American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Karakoram, Panmah Muztagh, Peak 5,750m, the Outside Penguin; Latok II Attempts

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Peak 5,750m, the Outside Penguin; Latok II attempts. Backed by the AAC’s Lyman Spitzer Award and Mountain Equipment Co-op, our team had chosen as an objective the unclimbed feature under and southwest of Latok II (7,103m). We facetiously named this gargantuan gendarme “Latok 11¾” (ca 6,300–6,500m); its southwest face presents a large wall of near-vertical unclimbed granite. Because of nearly continuous bad weather, this normally rock-climbable objective was shrouded in verglas and powder, rendering it too full-on for the likes of us.

Ryan Hokanson and Sam Johnson made two attempts on Latok II’s northwest ridge, the first with Ken Glover. During their first try they climbed ice and mixed ground up to M7 (M6R) on the west face and then began a snow traverse to the ridge. They descended from 5,600m because of illness. On the second attempt, Hokanson and Johnson bypassed the mixed ground by simul-soloing a 900m ice ramp to reach a camp under a gendarme at 6,000m. They spent three nights here in a storm before descending amid dangerous avalanche conditions.

Ken Glover and I turned our attention to lower altitudes, and settled on Peak 5,750m, located two peaks down a ridge to the southwest of Latok II. Italians may have climbed the peak in 1977, and Americans Doug Chabot and Jack Tackle climbed it from the north in 2000. Its triangular south face rises 1,200m out of the talus-covered Baintha Lukpar Glacier and appears to have some of the best granite in the valley. On July 30, at the tail end of one of the few high-pressure systems of the season, we started up the rightmost of the twin buttresses with light alpine packs, carrying one sleeping bag, two down jackets, and a thin tarp as the extent of our bivy gear.

The face presented three steep headwalls. After an initial broken section, we reached the base of the first headwall, framed on its right by a ridge crest. By traversing two pitches, we reached the crest and followed it upward for a pitch before it stopped us at a blank overhang. A slab traverse right dropped us into a chimney, which we followed for three pitches to a sandy ledge atop the initial headwall. The second steep headwall loomed above. Searching for the line of weakness, we traversed two pitches to the right, where we climbed a ramp system before slipping behind a prow to find a hidden corner. Above the corner, moderate terrain led to a scree slope and a comfortable bivy.

Seven hundred meters up the face, we hoped for a quick, sunbathed dash for the summit the next day. Instead, threatening skies and false summits made for a blue-collar finish. After soloing up moderate terrain past false summits, we reached the base of the third and final headwall. A long, broken pitch led to a steep cirque where our streak of luck appeared to end. Ken scouted to the right, then wisely retreated from an unprotectable face. Next I tried the left prow, which appeared to be blocked by an overhanging wart of granite. By stemming past an ice-chocked corner, I reached the base of the wart, and here our luck returned. A moderate ramp led to a crux pitch that gave way to the wart’s top. Ken then led two mixed pitches with our one pair of crampons to reach the summit as snow began to fall.

Our first descent option, heading toward easy-looking gullies, appeared far more involved than we’d anticipated while scouting. Hence, we began rappelling our line of ascent; shortly thereafter, darkness and a powerful snowstorm descended upon us. At the first decent ledge we endured a miserable, sleepless bivy as the storm raged. On the third day, we continued rapping and downclimbing. We reached the base that afternoon in the pouring rain, after some 800m of rapping, overjoyed for having made the most of what the weather gods permitted: the Outside Penguin (1,200m, V 5.10 A1 M3).

Jeremy Frimer, Canada

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