Three Women, a Mountain and a Mosque

Posted on: October 31, 2007


Looking south towards the entire Latok Group from the teamís basecamp on the north side of the Choktoi Glacier, with Luisa Giles (right) and the assistant cook, Furman (left), on the moraine above basecamp. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson

During the summer of 2007, three women—Luisa Giles (British, 25), Sarah Hart (Canadian, 27) and Jacqueline Hudson (Canadian, 28)—attempted a new ca. 950-meter free rock line in the Karakorum Range of Pakistan. The route is on a possibly unclimbed 5200-meter rock peak, on the Choktoi Glacier, in the Latok group. The peak, on the south side of the Choktoi glacier, is situated east (down valley) of Latok I's famous North Ridge.

Luisa Giles leaving the belay on Pitch 13, during the teamís second attempt on the peak. Shortly after it started to snow, and they turned around. The Choktoi Glacier is visible below. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson

Seizing one of the few weather windows that summer, Giles, Hart and Hudson attempted the peak three times, the third over the course of three days. They climbed 900 meters up a series of granite corner and ledge systems on the peak's east face. Fifty meters short and a couple hundred meters lateral of the true summit, they turned around, having free climbed nineteen full 60-meter rope lengths. The route offered many fantastic pitches of 5.9 and 5.10 climbing, and roughly 300 meters of simul-climbing over moderate terrain to reach a northern sub-summit at ca. 5150m. They called their progress The Partition (TD 5.10b). Due to time constraints and an estimated absence of quality climbing remaining, the team stopped at this high point and descended.

The new climb ascends the sunlit face on the right hand buttress to a point just short of the true summit. [Photo] Luisa Giles

The unnamed peak is the second (westernmost) of two similar north-facing rock buttresses joined by a high col and an ice couloir. The other buttress holds the Indian Face Arete (5.10 A3), which Doug Scot and Sandy Allen established in 1990.

Jacqueline Hudson is currently on the scenic route though a five-year residency in Anesthesiology with the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. In the past she also managed to convince the same school to grant her a BSc in Immunology and a Medical Degree, despite principally spending her time on rock and snow. Jacqueline enjoys free, aid, ice and alpine climbing, and escapes Canada when possible to broaden her practice of medicine overseas. She tells the story.

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PART I

"I need your knife."

"What?"

I dusk-dream, clipped in at the belay, while Luisa fights with our stuck rope 20 meters above. Sarah belays her out on our other line. I stare down, across the Choktoi Glacier almost a kilometer below us, and watch the slow-moving clouds swirl north over 8000-meter peaks to the east, where they are swallowed by the dry air of Western China.

After so many days of snow and rain during our early time in basecamp, the weather finally has stabilized. When we first arrived on the Choktoi we had three days of fantastic weather. We made our first attempt then, but we were anything but acclimatized, so when the weather turned foul, we retreated. After more than a week of rain and snow (and a second attempt on the route, denied again by poor weather), blue skies finally split the clouds. Our cook, Abbas, a man who has lived his entire life in the Karakorum, told us that we now had four days of good weather before the next storm. We did not have a working satellite phone or a reliable altimeter—something we discovered only after arriving in basecamp. Abbas was the best weather report we had, and his prediction would be right.

"I need your knife!"

Sarah Hart (left) setting up for the next rappel while Luisa Giles (right) finishes off the seventh rappel long after dark. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson

"Ok, ok, lower me your free end of rope."

It is the end of our third day of stable weather, and we're making our first rappel. I feel like I watch it all happen, just an observer. I force this sensation of detachment because my stomach is cramping and my body is shivering. Yet I am neither hungry nor cold. Perhaps I am both. We have been trying to free our rope for the past ninety minutes, and the sun has nearly disappeared.

Our bivy gear is low on the wall. We left it there after spending our first night on a series of ledges. We went lightweight even to the bivy: no stove, minimal water, and only a small amount of extra clothing. With our only real warmth for the night still far below us, we're feeling more than a little vulnerable.

PART II

The air is heavy with the heat of Islamabad. The night smells of cardamom, two stroke engines, and cotton soaked with human sweat. We feel the artillery (there is no sound yet) shake the windows of our hotel room.

After a month in the mountains and a seven-hour drive from the road-head at Askoli (access to the Baltoro Glacier) to Skardu, we are greeted by the start of the pavement, and rainbows. [Photo] Luisa Giles

We've been traveling for days, around half the world, away from cool, temperate, sedate Vancouver (where, back in December, my program director reluctantly granted me two months to climb here).

Luisa Giles heading up Pitch 16, one of the final headwall pitches before reaching the upper ridge crest. The true summit is far beyond the sub-summit seen here. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson

With me now are my two partners—finally sleeping quietly, after so long in airports, airplanes, and buses. Luisa is an energetic British ex-pat who now makes her home in Vancouver and cycles over 200 kilometers every week to work and back. Sarah is quieter, more introspective, a recent and already very competent convert to alpine climbing from a path previously focused on bouldering and competition sport climbing. I asked them to join me on this trip to Pakistan because they are wonderful women, and happen to be pretty damn good at "getting the rope up there." They also could drop everything to fly into the unknown for two consecutive months.

We couldn't be farther from Vancouver. It is 4 a.m. on July 11th, and the stand off at the Lal Masjid Red Mosque in Islamabad has come to a peak. The government has decided it has had enough and is leveling the place. My half-asleep brain tells me there is little I can do except believe what the hotel staff told us the previous evening: "Red Mosque is far away from the Hotel." This claim was clearly a lie, or at least a loose interpretation of the term "far" with respect to artillery.

We survive. More than 100 people inside Red Mosque do not.

We also survive the Islamabad-Skardu flight on "Perhaps It Arrives" Airlines, better known to air traffic controllers as Pakistan International Airlines, escaping the very real possibility of crashing into Nanga Parbat. And out of some western, idealized madness, we have left our nice stable jobs, our comfortable existence with espresso coffee, socialized accessible medicine, working traffic lights and people who obey them, to come climbing here. Why? Good question.

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Comments
AlpineEssence

Yeah girls! Nice job sending on the Choktoi while we whined over on the Baintha! What a great trip, I can't wait to head over again. L II, I remember you...

2009-03-28 06:38:15
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