Dempster, Kennedy and Wharton on OgreWednesday, September 7, 2016
[Ideal conditions and incredible views. K2 and other Karakoram giants with the Choktoi glacier far under our feet.]
Back in Skardu, Hayden and I said our goodbyes to Urban and watched him walk through security at the small Pakistani airport. Saying farewell to our Slovenian friend was sad, but Urban (unlike Hayden and I) has other talents beyond climbing and had to get back to his PhD work. The three of us had had an amazing time on K7 and the lessons that we had all learned from climbing together would stay with us on future climbs.
[Minor issue on our way to Askoli village. The solution was broken 2x4's and tree limbs to fill the giant hole in the bridge.]
Hayden and I had other business to attend to. Two weeks prior, while we were still in the Charakusa Valley, we had received a message on our satellite phone that Josh Wharton's partner had bailed and that Josh was waiting for us to arrive to Choktoi basecamp. We were totally psyched to climb with Josh, hang out with our friend Ghafoor, and explore the Choktoi glacier's enormous peaks.
[What to do during spells of bad weather. Turns out the articles are really interesting.]
[Porters walking under the north face of Latok 1 very close to base camp.]
On August 19th, shortly after midnight, we began the methodical process of climbing several thousand feet of 60-degree snow and ice. Kick, punch, breathe, kick, punch, breathe. Why can something so simple at times be so painful? You must meditate.
We simul-climbed for several hours guided by headlamp and felt the increasing exposure under our feet. At first light we gazed eastward at K2, the Shining Wall of G4, Masherbrum, Muztagh tower, and even the Crown that lies in the Chinese Karakoram. Conditions were perfect and the morning sun warmed us down to our baselayers, making the experience even more enjoyable.
[Hayden Kennedy stands in awe at the north ridge of Latok 1, where in 1978 his father and company spent 26 days. "Damn, those guys were tough...and stupid," he said.]
By midday we had climbed to a point that was above and far to the side of several large seracs that we had had no interest in climbing underneath. From this safe height we began a long traverse that would gain the snowfields from which the seracs spilled forth. This traverse would be the â€˜key' to unlocking our route; however, lingering far above was also the unknown surrounding the steep and rocky summit of the Ogre.
[Hayden and Josh Wharton making their way up the serac fall that accesses the basin between the Ogre 1 and 2.]
Hayden cast off into the 55-meter traverse as Josh and I looked on in total astonishment. What we hoped to be mediocre rock was in fact stacked shale and, due to the heat of the day, there was no ice or even mud to bond the tiny rock chips together. The pitch made the worst rock in the Canadian Rockies look like dream stone. Hayden's feet skated, sending off showers of kitty litter that fell for thousands of feet to the glacier below. Sometimes he'd rip off microwave-sized blocks that would bounce near his waist and explode into pieces before even making it off the traverse ledge. I looked on in terror as I slowly paid out rope through the belay device. "I wouldn't question him for a second if he decided to bail," Josh said.
[Hayden climbing on dirt at 6300 meters. The pitch made the worst rock in the Canadian Rockies look like dream stone.]
Several hours later and after Josh and I had also battled the choss, the three of us were cruising once again, this time roped together on steeper snow fields. At the base of the overhanging granite headwall that leads to the east summit of the Ogre 1, we found an incredible place for a tent and decided to call it for the day. The stove melted snow and we devoured our dehydrated dinners, enjoying the last light of an incredible day of climbing.
We awoke to another cloudless day and in the predawn light brewed coffee and talked about unattainable things like toasted bagels with cream cheese, fresh salads, and breakfast burritos. Josh had been a bit sluggish the previous day and was now expressing concern about a headache. Talk ceased and we crawled out of the tent, did a few sun salutations and were on our way, again climbing unroped on more 60-degree ice and snowfields. At about 6500 meters Hayden and I swapped leads on some tricky leftward traversing mixed pitches. The rock was significantly better than the previous day but gear remained sparse, the sections were steep, and the snow and ice that connected the rock sections became deeper and less consolidated as we climbed higher.
[Hayden leading some cold and scrappy but easy mixed pitches toward our second bivy at about 6800 meters.]
After a much shorter day of climbing than our first, the three of us chopped a narrow tent platform in a small snowfield at about 6800 meters, and crammed into the tiny First Light tent, preparing for an uncomfortable night. We looked forward to exploring the steep and beautiful red granite corner above our bivy, but before climbing the next day we needed to address Josh's condition, which had significantly worsened. Watching him climb had left me feeling uneasy, and now as he lay in the tent his face appeared swollen as he strained to breathe. Through the night he coughed, even spitting blood at one point, but other than being extremely uncomfortable his condition seemed to be stable. It was obvious he had some level of cerebral edema and as he snoozed Hayden and I looked at each other out of concern for his situation.
The following morning I woke up and peered out the tent door. Thin wispy clouds swirled below and around us, and through the space between them blue skies shined on the southern Karakoram. I had seen this weather before in Pakistan and knew that it could go either way. Heavy snowfall would turn our situation into a very serious one, I thought to myself. Hayden must have had a similar thought. "We need to decide what we're doing and go for it," he said. Groggily, Josh opened his eyes, "I'm worked," was all he said and rolled back over in his sleeping bag.
I'd like to say that our decision to leave Josh at the tent, while Hayden and I tried to blast to the summit, was a difficult one. At 7000 meters, life's fragile existence can quickly become extinct. Maybe Josh's condition would turn severe, maybe Hayden and I wouldn't return from our summit push, thus leaving him stranded without ropes to get down, or maybe the mountain would take us all. It sounds dignified to say that the decision was tough, but while the three of us sat in the tent that morning suspended so high above the earth, there was very little discussion about the devastating possibilities. Josh would stay in the tent and go no higher; we left him with the stove, extra food, and an extra sleeping bag. Hayden and I racked up, tied in, and would blast the final 350 meters to the 7,285-meter summit of the Ogre, and get back to Josh as quickly as possible.
Maybe Hayden and I were blinded by the summit, maybe it was a dumb decision for Josh to say, "Go." The three of us had cast aside the mantra of 'stay together in the mountains,' and surely our decision deserves some level of scrutiny. However, in the mountains and in every moment with the people that we choose to have adventures with in the mountains, we must constantly be aware of ourselves, our surroundings, and communicate these perceptions. If Josh had said that he needed to go down, Hayden and I would have done so. If either Hayden or I had felt a strong enough conviction that leaving Josh was not a good idea or that the terrain above was too dangerous then would have gone down. If any of us had felt differently about the circumstance, then we would not have made the decision that we did. Each moment in the mountains is different, every decision unique, and this one made collectively by the three of us felt appropriate.
[Hayden in the goods. A long and perfect red granite corner on our way to the summit.]
The final 350 meters of climbing above where we had left Josh were the most enjoyable on the entire route. In a beautiful red granite corner, Hayden and I exchanged leads on several mixed pitches. Eventually we gained a corniced ridgeline that lead to another mixed pitch that would access the final summit snowfield. I took the lead and wallowed through waist deep and very steep snow, remembering Urban's words that he spoke near to the summit of K7: This is what we came for, we can do this. Hayden and I pushed upward.
[From the summit of the Ogre, I snapped a photo of Hayden as he came around the corner and we shared a big ol' smile!]
We stood in the warm sunshine and shared an enormous hug on the pointy summit of the Ogre. In 1977 very near to where Hayden and I stood, Doug Scott and Chris Bonnington began what for them would be one of the most trying experiences of their lives. One year later, in 1978, Hayden's father lived out his famous epic on Latok 1, his route clearly visible from where we now stood. From this same tiny and simultaneously immense point on earth, Hayden and I smiled, hugged, laughed, and pointed at distant glaciers and mountains in both Pakistan and further away in China. We had nearly completed our Pakistani Double Header, two 7000-meter peaks in one summer, and all that remained was a long descent. Hayden and I had shared everything during our summer in Pakistan—sickness, pain, food, encouragement, fear, a sleeping bag, fatigue, laughter, smiles, and joy had all been exchanged as we explored the high peaks and incredible people of the Karakoram. He is an incredible climber and a fantastic climbing partner and I look forward to our next adventure.
I would like to extend my personal thanks to all that made our summer possible and so successful, Black Diamond, Outdoor Research, La Sportiva, Edelweiss, Cilogear, Probar and also the generous contributions of The Mugs Stump Award, The Polartec Challenge Grant, and the Lyman Spitzer Grant. THANK YOU!!!!!