Expedition Objectives

Masherbrum, located at the top of the Hushe valley in the Karakoram area of the Pakistan Himalaya, is the 34th highest mountain in the world.

Our objectives were :

  1. To ascend Masherbrum (7821 m) by its unclimbed east ridge.
  2. To make the first ascent of Masherbrum East (7163 m).
  3. To paraglide from Masherbrum and surrounding peaks in the Hushe valley.

The Story

18-19 June: Flight to Pakistan

Only 8 of the 12 climbers of the expedition left Heathrow together as Mark was already in the Karakoram, guiding, and the remaining 3, Alec, Mike and Mungo were to join us later as work pressures prevented them taking the full 3 months off.

19-24 June: Rawalpindi

We spent 5 days in Rawalpindi buying supplies in the local bazars, collecting our freighted gear, arranging insurance and depositing the helicopter bond. Our liaison officer, Major Javed Iqbal, arrived on 21st and our briefing at the Ministry of Tourism was on 24th. That evening we set off for Skardu.

24-26 June: To Skardu

Bruce and Stuart flew to Skardu with Javed on 25th, while the remaining 6 of us and our cook Mohammed Ali, enjoyed a 36 hr. bus ride along the Karakoram highway. This is an experience not to be missed. The road follows the course of the Indus river with mile after mile of hairpin bends, precipitous drops and overhanging rocks which came perilously close when one is sat on the roof — the traditional way to make this journey. Bus hire is cheaper without an overnight stop so one person has to stay awake to ensure the driver doesn't drop off to sleep ! A great start to the expedition.

26-27 June: Skardu

We spent one day in Skardu, the capital of Baltistan, where we met Mark Miller and our chief cook, Anwar Ali. This day was spent visiting the Regional Tourist Officer, police dept. and army; sorting loads and recovering from the epic bus journey.

27 June: To Hushe

We hired 3 jeeps to take the team (9 members, LO, 2 cooks and a few porters) and all our gear to Hushe, the last village before the walk-in to Masherbrum. The road is metalled near the start but this doesn't last long and the numerous pot-holes and rough road make for a bumpy and dusty ride. There are many army vehicles along this road as it's the main route to Siachen, close to the Pakistan-India border.

28 June-16 July: Acclimatization

Rather than acclimatizing in the icefall at the base of Masherbrum — not a place to hang around in — we decided to spend 2 weeks climbing smaller peaks in the Hushe valley. This was also an opportunity for the team to practice their paragliding skills. Unfortunately wind conditions were never ideal and despite many long uphill plods, only Stuart managed a few short flights.

Extra food and gear were left with the Lambardar (headman) in Hushe, and the team set out with 30 porters for Dalsan 4270 m which was to be our base camp for the next 2 weeks. It is 3 ' porter - stages' at Rs 130 per stage from Hushe to Dalsan, but the porters will happily walk iv in 2 days. The route takes the east side of the Hushe valley with a superb view of Masherbrum SE face on a clear day. We spent the first night at She-Sho, a small settlement at the junction of the Hushe and Charakusa valleys. From here there are magnificent views of Nemeka peak.

The following day we turned a sharp left and followed the right hand side of the valley skirting the edge of the glacial moraine to Dalsan, a beautiful campsite by a lake and surrounded by 6000 m peaks. Just before Dalsan there is a steep climb off the moraine, and at the top of this climb the porters broke into spontaneous dance, some still with their loads on their backs! Unfortunately, this happy atmosphere was somewhat spoilt on arrival at camp when there was much argument over the previously agreed rate of pay. Eventually it was settled by our liaison officer — hopefully without hard feelings.

During the first week at Dalsan the weather was atrocious with snow every day, the whole team walked up towards Ghondokhoro base camp on 2 July but blizzard conditions forced an early bivouac and mass retreat to base camp the following morning. Over the next few days we tried short climbs on surrounding peaks but each time were forced down by bad weather.

However, on 7 July we woke to blue skies and sunshine and the start of a wgek of good weather. Ginette, Nigel and Bruce set off for Ghondokhorowbase camp once more, and climbed Ghondokhoro peak 5745 m the following day. Bruce returned to Dalsan on the 9th and joined the rest of the team in attempts on 'Pointy Peak' and 'Blob Peak' getting to about 6000 m on both occasions. Nigel and Ginette remained at the Ghondokhoro camp and climbed two 6000 m peaks nearby.

The good weather did not last, so after sitting out 2 days of bad weather at Dalsan, we returned to Hushe to set off for Masherbrum.

16-19 July — To Masherbrum Base Camp

We arrived in Hushe on 16 July and that evening held a firework display to bid farewell to Adrian who had to return to England to start his new job. The fireworks were a great success with the villagers, and we hoped that they weren't misinterpreted by the Pakistan army stationed not too many miles away.

We spent a day in Hushe sorting loads before setting out for Masherbrum base camp with 75 porters, the journey is 3 'porter-stages' but can easily be walked in 2 days. It's a very pleasant walk initially along the west side of the Hushe valley, then forking left up the Masherbrum valley. Our first camp was on a large flat sandy area of the junction of the valley leading to Masherbrum II (7806 m). There is a plaque here commemorating the Italian expedition to Masherbrum I! in 1988. The sandy area provided an ideal spot for Stuart to teach to locals how to paraglide — with much amusement all round.

Next day we reached Masherbrum base camp (4110 m) after only a few hours walk. After reconnoitring the old base camps on the east side of the glacier, we decided to camp on the opposite side close to two lakes. This meant a longer walk across the glacial moraine to the start of the climb, but the base camp was comfortable with a good water supply, and was not threatened by rockfall as were the camps used by the early expeditions. There was also a short snow slope next to our base camp — ideal for skiing and paragliding practice.

The porters were paid off — all but 13 who were kept to carry loads across to a large boulder,close to the first icefall and at 4270 m. (This was to be the site of our store of hill-food and gear). A mess shelter and cook tent were built from boulders, bamboos, and tarpaulins and were to be our home for the next 7 weeks.

Views of Masherbrum peaks: 7821 m (northeast summit) and 7806 m (southwest summit) on left. East peak 7163 m (Yermanendi Kangri) on right. Photo A: view from Hushe village. Photo B : from base camp Photo C: from C3.
Views of Masherbrum peaks: 7821 m (northeast summit) and 7806 m (southwest summit) on left. East peak 7163 m (Yermanendi Kangri) on right. Photo A: view from Hushe village. Photo B : from base camp Photo C: from C3.
Views of Masherbrum peaks: 7821 m (northeast summit) and 7806 m (southwest summit) on left. East peak 7163 m (Yermanendi Kangri) on right. Photo A: view from Hushe village. Photo B : from base camp Photo C: from C3.

Views of Masherbrum peaks: 7821 m (northeast summit) and 7806 m (southwest summit) on left. East peak 7163 m (Yermanendi Kangri) on right. Photo A: view from Hushe village. Photo B : from base camp Photo C: from C3.



20-23 July — To Cl (5120 m)

13 porters, Colin, Nigel and Ginette set out on 20 July in pouring rain carrying loads to 'The Boulder' and cairning the route along the way. The weather remained poor for 2 days which were spent sorting hill-food and organising gear. Alec, who had been working in Ethiopia, joined the group at this stage.

On 22 July, Colin, Bruce and Nigel set off to establish Cl. They found a route through the centre of the icefall, branching right along 'The Gutter' to the base of 'Scaly Alley' — an avalanche chute, so named in 1938, linking the 1st and 2nd icefall. Just before 'Scaly Alley' is a large pool and relatively sheltered flat spot, which we termed 'halfway stage' (4725 m) where they camped that night before climbing 'Scaly Alley' in the early hours of the following morning to avoid rockfall. Cl was established at the base of the 3rd icefall.

It was planned that the rest of the team would carry up to Cl on 23rd but we were thwarted by torrential rain at base camp and snow higher up forcing the lead team back to base. Ginette and Ewen became unwell with chest infections at this time.

25-29 July — To Snowdome (6095 m)

After 2 days of bad weather there were blue skies on 25 July, so Nigel, Bruce and Stuart set off for Cl, while Kevin and Colin did a carry to the halfway stage. Ginette and Ewen were still unwell. In the early hours of 26th Bruce and Nigel reconnoitred a route to C2a (5488 m) which traversed left of the 3rd icefall. They felt that the route up to the snowdome from this camp was less avalanche-prone than the traditional route used by previous expeditions. However, the rest of the group were not happy with hanging seracs that threatened this route and it was therefore abandoned in favour_ of the usual approach. In retrospect, both routes are probably as dangerous as each other as the snow slopes leading to the snowdome are always ready to slide after heavy snowfall.

On 26 July, Nigel, Bruce and Stuart returned to base camp. Ewen and Ginette did a carry to the halfway stage, and Kevin and Colin climbed to Cl that night. While Kevin and Colin continued to C2 (5790 m) at the top of the 3rd icefall, via a tortuous route through the icefall, the rest of the team carried loads to Cl and returned,to base, planning to move up to Cl after a rest day. The following day (28 July) after 8 hours of heavy going through deep snow, Colin and Kevin made it to the snowdome with a tent and a few days food and set up C3 (6095 m).

30 July-2 August — Bad Weather/Load Carrying

Despite pouring rain, Nigel and Ginette left for Cl on 30 July while the rest of the base camp team were all ill with gastroenteritis. The same day Kevin and Colin descended through white out conditions and deep snow to base camp, stopping for a much needed cuppa at Cl. The weather remained bad for 2 more days when all were at base camp except Nigel and Ginette, who plodded up to C2a to try and retrieve the tent unsuccessfully, and carried loads up from the halfway stage before descending to base on 1 August.

3-11 August — To C3 (6095 m)

Bruce, Stuart, Alec, Ewen, Nigel and Ginette moved to Cl on 3 August while Mark and Mike, who'd recently joined the team, did a carry. Mike was ill with gastroenteritis and became quite dehydrated in the hot sun up to Cl. The following day Bruce and Stuart went to C2a to retrieve the tent — successfully this time — while Nigel and Ginette broke trail to C2 with Alec and Ewen load — carrying behind. The snow was extremely deep with a thin breakable crust, so this was exhausting work. It took 2 days to find a route and break trail through the right hand side of the 3rd icefall to the plateau above where we established a temporary C1&frac; (5640 m).

On 6 August Bruce, Stuart, Alec, Ewen, Nigel and Ginette moved up to CI 1/2 while Mike, Mark, Colin and Kevin moved to Cl. C2 proper was established the following day on a ridge at the bottom of the avalanche - prone slope up to the snow dome. Subsequently a large snow - hole was dug at this campsite. The lower team found a quicker route to C2 (Colin and Kevin' s descent route) up a steep snow slope to the right of the 3rd icefall which gains a little more height than is necessary but, by avoiding the icefall, is more straightforward and generally has hard snow that can be cramponed up.

On 8 August, Nigel and Ginette broke trail to the snowdome straight up the windslab slopes above C2, traversing left under large seracs to break out onto the ridge before descending about 100 m onto the snowdome to find C3 (now buried under 1 m of snow) established by Kevin and Colin 10 days previously. Over the next 2 days the whole team carried loads up to the ridge above C3. Mike, Ewen, Bruce and Alec then returned to base camp to greet Mungo, who'd just arrived, while the remaining six moved up to C3.

11-13 August — C4 (6580 m) Attempt on Masherbrum East

On 11 August the 6 at C3 moved up with 4 days food to C4 situated approx a quarter mile from the base of Masherbrum East and just below the southeast face of Masherbrum proper. It is a 2.5 km plod across the snowdome with very little gain in elevation until the final 1 km. With all the recent snow it was very hard going, despite the trail broken by Colin and Stuart the previous day. We found snowshoes especially useful for this section. The following day the weather was very unsettled — cloudy with snow showers, but nevertheless the 6 set off that evening to climb Masherbrum East.

The proposed route was straight ujathe steep south face of Masherbrum East onto the summit ridge. However, after only 120 m of climbing (Scottish Grade HI/IV) a huge thunderstorm moved in setting off avalanches down the nearby southeast face and giving impressive lightning displays. There was a mass retreat to C4 and, as it continued to snow all night, the following morning the team returned to base camp to sit out the bad weather.

18-29 August — Return to C4

After 5 days of snow the weather cleared on the afternoon on 17 August, bringing a beautiful evening, although the barometer reading remained low. The following morning it was still clear so Nigel and Ginette set off at 4 a. m. and reached C2 the same day. They continued, in good weather, the next day to C4, collecting more food en route, while Mike and Alec moved up to C2 and Mungo to Cl. As soon as C4 was reached the weather turned bad again with heavy snowfall. Mike, Alec and Mungo returned to base camp on 21 August, but the two at C4 were determined to sit out the bad weather. However, after 7 days of virtually continuous snowfall they decided to retreat bringing all their gear with them.

It took 3 days to descend through waist-and often chest-deep snow and white — out conditions. They were avalanched on the slope above C3, and were unable to find the snowhole at C2 as it was totally buried. Nigel suffered a painful night here as he developed snowblindness which resolved by the following morning. The final descent to base camp took 14 hours from C2, finishing in the dark across the moraine. There was considerable avalanche debris on the plateau of C11/2, and Scaly Alley had completely changed with the constant flow of avalanches down it and collapse of seracs from the adjacent icefall into it. It was certainly a relief to reach base camp in one piece.

3-7 September - Final Attempt

By 3 September, at last the barometer needle started to rise but now there was several feet of fresh snow on the hill. Mark, Kevin, Ewen, Colin and Mungo set off for Cl where they bivvied before continuing to C2 the next day — this time succeeding in digging out the snow — hole and retrieving their gear. The weather was unsettled but they pressed on to C3 that night to find several feet of snow covering the cache of food and gear, although the marker wands were clearly visible.

On 6 September, they plodded across the snowdome and up to C4 — or rather where C4 should have been. The wind was howling and the site was scoured clean with not even a blemish in the snow to mark C4. After 3 hours of close probing the camp was still not found. By then the wind was getting stronger and the clouds moving in, so the decision was made to retreat. By the time they reached C3 it was snowing hard. The combination of loss of the gear at C4, deep soft snow conditions and poor weather prevented the team going any further, and the next day they cleared the mountain and returned to base camp for the last time.

Masherbrum remains unclimbed by a British team — though not for the want of trying. Although we still had another 1100 m of climbing to reach the summit we feel that the weather, rather than the climbing, stopped us. In our 49 days on Masherbrum we had only 16 days good weather.


Dr Ginette Harrison (leader), Mark Miller, Dr Adrian Baker, Colin Jamieson, Ewen Todd, Kevin Murphy, Alec Erskine, Bruce Hubbard, Nigel Hillman and Dr Michael Cross.

History of Masherbrum

Early attempts all concentrated on reaching the col between the SW and main NE summit via the southeast face.

1938: British, (Major James Waller). Reached 7620 m. Alpine Journal 257, Pp. 199-211, Himalayan Journal XI, Pp. 42-56.

1955: New Zealand, (Stanley Conway). Reached 7010 m. New Zealand Alpine Journal 1955, Pp. 333-340.

1957: British (Manchester), (Joseph Walmsley) with Don Whillans. Reached 7710 m. Bob Downes succumbed to pulmonary oedema. Alpine Journal 297, Pp. 169-184. Himalayan Journal XXI, Pp. 16-32.

1960: American, (Nick Clinch) 1st ascent. Willi Unsoeld/George Bell, Nick Clinch/ Javed Akhter, Himalayan Journal 'Vol. XXII, Pp. 51-69, American Alpine Journal 1961, Pp. 209-229. Mountain World 1962/63, Pp. 49-60.

The mountain amazingly seems to have been ignored until the great upsurge in Polish trips to the Himalaya in the early eighties.

1981: Polish, Poliski Klub Gorski, (Piotr Mlotecki). Leader Z. Heinrich, M. Malatynski and P. Nowacki climbed the virgin SW summit, (7806 m), as a rope of 3 from C4 (6800 m). Snow-holed at the col. Summited at 3.30 p.m. On descent Malatynski had problems with eyesight causing unplanned bivvi with no gear. Only Heinrich survived the night. Route un-repeated.

1981: British (R.A.F.), (E.J.M. Thomas). Reached 7130 m.

1983: Japanese, (T.Sido). Two reached the main summit.

Attention was then switched to the heavily seraced north face — by the Japanese of course.

1985 : Kansai Karakoram Expedition (Shin Kashu) N ridge and face. Fixed ropes Cl to C4. Ten summited with one bivvi. Discovered body of one of the Poles.

1985: Austrian. (Robert Renzler) Wildly dangerous route. Three camps and a bivvi tent at 7200 m. Joined the Japanese ropes at 7400 m. 3 summited. Andy Orgler. Michael Sareber and Renzler.

1985: British. (Mike Searle) Attempted E ridge.

Other References

Mountain: 42, 82, 104, 106, 108.

(Names of the leaders in brackets)


A British attempt on Masherbrum (7821 m) and Masherbrum East (7163 m) in July-August 1989.

Editor's Note:

J. Wala's recent Karakoram map classifies the Masherbrum group as under: North peak 7821 m. South peak 7806 m and West peak 7750 m. He shows 'Yermanendu Kangri', (7163 m) as the east peak. In High Asia (Jill Neate) the peaks are given as : Northeast summit 7821 m. Southwest summit 7806 m and 'Yermanendi Kangri' (7163 m) as the east peak. (Note the different spelling).

The present team attempted peak 7821 m and peak 7163 m in the east.


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