PAKISTAN - LATOK II EXPEDITION
EXPEDITION SUMMARY by CONRAD ANKER
In the remote Karakoram Range of Pakistan, there's a wall that climbers describe as El Cap stacked on top of Denali. At an altitude of over 23,000 feet, the 3,800-foot Southwest Face of Latok II is a challenge not only of technical climbing, but of endurance. And the hardest thing about the climb may be just getting there.
To reach the wall, climbers Alex and Tomas Huber, Conrad Anker, and Tony Gutsch had to run the gauntlet of a narrow gully showered in constant avalanches and rock fall. "This gully was the most dangerous thing I have done," said Conrad Anker, "and I've been on about 20 expeditions." The approach was limited to the coldest part of the day, 1 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the afternoon the team was forced to take shelter as the heat began to melt the snow and ice, sending rocka and ice screaming through the gully.
Once at the base of the wall, the team inched ahead, following small fissures on the vertical and overhanging rock and ice for the thousands of feet. On the final pitch, the climbers could see a monsoon approaching. Lightning flashed behind them as they climbed through the night, realizing that this would be their last chance for a summit attempt.
"Summitting is never guaranteed," Tomas said. "And when you get there, it's a gift. We sat up on top of Latok II for two and a half hours, laughing, eating, and looking out to K2 and the whole mountain range. It was like we were the center of the clouds." They named the route Tsering Monsong (meaning "long night" in Balti) and descended to their 17,700-foot high camp the same day.
Resting after their 16-hour day, the team faced the most dangerous moment of their journey. A massive rock fall roared past them, missing the climbers by less than six feet and sweeping away two haulbags containing much of their gear. Later that same evening, a fist-sized rock tore into the Huber's tent, punching a hole through Alex's sleeping bag and barely missing his legs. "I turned on my headlamp and saw only feathers in the tent," Tomas said, "For us, it was the moment we decided our time was over. Let's get out of here." The team broke camp that night and, completely exhausted, reached the safety of their basecamp early the next morning.