From December 5 to 16, Polish climbers Marcin “Yeti” Tomaszewski and Damian “Dany” Bielecki completed a new big wall aid route in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range on a 700-meter cliff known as the Uli Biaho Gallery, which is at an elevation of approximately 5000 meters. They named their route Frozen Fight Club (M7 A3, 780m) and placed only nine bolts.
“Bolts were drilled during rappels from the higher part of the wall for the purpose of transporting [hauling] and rappels. They were not used for climbing up,” Tomaszewski told Alpinist in an email.
So far there have only been a handful of known ascents on the Uli Biaho Gallery since 2012, all of which were climbed during warmer months. Frozen Fight Club might be the first big wall route in the region that was climbed during the coldest season, as Tomaszewski and Bielecki endured temperatures of -32?C (-26?F) during their 11 days on the wall.
“From my information, it appears that we would be the first expedition with the goal of a big wall in the Karakoram in winter conditions,” Tomaszewski said. “I do not exclude the possibility that there could have been others. However, I did not find such information in the media or when I asked the mountain agency in Pakistan.”
I do not know of any other winter [conditions] ascents of true big walls in the Karakoram. Climbers from Poland seem to excel at first winter ascents, so I reckon they know.
[Uli Biaho Gallery is] definitely a “big wall” though one of the smallest in the area, and one with a minimal approach, which of course can be a major aspect of remote big walls in general. The route does seem to break into a new realm of suffering in cold, and breaks new ground for future challenges.
Damien Gildea, an author and contributing editor of the American Alpine Journal, and Lindsay Griffin, former president of the Alpine Club and senior editor of the AAJ, agree.
“[So] we changed the target to be more accessible and faster due to the limited amount of time,” Tomaszewski said. “Transportation to Shipton was more complicated and we were unable to extend our visas for personal and work-related reasons.”
Tomaszewski, aka “Yeti,” has had a long career of first ascents on chilly big walls dating back to the early 2000s. He has frequently partnered with Marek “Ragan” Raganowicz who has an equal appetite for suffering on frozen walls. Yeti is also familiar with the region where the Uli Biaho Gallery is located. In 2013 he established Bushido (VII M7+ A4) on Pakistan’s Great Trango Tower, with Ragan, which was considered for a Piolet d’Or Award in 2014.
After completing a new route on the Troll Wall in winter with Ragan in 2015, Tomaszewski explained to Alpinist that climbing without a third partner is harder during periods of intense cold, because a third person enables the climbers to take turns warming up in the portaledge while the others continue the pace of demanding work.
Bielecki described in an email how he came to know Tomaszewski:
Yeti called me one year ago, when my partners and me first repeated his route Ostatni Mohikanin [The Last Mohican] (A3) on Kazalnica Mieguszowiecka in the Tatra Range. He posted a challenge on Facebook that if someone repeated it, he’d give them a case of beer 🙂 That was more than enough for us to try it and we did it.
We arranged climbing with Marcin and it was fun. He invited me to join the expedition to Shipton, but I felt like we should climb more together and I suggested that Pawel, who is a really good aid climber, should join us. We were together on Grand Jorasses in October and it [felt] promising. Yeti is well known as a great experienced big wall climber and our relation was like [that of] a student and a mentor–with respect but without overstress. On a project like that you need to have a good team who knows each other, can trust each other but also be able to talk openly, because there is a lot of time in the portaledge!
I prefer climbing in alpine style mostly, but I want to improve at aid climbing so that I can be a more comprehensive climber. My goals are to focus on progress in alpinism and I felt like aid climbing and big walls are still [new to] me. It was a really nice experience to learn from Yeti how a big wall is done in winter conditions. We have some plans for next season together and that’s the best comment to our partnership 🙂
They had one of my custom built D4 Delta3p ledges (three-person, since they originally planned to be a team of three), one of only five ever made…. The “foot-out” design is optimal for this kind of extreme living conditions in a lightweight and portable Portaledge system. I consider my design work to be a contribution to the art of big walling–I have no commercial interest (I only make a few per year now, mostly give them away to teams like this, and all design info is online and open source), so a mention of the D4 Delta design would benefit broader knowledge of this improved design for future big wall climbers.
[Marek Raganowicz shared some of his adventures with writer Earl Bates–including some adventures with Marcin “Yeti” Tomaszewski–in a feature story titled “The Secret of Silence,” published in Alpinist 64 (Winter 2018-19).–Ed.]