John and Anne Arran: hard-free big wall routes in Karakorum

© John Arran/
The well-travelled Sheffield (UK) couple of John and Anne Arran have just made almost-free ascents of two big wall routes in the rock spire wonderland of Nangma Valley in Pakistan's Karakorum mountains.

On the 4800m Denbor Brakk they spent seven days climbing capsule-style to free the 500m Czech route Bloody Mary, which was established in 2004 by Václav Šatava and Pavel Jonák and which already had free pitches up to  UIAA IX- (7b+/5.12c). Of the route's two aid pitches the first (A1) went on natural gear (at E6 6b or 7b+/5.12c) just left of the original offwidth roof, while the other (A2) was freed on top-rope (at 7c/5.12d), initially some way right of the knifeblade aid line. John didn't want to add bolts to an existing aid pitch without the consent of the first ascensionists, but felt that the addition of two further bolts to the pitch would be in keeping with the nature of the other hard pitches and would make the climb one of the best, hardest and most varied lines in the region.

PHOTOS: See this photo of John hanging out on pitch 7 (E4/6c/5.11) of Bloody Mary during the first free ascent and Anne, here launching up the fine cracks of Bloody Mary pitch 14 (E4/6c+/5.11+).  

The Arrans then turned their attention to Zang Brakk, also 4800m, looking to find a free-climbable line up the South-East Pillar. An Austrian team had previously free-climbed to half height (at 7c/5.12d, now thought to be 7b+/5.12c) before running into blind seams. By opting for a variant line (and by climbing two pitches of E6/7, or 7c/5.12d)  the British couple were able to continue their free ascent almost to the top of the 400m pillar. Hampered by five days of unsettled, snowy weather they ran completely out of food and water, so could not hang around to work and redpoint the crux pitch, which they had aided on tiny blades and peckers at A3.

“I had a quick play on top-rope,” John explained, “and the fingertip layback crux would make a great free pitch at around E7 6b or 8a/5.13b, although it may need a bolt or two for protection.” They pressed on to the summit on day nine, all of the free pitches having been climbed onsight. As nearly all of the 500m route's seventeen pitches involve hard crack climbing (including six pitches of 5.12). John reckons that Welcome to Crackistan must rank as one of the most continuously hard jamming routes on any big wall, and now awaits a completely free ascent.

PHOTO: See the line of Welcome to Crackistan on Zang Brakk here.

The expedition was supported by BMC & MEF grants, and John and Anne would also like to thank Arc'teryx, Boreal, Lyon Equipment and First Ascent for their generous equipment support.  

This post has been read 27,255 times

Return to Latest News

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make UKClimbing the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate UKClimbing then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC porter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

6 Sep, 2007
Now there's a great female role model!
6 Sep, 2007
I've seen her 'in action' twice - once onsighting (or so it looked) Fay in superb style at Sharpnose - not reported as far as I know - and once belaying someone at Bamford. It has to be said that she looked a lot more competent leading than she did belaying, with a huge loop of slack ensuring deck out potential all the way up for her non too secure leader.
6 Sep, 2007
Hi Graham When did you see me at Bamford, I've only been there once, or maybe twice leading, I think with John & Ian Parnell? Prob the leader hadn't clipped any gear?? Sharpnose is a cool crag, that was my first visit and there's plenty more to do? Which route were you on? Anne
6 Sep, 2007
Hi Ann (I guess - not John) - at Bamford probably a couple of years back ? one of the roundy HVS things who's name escapes me. You weren't climbing with a bloke, then though. If it wasn't you then you have an identical twin out there ! We saw you and John at Sharpnose one Easter Monday (was that last year ?) - you kindly pointed us to the superb E1 which was probably your warm up ! That and a couple of HVS - we probably nearly climbed the place out at our grades.
6 Sep, 2007
Hi Anne! Remember AC in Zermatt? Come to the ice climbing meet in January?
More Comments
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest