Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

This is a report of the 2006 Jagged Globe Expedition to Muztag Ata written by Rob Jarvis who was the assistant leader. This was my fourth expedition to this peak.

Jagged Globe Muztag Ata Expedition 2006 (Leaders David Hamilton and Rob Jarvis)

Whilst Muztag Ata is probably the least technical 7,500m peak in the world it shouldn't be thought of as an 'easy' ascent. The sheer graft and logistics of transporting enough food, fuel and tents up the mountain to allow sufficient acclimatisation forays wears many teams out before a summit attempt is made.

Our large group of British, Dutch, Irish and Aussie climbers were to be greatly assisted in this initial process of preparing the mountain and ourselves by a team of strong, experienced and ever cheerful Nepali Sherpas. Dawa Gelgi, Mingma Dukpa, Pasang Nurba and Pema Sherpa provided a vastly superior service to the fairly disparate bunch of local porters and their frequent propositions to carry your 'luggage'.

Although the walk to BC is only a 4 hour stroll from the road, the 1000km bus journey from Islamabad is long, dusty and distinctly 'cultural'. Having travelled the Pakistani side of the famous Karakorum Highway before, the highlight for me was the crossing of the Khunjerab Pass. At 4,730m this is the highest border crossing in the world and marks the fascinating political, geographical and cultural divide between Northern Pakistan and South West China. Immediately you leave the steep, rocky and mud covered slopes of the Karakorum for the gentle, grassy and marmot covered slopes of the Pamir. The road becomes tar-mac and the average bus speed goes up 50km/hr. The hustle and bustle but ultimately unproductive nature of Northern Pakistan is left in a flash and a more organised cause takes over. Where you had only occasionally glimpsed the occasional woman, now there are hordes, roadside, shovel in hand and grafting away.

Base Camp is in an open, pleasant, grassy hollow between two large glaciers spilling off the huge western flank of the mountain. It's a good place to unwind from the journey and at 4,400m continue the acclimatisation process started on crossing the Khunjerab. All team members felt pretty good here and the steady 1,000m plod for a night at Camp 1 was achieved without incident.

On the next acclimatisation foray up the mountain, most members elected to spend a couple of nights at Camp 2. At 6,200m this was always going to involve the odd sore head but it certainly laid a solid foundation for the subsequent and final summit foray after a couple of rest days in BC.

Whilst the sometimes overused description of 'snow-plod' is actually fairly accurate for much of the ascent of Muztag Ata, this shouldn't overlook the interesting and intricate nature of the route between C1 and C2. This traverses some fine glacial scenery and in the right light is highly photogenic with fine views over Kongur (7,720m) to the North and distant Tien Shan to the North West. Generally however the higher you go the easier the angle becomes and the challenge of the mountain boils down to putting one foot in front of the other in the thin air. As a result of heavy snow during our final rest period at BC, this became more challenging than it sounds and progress without snow shoes would have been a frustrating imbalance between progress and effort. With snowshoes on progress was still pretty tough and the now clear but cold and windy weather hampered our ascent further with our Aussie fireman sustaining mild frostbite, thanks to his beefier gloves being stashed in a higher camp.

Our team worked in two groups, with David, 2 Sherpas and 7 members progressing through the camps in tough conditions in preparation for a summit bid. Despite the cool thin air at Camp 3 (6,800m), a half reasonable night was had by most and all set off at the civilised hour of 8 a.m. to avoid the considerable dawn chill. The weather developed in a far from civilised way however and moving up to C3 that morning with my team, it was hard to stay warm even swathed in down. Unsurprisingly by 10am the entire first team were back in C3 with David reporting some of the worst mountain weather and conditions he'd experienced for years.

These conditions were taking their toll on the second group too and numbers dwindled in response to nights spent high and cold windy days in deep snow. These fairly unusual conditions seemed widespread and hundreds of kilometres away the Jagged Globe Spantik team were also getting snowed under.

Other teams on Muztag Ata generally fared worse than our Sherpa supported team - some much worse with a member from a German group missing, presumed dead, after losing his way returning to C3 after a summit bid. A small hardy group (Laura, Martin and Jan) accompanied by David and Gelgin got to 7,000m on another summit bid the next day but like a strong Italian couple who got to 7,400m on skis, retreated due to soft snow and worsening weather.

The team were impressively philosophical about returning summitless. Most members had either had a good, tough mountaineering experience with 4 nights between 6-7000m; achieved new personal height records or learnt some strong lessons about their own mountaineering and performance at altitude. The camps had been stocked, the food, tents and equipment were good, the Sherpas were ready - with 'normal' weather and conditions most of the team would have summited. But to borrow the locals expression here - 'Inshallah' doesn't always quite work out! That's mountaineering - 'you pays your money and takes your choice.'

There still remained a day or two in the ancient, although increasingly modernised city of Kashgar. Highlights included the Kashgar version of the London eye, mosques dating back to 1442, a 20m statue of Mae Zedong, dinner in Shipton's old British consulate and observing the rich ethnic blend of Chinese, Tadjiks, Kyrghhyz, Mongols and the predominant Uygurhs, not to mention the simple pleasures of a shave, shower and a bed.

People go to Muztag Ata as a stepping stone to an 8,000m peak; because it's a large, attractive and technically easy mountain; a natural if huge target for ski mountaineers or simply a fine mountain objective surrounded by fascinating travel opportunities. Whatever reason you go for don't just think of it as an easy snow plod. If you do, you may get more than you bargained for!


Report written by Rob Jarvis (29 August 2006)

David Hamilton
High Adventure
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Hartshill
Nuneaton
Warwickshire
CV10 0SG

Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

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