15 December 2010
Charakusa Freedom Expedition 2010
by Daniele Nardi
Our objective was to climb for the first time Hassin Peak, a mountain which connects K6 to K7 in the valley of the village of Hushe, known as the Charakusa Valley, in north Pakistan. The awful weather conditions caused us to change programme several times. The situation in Pakistan, with millions of people made homeless and thousands dead due to flooding, was very upsetting. Our arrival in Islamabad coincided with a few days’ lull in the bad weather conditions which allowed us to cross, without major problems, the Karakorum Highway and arrive at base camp, three days’ walk from Hushe.
We made the first ascent of the 5400m peak we named Punta Margherita, we attempted the west face of K7 West and we climbed a new route on Farol West, which at first we thought was until then unclimbed.
With his usual attention to detail, Lindsay Griffin sent me detailed historical information a couple of months after we got back to Italy. Going through old articles, he found that the peak had been climbed for the first time in 1991 by the British pair Ian Stewart and Neil Wilson, climbing the opposite face of the mountain to the one we climbed. The Pakistan Alpine Club doesn’t maintain a database of ascents of peaks under 6500m. Information is collected by word of mouth between the guides working for the various service agencies and the work of the American Alpine Journal, the specialised web sites and magazines. At times it’s really difficult to find out information about peaks and ascents. You really need a big, simple, repository, a sort of Wikipedia of climbs.
The ascent of the 5400m Punta Margherita is a good route for acclimatisation when you arrive in the Charakusa valley. It involves mixed climbing up ice runnels and rock in the final section. We called the route Open Eyes because it opened our eyes to the possibilities on Farol West which became shortly afterwards our objective. The difficulties start with a not unduly steep ice slope, followed by an enclosed goulotte at WI5/M5 and finally two rock pitches of grade V UIAA for a total of 400m. A route which isn’t too hard and with good access and well suited for acclimatising; you sleep for one night at the end of the moraine at the base.
On the big wall of the west face of K7 West we tried to reach the 300m rock pillar, which we named the “Chandelle”, after the similar feature on Mont Blanc, on top of 700m of wall below. There was an off-width in the first 250/300m but we often had to go back down to base camp due to the rain which continued to fall right up to 6000m. Friends number 5 and 6 would have been useful but even without them we managed to climb the hardest part of the crack. A massive rockfall destroyed our portaledge. The face was awash with water, and the rockfalls followed. Luckily, when the rocks came down we were climbing the overhanging crack and were protected from the falling rocks. The eighth pitch saw a very delicate pendulum off a knife blade peg inserted only 2 cm, and we decided to retreat. We were climbing and moving equipment for 11 days, which for us was a long time.
A short window of good weather convinced us to try a lightweight ascent of Farol West. We set off with sacks of just 14 kg at one o’clock in the afternoon and bivvied on the edge of the ice, since the snow was too soft to continue. When it refroze in the night we set off again. It was snowing intermittently and in the dark it was hard to understand exactly where our route lay. Some harder pitches in the central section of the climb meant tiring but satisfying climbing. A VI/VI+ crack, completely ice-filled at 5900 m, almost stopped us. We climbed it with axes and crampons and knew at the top that the worst was over, and we had only to keep going. We climbed ice runnels and 55/60° ice slopes which took us to the finishing crest. One last effort took us to the main summit in between the clouds. The name of the route: Telegraph Road. We made 20 abseils straight down from the summit, along a line which will certainly be a good future objective.
For Lorenzo and I it was nice to think, for a short while, that the peak was unclimbed. We felt we were explorers pushing our limits where no-one had been before us. A fascinating and extraordinary experience, with the pleasure of climbing the peaks that you find right in front of you. Numbers, heights, grades and altitudes weren’t important. What was important was the adventure and the romanticism of Alpine climbing which is still important to many alpinists.
We look back on our experience with great enthusiasm: even though the expedition got off on the wrong foot, with meteo conditions that made Hassin Peak too dangerous, we managed to find new objectives and climb to our limits. Telegraph Road, the new 900m route climbed in 21 hours on Farol West (6370m), has difficulties of around VI/WI4/M4. Apart from the numbers, which are always important to understand what we’re talking about, what remain are the strong emotions of light-weight exploratory alpine climbing. Exploration not only of the mountains which we climb, but also, and maybe above all, deep inside of ourselves, trying to understand those elusive sensations which make us keep climbing.
Biography of Daniele Nardi (1976 - Sezze Romano) from the Salewa web site
Age 12, he annoyed his teachers drawing pointed mountains. Age 16, with a piece of marine rope, he started to climb on the mountains near his home. Age 19, after a long train journey, he made his first solo ascent of a 4000 m peak: the Grandes Jorasses. He loves rock climbing, and adores ice and mixed climbing. The pull of the mountains is, for him, stronger than anything else.
The distance from the Alps and his engineering studies keep him away from Alpine climbing for a couple of years. At the age of 21, he takes up again his pilgrimage of the 4000m peaks of the Alps and establishes several new mixed routes in the Apennines. 2001 sees his first 8000 m peak, attempting Gasherbrum II. Then it’s the turn of Cho Oyu, where he turns back a hundred metres from the top with the onset of frostbite. In 2004 the summit of Everest. Then follow Aconcagua, the middle Shisha Pangma peak in 24 hours from base camp, the attempt on Makalu, Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak in the same season.. K2 in 2007 marks a turning point, the documentary “K2, the dream, the nightmare” of his K2 Freedom expedition is transmitted on the national Italian TV RAI; he climbs K2 in two-and-a-half days. Today he runs a climbing gym and organises expeditions.
The last expedition, “Human Rights 1945”, reaches 200 m from the top of Ama Dablam’s Tsuro Ri shoulder. As a World Human Rights ambassador he has carried out projects in Nepal and Pakistan. “I’ll never be able to forget those kids’ smiles: a whole new world for me! Each climb is like making your autograph. Alpine climbing adds a difficult-to-describe poetic dimension to my life. I’m lucky to be able to live pursuing my passion, and without its music little else would make sense”.