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Asia, Pakistan, Nangma Valley, Denbor Brakk, Bloody Mary, Mostly Free Ascent; Zang Brakk, Welcome to Crackistan

Denbor Brakk, Bloody Mary, mostly free ascent; Zang Brakk, Welcome to Crackistan. Seeking free-climbable routes in the rock spire wonderland of the Nangma Valley, we first examined the left side of Shingu Charpa’s east face, but when poor weather made free climbing unlikely we turned our attention to lower, steeper walls that would hold less snow. We hoped to warm up and acclimatize with a three-day free-climbing attempt on the slabby left-hand side of Zang Brakk (4,800m), but a stream swollen with glacial runoff proved uncrossable, so we focused our binoculars on the closer Denbor Brakk (4,800m).

After scoping the southwest face we chose to attempt the Czech route Bloody Mary (Jonak-Satava, 2004), which already had free pitches up to UIAA IX- (5.12c). We repeated the 500m climb in a seven-day capsule-style ascent. Of the route’s two aid pitches, the first (A1) went on natural gear at E6 6b (5.12c), just left of the original offwidth roof; the other (A2) we freed on top-rope at 5.12d, initially somewhat right of the knifeblade aid line. Although we did not want to add bolts to an existing aid pitch without the consent of the first ascensionists, John feels the addition of two more bolts to the pitch would be in keeping with the nature of the other hard pitches, and would make the climb one of the best, hardest, and most varied free lines in the region.

We then returned to Zang Brakk, looking for a free-climbable line up the southeast pillar. An Austrian team had free-climbed to half-height at 5.12d (now thought to be 5.12c), before running into blind seams. By opting for a variant line and climbing two pitches of E6/7 (5.12d), we onsighted all-free almost to the top of the pillar. However, hampered by five days of unsettled, snowy weather, we ran completely out of food and water, and thus did not have time to free the crux pitch, which we had aided on tiny knifeblades and beaks at A3. John worked the moves on top-rope and said the pitch would likely go free at around E7 6b (5.13b), and might need a bolt or two for protection. We pressed on to the summit on day nine. As nearly all of the 500m route’s 17 pitches involve hard crack climbing (including six pitches of 5.12), Welcome to Crackistan must rank as one of the most continuously hard jamming routes on any big wall, and now awaits a completely free ascent.

Anne and John Arran, UK