Early last month, Jeff and Priti Wright, a husband-wife team from Seattle, Washington, completed the third ascent of K6 West (7040m) and the first ascent of K6 Central (7100m) on October 8 and 9, respectively, and in alpine style. They returned the way they came: back up and over K6 West. The peaks are in the Pakistan-administered side of the Karakoram Range.
Rafael Slawinski and Ian Welsted first climbed K6 West in July 2013 by a route on the northwest face. In August 2015, Scott Bennett and Graham Zimmerman summited the peak by the Southwest Ridge (M6 90?, 1800m). Zimmerman wrote in the American Alpine Journal: “We had hoped to continue along the technically easy traverse to unclimbed K6 Central, but the round trip would have taken another whole day of climbing, and our forecast still predicted a major storm for the next day. We turned and started back down.”
The Wrights took a slightly different line up K6 West than Bennett and Zimmerman, climbing up their rappel route. Priti Wright explained in an email to Alpinist:
We had been planning to climb K6 from the Nangmah Valley side for more than a year, and when COVID struck we held on to the hope of going, but delayed our trip from the original June-August [itinerary] until late August-October when the country announced they were allowing tourists to enter with a valid [negative] COVID test….
We arrived in Pakistan on August 23…. We arrived at base camp on August 26 and left on October 16.
The route starts on a major ramp on the southwest flank of the peak, following 60? ice/snow to the SW ridge. Scott and Graham [had] followed the SW ridge and a technical ledge system with mixed climbing to traverse the west face. We did not climb the SW Ridge except while acclimatizing.
Upon descent, Graham and Scott rappelled the west face directly (nearly a plumb line from the 6600m bivouac). They made 19 60-meter Abalakov rappels down this face alone. We descended the same way and confirmed their count of 19!
They then had one pitch of ice climbing to regain the ridge, and seven more Abalakovs down the initial ramp. We simul-soloed all of this terrain since there was much more snow (less ice) this late in the season.
We climbed up that same icy west face that Graham and Scott descended, going from 5700 meters to 6600 meters before bivying on top of the SW Ridge. This was a strenuous, calf-burning, 12-hour day, waking with the sun and climbing well into the freezing black night. The west face consisted primarily of a few inches of neve over solid, very hard ice (about 70? for 900m).
There was lots of deep snow on the upper slopes, and we were post-holing and wallowing the last 500 meters to the summit ridge. Our weather forecaster warned us that we would encounter the jet stream above 6500 meters with sustained winds of 45km/hour, and he was correct. As we summited K6 West and Central, we knew it would not be feasible to climb safely over to K6 Main as well. The west face of K6 Central [had] up to 80? ice/snow, including a small cornice to mount. The north side of the sharp, rocky summit ridge of Central dropped dead vertically into the Charakusa Valley.
It took three additional bivouacs to get from our bivouac on the SW Ridge at 6600 meters to the summit of K6 West because of the winter-like cold (-21C was the morning low), jet-stream winds, deep snow conditions, and very short days.
Our route avoided all of the mixed climbing, so I would just give our route an overall rating of 80? ice/snow for 2000 meters.
We were completely self-supported above base camp (4000m), carrying five loads to stock up advanced base camp, and four loads to disassemble ABC back to base camp. ABC was located on the East Nangmah Glacier at approximately 5150 meters.
Q&A with Priti Wright
Alpinist: How long have you two been climbing together, and how long have you been doing these types of expeditions?
Priti Wright: We have been together for 10 years, married for eight years and climbing together the whole time. We started mountain climbing seven years [ago] with the Boeing Alpine Club (BOEALPS), and kept climbing together, doing our hardest climbs with each other. This was our first expedition to Asia and the big ranges, but we climbed Denali twice, via the West Buttress and Cassin.
Alpinist: Who boils more water at the bivies?
Priti Wright: Haha, maybe Jeff boils more water, but I might kick more steps when it gets wallowy.