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K7 Central - 2023 Trip Report

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Charakusa, Pakistan Summer 2023

Tent-couloir.jpg First Bivouac under the couloir on the north face of K7

This summer, my husband and climbing partner Jeff Wright and I embarked on a mission to K7 to attempt to summit the unclimbed peak K7 Central, for a second time, with the generous help of a Caltopo Grant. I first started using Caltopo to plan my outdoor adventures in 2014, taking mountaineering classes in the PNW Cascades through the Boeing Alpine Club (BOEALPS). I’m delighted to continue to use Caltopo, but now in the Pakistani Karakoram range, charting new routes in the Charakusa.


image-22.png Priti's CalTopo Route planning, waypoints, and notes

We have also appreciated the American Alpine Club on our climbing journey, reading their journal and trip reports avidly. In 2020 I received a Live Your Dream Grant to climb Cerro Torre via the Ragni route, which was a fantastic help and assisted in our year-long sabbatical and our first expedition to the Pakistani Karakoram. That year, Jeff and I made the successful first ascent of the unclimbed peak K6 Central (7,155m) where we got our first glimpse of K7 and were inspired to return to the region.  K6 and K7 are next door neighbors in the Charakusa Valley and both have technical terrain on all sides which is why they get climbed very rarely. 

IMG_6361photo-copy-1024x768.jpg The southeastern face of the K7 massif as seen from the summit of K6 Central (7155m) in 2020. From left to right: K7 West (6615m), K7 Central (6858m) and K7 Main (6934m), with its east face visible. [Jeff Wright]

Last summer in 2022, Jeff and I received two generous grants from the AAC, the McNeill-Nott Award and the Cutting Edge Grant for our second expedition to the Karakoram range, this time to the Charakusa Valley to chart a new route on the K7 massif and summit K7 Central. We read every trip report and account of K7 that we could find, especially in the American Alpine Journal library archives.  Each narrative of an ascent, successful or not, gave us new insights into the mountain, as we pieced together the history of the area. After studying dozens of photos from unique perspectives and pouring over maps and Google Earth, we found an exciting and promising new line that inspired us. The inspiration came from a photo taken by Kate Ballard and given to us by Graham Zimmerman. The route followed weaknesses on the North and Northeast sides of the K7 Massif, a face of the mountain with no other known ascents or previous attempts.  Furthermore, we have found no record of any other party crossing over the Kaberi Pass that divides the K7 Massif from Sulu Peak.

IMG_7894-768x1024.jpg The impressive K7 Central, a canine-toothed gendarme (~300m of prominence from the ridgeline) along K7’s summit crown (2022)

DJI_0215-1024x576.jpg Priti on K7 Central, 2022

On our first attempt to the 6,858m high peak, we nearly reached the summit, turning around 100m from the top due to difficult rock climbing without adequate gear (no rock shoes!). Since we were unsuccessful that year, and we made efforts to keep details of the trip quiet until we could return the next year for our second attempt. This summer 2023, we returned to attempt the project again, armed with more knowledge and a refined strategy.  As in our previous trip to Pakistan, this expedition was conducted with strict Leave No Trace and Alpine Style ethics.

DJI_0212-1024x576.jpg Priti approaches the clean corner that reminded the couple of Yosemite. During this 2022 attempt, we were disappointed in their last-minute decision to leave our rock shoes in base camp. [Jeff Wright]

Along our climb, we marked waypoints in the CalTopo app (offline) at every bivouac. We then exported our track and waypoints from CalTopo onto Google Earth.

image-23.png Google Earth screenshot using the CalTopo Exports

In June 2022, we were surprised to arrive at base camp which had a foot of snow on the ground where we were expecting green meadows.  Before departing the nearby town of Skardu (and our last source of Wifi) in July 2023, we wanted to find out what conditions to expect at base camp before we arrived. We used Caltopo’s Live Satellite imagery to preview the conditions of base camp before the hike in. Everything looked nice and dry for our journey into the Charakusa valley this year, and it turned out quite pleasant! 

image-64.jpeg Base Camp in the Charakusa Valley 2023

image-62.jpeg Expedition Team (left to right): Captain Ibtasam “Sam” Khan (Pakistani Military Liaison Officer), Idris Karim (Cook’s Assistant), Jeff Wright, Priti Wright, Ibrahim Jamali (Cook)

We arrived at base camp in the Charakusa Valley on July 16th, in nearly record breaking time from Seattle. We left Seattle on July 9th, arriving after two flights on Turkish airlines, on July 11th and flying directly to Skardu. From Skardu we drove to the small mountain village of Hushe in 8 slightly bumpy hours on July 13th. After collecting our camp gear off the two jeeps and dividing gear amongst porters and donkeys, we hiked into the Charakusa base camp over three days. We set up base camp, joining Tad McCrea and Tom Livingstone, our Liaison Officer Captain Ibtasam “Sam” and our cooks Ibrahim and Idris who had been our cooks the previous year.

image-54.jpeg Panorama from the summit of Sulu

We were feeling well acclimatized and fit, so we took advantage of the spell of good weather and climbed the nearby 6070m peak Sulu to continue to acclimate. We reached the summit on July 19th after three days of climbing, only roping up because of cornices at the top and spending the night near the summit. We arrived back at base camp the next day as bad weather descended. 

IMG_1367-copy-1024x768.jpg Camping spot near the summit of Sulu (~6000m)

We had weather updates from our forecaster and our friends, via our inReach device. The weather was supposed to be good for three days, stormy for two, and then a big weather window would open up. We optimistically packed up our bags and headed out to repeat our route from last year, up the North Ridge of K7 in the evening of July 25th.

image-65.jpeg The North Ridge of K7 (sun-shade); North Face is on the sun side; Northeast Face (and Grand Couloir) on the shade side; K7 West is the prominent peak on the right (2022)

On the first three days we hiked up and over Kaberi Pass and camped on a moraine below the North Face of K7 to wait out the storm. On July 30th we climbed up the 45-55° snow/ice couloir on the North Ridge of K7 to a good bivy spot that we dug into the ridge at the top. I led the approximately 250m couloir in one long simul pitch. Crossing the short ridge led to the next long couloir. Snow began falling in the afternoon as we dug the platform for our tent. 

IMG_1635-copy-768x1024.jpg Our first bivouac on the North Ridge after digging away a platform from its knife-edge ridgeline (2023)

We began up the 600m grand couloir on the Northeast Face of K7 the next day which started under blue skies and perfect temps. The weather deteriorated in the afternoon, however, with snowfall and deep grey skies. The slopes were 45-65° snow and ice, with one steeper section that climbed at AI4. We continued climbing through the precipitation and bivied near the top of the couloir as night started to fall after burrowing out a large hole in a patch of soft snow for our tent.

image-66.jpeg Climbing up the Grand Couloir on K7’s Northeast Face (and a cool arch feature)

The next day we popped over the North Ridge at the top of the couloir and traversed around crevasses, climbing up deteriorating ice over a bergschrund to reach a flat balcony overlooking the North Face at 6140m. Unfortunately the snow came in as it did every afternoon and visibility dropped so we stopped to bivy again. 


IMG_3439-768x1024.jpg The Priti Wright climbing on K7’s Upper North Face with Chogolisa’s recognizable twin-peak profile behind

We finally reached the K7 Glacier at 6,400m on the ninth day away from base camp although we had only been technically climbing for four days. Snow continued to fall every afternoon, vanishing the peaks of K7 Central, Main and West in a shroud of clouds and mist. 

IMG_1717-copy-1024x443.jpg Arriving again, at the K7 Glacier with the peaks of K7 behind (left-to-right): K7 Main, K7 Central, unnamed gendarme, and K7 West (2023)

We trudged our way through the snow to the base of the col between Main and Central as we had the previous year, and out of the mist the rocky tower of K7 Central appeared, blasted with ice and snow. Our Base Camp mates (Tad McCrea and Tom Livingstone) emerged unexpectedly in one of the most improbable places on Earth. During our 2022 expedition, we were likely the first people to ever reach the K7 Glacier, a high altitude desolate hanging glacier perched at 6,400m and guarded on all sides by steep, technical walls.  Now we were again on this wide, deserted, improbable landscape, staring up at the final ice step to the Col between K7 Main and Central, that we had climbed last year. 

IMG_3458-1024x768.jpg Climbing steep snow and ice to access the K7 Main-Central Col

In an effort to salvage the trip and complete the route despite the terrible conditions, we quickly changed objectives and headed up a different slope to try to reach K7 Main instead. It would be a less noteworthy, but still valiant accomplishment to make the Main summit instead of the virgin summit of Central. However terrible snow and avalanche conditions turned us around on our bid for K7 Main and we retraced our steps up to the col below K7 Central. 

IMG_0759-rotated.jpg Our bivouac tent in 2022 at the K7 Central-Main Col with K7 Main behind (the highest peak of the K7 Massif)

IMG_0773-copy-rotated.jpg Jeff climbing steep 5.11 granite in 2022 under prime conditions

image-59.jpeg Priti high on K7 Central in 2022

We descended 30m and camped in the bergschrund below the col, underneath the upper bivouac site that we used last year, now occupied by Tom and Tad. Minimal snow and ice fell on us during the night. We were tired from our efforts, and the Central tower was covered in unprotectable ice and snow where we were climbing beautiful cracks bare-handed the previous year. Climbing to K7 Main or K7 Central was too dangerous, time-consuming and risky in these conditions. The combination of all of the factors caused us to make the painful choice to bail and descend the Central Couloir on the south face of K7 the next day.

image-67.jpeg Descending the complex snow and ice of K7’s Central Couloir in 2022

The descent down the Central Couloir went very smoothly. It seemed less dangerous than last year and we retreated quickly and easily leaving behind only a couple of slings when our V-Threads began to get too sticky in the warmer temperatures. We reached base camp on August 5th and started packing up to return home.

IMG_3499-768x1024.jpg Priti exhausted after a long, complicated 2,500m descent down K7’s Central Couloir; K7 Central is the prominent peak in the center of the frame (2023)

We departed Islamabad on August 11th and returned to Seattle the same day. Thank you so much to Caltopo for supporting our exploration and for the Pro subscription to the Caltopo App, which was very useful during the whole trip, and I’d recommend it to everyone. Thank you to our sponsors for the previous trip, the American Alpine Club's Cutting Edge Grant and Grit&Rock.

image-68.jpeg Post-climb Vibes

While we didn't reach the summit, I personally have grown up a lot through this journey. We have added our own footprint to the history of this peak and area, while gaining a deeper understanding and respect for those who have come before us. We couldn't have done it without the incredible help from our heroes and mentors including Steve Swenson, Graham Zimmerman, Steve House, Colin Haley, Rolo Garibotti and my coach Martin Zhor, among so many others. I feel deep gratitude for the support of our climbing community, the people of the Hushe Valley and the inspiring peaks in the Karakoram. 🙏

image-63.jpeg Amazing Mountains Surround Base Camp, Nayser Brakk on the left

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Wow, what an adventure!   And great pictures! That is so awesome you guys are getting those grants from the AAC and CalTopo.

I've primarily been a Gaia GPS user since I have a ton of data in there, but came across CalTopo (I had used it a long time ago, but its way better now) a couple months ago and was super impressed with it and have been using it more.

Thank you so much for sharing your story here, and congratulations on a great trip to an amazing place.

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  • 3 weeks later...

This is really intense climbing. I'm grateful that you could be composed enough to get these amazing pics. And thanks for writing up the account here. 


About the "atmospheric displays": 

What Olyclimber wonders about: it is not a sundog. Sundogs are white spots either side of the sun, slightly higher in elevation when the sun is high, and sometimes a bit reddish at the outer edge. Those colors are most likely part of a "circumhorizontal arc", a very beautiful display. Happens when the ice crystals are quite small and hang in the air perfectly stable, like a hexagonal plate on a table.  I can't tell from the pic, but I'm guessing that the arc should be about 50 degrees below the sun. 

The above two pics by Priti: The top one is also a circumhorizontal arc. One of my favorite ice displays. 

The bottom pic is really amazing though. The oval around the sun is a "circumscribed halo". Rare to see it so distinct. The line arcing through the sun is the parahelic arc. It is due to reflections off the sides of ice crystals. Also rare to see it extended so much. Perhaps it went clear around the horizon to make one large circle? (I've seen it do that once.)  And then there is that strange bottom "hump" below the sun. I've never seen it myself, but it appears to be an excellent case of a Parry arc. 

All of these are due to small ice crystals. So glad that you noticed it and took pics. Keep your eyes peeled and get more pics like that if you can. 

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