Report by Marcos Costa
Expedition Members: Bruce Normand, Billy Pearson, Marcos Costa
Plan: Climb Gasherbrum IV (GIV) 7925m.
Last Minute Plan: Climb Gasherbrum II (GII) 8035m.
Expedition Dates: From June 1st - July 31st. 60 days
The Gasherbrum group is located at the end of the Baltoro glacier on the border with China. It consists of 6 mountains Gasherbrum I-VI aligned in a horse shoe pattern with Gasherbrum glacier in its middle.
Our Target: Establish a new route on the unclimbed East face of GIV.
We all arrived in Islamabad at 5am on June 1st and hopped on the 7am flight to Skardu the same morning. We wanted to waste no time and get the expedition going as soon as possible. The moment we arrived in Skardu, our super agent and friend Ghafoor had all things ready. We stayed a day in Skardu for our briefing with the the local government and last minute fruits and vegetable shopping. We left for Askoli on our jeeps as soon as everything was ready. The drive on the Karakoram highway KKH is always exciting and this time our road was blocked by a landslide, not an uncommon occurrence. We had to unpacked the jeeps, carry our goods by foot across the river and load it on another Jeep to continue our trip to Askoli.
From Askoli it is a 7 day hike to the Gasherbrum base camp. The actual hike is 6 days long, but usually the porters stop one day to make "chapatis" for the last 3 days hiking on the glacier, where wood is not available for fire. Since we gave our porters Kerosene for cooking we told them we would like to do the hike in 6 days time to which they agreed. The hike went well and with no hiccups. In 6 days time we were setting up our base camp(5100m) with beautiful views of Gasherbrum I aka. Hidden peak.
We went to work right away on finding a route up the icefall. In 2009 Bruce and Billy had been in Pakistan trying a new route on GIII. The approach is the same we would use, but it took them almost 2 weeks to find a way through the icefall. This year we were lucky however, on the 1st day we found our way through most of the difficult terrain and on the second day we were up at C1(5900m). C1 is also the advanced base camp for climbing GII. From C1 we hiked up the Gasherbrum glacier and up a snowfield (somewhat protected) under some seracs. This is where we established C2 (6400m) and it is also where the begging of the technical climbing started for our route on GIV. From C2 we had to make our way up to the Gasherbrum cwm 600 vertical meters above us. The only safe line we found was climbing the left side of the seracs on snowfields and 10 pitches of 50-60 degree ice. The line was threatened by a couple big serac blocks, but we thought stable enough to cross them a few times. We established C3 at the cwm just short of 7000m inside a big crevasse. Strong winds were constantly blowing from China and we decided camping inside the crevasse would offer us the most shelter. It took us almost 4 weeks to acclimatize, find a route up to this camp and climb to this altitude. Just getting to C3 was extremely time consuming and required consecutive days of good weather. From C3 is where the real technical climbing started.
On July 9th on a good weather day we climbed up to 7300m just below the 1st rock band. We found the snow in good condition and hoped that our tracks would be present the following day on our summit attempt. We deposited some gear at this spot and went down. The following day we did a proper alpine start at 2am, had breakfast and set off, the wind was blowing form China as usual and our tracks were totally gone. We had to posthole all the way up to just below the bergshrund where the snow hardened. Even on the snow field above the bershrund had no tracks. Spindrift slid down the face as we climbed covering ours tracks and depositing fine powdery snow over the polished marble stone on the face. We go to our gear stash right as the sun was rising. We stomped a ledge on the snow then I proceeded to geared up as Billy got ready to belay, though we had no actual anchor. The compact polished marble of the face offered nothing for protection. All Billy could do was stand on the ledge and belay me from his harness. Bruce went on to tie to the end of the rope as well. As I began climbing the slope got steeper and after 30 meters of climbing I had absolutely no gear on the wall yet. I looked everywhere for a gear placement, but none were to be found. I have never climbed anything this bizarre in my life. Soon I found myself climbing on 80 degree polished rock covered in 125px of powdery snow. At this point I saw Bruce untying from the rope, as he realizes a fall would kill us 3 since we had no gear. I climbed up a few more meters desperately looking for gear. All that separated us from the next snowfield was a short 5 meter vertical section, but it was way too risky to continue. I down climbed, headed left and looked for another way up. No luck. I down climbed and headed right. Nothing.
In disbelief I climbed the middle section again, I spent one hour clearing the snow and looking for placements that may be hidden under the snow. I found nothing. Down climbing in utter defeat I think to myself “this is unbelievable, we spent so much energy, time and money to get to this point and are shut down.There’s got to be a way! However after weighing the consequences of a fall, I decide that no climb is worth dying for”. As I return to the snow ledge I tell Bruce and Billy I am sorry. They both agree that the risk is too high, so we bail.
Down at base camp a last minute opportunity comes up. My friend Guillaume Vallot who was trying to climb GII with Matthieu Menadier (Meme), Jeremy Rumebe and Colin Haley is left without a partner. Meme and Jeremy had summited a few days before while Colin had given up on climbing. He asked me if I would consider climbing with him. Feeling well acclimatized after spending 4 nights at 7000m and with a potential good weather windows on the way I said “HELL YEAH”.
We would be climbing the normal route (Southwest ridge) on GII. On July 20th we headed back up to C1(5900m). On the 21st we skipped C2(6550m) and went straight to C3(7000M) in 5 hours. We decided to skip C4(7330M) and to start climbing at 12am since our weather window had deteriorated and the forecast now was for heavy snow after 1pm on the 22nd. At C3 we paired up with a Bulgarian climber named Boyan Petrov who missed the climbing window on the 21st and was now was alone. We climbed fast through the night. I reached the summit(8035m) at 7:44AM and Guillaume soon after. Boyan was a bit slower, but due to the cold and deteriorating weather we did not wait for him. Guillaume and I had a brief celebration on the summit, took some photos and quickly started to go down. By 10am we were back at C3 and by 1pm back at C1.
This is my first 8000m peak. I decided from the beginning I would climb it without oxygen, in alpine style and would not touch the fixed ropes. I didn't even take my harness past C1.