at camp. After one hour the tracks ended, and the hard work began. Cedric was ill and fell behind, so Ueli and I took turns pushing through snow up to our waists. Some of the 50° passages required huge motivation.

On reaching the main ridge we found perfect snow conditions—for powder skiing. We trudged slowly along the summit ridge toward the east top of Gasherbrum II, observing faraway lights in Pakistan. At sunrise we reached the last couloir. A second ice axe would have helped to calm our nerves on the 60° ice and névé, and the ski poles we carried were just in the way. At the top of the couloir Ueli and I had to wait almost an hour for Cedric. Despite illness, he had conserved his strength and followed us, and at 7 a.m. on July 10 take the last steps with us to the 7,772m summit. As the sun’s rays were already striking the avalanche-prone slopes ahead, we forewent the 300m descent and 500m ascent to Gasherbrum II. Two days later, after dismantling camps and fixed ropes, we were back at base camp, celebrating with Chinese beer our first ascent of this remote mountain face. Without support from the whole team, our ascent would not have been possible.

Hans Mitterer, Germany

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