NEAR MISS ON KUNYANG CHHISH

Posted on: September 28, 2006


Grzegorz Skorek in front of the 2500-meter southwest face of Kunyang Chhish East (ca. 7400m), Karakoram Range, Pakistan, in 2003. Polish climbers Skorek, Stanislaw Piecuch and Janusz Golab received Alpinist's B-Team Grant for an attempt on the face, which Skorek called "as big and hard as the north face of Jannu." The team climbed to 6700 meters on the face in forty-eight hours, only to be turned back by warm temperatures and heavy snow. In September 2006, Steve House and Vince Anderson reached the top of the face in three days only to be stopped 300 meters short of the summit by a steep rock step. Grzegorz Skorek was killed on Khan Tengri in 2004. [Photo] Grzegorz Skorekcollection

In August 2003, the Polish team of Grzegorz Skorek, Stanislaw Piecuch and Janusz Golab, funded in part by a climbing grant from Alpinist, took a shot at Pakistan's 2500-meter southwest face of Kunyang Chhish East (ca. 7400m), which Skorek called "as big and hard as the north face of Jannu." The Poles were no strangers to hard alpine climbing. In 2002, with Jacek Fluder, they established a new route (VI 5.10+ A3, 1400m, 41 pitches) on the northeast face of the Alaska Range's Bear's Tooth, and the next winter established Home Speed Home (V 5.9 A3, 1100m) on the west face of the Petit Dru in the French Alps. Kunyang Chhish East, however, would prove more problematic. The three men climbed 1800 meters of the face in forty-eight hours in alpine style, only to be turned back at 6700 meters by warm temperatures and heavy snow.

In September, it was the turn of Americans Steve House and Vince Anderson, who last year made the brilliant alpine-style ascent of Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face (see House's article, Sum Equals Zero, in Issue 16 for a complete account of the climb). The Americans got off to an inauspicious start: no less than four road washouts and trouble with porters pushed back their schedule. Once in base camp, the pair, accompanied by three friends, attempted a 6000-meter peak for acclimatization but were thwarted by bad weather. After their friends departed, House and Anderson attempted Ice Cake Peak (ca. 6400m), which the Poles had climbed in 2003 on their second attempt (it is unclear how many ascents the peak has had). Despite two weeks of attempts, House and Anderson managed to reach only 5900 meters in continuing bad weather and high winds.

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Their remaining time in camp dwindling, they began up the massive southwest face of Kunyang Chhish East on September 10. On their attempt, the Poles had climbed 1000 meters without belays before encountering a pitch of M7. House described similar climbing, noting that all but one pitch (presumably the M7) was easier than expected. On their second day, House and Anderson passed the Polish high point, and they made their third bivy at 6800 meters. Good weather and intense cold greeted them the next morning. By 2 p.m. they had climbed the remaining 300 meters of the face, but with only 300 meters remaining between them and the virgin summit, a steep step on the ridgecrest stopped all progress. "To the right was a massive cornice, to the left was steep and blank rock," wrote House. "With no real gear, bad rock, strong, cold winds, and tired bodies we turned around sometime between 2 and 3 p.m." Storm overtook them later in the day, forcing a halt to their descent. After a stressful night, they began to descend again, and exited the face eight hours later, just as it began to storm once more. The face is widely regarded as one of the great remaining problems in alpinism; let's hope the good style used by the Poles and the Americans by future aspirants as well.

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