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Andrey Rodiontsev on the first ascent of the North Ridge (VI 5.11d, 1550m) of Shingu Charpa (5600m), Karakoram, Pakistan. [Photo] Igor Chaplinsky

Navigating snow cornices, loose stone and and crack-riddled rock turrets in
alpine style, three Ukrainians snagged the coveted first ascent of Shingu
Charpa’s (5600m) 1550-meter north ridge in July in a seven-day push. After
an intial attempt ended partway up the ridge in injury, Igor Chaplynsky,
Andrey Rodiontsev and Orest Verbitsky returned via the third-class gully
they had used on the descent to access the ridge a third of the way up. From
there, they continued up the high-altitude ridge line, climbing the
technical route free to the summit at VI 5.11d–just as a pair of gritty
Americans arrived in Pakistan for the same objective.

Kelly Cordes and Josh Wharton’s expedition in August followed a similar line that started from the ridge’s base. The Americans climbed almost 5,000 feet along the new route only to back down 200 vertical feet from the summit, thwarted by the conditions. “We expected the summit snowfields to be soft,” Wharton said, “but instead they were mostly black ice covered by just a thin layer of snow–sketchy stuff in the light boots, sneakers, and dull aluminum crampons we were running.” The Ukrainian party confirmed that the weather and snow conditions above 5400 meters were quite unstable.

But inclimate conditions didn’t stop the Ukrainians, who described the last 250 cruxy meters as dangerous ice and mixed climbing crowned by a precarious snow cornice. After climbing five days to the summit, they began their descent with horror. The monolithic cornice, which once shadowed their recently christened technical pitches, had collapsed. Relieved that they had avoided disaster on the ascent, they continued rappelling to the base.

The Americans reported their own forty-five pitches as being chossy and “too poor to warrant more attention.” Yet they also acknowledged that the north ridge is “one of the great alpine objectives in the world,” one the Ukrainians deserved full credit for climbing.