Solu Towers, attempt; Female Peak (Peak 5,290m), first ascent. The objective of this expedition was to climb one of the Solu Towers (ca 6,000m), situated above Snow Lake in the glacial heart of the Karakoram. The expedition included six women between the ages of 22 and 30, members of a group selected and trained by the French Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (FFME): Sara Bertholet, Marine Clarys, Fanny Devillaz, Fleur Fouque, Marion Poitevin, and Karine Ruby. This group was accompanied by two guides, Gael Bouquet des Chaux and I.
Upon arriving in Skardu on September 8, we were surprised to see snow covering the mid-elevation summits that dominate the great plain of the Indus. It was abnormally cold for the season, and the weather was gray. From September 10-14, we climbed 60km along the Biafo Glacier to Snow Lake and made our base camp at 4,750m at the base of the Solu Towers.
There are five Solu Towers, the highest topping out at 6,063m. The base of the walls is at about 5,100m. The faces are very steep, and the granite is compact. The arêtes are razor-sharp. The northern aspects are choked with ice and seracs. Only the middle tower (Tower 3,5,979m) presents a weakness, and it was climbed in 1987 by Stephen Venables, solo. Nice work! [Editors note: Earlier the same year, Venables and Duncan Tunstall climbed the south summit of the same tower. ]
We spotted two possible lines: the southeast spur of Tower 2, which presented a 50°, 300m snow slope, then a 200m step of vertical granite, followed by arêtes with numerous rock steps caked in snow and ice. The other line was an ice gully between Towers 3 and 4, from which we hoped to climb Tower 4. The day after our arrival at base camp, we split into two groups, each carrying gear to the bases of these lines and fixing ropes across the bergschrunds. However, the forecast announced the arrival of a huge storm in 24 hours. There was just enough time for one team to climb 600m up the gully between Towers 3 and 4.
The storm beat down on our base camp for two days, dumping a meter of snow. After this the walls were in really bad condition. We made the best of three days of variable weather (clear in the morning, snow in the afternoon) to climb a 5,290m summit north of the Solu Towers and southeast of Hispar Pass. This is a magnificent prow jutting out above the plateau of Snow Lake, offering a fantastic view of the entire massif. The route, on the northeast face, was mixed, made more difficult by the new snow. The entire team made the summit, which we named Female Peak, on September 21.
The next day a new storm began, dumping more than two meters of snow over three days. We abandoned all thoughts of climbing and pondered our retreat to Askole, which seemed very far away in these conditions. Our cook suggested that we abandon our gear and return for it next summer! Over three days we established a route along the glacier for more than 20km for the porters to follow, since crevasses had been covered by fragile snowbridges. We met the porters on September 27, and some of them went all the way to Snow Lake to recover the remaining gear at base camp. By the end of the month we all were in Askole, where we stayed four days and established a five-pitch rock climb (6b) above the meadow. The men from Askole had blast climbing it.
Pierre Neyret, France (translated by Todd Miller)