"An alpine style ascent of Tahu Ratum (6651m) is a particularly noteworthy and challenging objective, which will help raise the profile of British mountaineering." - Sir Chris Bonington - Expedition Patron.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

One month to go...

In less than a months time Holly, Hamish, Luke and I will be in Pakistan, but our list of jobs to do and problems to solve appears to be never ending and ever growing. I’ve spent today on the train to Manchester airport, after discovering last week, whilst filling out visa application forms that our flights had somehow been booked on the wrong date. Not just a day out, but nearly three weeks later then we’d panned. A million phone calls, from both Hamish and myself, to PIA’s infuriating helpdesk, later and we concluded that the only way to change our booking was to go to the airport in person, complete with all four passports and the credit card that the tickets had been bought on - which was unfortunately mine. Hopefully nothing else untoward will happen between now and the 22nd, but I bet it will!

Luke Hunt leadibng the top pitch of Scavenger on the Main Cliff, Gogarth - why he is wearing sandals and carrying a rucksack I'm not quite sure. Photo: Tom Ripley.

Tom Ripley

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Fourth Woman

Seven weeks is a long time to spend in the company of only two other people, no matter how good friends they are. The idea of spending over a month on a remote glacier in North Pakistan with no other company did seem a tad too committing for my liking. I’d also noticed that Tom Briggs, Graham Desroy and Mandi Shipton had accompanied Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman to base camp before their ascent of Chang Himal last year. It seems I wasn’t the only who liked the idea of extra company.

Holly - Looking happy!

After discussing the idea with Luke and Hamish – who were not opposed to the idea, but did not seem overly convinced either – I set about trying to find some more folk to come along. I generally got one of three answers: “I’d love to, but I can’t afford it.” “Na, I’ve got better things to do with my time than wait around in Pakistan, whilst you go climbing.” or the rather worrying, “Yea, I’d be well keen to try and climb that with you.”

After several weeks, I felt like I’d asked pretty much everyone I knew, the situation was looking pretty hopeless. No one was interested in coming on holiday with me. I’m student at Bangor University – though I’m not very good at studying – and an active member of Bangor University Mountaineering Society, or B.U.M.S for short. B.U.M.S is a drinking club and some of its’ members have a loose interest in climbing. During the winter it rains incessantly in North Wales so there is little opportunity for anything other than drinking and getting rowdy, which is far more exciting than climbing anyway. It was another wet Friday night and there was a load of us had headed down to Tremadog for a bit of knees up. There was a slim chance that some dry rock might be found too.

Eventually I got chatting to a girl with messy brown hair, who I sort of knew, but couldn’t for the life of me remember her name. “Do you want to come to Pakistan with me this summer?” I blurted out hopefully. Expecting a polite, “No” and look that said, “With you, I’d rather die.” Instead I got a rather excited, maybe over excited, “Wow! I’ve always wanted to go to Pakistan. Can I come please?” Rather taken aback I quickly said yes and out team was complete. It turns out, she’s called Holly.

By Tom Ripley

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Fourastier, Ailefroide North Face

After weeks of working too hard and only a week to go before I return to the UK I managed to squeeze in one last route between exams. Left Lyon Thursday afternoon and after grabbing 3 hours sleep we set off from the Pre de Madame Carle at 1.30am on Friday. Due to cloud cover the snow didn't refreeze very well and the first part of the 4 hour approach was a bit of a struggle!
The route itself was quite thin and the face is more of a North East face than a North face so it catches the sun all morning turning it into an oven.
After reaching the top at 3.30pm we set about the very loonnnggg descent back to the valley. The descent took a further 7 hours of wading, bumsliding, glissading and abseiling and we arrived back in the valley 21 hours after leaving the car.

The hard routes on the faces around the Glacier Noir are pretty serious in comparison to many of the faces in Chamonix. The rock is poor and there is no fixed gear (abseil retreat would be a serious undertaking) so you are obliged to finish the route. Once on top there is no easy descent as even the Ailefroide normal route is difficult to find when the rock buttresses are covered in snow and the cairns invisible.
The route itself gets the complicated grade of TD IV 4+ 5b M4+ and apart from the slog up the snowfield left of the hanging glacier is quite sustained.

If you're interested a topo and photos of the route can be found here:http://www.camptocamp.org/routes/56609/fr/ailefroide-pointe-fourastier-face-n

All in all a mega long day and a good route but not the most enjoyable outing! This will be the last alpine route I get on before Pakistan so I'll need to get plenty of running and climbing done to stay fit for Pakistan.

by Hamish Dunn

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Journey to Tahu Ratum

It is said that the crux of any mountaineering expedition is actually getting to the mountain! This is something which I can certainly empathise with. Google maps puts the overland journey from Manchester to Tahu Ratum at 6843 miles, and we are hoping to do it in 13 days.

The Plan: Fly to Islamabad, then onto Skardu. From here we hire a jeep to Askole, a small town 100km North. It is the gateway to the high Karakoram and sees many expeditions pass through each year. The men of the town make a good wage as porters during the summer months. Past Askole there are no more roads and will make the last 70km by foot. We will initially walk up the Biafo Glacier to Snow Lake. This place was first discovered by explorer Martin Conway in 1892, who described it as "beyond all comparison, the finest view of mountains it has ever been my lot to behold, nor do I believe the world can hold a finer." Obviously he hadn't been to the Moors!

Anyway (:P), From snow lake we will travel over the Hispar La (5128m), a pass which connects to the head of the Hispar glacier, before hanging a prompt right to base camp on the Khani Basa Glacier and Tahu Ratum. Let's hope it all goes to plan and we have an excellent adventure!

Below is a map showing our planned route from Skardu in the South to Tahu Ratum in the North. We will drive the red line and walk the blue line. Approx 180km all in.


What happened next...

It didn’t take long until the initial excitement of our objective wore off. It quickly became apparent that an expedition to the Karakorum was a pretty big task and that there was a lot more thought and organisation involved, than a summer in Chamonix requires. It was also going to cost a hell of a lot more.

Luke contacted Kyle Dempster, who kindly sent a very comprehensive reply. We then proceeded to contact anyone we knew, and quite a few people we didn’t, who had been to Pakistan or climbed in the greater ranges. As a team we then drew up a rough budget and itinerary and emailed it to yet more people.

Luckily for us British Mountaineering is well supported by an excellent grant system that favors young climbers, attempting technical new routes, in alpine style, in the greater ranges. After what seemed like an eternity of paper pushing and a mountain of forms, all six grant applications were completed and sent off. Incredibly we received money from all six - check out their websites linked to in the sidebar. A huge thank you goes out to the charities and organisations that have supported us, without their support we would be unable to go to Pakistan this summer.

Pete Graham sorting gear before an unsuccessful ascent of the Eiger North Face. Photo: Tom Ripley.

The other thing we were going to need is kit and lots of it. I began trying to get my head around what we needed and constructing vast lists. Fortunately we already most of the technical gear, but there was a fair amount of that we didn’t. Hamish and I set to blagging, sending out dozens of emails to companies. We were amazed with the response and generosity of companies we approached - some have given us kit, some have lent us stuff, whilst others have kindly let us buy stuff at exceptional discount. A big up to all of them, you’ve really helped us out, please check out their websites in the sidebar.

My experience of organising expeditions so far has been very positive one. It’s very time consuming, but as with everything, you get what put into it.

By Tom Ripley

The story so far...

As you’ve probably gathered we’re a team of three young climbers, off to the Karakoram this summer. This will be our first greater ranges expedition and we will attempt to climb the unclimbed NW Ridge of Tahu Ratum in alpine style. We won’t use bottled oxygen, Diamox, high altitude porters or fixed ropes. It will just be the three of us, carrying all our kit, food and fuel. After a period of acclimatisation we’ll start at the bottom and attempt climb to the top. We’ll attempt to free climb the route wherever possible, but no doubt we’ll end up using the odd aid or rest point.

Tahu Rutum from the south west. Photo: Lee Harrison.

Tahu Ratum (6651m) is an immaculate granite pyramid which rises approximately 1500 m from the Khana Basi glacier, in the Hispar Muztagh region of the Karakorum. The Mountain has seen one previous ascent. In July 1977, a Japanese team made the mountain’s first ascent via SW Ridge. More recently, American Kyle Dempster attempted to aid solo the West Face in August 2008, but retreated 200 metres beneath the summit due to lack of food.

Tahu Ratum is really Luke’s baby. Whilst alpine dreaming in Chamonix last summer he realised, like Mick Fowler thirty years previously that there are no unclimbed Walker Spurs or Freney Pillars. To find such routes one has to head to the Greater Ranges. After hours of searching through Summit Posts for an unclimbed, aesthetic, rock line on a big mountain he came across Tahu Ratum’s NW Ridge. Perfect, but who to climb it with?

Luke originally approached Will Sim, who initially expressed keen interest. Unfortunately Will couldn’t commit to going to Pakistan as he had already arranged an expedition to Alaska. In the meantime Hamish and I were looking at planning our own expedition and had seriously looking at peaks in the Western Kokshaal-Too area of Kyrgyztan. However we were struggling to find other climbers to join us and the prospect of going somewhere as remote as Kyrgyztan as pair was little bit too daunting.

Luke, Jack and Hamish descending Mont Blanc after the Freney Pillar - Photo: Tom Ripley.

Luke, Hamish and I know each other very well. We spent last summer together in Chamonix, living, climbing and misbehaving. We climbed the Petit Dru North Face as a three and The Central Pillar of Freney as a four with Jack Metcalf. Luke rang me up in early October, asking if Hamish and I would consider joining forces with him. My initial skepticism vanished the moment I saw a picture. The granite pyramid, looked like the perfect mountain - the Matterhorn on ‘roids and it’s unclimbed. Hamish took even less persuasion and the rest is history.

By Tom Ripley