Text: Charlotte Barré Photos: Guillaume Vallot
An expedition to Pakistan is far from easy, especially when planning to climb in the most densely militarized zone in the country. Indeed it was the Kondus valley that had captured our imagination, an area that's been closed to outsiders for the past 30 years.
After a long struggle and as a result of Mathieu's sheer determination, we finally obtained the necessary permits. On the 20th of July we took off in the direction of Islamabad...
After a long flight we're met by Ali Muhammed, the head of the agency that's allowing us access to the famous valley in question. Just after our arrival we discover that we won't be able to fly into Skardu as planned since all flights have been cancelled due to bad weather. Instead, the next morning the five of us set off in a small van that will bring us to our destination via the Karakorum highway; it will be a two-day journey across a winding and sometimes risky roadway. At the same time it's the chance for Florence, Gerome, Guillaume and I to discover a little more of the country and we're instantly enchanted by the beautiful landscape and the kindness of the local people.
At Skardu we have two days to stock up on the last of the supplies for the three weeks at base camp and we also need to collect the climbing permit from the army's central offices. We're thrilled to have the permit but the process is far from over. There are ten or so check-points to get through within this very delicate zone and the smallest upset could lead to the authorization being revoked. The cachemire war between India and Pakistan has been going on for years and though things are calmer since the 70s , the situation remains tense.
After waiting for nearly two hours at the first check-point, we start to get worried as the local army revise our plans, forbidding entry into one of the two valleys we had initially been granted access to...
Yet we make progress little by little, from check-point to check-point and finally reach the entry to the Latchit valley where we'll spend the next three weeks. We spend the next two days based in the village of Latchit, exploring the valley to select a base-camp.
We stand before a great rock face and a particular stunning tower draws our attention. The access isn't easy and it takes a lot of work to transport our gear to the foot of the tower...but we've made our choice. After a struggle with our porters and two days of walking, our base-camp is finally set up at 4300 meters altitude. We need time to acclimatize but our excitement and eagerness to climb doesn't allow for much of a breather. After a round of « rock, paper, scissors » myself and Mathieu win the chance to start the climb.
The rock is good quality and we have a ball establishing the first few pitches of this brand new ascent. Unfortunately on the second day of the climb Mathieu twists his ankle badly and we have to head back down. We're disappointed but Flo and Gerome take over and enjoy climbing the next few pitches.
Meanwhile thanks to our cook and his village's local healing methods, Mathieu's ankle recovers quickly and he's back to join us for the adventure that awaits. The rock quality and continuous cracks allow us to make headway with a number of pitches. We're more or less able to protect the route without having to get too technical so we're free to enjoy the climb.
Despite our progress the bad weather prevents us from reaching the summit. The forecast is such that we prefer to climb the array of magnificent cracks surrounding our base-camp. We spend a few days opening new routes just a couple of pitches long much to the intrigue and fascination of our support-team. A little rest and then back to the foot of our tower, this time to attempt the summit. After climbing back up our ropes and a night out on a portaledge we throw ourselves into the second half of the climb. The rock is just as beautiful and it's from crack to crack that we make our way upwards, finally reaching the summit of the Chimera tower...
It's time to head home and we're able to take a flight back to Islamabad. The view is stunning and we're already dreaming of the next adventure...
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