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Tico Gangulee solos the first ascent and first ski descent of Chashkin I (6035m)
Posted on: July 17, 2019
Chashkin I (6035m), Pakistan. [Photo] Tico Gangulee
On June 20, in a round-trip from his advanced base camp that took approximately 11 hours, Tico Gangulee free soloed the first ascent—and first ski descent—of Chashkin I (6035m) in Pakistan. He named his route Steeze Matters (ED: 5.11c M4+, 85 degrees, 900m).
"The ski descent was steeper than 60 degrees and involved mandatory airs over icefalls and crevasses," he told Alpinist. He wasn't able to get a precise reading on the angle of his descent because his inclinometer doesn't go past 60 degrees.
As for the free solo ascent, he'd brought gear to rope solo the hardest sections, but he didn't find good options for building anchors. He also explained that the cruxes were more like "boulder problems" above "non-fatal landings," so he felt comfortable enough to free solo them. He wrote in an email:
"The climbing was mostly moderate mixed with some quite hard, but short, sections interspersed [with] occasional ice and steep snow. [One of the cruxes] felt straight-up desperate in ski boots at 19,000 feet but was probably only 11b or c, and 7 or 8 meters of climbing, so I call it V2 [a bouldering grade], since it had a non-fatal landing.... I was climbing for about nine hours and took another two hours to descend.
The blue line on the left shows Tico Gangulee's approximate line of ascent on Chashkin I and the red line to the right shows the lower section of his ski descent. He named his route—which he completed as an onsight free solo—Steeze Matters (ED: 5.11c M4+, 85-degrees, 900m). [Photo] Tico Gangulee
Gangulee below one of the "boulder problem" pitches. [Photo] Tico Gangulee
His rack included 30 meters of 6mm rope, two ice screws, three nuts, a hook and a Beal Escaper.
The somewhat obscure Chashkin peaks attracted Gangulee's attention for a few reasons.
"I was interested in Shimshal because it has some ski history, it was Shipton's 'blank on the map,' it's close to the Wakhan Corridor, and hard to get to," he said.
He was also intrigued by the mountains after Samina Baig, of nearby Shimshal Village, climbed Chashkin III (PD/AD: ca. 5900m) in 2010 at age 18. A report in the 2011 American Alpine Journal states that Baig made "what is reported to be the first ascent" of the peak, but Gangulee was able to confirm more details about the area's climbing history after conferring with Lindsay Griffin (the author of the aforementioned AAJ report), Steve Swenson and Qudrat Ali within the last year.
There are three Chashkin peaks: I, II and III. Chashkin II is now the only remaining summit of the three that has yet to be reached. Chashkin III was first climbed in the winter of 1997 by Qudrat Ali and Shaheen Baig, and it is the lowest of the three mountains; it is also known as "Chashkin Sur" and "Samina Peak." The latter name was bestowed after Samina Baig completed the first female ascent of the peak, and after she went on to become the first Pakistani woman to climb Chomolungma (Everest) in 2013.
Meanwhile, Chashkin II has been attempted but still awaits an ascent. Ali told Gangulee that "C1 and C2 had no ascents [and] one attempt in winter that didn't get far," Gangulee said. "He said C3/Sar/Samina has three ascents, no ski descent, and is under 6000 meters." (The peak was once thought to be as high as 6400 meters.) Ali, who is one of Pakistan's top mountaineers, also told Gangulee that he'd tried Chashkin II several years ago, and that Chashkin I looked very hard. This further enticed Gangulee to have a look for himself.
From left to right: Chashkin III, II and I. [Photo] Tico Gangulee
He did not have ideal conditions for his June 20 ascent. He wrote:
It snowed nearly every day (12 days) from Shimshal, round trip. Local residents said it was the snowiest year they can remember (just like the San Juans [in Colorado] where I work in winter). Nearly a meter of snow fell during my four days at ABC (avalanche hazard precluded any attempts at Chashkin II or III, my other objectives). I had a six-hour window of decent weather; the sun was strong enough to dry some faces, but anything in the shade was icy.... My weather check at 1 a.m. on June 20 showed relatively clear skis and under a full-ish moon, so I went. Didn't see the storm building until dawn.... My strategy was to be very prepared to fail, until about 18,500 feet when strategy changed to "shit, I'm surrounded by storm slab, just stay on rock until you can figure out how to get down."
A "full-ish" moon was visible in the blue sky (upper left corner of the photo) before the storm arrived. [Photo] Tico Gangulee
Luckily the mixed climbing was mostly thin cracks and never that sustained.... There were regular ledges. I hauled a pack and skis whenever it got steep.... I summited in the storm. Skiing down was fully sketchy for the first 350 meters: quite steep, crevasses, storm and wind slab, poor visibility. Then I got a window, took my shirt off—it's sort of my thing for the last eight years: sky-clad summits and descents—and got the fuck down....
Shirtless selfie: "It's sort of my thing for the last eight years: sky-clad summits and descents," Gangulee said. [Photo] Tico Gangulee
When I got down to ABC it was snowing pretty hard. It didn't stop for a day and a half [and] I spent 40 hours in my single-wall tent....
Meanwhile, Gangulee's base camp manager and cook Abdul Ghafoor and an assistant were waiting for Gangulee to return.
"They were both quite worried the whole time, and horrified at how little I ate.... I'm 130 pounds...[and] I lost about 10 pounds from BC to BC," Gangulee said. "There's lots of tragedy in [Ghafoor's] history [which added to his worry]."
Ghafoor was friends with Kyle Demptser and Scott Adamson, and he was supporting them from base camp when they disappeared on the Ogre II in 2016. He has known other climbers who died in the mountains as well.
It was full-on, up and down, which I thought I wanted.... l tried to find a partner [for this climb] for a couple years, but I'm a guide, all my friends are guides, and schedules never match up, so I just went. I wanted something hard to climb with a separate ski line. I think it's good style to onsight both up and down, and my failing body makes descending without skis painful.
Gangulee is originally from New York's Hudson Valley. His wife and son are based in Houston, Texas, where his wife works. But he guides in southwest Colorado all winter and bounces around the globe between other climbing destinations for much of the year. "I really live in my car," he said.
His writing has appeared in Alpinist under the pen name of "Tico Allulee," which is a "portmanteau" of his surname and his wife's surname, Allen, he explained.
In 2016 Gangulee and Chris Wright received a Lyman Spitzer Award from the American Alpine Club in 2016 to explore the Kullu Himalaya in India. This year, Gangulee received an AAC Live Your Dream Grant for the Chashkin expedition.
Gangulee poses with an American Alpine Club patch; he received an AAC Live Your Dream Grant for the expedition. [Photo] Tico Gangulee
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