Jim Donini on the first attempt of the north ridge of Latok I (7145m), Karakoram, Pakistan, with Michael Kennedy and George and Jeff Lowe. About 25 teams, including the Giri-Giri Boys this summer, have attempted the ridge and turned back, all well below the 7000-meter high point set by Donini et al. in 1978. [Photo] Michael Kennedy
The north ridge of Latok I (7145m) has defeated yet another impressive team of climbers, this time three of the Giri-Giri Boys from Japan. Facing perilous snow conditions, Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama turned around about halfway into the 2500-meter ridge.
Their effort on the north ridge came after a failed attempt on the north face. The team turned back at roughly the same high point, ca. 5900 meters, on both efforts. Hiroshi Hagawari of Rock and Snow reported that Yokoyama considered the expedition to be a “complete defeat,” but added that their safe return home was “most important.”
As reported in the September 16, 2006 NewsWire, Maxime Turgeon and Louis-Phillippe Menard had a similar itinerary several years prior; their attempts on the north face and north ridge were thwarted by falling debris and large amounts of recent snow.
One of the main difficulties of climbing on Latok is finding good conditions and weather throughout its considerable length, area expert Mark Richey said. “The [routes are] so long that they span many different conditions strata. Conditions could be good at the base and bad at the top or vice versa.”
Despite the vast amount of attention paid to the north ridge, and more recently the north face, Latok I has only been climbed to the summit once. In 1979, a Japanese expedition climbed a dangerous route up the south face, rigging an abundance of fixed rope and braving a treacherous line under hanging seracs. Over the last 32 years, the north ridge has seen about 25 attempts from many of the world’s strongest climbers including Colin Haley, John Bouchard, the Benegas brothers and John Yates among many others.
Still, the first attempt on the north ridge was by far the closest to success. In 1978, Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy and George and Jeff Lowe came within several hundred meters of the summit. In a 26-day capsule-style attempt, the team climbed over 100 pitches of technical rock and sustained waterfall ice before Jeff Lowe’s worsening health forced a retreat from ca. 7000m.
“That experience was complete despite the lack of a summit,” Kennedy said of the 1978 attempt, which has been hailed as one of the most impressive feats in alpine climbing. “With a few exceptions, the attempts on the North Ridge have been in at least as good a style as ours. It is my hope that future parties will continue to treat the route with respect by leaving as little trace of their passage as possible.”
For more on the history and climbs of the region, read Alpinist 30, which features a Mountain Profile on the Latok Group.