Matt McCormick - Pakistan

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Panic of suffocation hit me as I blindly batted away the frosted nylon of our bivy sack, sucking for oxygen. Having decided to bivy two thirds of the way up an unclimbed granite pillar in the Charakusa Valley of Pakistan, I was “warmly” squeezed between Pat and the granite wall on a ledge just wide enough for the two of us to lay sideways. Will lay curled up in his sleeping bag further down the ledge. It was only 11pm.

 

“Wipe that smile of your face, this is no laughing matter.” the border guard had said to Will as he crossed from Canada into the US. “Isn’t there anywhere else you can climb?” “Good to know you…” General reactions to our plans to travel to Pakistan were not positive. My previous year’s experience and that of every climber I know who has traveled to this country told me this was not the case. As I stepped out of the Islamabad baggage claim to a sea of foreign faces I was nearly blindsided by friend and trekking agent Ghulam Muhammad as he rushed to excitedly greet me. Similar greetings followed as we ran into familiar faces and new ones alike, all ecstatic at our arrival and eager to share their country with us.

A two day’s walk from the stone and mortar village of Hushe, the Charakusa Valley holds a diversity of climbing I wager is hard to find elsewhere in the world. From granite bouldering to massive unclimbed mixed faces, which dominate the landscape, the Charakusa holds several lifetimes of objectives both climbed and unclimbed. The southwest pillar of K7 West was our main objective and from my perspective is one of the most striking unclimbed alpine objectives in the world. Poor weather would plague our time in the valley with frequent rainstorms and snow and rime constantly accumulating on our intended line on huge granite face. Windows of good weather proved to be only 2-3 days long.


Pat and I took advantage of our first window by climbing the north ridge (British Route) on Naysser Brakk. One of the three immaculately cut ridges forming the pyramidal shape of Naysser, the North Ridge has become a classic of the valley and provided a good acclimatization mission. After following the final several pitches that resemble Matthes Crest in the Sierra’s, we sat on the surprisingly flat summit of the pyramid in the blazing Karakorum sun blown away by all of the potential we could see in the valley below.

 

Searching for one more acclimatization objective and an opportunity for Pat and I to climb with Will, whom we had not yet roped up with, we decided on an unclimbed granite Pillar across and valley and next to Farhod Brakk. “We’ll probably be able to simul-climb most of it.” we discussed in the days prior as we ate our next meal of rice and goat and waited for the incessant drizzle to clear. As we left ABC in the pre-dawn, Will announced that he had packed a sleeping bag and bivy.

After an hour of steep snow climbing we roped up and Pat, winning the Rochambeau, curled out of sight around the blunt arete. Thirty minutes later the rope was still creeping along which is definitely not the norm for Pat. It was clear that we would not be simuling the route. Pat and I continued swapping blocks. Hard climbing up thin seams and cracks would follow a dangerously loose pitch. One pitch found me screaming as if at the sport crag as I bear-hugged my way up an arête above small rp’s. Pat fought his way up a finger crack nearing the 5.12 mark. Above our bivy I completed my block and Pat took us out left of the arête with a delicate traverse that led to the some easier climbing and the summit pillar.

 

We had hoped the summit would concede to some easy climbing but it was not to be as I led two sustained pitches of 5.10 and 5.11 to the summit, the first including a wild step-across from one narrow pinnacle onto the main summit pillar. With dark clouds sweeping toward us from the Nangmah Valley to our south, Pat hurriedly set two small stoppers in a horizontal crack and we began the first of many rappels, reaching our boots and ice gear as the light faded. Downclimbing the snow couloir as rain began to fall more and more steadily, we narrowly dodged some rockfall, making it back to basecamp late in the evening. We named the pillar “Fida Brakk” after our friend and cook Fida Hussain. The route we named the “Jenga Spur” (V+ 5.11+ A0 1050m) after the numerous loose pitches and the way in which the route just barely seemed to come together.

As often seems to happen on expeditions, numerous factors kept us from more climbing. We explored different options with Pat and I spending two nights camped below an impressive unclimbed line in the Farol Peak cirque but ultimately ended up leaving the valley content with the climbing we had done and excited to return to explore the multitude of granite that Pakistan holds. Many people have asked me how I feel about not achieving our main goal on the trip. After months of preparation, it was not easy for me to walk out of the valley once again without having climbed the K7 Pillar though I took with me another season of lessons to apply when I return. I like this quote from Steve House and think it applies well to the uncertain nature of success in the alpine.

“Success, when achieved, is deceptive – for there lies praise, closure, achievement. Failure is the more valuable fruit, borne as it is from the knurled vine of progress.”

 

On our way home we visited the village of Haldi where Fida, Ghulam, and all of the Blue Sky Treks and Tours crew lives. Thanks to the generosity of the Burlington, Vermont climbing community that donated $200 dollars plus tons of addition school supplies, we delivered a full expedition duffle to the teachers and children of the village. We spent the afternoon visiting with a new schoolteacher of the village who is working to develop the new primary school.

 

The juxtaposition of western views of Pakistan versus my experiences here continues to amaze me. As Fida’s son put is so well,

 

“The are miscreants and dangerous areas in nearly every country.”


This is very much the case in Pakistan where there are certainly dangerous areas and people. The northern area of Baltistan has been a safe and welcoming place for thousands of climbers and I imagine will continue to be so for many years to come

 

- Matt McCormick

 

I would like to thank The Copp-Dash Inspire Award and the Shipton-Tilman Grant from Gore-Tex for their generous support of our expedition!

 

 

 

 

Here's a link to a little article alpinist put up on their site: 

http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web11x/newswire-goodman-mccormick-jenga-spur

 

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