Monday, October 8, 2018

Adventures of the 2018 Canadian Pumari Chhish East Expedition

This past summer, Alik Berg and I went to Pakistan to have a mountain adventure. Below is a brief report from our expedition. For a more impressionistic account, check out this Bird Blog. For a photo essay, check out this Flickr album.


In the summer of 2018 Alik Berg and I traveled to Pakistan to climb in the Karakoram. As often happens, neither the final team nor the final objective ended up being what they had been originally. To begin with, there were four of us intent on exploring the largely untouched peaks of the Kondus valley. Over the winter, however, Chris Brazeau and Ian Welsted pulled out. Then, just a couple of months before our departure, military authorities refused the permit application for our primary objective, the unclimbed K13 (6666 m). We scrambled to find another goal, and settled on the unclimbed Pumari Chhish East (ca. 6900 m). I was familiar with the peak, having attempted it unsuccessfully in 2009, and knew to be a difficult and inspiring mountain. 

We left Calgary on June 30 and, after many flights, jeep drives and three days of trekking with porters, arrived in the 4500-metre basecamp on July 14. We spent the ensuing three weeks systematically acclimatizing: starting with day trips and culminating with two nights spent on the summit of the 5980-metre Rasool Sar. We had hoped to complete our acclimatization in only two weeks, but a week-long spell of bad weather at the end of July kept us confined to basecamp. 

With acclimatization out of the way, we turned our attention to the south wall of Pumari Chhish East. The shattered glacier below the face looked impassable, but we were able to find an alternate approach by climbing over a rock spur. From the crest of the spur we got our first close look at the face. The upper half still looked in good mixed-climbing shape; however, by what was now late summer, the snow and ice fields on the lower half had degenerated into wet rock slabs strafed by rockfall. It was difficult to let go of our ambitions, but in the end, we discounted the south face as too dangerous in current conditions. 

Next, we examined the east aspect of Pumari Chhish East for an alternate route possibility, but found it guarded by batteries of seracs. With just over a week remaining in basecamp, we cast about for other options, and settled on an unclimbed peak across the glacier from basecamp. The first day we scrambled to a bivouac at 5700 metres on the south ridge of our objective. The next day we spent sixteen hours negotiating the complex ridge to and from the 5980-metre summit, arriving back at our bivouac well after midnight. We slept in the following morning, before descending into another valley and hiking around the mountain back to basecamp. 

Two days later, in a cold rain, we left the meadow where we had spent half the summer. Pumari Chhish East remained unclimbed, but we still had a great adventure among great mountains and great people. 

Last but not least, Alik and I would like to thank the John Lauchlan Memorial Award and the MEC Expedition Support Grant for backing our expedition. And personally, I would like to thank my sponsors: Arc'teryx, Black Diamond, Bolder and Scarpa North America for their support. An expedition to the Karakoram is a major undertaking, and the trip would not have happened without their help. We did not come back successful, but we came back safe and we came back friends.

A storm clears from the south faces of Pumari Chhish South (7350 m) and East (6900 m).