story of a hidden Karakorum valley surrounded by beautiful granite walls

by Matteo Bedendo – photographer, climber / edit Federico Bernardi (c) MontagnaMagica

The Karakorum, in the collective imagination is often associated with the great peaks that rise along the Baltoro Glacier, the scene of epic expeditions and climbs since the early 1900s.

K2, Gasherbrums, Broad Peak, Chogolisa and Trango Towers, Laila Peak: the mountains that bring to mind great challenges of the past and present.

Yet the Karakorum includes dozens of more hidden and less known places, less accessible but with valleys, glaciers, mountains and granite walls of extraordinary beauty and mountaineering potential, with heights ranging from 4500 meters to over 7000 meters, which provide- for the few who venture there – climbing inexhaustible thrills and plenty of exploration possibilities.

Matteo Bedendo, a young and talented photographer and mountaineer, explored, photographed and wrote about one of these places in 2016: the Nangma Valley, located about 50 km south and parallel to the great Baltoro and K2 glacier.

We propose below his extraordinary historical report and below his photo gallery. 

 

                                               Nangma Valley – pin on Amin Brakk peak (Google Maps)

Last summer I had the privilege of photographing the most amazing valley I have ever seen.

The Nangma Valley is an aesthetically sublime place, secretly nestled in the heart of the Karakorum. Although I saw some western explorers as early as the sixties, this valley still remains unknown to most mountaineering and climbing enthusiasts. Anyone who knows this mountain range has probably heard of the Charakusa valley, dominated by the immense north face of K6; however, the valley that reaches this mountain from the south – called Nangma – has yet to show its immense mountaineering and naturalistic potential to a large part of the world.

When Eduard Koblmiller set foot in the valley during his successful K6 expedition in 1970, he described it as a place of “unusual and primordial beauty”. The Nangma Valley looks like an impressionist painting, made of extreme color contrasts and abstract lines that point the sky with astonishing verticality. Someone calls it the “Yosemite of Pakistan” although here, in addition to kilometer-long granite castles, there is also room for high altitude mountaineering – technical and difficult – typical of the Karakorum mountains. The beauty of the valley is almost touching and, unlike other and much more famous places, the base camps are only an intense day’s walk from the road.

The valley can be reached from the village of Kande, along the Hushe valley.

There must have been a long moment of creativity crisis since almost all the villages are called Kande, Khane, Kunde or Kanday. The Kande you need to reach is the last one. Having a guide with you is mandatory, although according to the law this is an “open zone”: at the military checkpoint along the valley, the military stops anyone without one. Fortunately, no liaison officer or briefing / debriefing is required in Islamabad – everything can then be arranged directly in Skardu, saving time, cost and bureaucracy. The Hushe valley sees every year some mountaineers / trekkers leaving the Gondogoro La, the famous high altitude pass that leads – with an alternative route to the classic – to Concordia and K2. But there is no guesthouse or tourist facility in Kande; a few years ago the entire village was destroyed by a landslide and was rebuilt a little further north. Your guide, if you are as lucky as we were, can arrange a guest room at some farmer’s house. Camping along the valley is definitely an option; any porters can be recruited directly the night before, in the village.

Although there is a great suspicion that this valley will become famous for its granite, pure rock routes and immense towers such as Amin Brakk, one cannot begin to speak of a mountain other than K6 (7282m).

Not only was the first ascent to K6 from this valley, but it is still the only ascent to the main peak. The impressive route established by Raphael Slawinski and Ian Westeld in 2013 on the north face – which led them to the victory of the Piolet d’Or – ended on the West summit. The real summit of K6 was only reached in 1970 by an Austrian expedition that trod the summit with four members: Eduard “Edi” Koblmueller, Gerhard Haberl, Christian von der Hecken and Gerd Pressl. For Koblmuller this is the first great success in Asia, which will be followed by a series of impressive climbs of the highest level especially in Karakorum: he will be the first to reach the main summit of Chogolisa (miraculously saved after the collapse of a frame) and will climb routes difficult on legendary mountains such as Batura, Cho Oyu, Diran, Rakaposhi and Nanga Parbat. The “via Austriaca” crosses the entire base of the mountain and crosses a hill until it attacks the “shoulder” from the adjacent valley (direct access from here would have been much longer) and then reaches the south-east ridge. The climbers evaluate some sections in the upper part as V + / A2. Many fixed ropes were used. The year before, an Italian expedition attempted to climb K6 from another route: instead of continuing towards the “shoulder” the route climbs sharply to the left along an ice ramp and then follows the west ridge (crossing K6 West) up to a series of rocky pinnacles which apparently proved too difficult. The first attempt dates back to an English expedition in 1961. A recent new route (Bennet – Zimmerman, USA, 2015) at K6 West, with mixed difficulty up to M6 and ice up to 90 °, is worth noting.

Kapura (6544m) is an elegant pyramid of rock and ice that rises from the west ridge of K6. Famous for having only recently been climbed – in 2004 – by Steve House, it only saw one ascent from Nangma Valley in 2013, by a pair of al Portuguese pin players. Paulo Roxo and Daniela Teixeira have made a route that ends on the south peak at about 6350m of altitude: it is called “Never Ending Dreams”, it extends for 1300 meters and presents difficulties of M4 and ice up to 70 °.

The Nangma Valley, as I mentioned earlier, has the potential to become a Yosemite of the East, with perfect, dry walls rising straight from base camp.

However, the mountain symbol of this valley does not have a comfortable wall, much less close to a possible base camp. The summit is a confusing party of frames and the exit from the wall cannot be done without ice equipment and a good ability to move on this type of terrain.

The Amin Brakk is one of the most impressive rock monoliths in the Karakorum and on the planet. Despite the not extreme altitude (about 6000 meters, although it appears a little lower on the maps), it is the real protagonist of this remote corner of Pakistan. Its west face looks like a torpedo twelve hundred meters high and terribly vertical. Indeed, the first part presents a more unique than rare case of overhanging slabs. The very compact “belly” that rises from the rotten and icy basal rocks does not in fact have the appearance of something that can be climbed free by a human being, although a system of cracks that crosses it cannot be excluded. It is an El Capitan of Asia, but it is much more difficult – and great: the local guides proudly reiterate that it is “much more difficult than the Trango Towers”. Recently discovered, it saw a first Spanish attempt run aground 300 meters from the summit in 1996, after staying on the face for fifteen days. It was only in 1999 that other Spaniards, Silvia Vidal, Pep Masip and Miguel Puigdomenech, reached the summit after thirty consecutive days on the wall. Their route, “Sol Solet” has a development of 1650 meters and most of the pitches have been climbed in aid, with difficulty in aid up to A5 and free up to 6c +. Over 500kg of material were transported to the face (almost half was water) and about thirty bolts were planted during the ascent, concentrated above all on the pitches where the granite proved to be very compact and smooth; two days of abseiling were necessary to descend and completely clean up the face. The mountain was named Amin Brakk as a tribute to their cook, Amin. A few days later the summit was reached again by a Czech consortium: “Czech Express” climbs more to the right than “Sol Solet” and has difficulties with aid of A3 and a greater development than the Spanish route. The ice reaches 70 °.
The “Namkor” route by Adolfo Madinabeitia and Juan Miranda climbs between the two aforementioned routes, has a development of 1550 meters and required thirty-one days of stay on the wall, most of which passed through the portaledge due to bad weather. Seventeen of the thirty-one pitches were climbed free (up to 6b +), while the greatest difficulties were encountered in the two pitches of A5.
In 2004 a Russian expedition, after having climbed the mountain partly by a new route, saw the first and only BASE jump in its history. Valery Rozov (who recently passed away during a jump on Ama Dablam) launched himself from a point near the summit ridge three hundred meters from the summit and, despite having passed dangerously close to a ledge during the first seconds of flight, the entire expedition ended with a success.

The classic expedition base camp on the right orographic side of the valley is a picturesque and magical place. The walls that overlook it are in themselves a satisfying goal for a rock purist.

Zang Brakk and Denbor Brakk are two peaks of 4800 meters that certainly do not go unnoticed for their aesthetics and verticality – and they are also an excellent fallback in case the most ambitious goals of the valley (read Amin Brakk) prove .. too ambitious, in fact. The granite is compact and colorful and there are still many possible routes to climb. Zang Brakk is certainly one of the most erotic towers in the valley, thanks to a really attractive appearance and – above all – instant access: the wall literally starts at the base camp. The development of the routes that go from the base to the top varies between 540 and 750 meters. The first ascent is once again due to Pep Masip and Silvia Vidal who in 1998 scoured the area to be able to look personally on the Amin Brakk, which they would have climbed the following year. The route is 540 meters long and most of the pitches have difficulty in aid up to A3. The couple reports that they have found old bolts of unknown origin a few meters beyond the start of the route. In 2000, three new routes were born. Two routes were established by a Korean team and present similar difficulties – 6a + A4-. The third route was established by a couple of British climbers and ends a short distance from the summit. “Ramchikor” is Mon g at 600 meters and was graded 5c + A2 by the openers. A recent addition is the “Hasta la Vista David” route, by Silvestro Stucchi, Elena Davila, Anna Lazzarini and Enea Colnago. The route runs along the southwest wall for 750 meters with difficulties of VI + and A1.
Libby Peter and Louise Thomas, authors of “Rachikor” on Zang Brakk, are also the first female climbers of Denbor Brakk – for a rather laborious route (debris and crest) with moderate technical difficulties. In 2009 the obvious south ridge of the mountain was climbed (to the south peak) by Americans Estes and Hepp, who described it as one of the worst climbs of their lives, much of it due to intense “gardening” that the two found themselves having to practice. A more direct Polish route takes place on the largest of the three pillars that characterize the mountain and has been called Dancer in the Dark. Although the Denbor Brakk is also very close to the base camp, it requires (except for a much longer tour) the crossing of a rushing glacial river-waterfall. A fixed rope is required to avoid major risks at each crossing.

After this long praise to the perfect granite of the valley it is time to break the article with a stupendous ice pyramid: Drifika (6447m).

The mountain, whose name is a distortion of a local word meaning “Palace of the Ghosts” is rather hidden. Its presence cannot be guessed from the main valley and to get there you have to cross the Amin Brak for a long time – crossing endless moraine slopes. The few people who have laid their eyes on his perfect profile probably did so from the north, from the Charakusa valley – where the first and second ascents (Japanese and Italians respectively) also took place. From the south the mountain looks just as splendid, but lately a bit battered – in the summer season – by the scorching Pakistani heat: photos from 2004 show steep couloirs of abundant snow which, at present, have been replaced by piles of debris in constant collapse . The rock here is no longer granite but, with good coverage, the Drifika shows a series of logical and interesting lines. Of the few expeditions that the mountain has seen from this side, it is the Slovenian one in 2004 that has come closest to success. Their turnaround a few tens of meters from the top was forced after having witnessed the fatal accident that happened to a member of the Basque expedition, a few hundred meters below them. The route of Matija “Matic” Jost and his companions is called “White River” and is as logical as it is beautiful: the exposure is guaranteed for the 1200 meters of route (60 ° ice, a short 90 ° jump on the serac). At present, the lower part is not accessible in the hottest months due to the endless collapses of debris. In 2007 a new Czech route reaches the West summit via the southwest ridge (M4, rotten rock).
In the glacial valley where Amin Brakk and Drifika face each other, there is room for another climb on ice. Korada Peak (5944m) was climbed by the Slovenians of “White River”, Gregor Blazic, Matija Jost, Vladimir Makarovic. While not huge by the standards of the Karakorum (it has the defect of being between two beautiful mountains) it has a remote and attractive aspect. The route was climbed and descended in 25 hours and although for the most part it is “only” a steep slope of ice, it overcomes a difficult rock band 60 meters high. It is rated TD + by the openers.

A rather obvious mountain in the valley is called Shingu Charpa (or “Great Tower”, ca. 5800m).

First climbed by Koreans Shin Dong-Chul, Bang Jung-Ho and Hwang Young-Soon in 2000. After discarding the idea of climbing the north ridge, they aided the obvious snowy couloir on the west face with fixed ropes. they then continued on delicate rock – always at risk of collapsing due to frequent rainfall. However, the real reason for the interest in this mountain remains its north ridge. It is almost sixteen hundred meters high and is a masterpiece of aesthetics. As logical as it is cyclopean, its story remains somewhat controversial. Known and attempted since 2000, it saw a Russian team covering it almost entirely up to the top in 2006. The Russians, however, made the ascent in two stages, that is, descending to about a third and then returning to the same point via a shortcut along the wall. East. Furthermore, although Igor Chaplinsky claims to have reached the summit free, it is now known that the three did not climb the last hundred meters of ice due to “lack of material”. Even having free climbed the entire ridge turned out to be a fake. A similar fate for the Americans Kelly Cordes and Josh Wharton who in the same year were rejected by the very hard black ice at the summit after having laboriously covered the entire ridge (with many sections in aid). Follow this intact ridge lmente, up to the top, remains one of the most ambitious open challenges in the valley.
The second ascent of the mountain took place the following year by Alexander Klenov, Mikhail Davy and Alexander Shabunin – Russian team – through the east face. The route is called “Never More” and intersects the north ridge on the final: the grade is very high and the development quite high (1600m, 7a, M5, A3).

The possibilities in the valley are endless, but we should mention the mysterious Changui Tower (often “Changi Tower”), whose east wall has already been climbed at least twice. The height of the tower should be around 5800 meters, although some old maps and reports indicate 5300. The mountain is located on the less famous side of the Amin Brakk, where the valley curves towards the K6, and is probably the second tallest structure. of the aggressive and complex mass of granite. A second Changi Tower (6500m), already known in the seventies and invisible from the Nangma valley, rises at the easternmost base of K6, and presents a difficult high altitude climb on mixed and ice, with very compact rock.
One of the fastest access towers (at least among those of defined and imposing appearance) is the Logmun Tower (or “Green Tower”, ca 4600m). Having placed the base camp at the bottom of the valley and not on the orographic right (so in case Amin Brakk, Zang Brakk and companions are not of interest to you ..) this huge triangular pillar is the most obvious vertical structure. The few routes marked out have free climbing up to 6a / 6b + and some artificial points up to A3: the climbing is always very continuous and demanding, and often the cracks need to be cleaned of vegetation. The development remains remarkable even if it is a pillar of not exaggerated altitude: it starts from a minimum of 600 meters to a maximum of 850 meters.

All along the valley there are hundreds of towers and virgin walls of perfect granite, as well as a decent choice of boulders. Despite a good number of very remote ice walls and a difficult, high and legendary mountain like K6, it is obviously the granite that reigns supreme here.

The Yosemite of Pakistan is ready to welcome the most demanding climbers who, in addition to a good dose of imagination and technical ability, are looking for a new earthly paradise, remote but accessible, where to experience modern and exploratory mountaineering at the same time.

 

NANGMA VALLEY EXPLORATION –  GALLERY 

all photographs by Matteo Bedendo – it is forbidden copy and share without explicit consent – all rights reserved (c) Matteo Bedendo Photography

hushe valley
nangma valley
amin brakk