Posted on: December 1, 2003

Antoine de Choudens on an “alpine-style” ascent of Eternal Flame on the Nameless Tower. Antoine and Sandrine Ollagnier-de Choudens climbed the route from July 14–17, freeing everything (apart from the bolt ladder of Pitch 10) up to Pitch 20 before fatigue and deteriorating weather forced them to aid to the top. Ollagnier-de Choudens was the first woman to climb the Tower. From July 29–August 7, Toni Arbones, Nicolas Zambetti and Denis Burdet climbed the route, aiding the two crux pitches, which they returned to free on their last day on the wall. Approximately fifteen meters of bolt ladder on Pitch 10 remain to be freed on the route. Note bolt next to crack in photo: the first ascensionists (Albert-Güllich-Stiegler-Sykora, 1989) bolted all the belays and placed three bolts per pitch to facilitate repeat ascents. [Photo] Sandrine Ollagnier-de Choudens

This spring, Toni Arbones met Kurt Albert, who told him about his route, Eternal Flame (VII 5.12c A2, Albert-Gullich-Stiegler-Sykora, 1989) on the south face of Nameless Tower. Three months later, Toni (Spain), Nicolas Zambetti (Switzerland) and I reached big-wall Eden when we arrived at base camp (4000m) on the Trango Glacier on July 23.

From July 24 to 28, we carried all our gear to the base of the route and started to experiment with altitude sickness; we realized we had to acclimate. After two days—one day to climb, one to haul all our gear—we established Camp II on the Shoulder at 5400 meters. Over the next two days, we climbed fourteen pitches of Eternal Flame—almost entirely hand or finger cracks. The cracks were almost free of ice, and the temperature was quite agreeable. To describe this route: take all of the best granite climbs you have done and put them all on one route! We fixed ropes from the Shoulder to the two hard pitches (500m). After four days of poor weather we were climbing again, but the temperature was very cold. On the afternoon of August 7 we reached the summit. It was the first time we had been in the Karakoram, and we stayed for an hour, admiring and dreaming in front of the giants: K2, Broad Peak, GI, GIV...


After one rest day, in poor weather, we looked at the two famous crux pitches which we had aided on our summit day. We tried the moves and, oh surprise, it was possible to climb them free. Once more, we had to wait for the weather; it snowed every day, and the wall became white.

August 14 was the last day on the wall. The weather was very unstable but it was warmer, and the rock was dry. I tried Pitch 16 first; it went at 5.12d. The snow started to come so the first try on Pitch 15 was spent finding new holds that could be used in poor weather. My motivation was at its height: it was today or never. On my last try, the route was freed at 5.13a!

Given the capricious weather, we needed seventeen days on the wall to do the first-free ascent of this route. A pitch of aid on a blank wall still awaits a challenger.

Editor's Note: When asked to explain the last sentence in the above note, Mr. Burdet responded, "Yes, there is a blank wall with bolts on Pitch 10: approximately fifteen meters of aid. There are no possibilities of free climbing this. One possibility will be open two new pitches to the right, but you may need some bolts, and the crack system is often full of ice. It'll be difficult!" In the opinion of Alpinist, Eternal Flame still awaits a free ascent.

— Denis Burdet, Neuchatel, Switzerland

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