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Czech Start Canadian Pinish (TD-: 5.10 A2, 11 pitches, 450m) on Brakk Zang (4800m), Nangma Valley, Karakoram, Pakistan. Canadians Jennifer Olson and Lilla Molnar established this line, which Czechs Andrej Baszczyuski and Petr Novosad had abandoned earlier this summer, on September 22 in deteriorating conditions. The Canadians point out that the line would probably go free at 5.11-. [Photo] Jennifer Olson

I was coming to the end of my summer guiding season in the Alps when I applied for the John Lauchlan Award to pursue my dream: to explore new routes in the Karakoram. After Lilla Molnar–a good friend and solid climber–agreed to join me, we began thinking about an objective. After speaking with Sean Isaac, we decided on The Ladyfinger and Hunza Peak.

However, when we arrived, we trekked for a long day in the remarkable area of Ultar Meadows. There we made a hasty decision to abandon Ladyfinger and Hunza Peak for safer and quicker approaches in the distant Husche valley.

We were very fortunate to find a conveniently located and spectacular basecamp up the Nangma Valley, above which many talented climbers have left a legacy of hard aid and spicy free climbs. We stumbled upon the unfinished east face of Brakk Zang (4800m), where a Czech team of Andrej Baszczyuski and Petr Novosad had abandoned their line earlier this summer (John and Anne Arran recently added Crackistan to the peak’s south side. –Ed.). Despite our limited knowledge of the area, the objective fit into our window of weather, ability and motivation.

The first day of our ascent, September 19, was blessed with sunshine and two additional pitches to the Czechs’ initial three. Lilla won the day’s crux with a tricky A2 butt-crack pitch. After waiting out a couple bad weather days that provided rest and a chance to scope the summit ridge and descent route, we charged back up fixed lines to our previous high point in deteriorating conditions on September 22. Wearing everything we had, we climbed mostly 5.10 A1 for the next six pitches. Actually, we didn’t climb so much as we extricated plants and harvested dirt. If extreme gardening were an Olympic sport, we’d be medal contenders. The rock itself was brilliantly clean, slightly featured granite. The cracks, however, have a lot of potential–after rigorous cleaning–to be just as remarkable.

Lilla Molnar gardening in cold temperatures on Pitch 10 (5.10 A1).
[Photo] Jennifer Olson

We summited at 5 p.m. and began descending the ridge to the north, which required a number of rappels before we were able to put the rope away. The descent went slowly, and after a bit of confusion we regained our bearings. Sixteen hours after we’d begun, we were back in basecamp.

Relieved and rewarded by the send, we took a day off to consume, bathe and lounge. Lilla coined the name Czech Start Canadian Pinish for our route (TD-: 5.10 A2, 11 pitches, 450m) because our guide Imran would often ask us if we were “pinished our dinner,” not used to the small appetites of picky white girls.

This route would go free at 5.11-. You could replace the A2 pitch with the “womb pitch,” which would offer a 5.10+ offwidth with a steep exit.

Rumours of an El Cap-sized ice climb were too appealing to ignore, so we set out to find the Shangri-la. We saw some potential, and perhaps later in the autumn Amin Brakk may sport such flows, although the bowl above this feature released many times during snowstorms. We never found the beast.

After a few days of Khane hospitality and a painless journey back through Skardu to Islamabad, we had room on our Visa cards for a couple days of sightseeing and ruthless carpet shopping. Beyond being inspired to return to the Karakoram’s magnificent spires, I want to acknowledge the peaceful and generous nature of the many Islamic people we met.

Jennifer Olson follows Pitch 10 (5.10 A1) as the snow begins near the summit ridge. [Photo] Lilla Molnar

We would like to thank the supporters of the John Lauchlan award; Arc’teryx, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Intergral Designs, Yamnuska, Explore Magazine, Alison and Bruce Millar from Lake O’Hara Lodge, Gillean and Tony Daffern. Thank you to Arc’teryx, Petzl, Mountain Hardware, Integral Designs and Mountain Equipment Co-op for their generous gear donations. As well, many thanks to Lane Faison, Bob Thrasher and Gabrielle Savard for their generous financial assistance.

Relieved to have made the weather window, Lilla Molnar rests in basecamp the day after the ascent. [Photo] Jennifer Olson