BD grassroots athlete Doug Chabot makes first ascent of Hispar Sar (6400 m) in Pakistan
Black Diamond grassroots athlete Doug Chabot teamed up with Bruce Miller and Steve Su for a expedition to the unclimbed peaks of northern Pakistan’s Hunza region in August. Below is Chabot’s report and photos about the team’s first ascent on Hispar Sar (6400 m, 20,997 ft).
I was exhausted. We just pulled our ropes on the last rappel over the bergschrund. After climbing for two and a half days on a first ascent of Hispar Sar (6,400 meters), I only managed to snatch six hours of sleep during the climb, all of it in 15-minute increments.
This summer, Bruce Miller, Steve Su and I went to the Hispar Glacier in the Hunza region of northern Pakistan to attempt the unclimbed Pumari Chhish East (6,900 meters). It was tried by Steve in 2007 and again in 2009 by Raphael Slawinski. We had high hopes, but these were quickly dashed when we got to basecamp. A serac overhung the upper cliffs guarding the top quarter of the peak. Photos led us to believe that we could skirt the most dangerous part, but after two days scouring the route with a spotting scope we realized our plan was fantasy. A chunk of ice even calved off while we were watching, further sealing our decision look elsewhere.
Prior to the expedition, in Boulder, Steve showed us pictures from his 2007 attempt. He had an impressive photo of Hispar Sar, a towering nearby peak. At one point on our trek to basecamp Bruce and I popped over a moraine and saw a looming wall with a striking couloir splitting its face. Steve told us it was Hispar Sar. Wow, it was a beauty. Little did we realize in mere days this would become our primary objective.
[Bruce Miller points to the upper couloir on the southwest face]
Hipar Sar was tried by Simon Yates and Andy Parkin in 2004, the second of Simon’s attempts. They climbed the gully on the southwest face which Simon described as a “blatantly obvious couloir”, an apt description. They reached the south ridge, 300 meters shy of the summit and had to retreat due to bad weather and a dropped food sack. Another Brit, Rufus Duits, attempted the same line a few years later, but did not get much higher.
[Looking up the foreshortened southwest face.]
On August 2nd we packed up and left our basecamp on the Yutmaru Glacier. The base of the route was nine hours away. To save time we carried enough supplies to recon and also attempt the route. We spent the next day crafting a strategy and watching the couloir. It looked beautiful and we were optimistic at our chances. The weather was clear and forecasted to remain, the temperatures were freezing at night and the line up the face made us smile. We departed at midnight to avoid the wet avalanches and ice chunks that would scream down the gulley in the late afternoon. Bruce led the first block and easily crossed the bergschrund at 5,000 meters. By headlamp he ice climbed up delicate ribbons as Steve and I huddled at the belays. The pitches flew by and soon it was my turn to lead and simul-climb up the gully. Near the top of the couloir we could see a cornice threatening our exit to the ridge. We opted for a lower traverse instead, which was the beginning of Steve’s block. Like a thoroughbred race horse, we kept Steve well fed and rested and only let him run when it counted most. He climbed to the ridge on mixed terrain in seven pitches, the last one in the dark. The climbing was difficult (M6), loose and run out; he didn’t seem to mind.
[Steve Su leads difficult mixed terrain.]
[Steve Su belaying in fading light on Day 1.]
At the ridge we chopped snow and ice to accommodate an open bivy. The narrow ridge wouldn’t hold a tent, so we crawled into our bags, sat upright, and waited for morning. We climbed for 20 hours to get to this point; up 1,100 meters of WI4+ ice and heady mixed terrain. [Bruce and Steve after a night of snuggling on the bivy ledge.]
The sunrise brought immediate relief to the cold with views toward the summit and a breathtaking panorama of the Karakorum crest including K2 and Nanga Parbat. We brewed up, ate and left early that morning. Bruce led 300 meters to the top, sometimes on easy snow, other times over mixed terrain. The climbing was not as easy as we had hoped, but things rarely are in the mountains.
[View from the summit: Kayung Chhish on the left, Pumari Chhish on the right.]
At 3 p.m. we were as close to the top as we could safely get. A fully curled cornice was dripping and threatening to peel away, so we took turns, one at a time, getting belayed to the summit so we could look down the serac choked north face. I set the raps and we made it back to camp before dark. Well before sunrise we started down the couloir by rappelling off our only picket. 20+ raps over six hours brought us down, although warm temperatures let loose a few unwelcome missiles towards the bottom.
Exhausted, we all stumbled back to our cache of food where we ate and napped. We had to fight the inertia of food and sleep deprivation, so we egged ourselves forward, hiking a grueling seven hours back to basecamp. A week later we again loaded up our packs for an attempt of Tahu Rutum (6,651 meters). After a 20-hour hike over two days we had to abandon our plan due to bad snow conditions and continued snowfall. On the 23rd of August we hiked out, our expedition finished.
[Bruce Miller lounging in front of Tahu Rutum.]
Our expedition was largely funded by the Mugs Stump Award. Bruce, Steve and I were very grateful for their assistance.
Particulars: First ascent of Hispar Sar, 6,400 meters. 1,400 meters of climbing, rated WI4+, M6. August 4-6, 2011.
[Bruce Miller hiking alongside the Hispar Glacier with unclimbed 6,000 m peaks behind.]