Water World, new route by Maurizio Giordani on the unclimbed Kiris Peak, in Pakistan

«The return with my new travelling partners, to the green meadows of Fairy Meadows, below the northern flanks of Nanga Parbat, is marked by a hint of nostalgic melancholy.

In front of the immense mountain on the Rajkot side everything seems unchanged but now almost 5 years have past and from there the passing of time, if imperceptible in front of a large mountain, is not so when faced with the awareness of the existence of a large hour glass, which moment after moment loses sand grains, relentlessly reducing the ones left. In the past, many times I have set off on a new adventure with the same promises…an unexplored valley in a far away exotic country, a mountain which was yet to be climbed, a difficult rock face to climb, old and new expedition partners with whom to share the experience. Everything has been done before, dozens of times, so many times that you have to wonder how come once again the push, the motivation has won, as if the time which has gone by, no longer existed, leaving room only for enthusiasm to kick in.

I have translated all of this into one simple word: PASSION, true, solid, cast iron, impassive, which has never been tainted, not even by the relentless falling of the grains of sands falling from the hour glass…

Ghulam Muhammad, an old Pakistani friend who has organized many of my trips to Baltistan, knowing my mountaineering tastes, sent me a photo of a nice rock face of grey granite which was practically unknown, arousing my curiosity. With Google Earth I try to understand where it is situated inside the never ending geographical area of Karakorum. I discover that it could be that mountain east of Skardu which I had noticed, far away, many times in the past, during those clear days while waiting to set off towards the mountains, or on the way back heading home. A mountain which looked like the Dolomites, with an imposing shape which had attracted my glance straight away. Ghulam calls it Kiris Peak, and insists on the fact that it is “unclimbed”. At the end of the day it seems like an easily obtainable objective, far from large glaciers, an introduction to a climb without great logistical problems and without great environmental difficulties therefore I propose the project to Manrico Dell’Agnola, knowing how much he hates exaggeratedly tiring expeditions. There is interest but a trivial accident on the rock with Carlo Pedrini while we climb at Mallos de Riglos in Spain compromises the season and everything is postponed for a year.

Back in Jordan, together with Manrico, the successive spring, climbing new routes on unreliable sand stone, we are with Luca Schiera who tells us about his recent trip to Pakistan where he climbed a rock face right at the start of a valley which is not well known mountaineering wise, and where during an exploratory phase, he took photos of a large Big Wall yet to be climbed…There is no doubt that the photo he shows us is the same Ghulam sent me a year ago and this just increases my interest towards an aim which is no longer unknown. To tell the truth my interest towards mountains and rock faces which are still unclimbed in the valleys of eastern Karakorum goes back to times gone by and many projects have bee hidden away, ready to be pulled out whenever the chance arises.

With these objectives in mind, the main problem is to obtain permits from the army to access the restricted areas. A terrible war on the border between Pakistan and India which perseveres along a utopian border line, still undefined, which has been going on for a few dozen years, as well as wasting human lives and elevated economic resources, makes some of the most interesting mountain areas of the entire chain inaccessible, precluding the possibility to alpinists to climb and consequently to the local populations to make the most of the work opportunities given by the alpinists themselves.

Many times Ghulam tries to get a laissez-passer to access the valley of Kondus where I spotted an unknown tower of granite which is very inviting, but the soldiers are unwavering in their combative intent and I have to unfortunately move my attention elsewhere. The group has been formed thanks to word of mouth. Manrico and his wife “Lella”, Massimo Faletti, Cristiano Marinello, Andrea Peron. My wife Nancy of course, on her fourth trip to Pakistan. We are seven altogether.

Carried away by my enthusiasm and by the opportunity of a long period of free time, we plan a double trip…

In the glacial area of Snow Lake, conjunction point of the two immense glaciers Biafo and Hispar, there is access across a pass, Soha-La, considered non accessible for the porters, crossed in the past only a couple of times, and not recently these past twenty years. Ghulam offers me the chance to try the crossing before dedicating our attention to climbing Kiris Peak, I thus propose the adventure to four other friends, Giorgio Zeni, Luisa Boscheri, Andrea Marchel and Nadia Pezzini. With Nancy we are six. From the village of Bisil the access valley, Kushusum Lungma, creeps up steeply towards north before reaching the summer meadows of Dobadas, where the slope gradient becomes softer. Further on there is only ice and rock, along the Soha glacier. I have been in this area with Nancy before, four times, when we climbed Spantik, along the glacier of Chogo Lungma, towards west, but in this case we are walking in the opposite direction, towards the large 7000 metres peaks of Biafo, Ogre and Lartok, where there is the most extensive glacial area in the world.

Before reaching the pass the environment changes…the camp is set on the glacier, no longer on the moraine where the terrain is pleasant, and the climate becomes more rigid. We walk tied up, with four porters following us, for a reconnaissance which ends up heading to the highest point, which we reach many hours later after a tiring walk along steep and dangerous slopes due to the possibility of large seracs falling. It is sleeting and the weather does not help us. Scarce visibility. Once we reach Soha-La, at an altitude of 5414 metres, we realise that it is impossible to continue. On the other side the slope drops for over 300 metres almost vertically; the depth of the fresh snow worries us, many metres which could fall on top of us, once we begin the descent. I abseil down for fifty or so metres to check the conditions out, but I am not convinced. To descend further would be a gamble for us, more so for the porters who do not have the adequate gear, tied up to precarious ropes which we need to fix…it is not worth risking this way. Further on, in the white mist of the sleet, the immense glacial environment of the other Biafo which I vaguely remember when I went by there a dozen years ago during our traverse of the Biafo-Hsipar, is lost across the horizon.

The choice is obvious and natural. We turn back. No regrets. The next day it snows abundantly and it will continue doing so for another week. The weather forecast does not offer any chances and until our first four friends do not start their return trip back to Italy everything stops waiting for a good weather window.

Goro Valley. Nancy and I have been at base camp for a few days now when the five new components of the expedition arrive combative. Their journey towards the base camp is full of adventure, along the Karakorum Highway, lasting twentyfive times more what our easy one hour flight lasted, and this gave them the taste of the unexpected hitches that occur in this country which are an everyday affair. I have already studied the face of Kiris Peak, climbing with Nancy up to the easy peak of 4900 metres right in front, which we called “Besenello Peak”, but our friends still have to acclimatize so I propose a climb up to the highest snowy peak of the valley, Snow Peak, as this peak of 5500 metres is called. It is reached after 8 tiring hours of walking, first of all on a moraine, then on snow, by the three alpinists who prove to have the most endurance and who are acclimatised the best, Nancy Massimo and I. All the peaks of this vast area have never been “touched” by alpinism and with enthusiasm I relive the experience of touching with my crampons, boots, or climbing shoes where no human has ever touched before.

The weather has improved the last few days and it is seems stable. It is time to touch rock. Five of us climb up (the ladies observe from the ground) the first two pitches and this helps me understand precisely what the situation is like. We have a real Big Wall in front of us, over 700 metres high. Hard and smooth granite, vertical, compact, very difficult to climb and a foreseeable snag…a waterfall coming down everywhere. The snow up high, on the summit, and the heat of the sun, strong during the central hours of the day, make it so that after sun rise (the rock face is exposed north-east and gets the sun just after midday) starts dripping worryingly from up above hour after hour and turns into a real water fall running down every crack, corner, exposed face. The route has been found, it is the most logical and the one that is possible to climb, following a sheltered line of climbable sequences, under large overhangs, but up high the situation is unknown…as it is also from the bottom…

A rest day is a must before the final attempt, we then set off before sun rise, Manrico, Massimo and I, to try and climb up as high as possible. We have a few ropes to set up along the initial section where there are no comfy places to bivvy, but we have plenty of cams, pegs and bolts to use if needed. Another day is spent looking to climb a few vertical walls before heading down to the base to bivouac in the little tent on the advanced camp on the glacier. In the morning of the next day Manrico complains of a headache and a lack of acclimatization; the weather has been stable for a week by now…we cannot push our luck too much. We have to make the most of the opportunity so Massimo and I set off, determined to climb up to the peak, and after two bivouacs on the wall, climbing up the more difficult rock section, a well chosen, and long traverse, a few pitches of mixed , as many pitches on steep snow which are over 60 degrees, we reach the summit. Altitude of 5428metres. Many and high difficulties have been overcome… a route which is over 1000 metres long. From the summit, formed by two equivalent peaks and distant one hundred metres one from the other the view is spectacular, unique and unrepeatable .

Thanks to the clear skies in front of us we see Nanga Parbat, K2, Broad Peak, Masherbrum, K6, K7 and hundreds of peaks without a name, without a history of being climbed, possible little objectives for those, who like us in the future will want to build a small but great experience of true, genuine adventure among these high mountains, which for the most part are still unexplored».

Text by Maurizio Giordani