CATS EAR SPIRE SEES SECOND ASCENT

Posted on: December 11, 2006


Eric Decaria earning his way up the second ascent of Cats Ear Spire (5360m), Karakoram, Pakistan. In 2000, Jonny Copp and Mike Pennings made the first ascent of the Spire in a two-day, alpine-style push via the route Freebird (VI 5.11d A1, 1060m, Copp-Pennings, 2000). Decaria and partner Micah Dash made the second ascent in a similar style in August, via a twelve-pitch variation to Freebird they called Super Cat (VI 5.11 R A1, 1060m, 27 pitches). [Photo] Micah Dash

Karakoram, Various Activity. As I stood at our Trango base camp, watching the Pakistani Army helicopter fly away with our climbing partner, Mickey Schaffer, an overwhelming sadness came over me: I knew he was going to miss out on the adventure he'd been dreaming of since he was a kid. "Inshallah," our cook said. I just stared back and said nothing. As it turned out, we'd made the right decision; the X-rays taken in Shardu showed that one of his lungs had filled up with water and the other was on its way.

Twelve hours after the helicopter took off, Eric and I were four pitches up the second ascent of Cats Ear Spire (5360m). Although our original objective had been Uli Biaho Tower (6109m), I knew that we had to take advantage of the good weather and climb what was closest to us. Our convenient choice turned out to be longer and more complicated than we anticipated: ropelength after ropelength of wide cracks up to mid-5.11, interspersed with loose rock—a twelve-pitch variation to the first ascent route, Freebird (VI 5.11d A1, 1060m, Copp-Pennings, 2000), that we called Super Cat (VI 5.11 R A1, 1060m, 27 pitches). We climbed alpine style, without bolts or pins, leaving the rock as pure as possible. After each of us led and then down led the final summit block in a snowstorm, we rappelled ten pitches to our bivy at sunset. The next morning, August 1, we woke early and made another seventeen rappels. Although we'd spent three bivies without sleeping bags and with little food, we were happy and ready for more.

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Bad weather forced us to rest the next eighteen days in base camp. On August 19 the skies cleared, but not knowing how long it would last and not wanting to wait for the walls to dry out, Eric and I left base camp at 3 a.m. and headed to the Normal Route on Great Trango (6286m). We climbed to the Norwegian Pillar, 6200 meters, in seven hours from camp: mostly a big hike with a few steep ice sections. By midafternoon the next day the snow began again, and I started to think we wouldn't have a chance to climb anything else. On August 23, three days before our departure, we decided to take a little trek into the Dunge Glacier and scope out some new routes. The trek turned out to be fruitful, and we hope to return to Pakistan by 2008.

Lucky us, we managed to drive the Karakoram Highway both to and from Skardu.



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