The Trango Group with Great Trango Tower on the left and Trango Tower, aka Nameless Tower, on the right, Karakoram Range, Pakistan. From August 11-14, German brothers Alexander and Thomas Huber made the first redpoint of Eternal Flame (VI 7c+ [5.13a], 650m) on the south face of Trango Tower. Read more about Eternal Flame in Alpinist 11, in which this image was published. [Photo] Ace Kvale
Over four days in mid-August, German brothers Alexander and Thomas Huber became first to redpoint Eternal Flame (VI 7c+ [5.13a], 650m) on the south face of Trango Tower (6239m) in the Trango Group of Pakistan’s Karakoram range. Beyond qualifying for one of the world’s hardest free climbs above 20,000 feet, the ascent puts to rest controversy that has surrounded the iconic line for two decades.
Eternal Flame was first established in 1989 by a German team comprised of Wolfgang Gullich, Kurt Albert, Milan Sykora and Christoph Stiegler. The team bolted the crack system in a siege-redpoint style, fixing ropes and working pitches above. They succeeded in climbing about 80 percent of the route free, at impressive difficulty: thirteen of the route’s pitches were 5.11 or harder, up to 5.12c. The team claimed a free ascent. However, as Greg Child noted in Alpinist 11’s “Trango Tower” Mountain Profile, “Although this route was called a ‘free ascent’ at the time, and while repeat ascensionists of this route continue to call their ascents free, it’s a somewhat disingenuous claim, as a number of sections remain aided, including a fifteen-meter A0 bolt ladder.”
No more. The German brothers freed the route in its entirety, besting the four original aid sections. Alexander and Thomas swapped leads and worked the route so that both leader and second eventually climbed each pitch cleanly.
Like the 1989 ascent, however, the brothers fixed lines and rappelled to their high camp every evening, returning by jumar every morning.
In 2003, Denis Burdet of France unlocked two of the four aid sections at 5.12d and 5.13a, the route’s hardest. And in 2005 Iker Pou of Spain climbed 5.13b terrain right of the bolt ladder on toprope, but bad weather kept him from the redpoint. So, for the Hubers in 2009, two problems remained to be solved: an aid pendulum that bypassed blank granite on Pitch 2, and the Pitch 10 bolt-ladder variation that Pou had discovered but not completed four years before.
The Hubers find a perfect hand crack on Pitch 15 of Eternal Flame, Trango Group, Karakoram, Pakistan. [Photo] Franz Hinterbrandner / huberbaum.de
The Hubers reached base camp on July 24. Ten days later they established a high camp and immediately began working the route, quickly solving the pendulum problem.
“The featureless granite at the traverse was exactly as it has been described to us: featureless,” the Hubers wrote on their website. “But there was another chance! From the beginning of the pendulum-traverse we climbed straight up along thin cracks for about thirty meters and then traversed left through almost vertical, but featured slabs into the crack-system of the Eternal Flame. And it worked!” The two pitches reached difficulties of 5.12a.
A six-day weather window opened on August 11 and the Hubers got an alpine start, climbing through the aforementioned pitches and linking into the preexisting route with a third new pitch. They continued up three more pitches, fixing lines. The next day they returned and, upon reaching Pitch 10, worked right to find the Pou variation encrusted in ice. They continued traversing right for 4 meters and discovered an incipient 5.12d crack that led them into the upper Pou variation.
Two last, hard finger cracks gave the Hubers trouble on Day 3. “Only after a very intensive boulder session we were able to crack the hard nut,” they said of the overhanging 5.12d and 5.13a sections. But the next day, two pitches of easier climbing led them to the summit.
“I take my hat off to the achievement and free climbing instinct of the first ascenders,” Thomas told Planetmountain.com. “This route is a true enrichment for mountaineering… We are thrilled that we could play a little part in developing this route!”
Alex Huber climbs the Pitch 5 hand crack on Eternal Flame. [Photo] Franz Hinterbrandner / huberbaum.de