By Matt McCormick, AAC
Fida Brakk, northwest ridge, Jenga Spur.
“Isn’t there anywhere else you can climb?” “Good to have known you.” Reactions to us traveling to Pakistan were not generally positive, but my experience the previous year, and that of every climber I know who has traveled there, told me otherwise. As I stepped out of the Islamabad baggage claim with Pat Goodman and Will Meinen, I was nearly blindsided by friend and trekking agent Ghulam Muhammad, as he rushed to greet me. Similar greetings followed, as we ran into familiar faces and new ones, ecstatic at our arrival, eager to share their country with us.
Two days’ walk from the stone and mortar village of Hushe, the Charakusa Valley holds a diversity of climbing that is hard to find anywhere, from granite bouldering to massive unclimbed mixed faces. However, poor weather plagued our time in the valley, snow and rime constantly forming on our rock objectives. Windows of good weather were only two or three days long.
Pat and I took advantage of the first window by climbing the north ridge (British Route) of Nayser Brakk, a classic of the valley, which provided a good acclimatization mission. After the final pitches, which resemble Matthes Crest in the Sierra, we sat on the surprisingly flat summit in blazing Karakoram sun, blown away by the surrounding potential.
Searching for one more acclimatization objective and an opportunity for Pat and I to climb with Will, whom we had not yet roped up with, we decided on an unclimbed granite pillar next to Farhod Brakk. As we waited for the incessant drizzle to clear, we imagined ourselves simul-climbing most of it. However, Pat and I swapped blocks on surprisingly hard climbing. A dangerously loose pitch would be followed by thin seams and cracks. One pitch found me screaming, as if at a sport crag, as I bear-hugged my way up an arête above small RPs. Pat fought his way up a finger crack that approached 5.12. With daylight waning and routefinding difficult, we rapped to a small bivouac site just below the ridgeline. After a cold night spooning on the body-width ledge, I completed my block. Pat took us out left of the arête with a delicate traverse, leading to the summit pillar. The climbing continued to be challenging right through the last pitch, which led to a small summit cone, just large enough for the three of us to perch on.
Following many rappels in fading light, we downclimbed the snow couloir as a steady rain fell, producing rockfall that narrowly missed us. We named the pillar Fida Brakk, after our friend and cook Fida Hussain, and named our climb Jenga Spur (1,050m, V+ 5.11+R A0) after the numerous loose pitches and the way the route just barely seemed to come together.
As often happens numerous factors kept us from more climbing of significance, but we left the valley content with the climbing we had done.
On our way home we visited the village of Haldi, where Fida, Ghulam, and the crew from Blue Sky Treks and Tours live. Thanks to the generosity of the Burlington, Vermont, climbing community, which donated $200 plus tons of school supplies, we delivered a full expedition duffel to the teachers and children of the village. We spent the afternoon visiting a schoolteacher who is working to develop a new primary school.
The difference between western views of Pakistan and my experiences amazes me. As Fida’s son put it, “There are miscreants and dangerous areas in nearly every country.” While this is true in Pakistan, the northern area of Baltistan has been a safe, welcoming place for thousands of climbers, and I imagine it will continue to be so.
We felt extremely honored to have the generous financial support of the Copp-Dash Inspire Award and the Gore Shipton-Tilman Grant. Thank you.