American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Karakoram, Batura Muztagh, Beka Brakai Chhok, South Peak, First Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

Beka Brakai Chhok, south peak, first ascent. Last summer I traveled to the Baltar Glacier for the second time, hoping to complete the first ascent of Batura II (7,762m) with Hervé Barmasse. But I had not realized that a Korean expedition also would be on Batura II. We saw them, numerous and marching in single file, from the summit of Batokshi Peak (6,050m), which Hervé and I climbed in little more than nine hours from base camp at 4,107m during acclimatization. Without wanting to pass judgment on their large team and extensive use of fixed ropes, Hervé and I left them room to climb and started looking for a new objective to try, in alpine style and without external help.

Our eyes fell on the stupendous unclimbed pyramid, almost 7,000m high, called Beka Brakai Chhok. We knew there had been three attempts on it, the last two by Pat Deavoll from New Zealand. We would have liked to climb the central spur of the south face that Deavoll attempted in 2007 with Lydia Bradey, as this constitutes the most beautiful line, but the rock face in the middle concerned us because we were not able to determine its slope and difficulty. Instead, we decided on the longer and more complicated glacier on the left, followed by a long traverse along a very sharp ridge to reach the summit pyramid. Deavoll and Malcolm Bass had attempted this line a few weeks prior to our arrival at base camp; they reached 6,400m in a two-week round trip. We planned to climb purely alpine style and as quickly as possible to reduce the time (and thus the danger) on the mountain. For this we would carry only the bare minimum. No tent, no sleeping bag or bivouac sack, no mat, no stove—nearly nothing. Only liquid carbohydrates, nine ice screws, three pitons, a 60m rope, and a 6mm Dyneema cord, plus a few cara- biners. Each of us would carry a half-empty pack with a headlamp, a small down jacket, camera, and down mittens. That was it.

In good weather we started from the base of the mountain at 4,700m at 5 a.m. on July 31. We climbed without stopping for 16½ hours. At 6,000m we completed a difficult, exposed traverse for five ropelengths, which took five hours. When darkness arrived, we bivouacked at 6,500m under a serac. A night of chattering teeth, hugging, and trying to sleep followed. The next morning we burst forth in search of the first rays of sunlight to warm up our bones. The last 500m were demanding because of deep snow and stretches of rock and mixed—anything but banal, and frequently unprotectable. At the end, another sharp arête with fragile cornices and snow well beyond knee-deep forced us to make a final intense effort before touching the summit, which consisted of a disquieting meringue of snow. It was 3:30 p.m., and we enjoyed a breathtaking view, but we were only halfway through our work.

We descended past the bivouac site to the start of the long, delicate knife-edge we’d traversed the day before. We only had a few more hours of daylight, so we decided to descend straight down a logical but dangerous gully overhung by a gigantic serac. We did five doublerope rappels as quickly as possible, and then almost ran down the 1,500m that separated us from the frozen plateau at the base of the face. In total darkness and without my headlamp (accidentally dropped the day before), Hervé and I arrived at our little tent at the base of the route 43 hours after we left it. Though tired, we gathered all of our things and, assisted by our cook, who met us along the way, we continued to base camp. It was 2:30 a.m. when the hard work finally ended and we could fall asleep, finally in safety and having already lived through a dream.

Simone Moro, Italy (translated by Marina Heusch)

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.