Ledgeway to Heaven (5.12+, 28 pitches, ca. 1300m) on Nafees Cap, Charakusa Valley, Hushe Region, Karakoram, Pakistan. Sean Villanueva, Adam Pustelnik and Olivier and Nicolas Favresse made the wall’s first ascent in July, in a sub-forty-hour push from basecamp to basecamp. It was their second attempt of the unclimbed pillar. The team also made the first ascent of Badal Wall (5.12+ A0, 1200m), just above K7 basecamp. [Photo] Adam Pustelnik
During a two-month trip to Pakistan this summer, we–Sean Villanueva, my brother Olivier and I (all from Belgium; Olivier is a member of the CAB-RCT), with Adam Pustelnik from Poland–put up two huge free climbs in Charakusa Valley, in the Hushe Region of the Karakoram, Pakistan.
The idea to go there emerged when we read about Charakusa’s huge potential for rock climbing. But we didn’t have much information or many pictures, so we anxiously thought we might not find the steep, high quality, granite walls we were looking for. We were overjoyed to find many nice cliffs appear as we entered the valley, and the deeper we went, the more immense and amazing the walls seemed to be.
None of us had much experience with such altitude: three of us had never been above 3500 meters. Here, our base camp was at 4200 meters, and most of the climbing we did was above 5000 meters. Acclimatizing was difficult, and at first we underestimated the walls–they ended up being three times taller than we expected. We realized our mistake quickly and adapted our strategy.
Badal (5.12+ A0, 1200m), climbed all free aside from five meters of aid through an icy crack, marks the wall’s first ascent, which required sixteen days of work. The team descended from the top of the wall, 300 meters short of the summit, because of diminishing food supplies, bad snow conditions and a bleak forecast. [Photo] Nicolas Favresse
Right in front of K7 base camp, where we stayed, rested a major wall. After asking around, we were shocked that no one had climbed such an obvious, nice-looking–albeit serious–wall. We decided to attempt it with enough food to last us twenty days. After sixteen days (seven of them stuck in snow storms) and about 1300 meters of sustained and steep climbing, all free (except for five meters of icy crack which would have been easy to free in better conditions) up to about 5.12+ or 7c, we reached the top of the face at an altitude around 6000 meters. Unfortunately, a forecast that promised eight days of bad weather (more than our food supply would allow) forced us to abandon the last ca. 300 meters of sketchy snow leading to the real summit. Topping out would have been icing on the cake, but back in base camp we quickly filled up on actual cake and whisky.
We called our new route Badal (5.12+ A0, 1200m), which means cloudy mix in Urdu (Pakistan’s national language) because of the precision of the Pakistani weather forecast. We left eight pitons and used twelve bolts: six hung our portaledges, five reinforced belays so we could haul or rappel, and one protected our free climbing.
Walking deep into the valley we noticed a beautiful needle on K7’s west ridge. It was the nicest free-climbing feature we discovered. The granite was impeccable, and countless splitter cracks made the wall magical. After some research we found that previous expeditions had tried to climb this feature unsuccessfully. Their big wall attempts stopped half way up the wall, on the left side of the feature. We decided to attempt the longest and most obvious line.
Early on our expedition we gave a first attempt but got stuck, exhausted from the altitude. We reached a free-climbing dead end about ten pitches up. But after Badal we were in great shape and decided to try again on a slightly different crack system.
The steep routes of Badal and Ledgeway to Heaven house “exceptional splitter cracks on perfect granite,” Nicolas Favresse said. [Photo] Nicolas Favresse
We left base camp at 1 a.m. in order to reach the base of the route around 4 a.m. By noon we passed–by doing a bouldery section around 5.12+ or 7c–the place that had denied us the time before. Adam, unable to climb because of an open cut on his foot, jugged with a heavier pack; he was the only one ascending in this manner. It seemed more important to enjoy the ascent by free climbing as much as possible. A third of the way up Olivier became ill in the stomach and extremely tired, so Sean and Nico swapped leads the whole way. The quality of every pitch was exceptional (splitter cracks on perfect granite), and belays on comfortable ledges made the adventure feel like cragging.
We climbed all night, non-stop with a full moon to reach the summit around 7 a.m. A clear-sky sunrise lit up the nearby peaks. The climb, Ledgeway to Heaven (5.12+, 28 pitches, 1300m) on Nafees Cap (named in honor of our brilliant Pakistani guide, Nafees), reached ca. 6000 meters and was approximately 1300 meters long. We left one bolt and one piton. [K7 proper (6934m) was first climbed in 1983 by a Japanese team that used 450 bolts, along with pitons and 6500 meters of fixed line. It is refreshing that in recent years this team and others have made a less permanent impact on the peak; Steve House’s solo establishment of the south face (VI 5.10a M6 A2 80 degrees, 2400m), which was the second ascent of K7, is one such example. Also read Issue 9’s Climbing Note that documents other activity in Charakusa Valley. –Ed.]
Olivier Favresse poised for success on his first climb of the trip, up the Iqbal Wall. A few days before leaving, Nicolas Favresse, Sean Villanueva and Jerzy ?Juras? Stefanski climbed a new route, The Ski Track (5.11, 400m), up the steepest section of this wall. [Photo] Adam Pustelnik
Sean, Jerzy “Juras” Stefanski (Poland) and I climbed a new route on a 400-meter face called Iqbal Wall a few days before we departed. The line follows an obvious crack on one of the steepest parts of the wall. The entirety of the route ranged between 5.10 and 5.11, with eight pitches and 200 meters of simul-climbing in order to reach the summit. We called it The Ski Track (5.11, 400m).
Early on in our expedition, as a first climb, Olivier and Adam teamed up to attempt a route on the 400-meter Iqbal Wall. Half way up Olivier pulled off a fridge size block that rolled over his back and bounced on Adam’s foot, which cut wide open. The wound never healed completely, so Adam was not able to wear climbing shoes or free climb during most of the expedition. Despite his ugly cut he joined the team on both big walls and strongly contributed to the success of the expedition by helping with logistics.
All of us are back home enjoying the luxury of civilization. For more information, please see xpedition.belclimb.be and www.nicolasfavresse.com. We’d like to thank The Belgian Alpine club, Cab Brabant, www.belclimb.be, Seeonee, Bleau, Julbo, and UPMM.
–Nicolas and Olivier Favresse, Sean Villanueva and Adam Pustelnik
Sorting out haul gear on Badal (5.12+ A0, 1200m). The team of four brought enough food for twenty days on the wall. Snowstorms made seven of their sixteen days on the wall unclimbable; once on top of the wall, ugly weather predictions convinced them to return to basecamp rather than wait out the eight-day storm to reach the summit, 300 meters above. [Photo] Nicolas Favresse