Himalayan Journal vol.41
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.41

Publication year:
1985

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. MAKALU-NEARLY
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  3. THE AMERICAN-CANADIAN MAKALU WEST PILLAR EXPEDITION
    (CARLOS BUHLER)
  4. INDIAN EVEREST EXPEDITION, 1984
    (COL D. K. KHULLAR)
  5. CZECHOSLOVAK EXPEDITION TO LHOTSE SHAR, 1984
    (JOSEF RAKONCAJ)
  6. THE BRISTOL CHO OYU EXPEDITION, 1984
    (S. K. BERRY)
  7. NAMELESS PEAK - ANNAPURNA HASSIF ROUTE IN SKETCHES
    (H. SIGAYRET)
  8. AUSTRALIAN ARMY NILGIRINORTH (7061m) EXPEDITION, 1983
    (CAPT ZAC ZAHARIAS)
  9. THE WINTER EXPENDITION TO API
    (TADEUSZ PIOTROWSKI)
  10. YOUTH IN GIBSON'S GARHWAL
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  11. NANDAKINI IN THE RAINS
    (WILLIAM McKAY AITKEN)
  12. AVALANCHE PEAK EXPEDITION, 1984
    (SANDEEP SHAH)
  13. UJA TIRCHE, 1984
    (AJIT SHELAT)
  14. IN REMOTE SOUTHEAST LADAKH
    (R. BHATTACHARJI)
  15. ASCENT OF K12 (7428 m) IN SALTORO HILLS (RANGE)
    (LT COL PREM CHAND)
  16. FIRST ASCENT OF MAMOSTONG (7516 m)
    (COL BALWANT S. SANDHU)
  17. THE LONELY CLIMB
    (RONALD NAAR)
  18. ASCENTS IN RIMO GROUP OF PEAKS
    (G. K. SHARMA)
  19. MOUNTAIN PHOTO ORIENTATION
    (JAGDISH NANAVATI)
  20. THE NAMELESS TOWER, (6246 m), KARAKORAM
    (DAVID LAMPARD)
  21. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  22. THE EIGHT-THOUSANDERS
  23. IN MEMORIAM
  24. BOOK REVIEWS
  25. CORRESPONDENCE
  26. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1984

THE NAMELESS TOWER, (6246 m), KARAKORAM

DAVID LAMPARD

THIS MAGNIFICENT rock spire, almost 3500 ft high was attempted by a British team during June-July, The objectives of the five-man, light weight expedition were to climb a new route on the Tower and to achieve this using alpine style tactics as far as possible. The logistics of the face dictated that a ten day budget be made in respect of food and fuel and also that if a retreat from high on the route had to be made then there would be no chance of making a second attempt due to having to climb the whole route again because of no fixed ropes.

In the event all team members reached 20,000 ft having established a completely new line up the face except for a junction at the Snowpatch. Bad weather forced a retreat from the high point, just a rope length from the right hand end of the easy angled summit snowfield! Climbing difficulties reached extreme standard rock in many places and overall an alpine grade of ED plus would seem most appropriate.

The following is an extract from the expedition report describing the attempt on the Tower itself.

That night nobody really slept and when Stuart's alarm began its pitiful bleeping at twelve, we crawled out of our pits and started the primus for a brew. The moon was perfect, just beginning its nightly arc above Liligo peak, above the couloir glowed in its light and the black mass of Trango loomed beyond like some giant chess piece in the game we were about to begin.

The loads fell even heavier than when we'd weighed them, and our initial pace of progress up the screes of the couloir, slowed with every step. We were soon to realise our mistake of the previous day in saying it didn't look that far, and it was over two hours before we reached the large boulders that marked the half way point. The ground was awful, the two steps forward, one back routine being more of an optimistic assessment. Five hours from starting we crawled beneath the huge boulder that was to be our first camp below the Tower. Ian arrived, managed a half smile and promptly threw up at the suggestion that there was only one more carry to do!


Boulder Camp was about 500 ft below the lowest rocks of the Tower, and to reach them we had to cross the huge avalanche runnel coursing down from the col on the left. The thought of anything major coming down the chute was always in our minds as we quickly waded through the debris forming the sides of the runnel and crossing was completed without hesitation. Ian and Stuart laid down the first six rope lengths the next day and reached the base of the corner, as we watched the tiny dots working their way upward from the shelter of the Boulder, it seemed as if the Tower stretched for ever, the thing looked enormous, it reminded me of standing at the bottom of the Dm for the first time but this started at over 16,000 ft and it really made you feel very, very small!

Al and Andrew pushed out the following day, the corner provided some hard climbing and progress was halted below a huge roof leading out rightwards. The pitch above provided the link to the Ramp and a further day's efforts saw us onto the easier mixed ground below the Snowpatch. With no prospect of a reasonable camp we descended to the Boulder ready for the next day's climbing in which we hoped to reach and establish a camp on the Snowpatch. All the gear had been moved up to below the corner and Andrew and Alan returned to bivouac below the face that night, in preparation for the push upwards. That night it snowed, by morning over nine inches had fallen and the TowTer had become plastered in ice. A thoroughly wet and dejected pair of climbers appeared early on that morning, having spent an uncomfortable night under a waterfall! There didn't seem much point in using valuable food and fuel waiting' for the weather to clear, and we descended to base.

Andrew and Stuart returned with the job of setting up the Snowpatch camp, the rest of us followed a day behind to carry the equipment and food up. The slog up the couloir seemed relatively easy compared to the last time and with a week at altitude the headaches had mainly disappeared. Andrew's and Stuart's lights could, be seen flashing high above us and it seemed as if they would easily make the Snowpatch the following day.

The long jumar up the ropes lay ahead and we weren't particularly looking forward to hauling the gear the next day, but it had to be done and at least we'd have the first third of the route behind us. After a poor night's sleep we began the uphill grind to the start of the ropes. By the end of the day we'd reached the top of the Ramp but there was no way we'd make the Snowpatch. The effort had been incredible, as we retrieved the ropes our loads became heavier and heavier and eventually we got out the porta-ledges to spend the night hanging from the side of the Tower, We didn't have the energy to bother cooking and cursing the lack of any sweets or chocolate, we dropped into the ledges and slept.

Several hundred yards away lay the line of the 1976 route with all the fixed ropes in place after eight years. How tempting it was to clip into them and jumar our way to the top; but that was not what we'd come all that way for and in the morning Alan and myself set off to attack the central slabs. The climbing was perfect, solid granite; the sun was out and thousands of feet below lay the couloir and Trango glacier, flattened to almost two dimensions by the perspective. Uli Biaho was beginning to shed its daily load of ice as the sun crept onto its northern face, and the night's icicles on the couloir walls were crashing down the rocks as the waterfalls thundered into action with the heat.

500 ft up the slabs, the crack system we'd been following gave out. Above sandwiched between the overhangs lay a miniature serac armed with huge icicles, the heat was beginning to break them off and the falling lumps which had at first been insignificant, began to increase in size and frequency. Hanging from a single peg in the middle of such a huge sweep of rock made you feel very vulnerable and the sack we held above our heads gave little in the way of comfort. An enormous 150 ft pendulum on the rope provided the escape right and it was with a sigh of relief that we reached the shelter of the overhangs. It was too late now for the others to follow because of the ice and we pushed on with another two rope lengths before the sun went around the west face and the bite of the night air crept in. Below, the rest had been moving gear to the Snowpatch and we retreated down the ropes to discuss the next day's plans.

We'd seen nowhere to make a higher camp and even with the ledges, it would have been too dangerous to leave them in. the line of ice and stonefall from the upper tower, and so we had to commit ourselves to another day's climbing before making the decision to move up the face.

The rock had now become vertical and the sheer featureless walls of the upper tower looked impregnable from below. Alan had tried two separate ways to breach the overhangs leading to the middle snow-patch below the rock scar. Both times he'd fallen and we were beginning to think the line was not going to go. The only possibility lay in tackling the largest roof through a shattered break, the prospect looked appalling as it was obviously the site of a recent rockfali. Very, very gently we climbed through, wafer thin flakes of granite almost ten feet long were glued together in some weird Chinese puzzle; if one went, the lot would certainly follow. Above, the snow-ramp, though lying back, was just a jumble of fractured blocks, only held together by the mushy ice. Each step dislodged rocks into the void below to hit the slabs like a mortar attack. The tiny dots of Ian, Andrew and

Stuart could be seen cringing beneath their sacks as they jumared across the vast sweep of exposed rock below.

Unscathed, they reached us later in the afternoon, carrying gear in preparation for the next day's push. The ramp was hopeless as a ledge and it looked as if we were destined to spend the night standing or hanging from the ropes. Ian and myself led a further pitch and reached the final headwall, although the rock was incredibly steep, there was a way on and we knew we were very near to success. Al had abseiled back to the Snowpatch and we could just see him near the end of the ropes over a thousand feet below with the red and blue fabric of the porta-ledges standing out against the snow. Just two days, we thought as the descent to camp was made, that was all we needed to reach the summit.

This was to be our last night on the Snowpatch, the day after we'd all move up and take a chance on finding a ledge to bivouac. We decided not to take the camp apart and to leave the tent and ledges to save weight. That evening I sat in my ledge, watching an electrical storm rage across the sky hundreds of miles away in the lowland plains, the power was so great that Trango would light up as if a spotlight had been directed towards it. The thought of it moving closer wasn't very pleasant especially since the Duralium frame I was lying in would provide a pretty large target!

The pitch above started as an overhanging jamming crack and slowly but surely got wider and wider to finish in a wedge shaped roof. Ian had wormed his way up so far that he'd trapped his helmet and it was only after some frantic writhing about that he managed to bang a peg in and swing onto the right wall. Remembering the tale of Martin Boysen and the crack he'd been trapped in for hours the pitch had to be known as the 'Fissure Lonsdale'! Ian had spent himself and I jumared up to retrieve the gear, we managed one further rope length and as night drew in again we descended to the ledge.

Ropes hung everywhere, we had them across our feet, round our chests and in any other possible combination that might prevent us slipping over the edge. Somehow we cooked dinner, with one holding the pan and another the stove. Nobody slept that night and any inkling of doing so was rudely curtailed when you slithered nearer the edge on your Karrimat which acted like a sledge. Stuart hung from the far side, his sleeping bag vertical and only held to him by tightening the draw cord around his neck.

The time passed slowly and we had plenty of opportunity to see the huge thunderheads beginning to grow in the distance. As their volume swelled during the night it was painfully obvious that the weather was going to break. Surely it must hold for one more day ? We were only a few hundred feet from our goal, it had to go.

With the first glimmer of dawn, Alan began the next pitch, it was freezing since the sun had a long way to go before it hit the face and with the clouds racing across the sky, there seemed little chance of it doing so anyway. For 300 ft the wall gently overhung, the climbing was incredibly hard and as I passed Al hanging from some pegs in the crack, I could see Ian hanging free as he jumared up to meet us. Above, a huge ice-mushroom guarded the way, to try and pass it seemed too dangerous and the only thing seemed to be to dislodge it. Shouting for everyone to take cover, a single push sent the hundreds of pounds of ice crashing down, scattering like a warhead as it touched the rock. Taking the 50 m ropes to their limit I reached the small snow-patch just below the right hand end of the summit snowfield. Above the summit block stood proudly against the sky, the angle of the face had at last begun to lie back and only a rope length lay between us and the easy ground above.

It was noon when Alan struggling with an enormous sack jumared over the final bulge to join me and we needed only another three hours to complete the route. With the weather worsening, a summit push had to be made quickly and I descended to meet the others and get the necessary gear. By 1 we had ail reached the top of the ropes and Alan was at work on the final wide crack. The weather just came in, hailstones rained down in torrents and sleet and snow whipped across the tower. Within minutes the rock and ropes had begun to grow a layer of verglass and upward progress was impossible.

We waited, huddled together on the tiny ledge, but no improvement came. We looked at each other, not wanting to say what each one of us knew, but it was over and no matter how you looked at it there was nothing we could do.

Looking back its easy to think we could have pushed that final section, but how do you climb an eight inch offwidth in double boots, with ice on every hold and visibility down to nil as hailstones funneled past like some giant cement chute ? We couldn't even aid that crack, there was no choice but down. There was a slim chance that the following day would bring better weather but nobody really believed it. We had one day's food and fuel left, either we made it the day after or we had to retreat, logistics had presented the final demand.

It was snowing in the morning and as we brushed away the fabric everyone had come to accept there was no longer any choice but down. A last defiant effort to ascend the ropes showed it was pointless when it took an hour to chip away the ice and jumar the first 50 m above us. As we pulled the ropes through the abseil sling, the link to the top was severed and we got on with the business of retreat, there was a long, long way to go,

Three times the ropes jammed on the abseil back to the Snow-patch, twice we climbed back to free them, but the third time nothing we could do would dislodge them and reluctantly one of the remaining 50 m length was cut in half. We needed eight ropes to reach bottom from the Snowpatch, five we had and three remained, one of these lay across the huge sweep of the central slabs, to try and retrieve it seemed impossible. If we tried to pull it through and it snagged two ropes would be lost in the process.

Having little choice in the matter, we linked in the last 50 m length and began to pull, as soon as the rope flicked through the peg above the weight of the 300 ft of iced up perl on just sent it hurtling down the slabs and into the gully on the far side. We kept taking it in and when at last the knot appeared we allowed ourselves a smile, we'd got the ropes and the Snowpatch was only another abseil away.

Stuart had the stove going and after we'd dismantled the porta-ledges, Al and myself descended to the tent for a welcome rest. The sacks were really heavy with the weight of the frozen ropes and the next stage abseiling down diagonally to the top of the corner system was going to be very hard work. For a short time the sun appeared and bits of the Tower above would poke out as if to taunt us into thinking we should have stayed, longer. The situation was only temporary and by the time we'd descended one further length, the sleet was back in force. Water squirted out of the ropes as you put weight on them, soaking us even more, we were cold and tired and it was beginning to snow. The snow above the Ramp had become dangerously unstable, the mixed ground that had previously been fairly solid was now just a nightmare of precariously perched blocks. It was too risky to pull the ropes through for fear of dislodging the stuff on top of us, trying to control your speed on the 7 mm rope was impossible with the huge sacks, the weight turned us upside down and even canvas overmitts had worn through with the friction.

It was getting late as we neared the top of the corner, progress had become very slow on the treacherous ground and belays were hard to find. One rope was not going to be enough to reach the belay point below the roof and we had to tie two together and lower them over the void. The knot looked pitifully small. Half way down you had to change from one to the other, keeping upright was desperate and even after clipping the descendeur onto the lower rope you still had to get your weight onto it. Mistakes could not be made and with hands screaming at the cold I finally began the second stage, hanging free over the roof 40 ft into space was the end of the rope. There was no alternative but to descend to the very end and start swinging in towards the tiny foothold that had been our stance on the way up. With only just enough rope left I smashed in a peg and called up for Ian to follow. The rope had been stretched so tightly that that they thought I was still on it, all shouts failed to make contact and it was ages before I saw movement in the rope and Ian materialise out of the gloom. They were having terrible trouble clipping into the rope with the tension.

Ian's two ropes saw us down to a little cave below the corner. Just one abseil remained to the couloir and we were thinking it was nearly over when Alan screamed from above. We rushed back to the base of the corner, rocks had been falling everywhere, there was nothing you could do, and we were sure someone had been hit. Everything had gone quiet, 'Oh Christ, not now, not so close to safety'; thoughts raced through our minds as we shouted up.

Stuart appeared but we couldn't hear him, then Andrew emerged from behind a pillar and signalled they were ok. The adrenaline slowed and we returned to the cover of the cave. As we found out later, what had happened was the knot holding the rope into place below the roof, had come undone and Alan descending last had suddenly found himself hanging only feet away from the end, somehow he'd managed to lock off the descendeur and swing into the corner to grab the belay just as the rope whipped thcough to spring back over the roof. It had been very close.

With the final abseil to the couloir over, a tremendous weight was lifted from our minds. The slopes however were still in a very dangerous state and Trango was shedding rocks everywhere as the dull thuds in the snow constantly reminded us. The change in conditions was unbelievable, water poured off the sides of the couloir, the enormous boulders that had been solidly embedded in ice were slowly slipping down the slope and noise was all around. Because of the chances of being hit by stonefall we had to move into the centre of the couloir to descend to Boulder Camp, the thought of an avalanche thundering down from the col above, outweighed by the situation. 500 ft later the safety of the rock allowed us the first moment of relaxation in days.

There was no possible chance of carrying onto base that day, not only was the place too dangerous, but we were all out, all we wanted was some sleep and that night an earthquake wouldn't have woken us. It snowed again during the night and the couloir had settled into its early morning dormancy. With everything packed and the rubbish burned, we began the descent to base. Two hours later we were in the kitchen, drinking tea by the gallon, thinking it had never happened!

Members: David Lampard (leader), Andrew Atkinson, Ian Lonsdale, Stuart Holmes and Alan Scott.

Nameless Tower, British route of attempt.

Nameless Tower, British route of attempt.