Karakorum / Pakistan
Words: Alexander Huber
After our failure two years earlier, I was the only one of that expedition that returned to the west face of Latok II (7.108 m) in 1997. The 2.000 meter west face presents one of the obvious challenges of modern alpinism: Climbing a hard big wall up a relentlessly steep granite face at an altitude between 6.000 and 7.000 meters.
Never before had such a difficult and tall face been attempted at such high altitude, at 7.000 meters above sea level. Even today, no one has climbed a big wall that is at higher altitude.
The team consisted of Toni Gutsch, Conrad Anker from the US, and my brother Thomas. Because of the rockfall in the approach couloir that hindered our attempt in 1995, we arrived in base camp a month earlier to find better conditions.
After establishing camps at 5.400 and 6.000 meters respectively, we had finished our acclimatisation, but as is so often the case, our chances of success would depend on the weather. We needed extraordinarily good weather. We were lucky and enjoyed the rare treat of more than a week of beautiful weather. Trying to free as much as possible to make fast progress up the wall, we still managed no more than 150 meters per day on the central part of the wall: hard aid climbing and the cold mornings until the sun warmed the west face in the afternoon slowed us down. It ended up being quite the fight, but we worked together perfectly and in the end we reached the summit of Latok II on July 19, 1997.
All four of us stood on the summit together that day. A summit which is the exact opposite of the wall below: A large, flat plateau, which we were so excited to reach: the end of a dream that had been our obsession for several years.
The descent was a proper adventure in its own right. The conditions in the approach couloir, which we now rapped down, had seriously deteriorated during the last days because of the heat.
Rock fall took two of our haul bags, with 50 kilos of gear inside them, and from one moment to the next, half of the stuff we’d taken up the wall was lost. The mountain made it clear that we were no longer welcome.
At 9 am the next morning, we finally stood on the glacier, on safe terrain. The only thing separating us from base camp were 2 hours of annoying walking. In base camp, Ismail and Kassim welcomed us with a proper feast - luxury at 4400 meters above sea level. It was only after arriving camp that we felt like we’d been successful. The summit certainly was the highlight of the trip, but the real goal - our healthy return - we had only reached now.
THE Panmah Muztagh
The Panmah Muztagh is a subrange of the Karakoram range, in Baltistan, a district of the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Its highest peaks are not particularly high by Karakoram standards, but they are exceedingly steep rock spires, unlike many of the peaks in the surrounding subranges.
In particular, the highest of the Panmah peaks, Baintha Brakk (The Ogre) (7.285 m/23.901 feet), is a very difficult climb; it has seen only two ascents. The nearby Latok group is of similar difficulty. Both groups lie on the north side of the long Biafo Glacier.
The Panmah Muztagh lies in the heart of the Karakoram, northwest of the Baltoro Muztagh (home of the eight thousand meter peaks of the Karakoram), and southeast of the Hispar Muztagh. On the southwest, it is separated from the Spantik-Sosbun Mountains by the Biafo Glacier. The Skamri Glacier and the Braldu Glacier separate it from the Wesm Mountains to the north. The Panmah, Nobande Sobande, Choktoi, and Chiring Glaciers lie within the range.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
THE LATOK GROUP
The Latok group is a small cluster of dramatic rock peaks in the Panmah Muztagh, part of the central Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan.
They lie just to the east of the Ogre group, dominated by Baintha Brakk. To the immediate south of the Latok group lies the Baintha Lukpar Glacier, a small tributary of the Biafo Glacier, one of the main glaciers of the Karakoram. On the north side of the group lies the Choktoi Glacier.
LATOK II WESTFACE
2.200 m / 1.000 m big wall, VI, 26 pitches, 5.10/A3+
1997, Thomas and Alexander Huber,
Toni Gutsch and Conrad Anker