BD athletes Kyle Dempster and Hayden Kennedy make first ascent of Hassan Peak in Pakistan's Charakusa Valley
Black Diamond athletes Kyle Dempster and Hayden Kennedy traveled to Pakistan's Charakusa Valley with Kelly Cordes this fall and the team managed a handful of climbs, including the first ascent of Hassan Peak (ca 6300m). Below is the report and photos that Hayden sent us shortly after he returned to the States.
[Dempster following a pitch high on Hassan Peak during day two.]
Arriving in the airport in Islamabad, Pakistan, is like landing in the middle of the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange. Everyone is yelling, there are no organized lines, and it’s pretty much complete chaos. This is how every Third World airport I have ever been to seems to operate. Kelly Cordes and I got in at 3:00 am on August 17 and by noon that day we had caught the flight to Skardu and were sorting gear for the trek into the Charakusa Valley.
The plan was to leave Skardu for the mountains on Aug 18th if our friend Kyle Dempster made it to Skardu. Kyle had been riding his bike for the last seven weeks through Kyrgyzstan and China, exploring side valleys and climbing along the way. He arrived that night with some wild stories from his adventures. Before we knew it we were starting our trek into the Charakusa Valley from the small village of Hushe. The trek was absolutely beautiful and really exciting for me because this was my first trip to Pakistan. The mountains of Pakistan are unreal and for an alpinist it’s a dream come true to get a chance to travel to the Karakoram.
We arrived in basecamp after two short days of hiking and set up our tents. Basecamp was really nice and had tons of granite boulders that offered good problems, which definitely helped with morale. The weather was perfect for the three days after we arrived and we all felt like we were in Yosemite. We weren’t acclimatized yet so we used that time to climb some smaller rock routes. The first day we climbed a cool rock buttress to an amazing knife-edge ridge traverse on the Iqbal Wall, reaching an elevation of about 4800m. The next day we climbed Tasty Talking (III 5.10+, ca. 300m) on Nayser Brakk (ca 5200m). Each morning we enjoyed Jeff Hollenbaugh’s Defiant Bean coffee; Pakistani’s consider instant Nescafe good coffee.
Nayser Brakk is one of the most unique rock features that I have ever seen; it looks like an Egyptian pyramid. We start walking from basecamp at first light and scrambled up a third-class gully to the base of the climb. The climbing was spicy for sure and quite loose at times, especially when we got off route at one point. Lots of face climbing with thin pro and grassy cracks seemed to be the theme. We reached the summit and had simply amazing views of K6 and the K7 massif. Back at basecamp our awesome cook Ghafoor cooked us french fries and chicken curry. Pretty much a great day in the mountains.
[Our amazing cook, Ghafoor.]
But all good things must come to an end. The weather closed in and we had some stormy tent days. Lots of people ask me, “Why go alpine climbing if all you do is suffer when you are climbing and then just sit in tent when you aren’t climbing?” It’s a good question. This was my second trip to Asia, and on each trip I learn more and more about myself and my own climbing. The suffering while alpine climbing is outweighed by the stunning mountains that you get to climb in and the solitude of these remote valleys. Alpine climbing gives to me much more than I could ever imagine, and I would feel empty as a climber without it.
Enjoying the comforts of basecamp is always nice but after a while the mountains start to tease you and all you want to do is go climbing. Kyle and I had hiked our gear up the glacier towards K7 and K6, and what the locals call Hassan Peak. From our gear cache we had great views of the West Face of Hassan; to our knowledge it hadn’t been climbed.
Over the next few days we hiked gear to our cache and continued to acclimatize. Finally some good weather was on the horizon and Kyle and I were ready to climb. We left basecamp early in the morning and hiked towards our cache. Midway through the hike I realized that I had forgotten my sunglasses at camp. Pretty stupid but when you are that psyched to climb it’s hard to remember everything so I hiked back and got them. The clouds were already moving in and by first light it was pouring down rain and both Kyle and I got completely drenched. It’s hard to start a big alpine route already wet and cold but that’s what we did. We crossed the shrund and soloed easy snow and ice to the base of a steep corner. Kyle lead a long rotten WI 4 pitch with poor pro to gain a small ledge were we soloed easy snow again. Reaching a small rock ledge I put in a belay and continued up a shallow rock corner that was choked with rotten ice. The mixed climbing was great with solid granite that offered good pro. Kyle led a strange traverse pitch to gain an ice ramp. The ice ended up being snow over rock and we enjoyed more cool mixed climbing in Scottish conditions.
[Hassan Peak on the left and the massive unclimbed west face of K6 on the right.]
Kyle continued up a long iced ridgeline to an okay bivy zone where we chopped for a few hours. The sky had cleared up and we had stunning views of the East Face of K7 as well as the massive West Face of K6. It stormed on and off throughout the night. The next morning I started off breaking trail up the 60-degree snow. I was feeling worse and worse so Kyle took over and did a great job of breaking trail and helping me out. Kyle is some kind of a beast and when he goes he just keeps on going. We reached another mixed band and enjoyed fun climbing on stellar granite. At noon a wild storm rolled in out of nowhere and the wind hit us like a freight train. Kyle was mid-lead on this crazy ice pitch when spindrift started showering him. This storm lasted for about two hours and then it was good again and we reached a small ledge about 200m below the summit. We chopped another bivy ledge and lay down for a cold, sleepless night.
The next morning was bitter cold but the steep snow above warmed us up. Snow climbing is harder than it looks and it really takes it out of you. Reaching a ridge near the top we found a huge overhanging serac blocking us from the summit. With no clue on how to get around the serac we down climbed to the right and traversed around the corner to find an exit. This was the wildest pitch of ice I had ever led in the mountains. The ice was brittle, steep and sometimes overhanging, with wild stemming to gain the summit snow slopes.
We reached the top mid-morning and looked off into India’s Siachen Glacier and took in all of the mountains around us. That night we were back in basecamp enjoying Ghafoor’s summit cake and french fries. A perfect adventure with a good friend, the first ascent of Hassan Peak (WI 5, M5, ca 6300m)
Pakistan is the subject of endless bad press from the Western media and Americans need to know that Pakistan is not at all what the Western media portrays. The Pakistani people are truly some of the nicest people that I have ever met and their businesses are suffering because the lack of tourism. Pakistan is an amazing country and I encourage people to look outside of the media and go experience it for yourself.
We would like to thank the Mugs Stump Award, Black Diamond Equipment, Patagonia, La Sportiva, Outdoor Research, Cilo Packs and Polartec for their support.