AMERICANS MAKE FIRST ASCENT OF CHOKTOI

Posted on: August 17, 2007


No place for sleep walking: Camp II on the north ridge of Latok I (7145m). This prize, sometimes referred to as the "Walker Spur of the Karakoram," defeated Doug Chabot, Mark Richey and Steve Swenson at 5900m. However, the three were successful in making the first ascent of Suma Brakk (aka Choktoi or Choktoi I, 6166m) while acclimatizing for Latok I. [Photo] Mark Richey

The elegant north ridge of Latok I (7145m) rebuffed yet another strong attempt when Doug Chabot, Mark Richey and Steve Swenson bailed from a height of ca. 5900 meters, a point nearly half way up this elegant and much coveted line but still a considerable distance from the elusiuve summit.

Richey has attempted the ridge several times before, on his best try, in 1997, reaching much the same high point with John Bouchard, Tom Nonis and Barry Rugo. In that year conditions were very warm and dry, and the four climbed on the crest of the rock pillar throughout. Unfortunately, high temperartures caused rockfall from high on the face and despite settled weather the team felt it unsafe to continue. This year icier conditions during early July allowed them to bypass the lower spur via steep runnels, allowing an ascent of around 800 meters on the first day. Higher, deep unconsolidated snow on the horizontal sections of the ridge more or less stopped them in their tracks and the three descended on their third day. The ridge now has received over twenty attempts by a variety of highly talented parties, though none has come close to the first: Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy, George and Jeff Lowe, who reached ca. 7000 meters in 1978 (see the September 18, 2006 Newswire), one of the finest near misses in the history of alpinism.

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In order to acclimatize for this attempt, Chabot, Richey and Swenson made the first ascent of a 6166-meter summit above the north bank of the Choktoi glacier. This settled an old score for Richey, who had attempted it in 1998 from the west with Bouchard. The peak lies immediately east of Hanipispur (6047m) and has been known for sometime as Choktoi or Choktoi I (it is referred to as such on the Japanese maps of the Karakoram). It was probably first attempted in 1978 by Jim Curran, Malcolm Howells, Dave Potts and Barry Whybrow, who were defeated by a nine-day storm. In 1997 another British party attempted a different route on the same peak, surmounting difficulties of Scottish VI and A2 before the line blanked out. Chabot, Richey and Swenson climbed from the southeast, making an alpine style ascent of this beautiful triple-summited mountain over two and a half days. The climbing was mostly on snow and ice, and the name Suma Brakk has been proposed: Suma means three summits in Balti.

With much snow in the high mountains this summer, climbing proved difficult and sometimes dangerous. As it seemed most unlikely that conditions would improve significantly for another attempt on Latok I, Chabot departed, leaving Richey and Swenson to make attempts on other mountains. They first tried the equally-coveted, unfinished line of the nearby southeast ridge of Baintha Brakk (aka The Ogre, 7285m) but a severe threat of avalanche in the initial ice fall, leading to the col at its foot, quickly called a halt. This is another line that has thwarted many valiant and not so valiant attempts, the best coming from Mike Colombo, Tom Nonis, Steve Potter, Mimi Stone and Brinton Young, who in 1991 reached ca. 7120 meters, only about 30 meters below the unclimbed East Summit.

Finally, Richey and Swenson attempted Choktoi Spire (ca. 5900m), unaware that the peak had been climbed in 2006 by Jeff Relph and Jon Walsh. These two were looking for a consolation prize after aborting an attempt on the Ogre's southeast pillar at 6850 meters. The Spire rises out of the upper Choktoi glacier to the east of the Ogre and the pair climbed a 600-meter, west-facing couloir (50 degrees) to gain the southeast ridge, which they followed to the summit (six pitches of excellent granite climbing up to 5.10 with a single tension move that might go free with rock boots at mid 5.11). They named the route Pain is Priviledge (5.10 A2, 800m, Relph-Walsh, 2006; see the September 21, 2006 Newswire).

Richey and Swenson climbed further left via another, broader, ice gully to reach the northwest ridge. Though lots of fun, this ridge was very technical and eventually the pair had to retreat just six meters from the highest point when faced with a blank summit block. They returned to the glacier having climbed continuously for thirty hours.

The triple summited Suma Brakk (aka Choktoi or Choktoi I, 6166m) rises above the lower Choktoi glacier and was climbed for the first time by Doug Chabot, Mark Richey and Steve Swenson in a two and a half day alpine style ascent. [Photo] Mark Richey

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