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
After K6 Central climbed for the first time by Jeff and Priti Wright, a French duo , Symon Welfringer e Pierrick Fine ,bagged another great first ascent of the Sani Pakkush South Face
2500m / 90° / M4+ / WI4+
Symon Welfringer e Pierrick Fine
Arrived in the beginning of October on the Toltar glacier we acclimatized around our basecamp situated at the base of the massive South face of Sani Pakkush which remained unclimbed.
After two weeks we were ready to give a try in this big piece of alpinism. Poor weather conditions made us wait fax days more but the sun was expected to shine for almost one week which made us allow to give a proper try in the face.
After an early start at 2am form our basecamp on the first day, we met the first difficulties at an altitude of 5000m at the very beginning of the face, with some sustain ice pitches. Then follow some more easy terrains of snow and mixed climb. At around 5600m we made one of the hardest pitches of M4+/M5 to find a little platform and make an uncomfortable bivy.
On the second day we managed to get high up on the face and made two awesome pitches of pure ice. At around 6200m we look for a desperate bivy sport but never find it. Finally we wait for the sun to come back sited on a rock.
On the third day, we were really exhausted after two bad bivys. We decided to put our tent at an altitude of 6400m on the summit ridge where we find a nice and comfortable crevasse to have a proper rest.
On October the 19th, we decided to make a summit with almost no gear. We let our bivy in place and went for the last 500m on the snowy summit ridge. With a constantly changing quality, it was harder and harder to go up the summit but after 7 hours of hard work sometimes digging into powder snow. We arrived at 14pm completely exhausted on the Sani Pakkush summit at 6953m.
We spend our last day going down this massive face of 2500m, switching between rappelling (20-25) and downclimbing. On the late afternoon of October 20th, we made it safely back to basecamp empty of all our energy and lots of emotions in our minds.
“Least difficult” 7000ers ?
In August 2019 I followed and then read the story of a climb to Spantik, a 7027mt mountain in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan; Spantik is a rather common destination for those approaching high altitudes, due to its relative absence of great technical difficulties along the normal route, however not at all easy for the very long development and some technical sections.
If the route is not equipped with fixed ropes and tracks, as in the case in question, the “relative ease” become another affair; in fact, the two climbers will face the bid to the summit starting from 5500mt on completely virgin and unknown terrain, without ropes or tracks. For Graham, after a brilliant start of the climb, the long attack on the summit cost him the first experience of typical symptoms of altitude sickness : hallucinations and exhaustion – fortunately managed in an excellent way and with the help of the great experience of Giampaolo, who chose the fast ascent as both the descent tactic ,without bivouacs , which led the pair to Base Camp happily and without any health consequences.
The protagonists of this story are two mountaineers with very different experience: Graham Wyllie, a young and strong Scottish mountaineer without high altitude experience and the veteran Giampaolo Corona, 47-year-old mountain guide of the Dolomites who has climbed several eight thousand and other important peaks in the Himalaya and Karakorum. Both left alone for Spantik, sharing the logistics with other expeditions, they met and decided to attack the summit together: what follows is the story of this climb written by Graham; an example of good style, of a new friendship and of great perseverance on a terrain unknown to him, with the help – however mutual – of the great experience of “Jumpy” Corona.
While not representing a particular mountaineering relevance, I think this story contains some of the most important values in mountaineering. Thanks to Graham (and Giampaolo, who told his version HERE) for permission to translate the article that appeared on his blog, I wish you a good read.
Giampaolo Corona, the Veteran
Giampaolo Corona is an Alpine Guide with an impressive curriculum, but he has always kept a little under the radar of the big media.
He recounted the climb with Graham to Spantik HERE. During a long and very pleasant chat on the phone, I believe I understood some fundamental things of Giampaolo’s philosophy; first of all, the distinction he made between expedition at “normal” 7/8000rs and lower peaks but much more technical: in the first case, often Giampaolo starts alone, joining the logistics of Base Camp with another commercial expedition, but not using – or doing it at minimum possible – fixed ropes and no porters help. Always climbing in alpine and light style, in both cases. But on the 8000 or 7000 like the Spantik, he generally finds new partners in the climb on the spot, and chooses them with his insightful and inner feeling . His experience allows him to immediately understand if he can share the climb with someone else. In more technical expeditions, on the other hand, he prepares and carefully chooses the team of climbers. He explained how important it is for him to make new friends, meet new people and enjoy the trip a lot. But its preparation is always accurate and thorough. From his first Himalayan experience he told me that he had immersed himself in technical texts and treatises on preparing for high altitude. It is important for him to optimize the acclimatization time very much and then go up as quickly as possible, taking with him the bare minimum.
In fact he writes:
“I consider my body as an engine to prepare, the equipment is my hardware, the head is my software. You have the head or not. Without it it is better not to leave.
I am looking for simplicity, the essential. Perfection is achieved when there is nothing more to remove, not when there is nothing more to add. Fast and light climbing seems easy, in reality it is the result of a huge upstream work (both technical and physical as well as psychological preparation). Nothing is invented. “
And then he explains:
The way up to Spantik is long and complex (ridge, mixed areas, steep slopes of snow and ice, very long “plateau”). A path that winds for 8 kilometers, 2500 meters of ascent. After only 8 days from arriving at base camp, I felt ready. I would have used only one support point at 5500 m above sea level where I had left my tent and bare essentials for a bivouac, skipping the classic camp 1 and 3. I had imposed myself once I reached the top to go straight to the base camp .
I would even have agreed to try climbing completely on my own.
By chance I met a young and strong Scottish mountaineer Graham Wyllie there, who agreed with me on lightness and simplicity, so I said why not try it together?
In the end, Giampaolo got on very well with young Graham, and a real friendship was born.
This, for Giampaolo, is the real added value in living a light,clean and fair mountaineering.
Interview : Graham Wyllie
A.This was my second trip to the Greater ranges. My first was back in 2008 when I was part of a team of 4 that attempted a peak to the south of Masherbrum called Cathedral peak (6247m). The weather was poor and we only reached a little over 5500m. I was 19 at the time and It gave me valuable experience and a reference point to base future trips on. This helped a lot with the Spantik trip as there were far less unknowns on the logistical side of things. I had a few of my climbing partners interested in the trip in Late 2018 but by the time we went in June 2019 there were just two, Andra and myself.
We used the same local tour company as I did in 2008 and took only a base camp service. This takes a lot of stress out of the approach to the mountain and you can relax a bit and focus on acclimatising and taking in the impressive surroundings. Above base camp things are simple. We had one tent, no porters and no fixed ropes.
We climbed as alpine style as we could and I had similar clothing with me that I would use in Scotland in the winter. At a glance ‘Alpine Style’ sounds like it should be lightweight but when you are moving a tent, Sleeping bag, stove, food, etc It doesn’t work out like that! For expedition gear like Radios, Sat phone HA tent, etc, Andra is a member of the Dutch Alpine Club (NKBV) and they let us borrow pretty much all the specific kit we needed which was fantastic.
Q. How did you prepare to high altitude before the trip, if you did it?
A.For the altitude I did nothing specific before the trip. The highest point in Scotland is 1345m so trying to get some natural acclimatization beforehand would have meant going abroad. I was more focused on fitness and my energy levels. I had quit my job at the beginning of the summer of 2018 and spent 2 months in the Alps. This combined with a lot of winter climbing in Scotland inadvertently provided me with a large specific base of aerobic fitness. I had to do some long trips away with work during the spring but It was quite physical work and I could also use the gym so I managed to stay pretty well conditioned. The month before the trip I did a small volume of hill running and some rock climbing. After pushing myself a lot in the winter and then the trips with work, I was careful not to exhaust myself and aimed to arrive in the Karakorum well rested.
Q. How old are you, and can you tell me briefly about your climbing history?
A. I’m 31 and have been enjoying the mountains since I was 9 when my father started taking me hillwalking in Scotland. I stuck with it and by my mid-teens we were going on Walking holidays to the Alps. Seeing peaks like the Dent du Géant and the Weisshorn really inspired me to get into climbing and gain the skills necessary to go to those high places. It was around this time I started reading mountaineering literature as well which added more fuel to the fire. In late 2007 I got taken up my first easy winter route in Scotland and began the long process of building experience and technical knowledge. In 2008 I summitted my first 4000m peaks in the Alps and also went on my first expedition. In the years since I have slowly worked my way up the grades and climbed also a lot in the Alps. For now I am focused on more technical climbing in Scotland both in summer and winter and hopefully I can transition this to exciting objectives in the Alps and Greater Ranges in the coming years.
Spantik: Graham’s Story
I was higher than I had ever been. Somewhere above 6500m on Spantik’s Summit ridge. It had taken three weeks to get here. Three weeks of flying, driving, trekking, climbing and acclimatising. I had felt strong since we left Camp 2 at 5500m at around 0130 but now the altitude meant that the few steps I was taking were backed up by rests and heavy breathing. Progress was slow and I could see Messner in his hooded down jacket ahead of me.
Aside from my body my mind was feeling the altitude too, playing tricks on me and polluting my concentration with confusion and playful misinformation. It was not Messner I reminded myself every so often, It was ‘Jumpy’ an Italian Guide from the Dolomites.
This was our first ever day climbing together, we’d met barely a week ago but circumstances had brought us together.
Along with instances of de-ja-vu I felt another familiar presence with us, an old woman, perhaps somebody’s mother approving of our zig zagging trail through the ankle deep snow. There was a rocky section with steep snow ahead. It didn’t seem to be getting closer. I kept following Jumpy’s tracks, I was now too far behind to take my turn breaking trail. If he had been closer perhaps I would have told him I was going back.
Some time went by with little progress. A constant struggle and the same hallucinations. Before long the icy wind provided us with a new problem and every 5-10 mins we stopped to warm our freezing hands. As time raced by we inched towards the rocky outcrop. This must be it. Just another 20 or 30m of struggle then the summit and we could go down. Eventually we surmounted the the steep section but the ridge continued upwards. I caught up with Jumpy. He said another 50m altitude to go. I tried to break trail but he overtook me.
The struggle went on for so long and then we arrived. A bare plateau of snow. The fruits of an idea I had while alone in a Canazei bar over a year ago and all the planning, travelling and climbing since. I felt emotional. The pure joy that I’ve only experianced a few times before, when dreams are realised, when I am exactly where I know I should be.
We didn’t spend long there, maybe ten minutes leaving to start the descent at 1130. The first part of the descent went well. We retraced our steps down the ridge and reached our bags on the plateau. Then we moved towards the top of the SE ridge and the normal site for Camp 3. The section between this and Camp 2 is the technical crux of the route. Andra and myself had had a bit of an epic here the following week when we tried to establish Camp 3. For most climbers this section is made safe by fixed ropes but no team had fixed it in almost a month leaving them now in an incomplete and dangerous state. Free climbing this upwards in good conditions is easy, downclimbing this while exhausted and after the midday sun has taken it’s toll on the ice is a different matter.
Jumpy went on down. There wasn’t much he could do for me. I methodically front pointed my way down the steep sugary ice stopping often for breaks. I toyed with the idea of making an abolocov to abseil but it wasn’t practical. It would have justified carrying the rope though, it was still coiled in my sack as we had solo’d together all day. Eventually I reached easier ground beyond a bergshund and made quick progress down a snow slope then the rocky spur that runs for about 100m down the centre of the face. Beyond this the lower half of the face is more sugary ice albeit at a less serious angle than higher up. Without exhaustion I would normally make quick work of this terrain despite its poor condition. Today was different. I advanced facing down the slope and constantly struggled for my footing. The first section went ok. Starting down the next section my crampons gave way and I began to slide down the slope. After 10-15m my ice axe arrest held and I came to a halt with an avalanche of sugary ice flowing around me. I front pointed down the rest of the slope.
The rest of the journey to camp 2 was without further incident. There are crevasses but they are obvious and easy to cross or avoid. The only other issue was the snow. Now softened by the heat of the day it was torturous. Nevermind I told myself, soon I could blissfully collapse in my tent at camp 2. At around 1630 when I arrived Jumpy had packed his tent away and was waiting for me. He informed me of incoming bad weather and that I needed to go down to base camp too. It was the last thing I wanted to hear but he was right and staying wasn’t really an option. I packed up the tent, cooking and sleeping equipment and ended up with quite a hefty sack.
I knew the route down from camp 2 well by now. Andra [initial partner and holland climber,NdR]and myself had travelled it a few times in our efforts to acclimatise and prepare for our summit attempt. Between camp 2 at 5500m and camp 1 at 5050m the route is an undulating snow ridge four kilometres long. It’s quite exposed and scenic in places. There are occasional crevasses and cornices but nothing overly serious. The main issue with travelling down at this time is the condition of the snow. Jumpy went on ahead. He kept an eye backwards to make sure I was progressing but there was no point in us both going at my exhausted methodical pace. Sometimes while sinking over my knees into the snow the familiar old woman was there. She knew about the deep snow and she made me feel a bit better about it.
Eventually I arrived into camp one and it was getting dark so I put my headtorch on. I began to feel a bit better and was able to move a little faster. Perhaps this was the lower altitude catching up with me or the fact that the route from here is pretty much completely downhill. The path down to base camp from here is good. It is steep in places but it’s well marked and snow free consisting mainly of dirt, scree and shattered although somewhat stable rock. About two thirds of the way down a headtorch grew close. It was Andra who offered her congratulations. An emotional Paco, our cook/local guide/fixer, emerged from the darkness and gave me a hug. The happiest anyone has ever been to see me I think! He carried my sack the remaining few hundred meters to base camp arriving sometime after 2100 where I was met by the Catalan expedition and Jagged globe’s cooks and HAP’s who congratulated me also.
Base Camp as seen from C1 (c) Graham Wyllie
In the end I am very pleased with the style of my ascent. A long push from camp 2 was never going to be easy especially to come back down to BC the same day. In hindsight had me and Andra managed to establish camp 3 then I believe we would have summited together. This would however have left us stuck at camp 3 through a weekend of bad weather. A long push from camp 2 became the only option given the time we had left and this is certainly not the easy way. The lack of fixed ropes also meant that risk on the serious descent down to camp 2 from the plateau when energy levels are low had to be carefully considered. Both Jumpy, who has considerable experience on 8000m peaks, and myself felt that Spantik was harder than it’s reputation suggests. This may have been down to the long alpine style nature of our ascent but even still I felt that it was not a peak that should be underestimated. It is a 7000m peak with a long route and technical passages that is subject to Karakorum weather and conditions.
Its a lot of time and effort to climb peaks of this scale. It has taken 4 weeks of travelling, trekking, acclimatising and climbing and that is just to have a chance at the summit and does not include preparation before the trip of logistics, kit, permits and visas. How well you acclimatise, staying healthy and being fit enough all are decisive factors and of course tie in with the level of risk you are prepared to take in a hostile environment. The weather always has it’s say and you can easily spend days sitting in Camp waiting for it to change as I did on a previous unsuccessful expedition to a different peak in the range. Even with success about half of our time on Spantik was spent resting or waiting for weather at base camp. The journey itself, namely the places and the people encountered are also to be appreciated because if it is all viewed as a means to a summit then it’s going to be a long and potentially disappointing trip.
Matteo “Berna” Bernasconi, born in 1982, Ragno di Lecco since 2003, mountain guide since 2011, died yesterday 12 May 2020, swept away by an avalanche in the Malgina Colouir in Valtellina.
Matteo Bernasconi (born in Lecco in 1982, Ragno di Lecco in 2003, mountain guide since 2011)
– 2006 new icefall route on the SE face of the Baratro in Val di Mello with Giovanni Ongaro
– 2006 with Hervé Barmasse, Lorenzo Lanfranchi and Giovanni Ongaro he opened a new route on the then untouched north face of San Lorenzo (Patagonia)
– 2008 with Fabio Salini completes the first Italian – and seventh overall – repeat of the legendary via dei Ragni on Cerro Torre (Patagonia)
– between 2010 and 2013 three attempts to climb the last great wall still untouched in the Cerro Torre massif, or the West of the Torre Egger, finally resolved by comrades Matteo della Bordella and Luca Schiera in March 2013 a few days after returning to Italy by Bernasconi for work commitments.
– 2017 in Patagonia with Matteo Della Bordella and David Bacci opens a new route on the east face of Cerro Murallon
– 2020 (February) in Patagonia with Matteo Della Bordella and Matteo Pasquetto he opened The die is taken on the north of the Aguja Standhardt, just before repeating the Via del 40esimo dei Ragni di Lecco on the north face of the Aguja Poincenot.
I have already had occasion to mention the darkest part of my passion in telling Mountain Stories, the confrontation with the death of women, men, friends, friends, family; the poor attitude to confront the mystery of physical disappearance, the inevitability of events that overwhelm even the most prudent in the mountains.
You never get ready when a young father dies, such a beloved figure as that of Bern: with his curls, his smile and his overwhelming sympathy, his humble and professional availability as a mountaineer and mountain guide.
While sipping coffee this morning, I saw a silent post on Riky Felderer’s bulletin board, there was a picture of “Berna” (his nickname). A punch in the stomach.
In 2013 I started writing thanks to a series of messages exchanged with Matteo Bernasconi, who the year before had touched the sensational feat on the West Wall of the Egger Tower together with Matteo Della Bordella, when the two remained hung to life “With a Little Help from … a friend “after a fall, both hanging from a 0.3mm friend.
Matteo Bernasconi e Matteo Della Bordella (arch Ragni Lecco)
This is how my personal story as a modest writer and reporter of mountain things began: for the overwhelming sympathy, for the professionalism, the passion that Matteo Bernasconi immediately transmitted to me – and the same goes for the current President of the Spiders of Lecco, the his great friend Matteo Della Bordella.
The fact that his nickname is like mine, “Berna”, seems funny and silly,but it was something special to me. I don’t write this for rhetoric : without you, Berna, I probably would not have found the courage to write to famous, expert mountaineers to begin my journey in this passion for extraordinary people, capable of extraordinary feats on peaks, like you.
Tentativo sulla Siula Grande, Matteo Bernasconi (arch Ragni Lecco)
Matteo, you went on too early.
A huge hug to your little daughter, to your girlfriend, to the Spiders of Lecco and to all your friends.