British alpinists Jon Griffith and Andy Houseman have just returned from Pakistan having made the first ascent of the West summit of Link Sar, 6,938m, climbing the Northwest Face via a route they have called 'Fever Pitch'.
Link Sar, 7,041m, is an unclimbed peak in the Charakusa Valley, Pakistan. Situated between K6 and K7 its name literally means 'linking' peak between these two. Compared to its neighbouring peaks it has seen very little attention – mainly due to the fact that it is hard to even see in its entirety, let alone approach.
This was Jon's fourth attempt on the mountain and Andy's second. Last year Jon and Kevin Mahoney, climbing through a storm, reached the top of the face but topped out on an unclimbable section of the ridge. Armed with this knowledge Jon and Andy followed the same line, but continued further up the face to access the ridge higher up as Jon explains: "We topped out in a different location. Kevin and I topped out to a really horrible ridge last year, which is only something you could find out by actually being on the route. I was keen to avoid that this year given that it shut us down last year so we topped out further up and left on the face. We still had a short awkward ridge section but nothing like what Kevin and I encountered last year."
Leaving base camp on the 12th July, the pair didn't make it the entire way to the base of the face on the first day as they'd hoped. "Really bad conditions on the approach glacier slowed us down, knee deep trail breaking in wet sleet all had a very Scottish feel to it. We got soaked and nearly bailed there and then. Starting up an unclimbed 7,000m peak with all our gear wet through didn't feel too appealing" Andy explains.
The next day they continued up the glacier, reached the bergschrund at c.5,600m and started up the face reaching their first bivouac at c.6,100m. The weather cleared the next day, but given the amount of fresh snow on the face they decided to stay put in their relatively safe bivouac spot for the entire day to let it clear. A decision Andy describes as "one of the wiser choices I think we've made!"
On the 15th July after a long and hard 17 hour day the pair topped out the Northwest Face and made a bivouac at c.6,800m. Andy describes the face as "not too technical, there are several mixed pitches with the hardest section being a short M4 pitch, but the face is just consistently steep with lots of black ice. On top of that there's the altitude, heat and large packs. It destroyed us."
That evening Jon came down with a fever and the pair decided to stay put the next day to see how he recovered. On the 17th July they continued up the ridge line and by midday had reached the Western summit of Link Sar, 6,938m.
Originally the team had wanted to continue to the main summit of Link Sar, which is nearly 1km away along a complicated and corniced ridge line. Jon explains '"It was a shame not to head to the main summit, but we'd run out of food and weather window. I think if I hadn't been so ill we could have given it a good shot, but that's the luck of the game out there. We had a tight weather window and we used it to the best we could. We came off the hill just as the bad weather rolled in and it's really not a mountain you want to come down in bad weather, it could easily turn into a very serious fight for survival that descent!"
Jon's fever had returned that afternoon so they bivouacked next to the summit waiting for cooler and safer conditions to descend. At 3am on 18th July they descended a large couloir on the South side of the mountain and then continued down a glacier and a time-consuming ice fall to reach the main Charakusa Glacier and eventually their base camp at 5pm, seven days after leaving.
Deliberating whether where they reached is a separate summit and hence whether their climb should be called a 'success', Jon went on to say "I felt like the line had been completed as we climbed the NW face and then continued on to the summit that dominates over the West side of the mountain. The main summit is nearly 1km away and sits atop the East side of the mountain. I think it's logical that if you climb the NW face you summit where we did. I think for these reasons and because on these huge massifs you often have separate summits that it does justify being a separate summit, as usual that's just down to personal feelings about it."
Andy's thoughts: 'Whether this is classed as a true summit, an indiscriminate top, or nothing we don't really know, on the maps it is marked as a point 6,938m. But having been there I feel it justifies being classed as a separate summit. Either way, summit or no summit we had an amazing adventure and time getting to it and back, that's the most important part'.
The expedition was sponsored by The North Face.
Jon is sponsored by: Clif Bar and Lyo Foods