Eric Decaria on the first ascent of Super Cat (VI 5.11 R A1, 1060m, 27 pitches), a twelve pitch variation to Freebird (VI 5.11d A1, 1060m, Copp-Pennings, 2000), Cat’s Ears Spire (ca. 5730m), Karakoram, Pakistan. The two-day alpine-style ascent was the formation’s second overall. Both Decaria and Dash summitted by leading and then down leading the final summit block in a snowstorm. [Photo] Micah Dash
Phari Lapcha West, First Ascent. Saturday, October 14, 7 a.m.: I imagined my axe breaking bone. Crash, kick, kick, nose, ice, shoulder, ice, skull, brittle, swing, show no fear, crash.
Jon Bracey continued up a steep corner. On my subsequent lead I traversed beneath a massive roof. A wall of loose, smooth, icicle-covered, black-and-orange rock surged into the blue sky. The next corner, which we hadn’t been able to see, could determine whether or not the route would go.
“It should go, but it looks hard,” Bracey shouted down.
On October 10 Bracey and I had arrived at our base camp:+#8200;the Gokyo Resort Lodge (4800m). After acclimatizing to 5500 meters, on Friday the 13th, we’d bivied beneath the gully that leads directly to the unclimbed west summit (5977m) of Phari Lapcha (aka Machermo; 6017m). Waterice plastered to a deep cleft had promised similar climbing to the Supercouloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul.
I now wondered about the Bracey version of hard. Stomping, panting, I peered up. Bracey stood in a cave beneath a cascade of icicles. To the left a fluted, ice-mushroom-covered cone led to a steep, mixed corner.
“And now zee crux!” I’d wanted to shout that ever since I’d watched the DVD of Sebastien Constant and Jerome Mercader climbing Bonfire of the Vanities (ED1: M5 WI4, 1000m, 27 pitches) to the left of our present position. But as my ropes twisted, I felt nothing like a French hotshot. I hung the rucksack from a screw at the beginning of the vertical corner crack. At least I wasn’t aiding.
Bracey disappeared on the following pitch, traversing and down climbing over thin, ice-covered slabs and up a vertical offwidth, finding a thread, a stubby screw and faith. At the top of the snowfield, we chopped out bucket seats for the long night.
September 15, 6:30 a.m.: The rope moved up the narrow couloir until there was no more to give. Bracey called, “Strip the belay and move up. I’m on some pretty steep ground.”
Ten meters later he found a belay, and I discovered the delights of WI5 with a pack at 5700 meters. The ice rippled over the rock like glass coating iron. On the next pitch the walls squeezed, and Bracey popped from between them. He gasped as he searched in vain for more forgiving ice.
Then deep, unconsolidated snow and crumbling rocks continued to the crest between the main and west summits. At 12:38 p.m. Bracey and I balanced on the pointed top. I waved to the crowds of climbers jugging up Everest.
We called our route Snotty’s Gully (M5+ WI 5, 1000m) in memory of the late Sue Nott.
–Nick Bullock, Llanberis, Wales