Just back from my own climb of Peru’s Alpamayo, I wanted to post a quick recap of recent news for the climbing world with success, dramas and death. Let’s start with some good news.
British climbers Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman showed Denali is not a simple walk up by making a rare repeat of the Slovak Direct route in an incredible 84 hours, First climbed in 1984 by Slovakians Blajez Adam, Tono Krizo and Franticek Korl; they took 11 days and the route has only been repeated five other times. The record of 60 hours set by Mark Twight, Scott Backes and Steve House was in 2000 using a single push.
The Slovak Direct takes a circuitous route on Denali’s South Face. It uses part of the West Buttress approach, Cassin Ridge and having 10,000 foot gain, requires 58 pitches, some at 5.10 rock of world-class climbing.
Congratulations to these climbers on a great feat.
For mere mortals, climbing the West Buttress has been difficult this season. Once again the end of the season proved to be too tough for many teams. Heavy late season snows (up to 3 feet at the 14,000′ camp) stalled efforts to go higher. With time, food and fuel running low many teams were forced to give up. I know this feeling because it was exactly this scenario that stopped my attempt one year ago to the date. Only a small Danish team and a Dave Hahn led RMI team remain. Even the Rangers have gone.
While statics show a equal amount of success for late seasons (June 15 starts onward), perhaps the changes in the climate have made it more difficult. If I ever go back to McKinley I will not start in June! The National Park Service website shows an usually low number of summits this year at 492 or a 44% summit percentage, the lowest in 13 years. Here’s a look at the summit stats for the popular West Buttress route since 2000 with the most popular summit day:
Denali West Buttress Route
source: National Park Service
|Year||Total Summits||%||Top Summit Date||#|
Nanga Parbat Drama
An ambitious effort on the worlds 9th highest mountain, Nanga Parbat (8125m) left some feeling a bit empty. A team of six, Cathy O’Dowd, Sandy Allen, Rick Allan, Lahkpa Nuru Sherpa, Lhakpa Rangdu Sherpa and Lhakpa Zarok Sherpa, attempted the very difficult and treacherous Mazeno Ridge only to be stopped short at the base of the summit pyramid by heavy snows and dwindling supplies after 11 days on the summit push.
The ridge is more than 10 km (6 miles) long requiring crossing eight 7000 meter (23000 ft) peaks along the route and has never been completed as one climb. It is the longest ridge on any 8000m mountain. Their expedition website is an excellent resource and very well done. Their last message said the team split with climbers Rick and Sandy pushing on and O’Dowd turning back.
Gasherbrum II/Broad Peak/K2
Several teams are making good progress on Broad Peak and we can expect summit attempts this upcoming week. Al Hancock is doing a nice job of documenting his effort. I reached Camp 2 on my 2006 Broad Peak expedition so can appreciate this progress. Reaching the true summit of Broad requires a dangerous traverse of the summit ridge so conditions will dictate what happens next.
On Gasherbrum II, look for as many as 20 climbers to go for the summit around July 16.
Over on K2, teams are making progress with Camp 1 established.
Mont Maudit Tragedy
On one of the most popular routes, 3 Mont Blancs, to the highest peak in Western Europe, Mont Blanc; an avalanche off Mount Maudit took 9 climbers early on July 13. The 16 inch slab avalanche hit without warning or even noise as reported by survivors. The dead included three climbers from the U.K., three from Germany, two from Spain and one from Switzerland. Fourteen other climbers were injured. And on Saturday, June 14, two more climbers died after being trapped on the Dôme du Goûter and hit by a storm.
I have personally climbed this route three times and know this section well. It is common to go as fast as humanly possible through this section given the impending uncertainty. What initiated the slide is still unknown. The alps had experienced warm temperatures and rain recently. Each year, over 50 climbers are killed on Mont Blanc with 8 in one accident in 2008 and 9 in 1994. It is one of the most popular mountains in all of Europe with over 20,000 reaching the summit annually.
One of the climbers lost was 55 year-old British climb Roger Payne. He made first ascents of routes in the Alps and climbed there every year from 1977. He took part in more than 20 expeditions to high and difficult peaks across the Karakoram and Himalaya – from K2 to little-known mountains on the borders of Sikkim, and Sichuan in China – as well as North and South America. He was a past General Secretary of the British Mountaineering Club.
It has already been a deadly year in the Alps with 20 deaths: Mont Maudit (9), Lagginhorn (5), Eiger (2), Dôme du Goûter (2), Dent Blanch (1) and Wetterhorn (1)
My sincere condolences to all who lost family, teammates, and friends. This is a video of the Mont Maudit rescue from Reuters:
Memories are Everything