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Asia, China, Karakoram, Gasherbrum II, North Face, First North-South Crossing of the Mountain, Alpine-style

Gasherbrum II, north face, first north-south crossing of the mountain, alpine style. We left Italy for Pakistan in early June, reaching Islamabad and then Kashgar, China in the following days. After waiting two days for the trucks coming from the Karakoram Highway, which had been blocked

by a landslide, we left for Ilik, the last village reachable by motor vehicles. Two or three days later, crossing the storied Aghil Pass, we entered the wild Shaksgam Valley with our caravan of camels. In a further three days of trekking we reached the Gasherbrum North Glacier and then spent two weeks crossing the glacier and attempting to find a good location the base camp, and also a route for the camels carrying our equipment. On June 24 advanced base camp was finally set up, and we were all in our tents.

Trying to take advantage of the good weather, Karl, Michele, and Spaniards Mikel Zabalza, Josu Bereziartua, and Juan Vallejo (the “Al filo de lo Imposible” team) inspected the mountain, finding two climbing lines. The Spaniards wanted to retrace and complete the path of Kari Kobler’s 2006 Swiss expedition along the east ridge, while we decided to try the northern spur that rises vertically to GII’s summit: an absolutely elegant line noted in 1983 by Agostino Da Polenza and Kurt Diemberger.

To reach the spur, which rises above an icy plateau at about 5,800m, we climbed a 1,000m rock pillar (UIAA 5+, 6) next to huge collapsing overhanging seracs. This is the only place where we put fixed ropes, but we considered this pillar part of the approach, not part of the climb, which begins at the plateau. Within a few days we overcame the pillar and placed an advanced camp on the upper plateau. The weather had been unstable since the beginning of July, and we spent weeks in acclimatizing climbs on the surrounding peaks, waiting for a better weather forecast from our contacts in Innsbruck. These climbs also allowed us to assess our climbing line from various points of view, confirming that climbing the spur in alpine style would be possible. On July 18 we learned that a brief good-weather window was coming, and we went quickly up to the advanced camp. The next day we climbed for over 12 hours on the spur to an “eagle’s nest” at about 6,900m, where we put the bivouac tent. The route so far had been exposed and mixed, predominantly on ice slopes of 50° to 70°. The wall was dangerous because of seracs and threatening avalanches, which sometimes fell only a few hours after we passed. On July 20 we decided to leave before dawn, but when we glanced out of the tent, the sky was overcast, and the wind cut our faces. So we waited, trusting in a forecast that said the weather should be good for a day and a half. We started climbing at 9 a.m.; fortunately, the wall here was less exposed to the seracs, even if it was increasingly steep.

Karl and I were worried for Michele, who had been unable to drink and eat anything for two days. We were together when we left the spur, at about 7,500m. Then Karl and I headed toward the top while Michele followed more slowly. From this point the snow was harder, and the wind finally eased. At 8 p.m. we arrived on top—8,035m. But we weren’t finished yet. We decided not to return down the ascent route, as it was too dangerous. We preferred the Pakistani side, even though it was loaded with deep snow and unclimbed this season.

After phone and radio calls with home and with Juan Carlos Tamayo at base camp, where the Spaniards had returned after failing on the northeast ridge, we called Michele. He had reached 7,850m, but it was late, and we decided to meet him on the col between GII and GIII. So we didn’t take the normal route, but descended from the west ridge to about 7,500m. In the dark we met Michele and together started down under the light of a few stars. We traversed the south face in deep snow searching for the normal route. We got it but suddenly lost it again, entering a couloir that led to the edge of a huge serac. At about midnight we biviede without tents at about 7,000m. In the morning, with a series of rappels and traverses, we reached the normal route and then Camp 3, strangely deserted. Later we learned that the mountain had been abandoned because of an avalanche that a few days earlier had claimed victims near Camp 2.

People were waiting for us at Camp 1. After a refreshing break, we left for base camp. Just above there we met Italian friends who welcomed us with “luxury goods.” Special thanks to the Ev-K2 Cnr Committee, Autogrill, Mico Sport, and Montagna.org.

Daniele Bernasconi, Italy