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Asia, Pakistan, Baltoro Muztagh, Uli Biaho and Trango Groups, Cat's Ears, Epica Direct

Cat’s Ears, Epica Direct. In mid-August Cedar Wright and I realized a wild line that corkscrewed around the Cat’s Ears towers (ca 18,250'). We climbed in alpine style over two days from a high camp, with one nauseous, headachy shiver bivy 500' below the summit, and reached the unclimbed of the two “ears.”

The first day was characterized by two headwalls split by an 800' traverse along mixed snow, ice, and choss. During the simul-climb through choss-land I lost communication with Cedar and desperately called for a belay before committing to a section of frozen, overhanging talus. After the second headwall, we traversed another 400' to the third and final overhanging granite headwall. We were now on the backside of the tower, which was unnerving because of avalanches ripping off Hainabrakk 300' across the gully. As the sun set I led a nasty No. 4 Camalot groove and descended, wet, to a bivy ledge with not even enough room to man-spoon.

After a night without sleeping bags, our feet were lifeless blocks of ice, and the uncertainty about our line was overwhelming. The final 600' was the most difficult and dangerous part of the route, with huge pull- and-pray death blocks, overhanging off-widths, and tricky aid moves through awkward roofs. We both pulled out the full bag of tricks, making use of the entire rack, from No. 6 Camalot to No. 00 TCU. Cedar and I took turns climbing the final needlelike summit block. I think we both were misty-eyed after overcoming our doubts and reaching a tiny virgin summit in the middle of this awe-inspiring valley. Also on the summit was the skeleton of a raven, which had auspiciously made the true first ascent of the tower.

Descending our route meant reversing two huge and tricky traverses, now in a delirious dehydrated state. It’s not over until it’s over with this kind of climb, and one pitch before we touched down our ropes stuck. Cedar sucked it up and jumared the 6mm tagline, held in place by a mystery knot.

Our summit appeared to be the higher of the two Cat’s Ears, but I don’t consider our climb the first ascent of the formation. The other summit, the northeast ear, had been climbed twice, by lines totally different from ours. It’s a complex formation, and I would say we did the third ascent of the formation and the first to the southwest ear.

We named our climb the Epica Direct (V 5.11+ C2). Epica was the nickname of our good friend Erica Kutcher, who was buried in an icefall collapse just above Shipton base camp. Erica was one of the most promising female Yosemite climbers ever to roll through the scene. She earned the nickname Epica because she was never afraid to go for it and often the results were epic. I think Erica would appreciate the sarcastic “Direct” name for our route.

Renan Ozturk, Yosemite, California