Czech mountaineer Marek 'Mara' Holeček and his climbing partner Zdeněk Hàk have established a significant new line on the south-west Face of Gasherbrum I (8080m), in Pakistan's Karakoram range. The pair took just 8 days to complete the 3000m technical line in alpine-style, graded ED+ (M7, WI5+) 70° and named Satisfaction. Remarkably, this was 43 year old Marek's 5th attempt at the route, marking the end of a list of attempts peppered with failures, serious frostbite and tragedy.
The central section of the south-west face was a project first envisaged 30 years ago by Polish mountaineering legends Jerzy Kukuczka and Voytek Kurtyka. Marek's journey to completing the route started in 2009 with Zdeněk Hrubý, when they attempted to start the line via the left hand ice couloir in the central section of the face. Over the following eight years, Marek would return to the line four more times.
The Road to Satisfaction
- 2009 - Marek and Zdeněk Hrubý. 7500m reached before forced retreat.
- 2013 - Marek and Hrubý return. Hrubý falls 1000m to his death through couloir, taking their gear with him. Marek makes a dangerous descent to safety, risking the same fate.
- 2015 - Marek and Tomáš Petreček. 7400m reached. Poor weather forces avalanche-ridden descent
- 2016 - Marek and Ondřej Mandula. 7700m reached. Forced to wait for 8 days at 7500m. Descent in harsh conditions gives Marek serious frostbite in his feet, requiring 6 months recovery.
- 2017 - Marek and Zdeněk Hàk reach summit in 6 days.
The pair took three days to tackle the headwall, making six bivouacs in total and spending four days between 7400-8000m and descending over two days in deep snow.
Marek sent an exclusive account of his climb to planetmountain.com, where he wrote:
'It was a great breakthrough this year when Zdeněk Hák and I breached the tricky rock passages above 7700 metres and reached the summit after a huge endeavour. Thin layers of loose snow and rotten granite proved to be a terrible combination! In some sections the actual climbing was so thin that we had to take off our gloves and look for unstable holds to pull on in order to make slow progress upwards.'
Marek and Zdenek are the only team so far this season to reach the summit of the peak. Their impressive alpine-style ascent of Satisfaction has been praised by many due to the difficulty of the precarious terrain at such high altitude.
We sent Marek a few questions to complement his written account.
This was your 5th attempt at the line, with the loss of a friend and serious frostbite along the way. You named the route in honour of Zdeněk. What kept you going back there after such hardships?
The mountain is not guilty of causing Zdeněk's death and my frostbite, nor is it guilty of forcing us to retreat due to bad weather. I was dragged back by my desire and doggedness. I knew it was possible to climb the south-west face. The question was whether I was going to be the first one. Some routes require a kind of maturity and for Satisfaction I needed four unsuccessful attempts and the fifth 'winning' one.
How do you prepare physically for such technical ground (M7,WI5+) at altitude?
The most important thing for any exercise at high altitude is to complete proper acclimatisation. In our case it meant climbing three times over 6000 metres and twice over 7000 metres and to stay there overnight, followed by a return to base camp after each climb. In other words, we ascended and descended five smaller peaks before the main climb. In terms of technical-climbing problems, the climb was very unfavourable due to poor rock quality and loose snow. Belaying was random and did not ensure safe progress. This was the basis for approaching a climb with such a high difficulty level.
What's your next goal? Any more Himalayan objectives/new lines? Or are you well and truly 'satisfied' for now?
My next goal is for the end of this year. My aim is to return to the virgin peaks of the Antarctic. The voyage alone through the Drake Passage from South America is a unique experience. This will be followed by a warm up on Thai rock climbs and a summer expedition under the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat. I climbed the Rupal Face solo in 2011 up to 7400 metres, where I was pushed back by thunderstorms. One year later I acclimatised on the Diamir Face, climbing in alpine style to the top, but the weather was not good enough for traversing into the south face of Rupal. This time round I would like to finish my new route from the south on the main face. Maybe I will climb with Zdeněk Hák again?
Marek is sponsored by: Big Shock!, Hudy and Tendon