Nils Davis reports back to us after an impressive expedtition to the Himalaya. This expedition was partially supported by a Lyman Spitzer Award, a grant offered annually by the AAC. Read on for the full story!
Here is a brief report of Nils Davis, Todd Offenbacher, Brenton Warren and Brian McCray’s expedition to Pakistan.
The four of us flew out of San Francisco July 18, arriving in Islamabad July 20. We were able to immediately board a PIA flight to Skardu, saving us the three days of down time and driving that often accompanies this sort of trip into the Karakoram. On the short flight into Skardu, we were able to visit the cockpit for about 15 minutes, gaining the opportunity to gaze upon the mind-bending scenery of the Karakoram, spread out before us into seemingly eternity.
It took 2 days to arrive at what was to be base camp for the next 4 weeks. We picked a spot on the south side of the Nangma Valley, situated between our objective, Shinga Chatpa, and another 2000-foot rock wall named “Green Tower,” or locally, “Roun Khan-Chun.” We spent the first couple days relaxing and recovering from the traveling. In order to acclimatize, we thought a new route up the Green Tower might be a fun way to accomplish this. Over the next 8 days, the weather turned quite bad, with consistent rain and snow every day. Nevertheless, Brenton and Brian managed a new route up Green Tower, which they completed in bad weather, in a 28.5-hour push, after 500 feet of fixing. Todd and I started a bit after them, taking a portaledge, and completed another route in 4.5 days. “Zindabad” is VI, 5.10, A3+, and “Playin’ in the Dirtbox” is VI, 5.10, A2. Both routes are characterized by extremely quality, steep granite, but with dirt-filled cracks most of the way up the 2000-foot wall. These are beautiful, soaring crack systems on a proud piece of granite. If the routes had clean cracks, they would be predominantly free at about 5.11.
To backtrack a bit, before starting on these other routes, we had made an initial reconnaissance of our main objective, the North Ridge of Shinga Chatpa (I ascertained that the proper spelling and pronunciation of the peak is “Chatpa,” with a “t” not a “r.” This is a common mistake, I imagine, when translating phonetically the Balti language into Roman alphabet, and especially English, when the Balti “r” is trilled and it is sometimes difficult to recognize the difference between the “r” and the “t.”). We took about half a day to explore the possibilities of the base of the ridge proper, and to see what the rock and consequently the climbing might be like on the lower part of the ridge.
We found we needed to scramble up a roundabout grassy ledge system, about 400 feet in length, and drop down a 3rd class rock ramp, fixing a line to the ground, in order to avoid the grass on subsequent sorties. This initial fixed line was to prove our undoing later. At any rate, in so doing, we climbed four 55- meter pitches carrying approximately 21 liters of water to a high point.
We did not return to the ridge until our other routes were completed. Approximately 1 week later, Brenton and Brian returned to the ridge to haul a bit more water up onto the 3rd class ramp, at which point they would carry this water on the follower’s back to the high point, as we had not left any lines fixed on the ridge proper. Well, what happened next was the source of our problems and essentially our failure.
Actually, this could be written into the “Accidents in North American Climbing.” Brian intended to jumar our 70-meter fixed line, trailing a 60-meter rope to haul up the extra water. The two had a brief discussion about whether it would reach to the anchor from the ground, as there was change on the 70-meter cord on the ground. Brian jumared, reaching the end of the 60-meter, at which point Brenton detached the rope from the haul bag; he began to walk up the hill with it, so that he might carry the haul bag up after Brian had reached the anchor, and reattach it. He called to Brian, but there was no intelligible response. Brian reached the anchor, called to Brenton, and received no intelligible response. He rigged the haul, tested the line, perceived a resistance which he assumed to be the haul bag, unclipped his back up, so that he might be free to walk down the slab at the top, and began to haul. As the rope was not attached to anything, he immediately tumbled down the slab. He managed to stop himself on the last little 3-foot wide ledge before the wall dropped away vertically 150 feet to the ground. His ankle was badly sprained, but he was alive. What was usually a 1-hour return trip took Brenton 6 hours to help Brian back to base camp.
Todd and Brenton and I continued to work on the ridge. We made two more trips up the ridge. Brenton and I started a new line up the lower “triangle” of the ridge, different than the line Brian and Todd and I had climbed, and stashed water. This line was more on the face of a triangle wall made by the ridge at the bottom, and less on the ridge proper, as the first bit was. Brenton and I climbed 600 feet of technical face and crack, and fixed lines on this face. We then returned with Todd with more water, performed some shenanigans to swing over and retrieve the water we had previously left, right of our fixed ropes, and climbed to what we called the “first step.” There are approximately four steps on the ridge. We took all day, one leader, two jumaring carrying approximately 18 liters of water each, to reach this first step. We then rapped, leaving one fixed line on a difficult expanding section up high, and the three bottom ropes fixed. It is 2400 feet of roped climbing to reach the first step, which we estimated to be approximately one third of the length of the ridge.
Briefly, our goal was to establish a gear stash, mostly water, tents, stove, etc, at the first step, so that we could get started on the rest of the ridge, and be supplied for the two days of work we guessed it would take to reach the first snow patch, where we could then melt snow for water. We guessed, if all went as planned, the ascent would take 6 days and the descent 1-2 days.
Brian’s ankle was bad but improving. He indicated to us he might be able to climb given a little time. So the team waited and tried to occupy itself. Eventually, approximately 10 days after the accident, Brian said he could climb, and we gave it a shot. We reclimbed to the step with all our gear this time. Upon reaching the step after a very hard day, it was too apparent that Brian’s entire ankle was not fine, and that he would be a liability if he tried to continue. It was a valiant effort just to make it that far.
At this point, Brian would have to descend, taking two ropes and gear to create rappel anchors. This meant we would all have to descend, so we could return with a full rack. We also discovered that it was going to be better to haul on the next sections of the route, instead of carrying the now too heavy packs. We did not have haul bags with us. We pulled everything off the step and headed back to base camp.
There are other factors at play here. There had been much dissension among the team members as well as tension and conflict. We had no idea what Brian was feeling, and could not judge whether he would be able climb or not. We took his word for it, and committed to the ridge after much time waiting and deliberating and with much anticipation. It was clear when on the step, he could not continue. Todd voiced his opinion that he had lost motivation, largely based on the conflicts and the fact Brian couldn’t make it. Brenton and I were forced with making the decision to leave gear just for us, so that just the two of us might return once again to the step, now with no fixed lines through the crux pitches (as we had pulled them on the way up), and make an attempt. At this point, time was running a bit short for our return flights, which added to it as well. We decided to call it off, and returned to the U.S. Aug 30.
I have tried to be as clear and objective as possible about the ups and downs of our trip. In hindsight, I believe the ridge to be possible with two people. The team needs to commit to climbing the lower 2400 feet of the ridge 2-3 times in order to get started on the upper part as this alpine ridge has the somewhat interesting distinction of being so large and steep with so little water supply. In addition, the team needs to have the ability and gear to switch from carrying heavy packs to hauling, as each is necessary at different parts of the ridge. I would like to return to this ridge in this manner, as it is immensely beautiful, striking, and because it presents such a distinct challenge.
Many thanks to the Lyman Spitzer Grant Committee and the American Alpine Club for helping us to explore Pakistan and the North Ridge of Shinga Chatpa. Many thanks in having faith in us, and helping us try to realize our dreams. I am disappointed not to submit a story of a summit, but I sincerely believe success is in the journey. This trip taught me much about people, relationships and much about climbing. We all grow stronger and wiser from these experiences, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do so.