By Lukasz Depta, Poland
K6 Group, Changi Tower (ca 6,500m), northwest ridge, attempt.
In July 2010 Andrzej Gluszek, Piotr Sztaba, and I, from Poland, visited the K6 group intending to make the first ascent of the prominent Changi Tower [Editor’s note: This formation is not to be confused with the much lower rock towers on the north side of the Nangma Valley, often called Changi but correctly called the Changui Towers]. Changi Tower lies southeast of K6 (7,281m), on the watershed between the Lachit and K6 glaciers, close to the military arena of the Indo-Pakistan conflict. Our permit was issued at the last moment, and, although Changi Tower stands at the head of the Lachit Glacier, we were only allowed to approach from the neighboring Nangma Valley.
Base camp was at 4,300m, below the junction of the East and West Nangma Glaciers, separated from the tower by 13km of densely crevassed glacier and the 5,300m Austrian Col. [Editor’s note: The col was first crossed and named by the 1970 Austrian expedition, led by Edi Koblmuller, which made the first ascent of K6 via the southeast ridge from the upper Lachit Glacier.] Our first foray to the col convinced us that reaching our objective would be a daring task. We fixed 100m of rope and deposited gear deposit below the col, but poor weather prevented us seeing the way ahead. We returned to base camp and waited out the bad weather, before setting off to establish an advanced base on the upper Lachit Glacier.
Back at the col, with blue skies, we saw the majestic Changi in full view. But the approach caused distress: a massive icefall festooned with seracs, followed by a few hundred meters of snow slope, barred access to the col at the foot of the Tower’s northwest ridge. We crossed onto the Lachit, only the second party to do so.
We placed our modest camp below the vast south face of K6, at the site used by the Austrians 40 years before. Over the next few mornings, when the glacier surface was solid, we pushed through the labyrinth of seracs and reached a cirque filled with avalanche debris directly below the col. Another 500m up the slope above, and we were breathing hard on the saddle. Our GPS read 5,900m, and we named it Polish Col.
From here the tower looked more demanding; much mixed climbing with sections that would require rock shoes. Returning to our tent we avoided the icefall by a steep gully to the left, but it also proved exposed to avalanche, so we were relieved to get down. Crossing the squelchy glacier in midday sun was laborious, and we returned to base camp for a rest and to sit out more bad weather.
On our next attempt we reached advanced base in one day but floundered the next morning in unconsolidated snow. We moved camp to a more convenient site and the following morning re-climbed the gully, reaching the col at midday.
We had heavy loads, and progress up the ridge above was slow. After three pitches we pitched our tent on a too-small platform and with two sleeping bags for three spent a restless night. At first it wasn’t too bad, but then Piotr’s condition deteriorated. By morning he had a terrible headache, bad cough, and upset stomach. We had no option but to retreat and two days later were back in base camp. Out of the 20 days we spent in the mountains, 15 had been devoted to pushing the route forward. We didn’t achieve our goal but plan to return.