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Tom Livingstone recounts the experience of climbing Latok I

Posted on: August 23, 2018


Tom Livingstone leading on Latok I during his successful ascent from the north side in which he and Ales Cesen and Luka Strazar climbed three-quarters of the North Ridge before traversing right to reach the south face where they continued to the top. [Photo] Ales Cesen/Luka StrazarTom Livingstone leading on Latok I during his successful ascent from the north side in which he and Ales Cesen and Luka Strazar climbed three-quarters of the North Ridge before traversing right to reach the south face where they continued to the top. [Photo] Ales Cesen/Luka Strazar

The complete North Ridge of Latok I (7145m) in Pakistan remains unclimbed as far as anyone is able to confirm.

Upon returning from the summit in early August, Tom Livingstone (Britain) and Ales Cesen and Luka Strazar (Slovenia) were quick to correct the initial media reports that they had completed the North Ridge: after climbing about three quarters of the way up the North Ridge, they traversed right to reach a col that deposited them on the south side of the mountain, and they summited from there. Still, it marks the first successful ascent of the peak from the north side. (The mountain was first climbed from the south side by a Japanese team in 1979.)

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Livingstone recently described the nature of the route for Alpinist in an email:

In terms of numbers, the route was about 2400 meters of vertical height gain from glacier to summit, and about ED+ (whatever that means!) over seven days.

But in reality is was a long and sustained climb up to a relatively high altitude. Bivies weren't excellent. We could move together over some ground, always aiming for the fastest, smartest and logical line. Where we pitched, we tried to be quick. Inevitably we encountered some pitches of hard/steep/rotten ice and mixed.

We had to be sensible with when to climb, and when to rest, particularly as the sun came round onto the various faces. Early starts were useful.

Although it's a ridge, there are many cornices and mushrooms so we tended to be climbing on the steep walls [to] either side. There are also horizontal sections that you can bypass by taking long diagonal lines from below. It's quite complex and much more interesting than it looks from the ground!

The red line shows the route taken by Cesen, Livingstone and Strazar. [Image] Tom LivingstoneThe red line shows the route taken by Cesen, Livingstone and Strazar. [Image] Tom Livingstone

As to how he connected with the Slovenians, Livingstone wrote:

I knew Luka through climbing at a [British Mountaineering Council] International Winter Meet some years ago, and he got in contact with me. He visited Scotland and seemed to like it. We climbed together...in Slovenia this winter and spring to develop a partnership. We all get along well.

Strazar leads a traverse below snow mushrooms about halfway up the North Ridge. [Photo] Tom LivingstoneStrazar leads a traverse below snow mushrooms about halfway up the North Ridge. [Photo] Tom Livingstone

Cesen on Latok. [Photo] Tom LivingstoneCesen on Latok. [Photo] Tom Livingstone

Their ascent took place shortly after the helicopter rescue of Alexander Gukov (Russia) on July 31. Gukov had been stranded at 6200 meters since July 25, after his partner Sergey Glazunov fell to his death while rappelling, taking most of the gear with him. The two had originally left a camp at 5512 meters with five days of food on July 15, intent on pushing for the summit, and they had reached the high point of their attempt on July 22. In the aftermath of the rescue, Gukov told Mountain.RU Editor Anna Piunova that he'd filmed from below as Glazunov climbed on top of an apex, which Glazunov said that he believed to be the summit of Latok. They had turned around in low-visibility, not seeing anywhere to climb higher. Gukov later came to the conclusion that they had only reached the summit of a tower at the top of the North Ridge—which would still be an all-time high point on the North Ridge proper—but not the true summit of Latok.

Latok's North Ridge has become legendary since the American team of Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy, George Lowe and Jeff Lowe nearly succeeded on the long, committing ridge in 1978. They came within a few hundred meters of the summit, but they retreated after Jeff Lowe nearly died from a sudden onset of altitude sickness. Until last month when the Russians reached either the peak of the tower on the ridge or perhaps the true summit of Latok, no one had matched or even surpassed the high mark of the 1978 expedition despite many attempts by elite alpinists over the years. In 2017 Gukov was part of a team that reached 6700 meters, which was thought to be the closest anyone had come since 1978.

Livingstone told Rock and Ice that he had arrived in base camp with Cesen and Strazar on July 13, less than a day after Gukov and Glazunov had begun their ill-fated attempt. Livingstone described how they'd been a captive audience, watching the epic unfold on the very route they planned to climb:

The death of Sergey, and subsequent rescue of Alexander reinforced the dangers of pushing too far on such a route.... They were in bad weather, at high altitude, and very fatigued after many days without much food.... [We] thought they were pushing too far, at too high an altitude, for too long.... Of course, it was impossible not to be affected by the Russian drama. But when we discussed our motivations once the entire epic was over, we agreed to continue with our plan: to climb Latok I via our line, which was the route we always envisioned.

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