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Swiss-Austrian Trio Solves Technical Face in Kunyang Chhish Massif
Posted on: August 14, 2013
The southwest face of Kunyang Chhish East (ca. 7400m) showing the line of first ascent. Despite two failed attempts and trouble acclimatizing, Simon Anthamatten with Hansjoerg and Matthias Auer successfully summited the peak on July 18. [Photo] Hansjoerg Auer collection
Swiss alpinist Simon Anthamatten and Austrian brothers Matthias and Hansjoerg Auer topped the unclimbed summit of Kunyang Chhish East (ca. 7400m) in the Karakoran's Hispar Muztagh. Their line of ascent, finally established after three attempts, bisects the 2700m southwest face, compared in size and technical grade to the famously difficult North Face of Jannu by the Polish climber Grzegorz Skorek during his 2003 attempt.
A team of Polish climbers led by the legendary climber Andrzej Zawada summited Kunyang Chhish's main summit in 1971, but Kunyang Chhish East remained unclimbed. The first attempt on the peak was recorded in 2003 by a Korean team that reached a highpoint of 6100m before weather turned them around. That same year a Polish team made up of Skorek, Stanislaw Piecuch and Janusz Golab also attempted the peak but climbed just 600m higher on the face than the Koreans due to warm temperatures and heavy snow.
The peak deflected a number of other attempts, including the near miss by Steve House and Vince Anderson in 2006. The duo continued the Poles' progress, but ultimately came up 300m short of the summit. "To the right was a massive cornice, to the left was steep and blank rock," House wrote in Alpinist 17. "With no real gear, bad rock, strong, cold winds, and tired bodies we turned around sometime between 2 and 3 p.m."Hanjoerg Auer acclimatizes on Ice Cake Peak (6400m). [Photo] Simon Anthamatten
In early June, Simon Anthamatten and Hansjoerg Auer headed to the Kunyang Chhish massif. "We were walking along the moraine of the Hispar Glacier when we first came in to contact with our project," Auer says. "I was in awe with the dimensions. The big amphitheater formed by the South, Main and East summits is one of the wildest places I've seen."
Initially, Hansjoerg's brother Matthias Auer was supposed to join them, but an injured thumb delayed his travel plans for 20 days. By the time Matthias arrived, Simon and Hansjoerg had already acclimatized by climbing Ice Cake Peak (6400m) and several other ridges and small faces around base camp and were ready to attempt Kunyang Chhish East.Hansjörg Auer traverses at 5600m. [Photo] Hansjoerg Auer collection
On June 25, Anthamatten and Hansjoerg Auer set out for the peak. On their third day of climbing, they made a bivy at 7000m in bad weather. "Normally I'm really good during hard situations in the mountains and can suppress my emotions," says Auer. "But at around 8 a.m. [on June 28] I knew that if we didn't react then, the mountain would." Fourteen hours later the duo was safely back at base camp. They would make another attempt four days later but were stopped by avalanches from fresh snow.
Matthias' problems acclimatizing still stymied his intention to climb the peak with his partners. "Matthias' acclimatization was still not on the same level as Simons' and mine. Alone, he just could climb up to 5500m, but this is not enough for Kunyang Chhish East," Hansjoerg wrote on his blog. "Together with Simon he started for a two day push [on Ice Cake Peak], while I chilled in base camp and searched for some bouldering."Hansjoerg and Simon in their bivy at 7000m before a storm sends them back to base camp. [Photo] Hansjoerg Auer collection
The evening of July 13, the Austrian meteorologist Karl Gabl sent an updated weather report with good news. "It wasn't the perfect window," Hansjoerg remembers. "But at least the conditions on the wall were acceptable, even if it would be clear and cold at night."
The next morning, with a complete team, all three climbers made one last attempt. "The first two days went smoothly and we climbed to 6600m by the end of the second day," says Hansjoerg. "But during the night a wind and snow storm almost collapsed our tent." The climbers tried to move up but the weather was just too bad and after only 200m they made a shelter in a crevasse. They would have to wait for two days before another weather window allowed them to move higher.Matthias and Simon just below the summit. [Photo] Hansjoerg Auer collection
On the morning of July 18, the weather calmed down, and at 6:00 a.m. they made their push for the summit. "We climbed through hard mixed terrain with freezing toes and fingers," says Hansjoerg. "The long traverse out to the ridge was on glared ice and very exhausting." The trio had a quick rest at 7000m before reaching the summit at 12:30 p.m.
"We had tears in our eyes as we embraced each other," recalls Hansjoerg. "We reached the end and highpoint of the last month and enjoyed the wonderful view overlooking the sea of fog of the Karakorum Mountains, where just the highest peaks poked through."