Tuesday 13 August 2013

Drifika Attempt

After our failed attempt on Sulu Peak because of a faulty stove we headed straight back up the next day but this time we got shut down by the heat. It is just so hot out here at the moment that all the couloirs on Sulu Peak were almost constant streams of rock fall 24 hours a day. We spent two nights below it, but it didn’t freeze enough at any point to make it safe enough to climb and after seeing one spectacularly large rock fall we turned tail and ran back down to the valley.

Less than 24 hours after getting down from sitting below Sulu Peak we were on our way up to Drifika, a beautiful and aesthetic pyramid peak sitting at 6447m. Perfect acclimatization height, but more importantly a snow ridge so there wouldn't be any rock fall problems in the heat. Leaving base camp with five days of food and lots of extra luxuries the packs felt very heavy, but we got through the two ice falls and set our little tent up on the Drifika Glacier around 5100m that afternoon just in time to escape a massive rain storm.

Heading up to the first ice fall

Climbing up the side of the first ice fall

We were awoken around 3am just before the alarm by more heavy rain, so got an extra couple of hours sleep before leaving. Unfortunately the rain and a lack of overnight freeze meant it was only about an hour after leaving the tent that we were back putting it up in the exact same spot. The glacier was just too dangerous to cross without a freeze.  The rain had saturated the surface so we didn’t know if we were just post holing through deep snow or falling through crevasses.

Heading back through big crevasses to wait for colder conditions the next day (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Take two… with a good freeze the next night we were off just after 4am and easily across the glacier and onto a small ridge that lead up to the col below the North Ridge. Even at 6.30am the heat in the sun was just so powerful and zapping of any energy. We settled in for a day on the col at c.5700m below the North Ridge, which looked as we’d hoped: straightforward snow climbing up to the summit. The views on the way up to and from the col were just amazing, a panorama of Karakoram giants, Masherbrum, K2, Broad Peak, Chongolisa, the Gasherbrums. It was amazing to see all these peaks for the first time.

Jon at sunrise on the Drifika Glacier

On the initial ridge leading up to the Col below the North Ridge (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Escaping the midday heat in the tent at the Col, K7 in the background

Sunset on K7 from the col (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Sunset with Masherbrum on the right

Expecting to be able to solo up and down, we had only brought one rope and four ice screws just in case there were any short tricky sections. We soon discovered the next morning that what had looked like nice névé was actually about a cm of white useless crud on top of hard black ice. With multiple swings for each ice axe placement, although not at all steep, it just feels very insecure, hard work and the sort of ground I hate so we soon had the rope out to move together. But with only four screws we couldn’t get very far before having to put belays in, which were actually a thankful rest for our screaming calfs from all the front pointing! In the end at about 6,100m we decided to pull the plug and head back down to the tent. It was taking too much out of us for acclimatization, not enjoyable and was going to take ages to get off with only one rope.
Jon heading up the North Ridge of Drifika
On the North Ridge with K2, Broad Peak and Chongolisa in the background (Photo – Jon Griffith)
It looked like névé, but no… climbing on the icy west flank of the North Ridge (Photo – Jon Griffith)
Jon on the North Ridge with the amazing backdrop of K2, Broad Peak and Chongolisa
Heading back to the col, K2 is the prominent pyramid peak in the centre

It was a shame not to have reached the summit but it did its job and got us some height to help with acclimatizing and was just nice to be high in the mountains again. We left the col under grey sky’s very early the next morning and coming back down the glacier and ice falls to base camp it was amazing how much they had changed in just the three days we’d been up there. It is just so hot out here at the moment. I never thought I’d be asking for bad weather on a trip but we really need some snow to bring the faces back into condition. 

Back at the col, a pretty spectacular campsite! (Photo – Jon Griffith)
Jon photographing the approaching weather which thankfully just missed us

Heading back down to the Drifika Glacier and base camp the next morning, just before the weather arrived (Photo – Jon Griffith)

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