lady-finger-peak

The almost unclimbable Ultar Sar in Hunza, Pakistan

It’s been a while since we researched mountains to climb – but our attention was drawn by one of our readers to Ultar Sar in Hunza, Pakistan. A beast of a mountain…

This mountain is #70 in the world ranking system, #31 in Pakistan. It stands at 7,388m and is surrounded by equally majestic siblings: Rakaposhi 7,788 m (25,551 ft),  Bojahagur Duanasir II (7,329 m), Ghenta Peak (7,090 m), Hunza Peak (6,270 m), Darmyani Peak (6,090 m) and Bublimating (Ladyfinger Peak) (6,000 m).

The spectacular scenery of the mountains makes Karimabad, the main town, a popular tourist attraction in Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway (KKH) which connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4,730 metres, is by far the highest paved international border crossing in the world and the highest paved international road in the world valpard.

Ultar Sar itself is the southeastern-most major peak of the Batura Muztagh, a subrange of the Karakoram range. It lies about 10 km northeast of the Karimabad, a town on the Karakoram Highway in the Hunza Valley, part of the Gilgit District of the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

It is considered nearly unconquerable and the locals believe that this is because there is a curse on the mountain and that there is some evil that does not let you climb.

Ultar Sar rises dramatically above the surrounding terrain and is a visually striking peak.

That’s it there in the centre of the middle foreground. A dramatic knife edge beckoning people on.

In the 1990’s it was claimed to be the world’s highest unclimbed independent peak, but this was actually incorrect as Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan is higher, and remains unclimbed and off-limits. However, this did not stop a number of exhibitions, 15 in all, accepting the challenge. This is an unusually high amount for a Karakoram peak of this size and difficulty, but all of them were unsuccessful and several fatalities resulted.

But that doesn’t stop the aura of mystique that surrounds Ultar Sar.

The SE Pillar of Ultar Sar (7,388m).
Photo by Colin Haley
Despite the number of attempts Ultar Sar was not conquered until 1996 by Akito Yamazaki and Kiyoshi Matsuoka from Japan. They climbed the peak from the southwest in alpine style, doing much of the climbing at night to avoid danger from falling rock and ice. They also fixed 450m of ropes on the lower half of the ascent and used a few fixed ropes from previous expeditions higher up. Their ascent took 8 days and was more due to the mountain’s technical difficulties than anything else. After their successful summit, they faced strong storms and bivouacked at 6,000m for 5 nights with hardly any food or water. On return to the advanced basecamp on the 16th day since leaving it Yamazaki experienced severe stomach pains which worsened rapidly and he died before he could be evacuated by helicopter. It is thought he died of an internal disease due to the severe stress of climbing.  Matsuoka died one year later on the nearby peak Bublimotin (Lady Finger).  Yamazaki was only 28 when he climbed Ultar, Matsuoka 24.

Ladyfinger Peak

 

Amazingly, in the same year a second Japanese team led by Ken Takahashi with four others; Masayuki Ando, Ryushi Hoshino, Wataru Saito, and Nobuo Tsutsumi successfully summited Ultar Sar from the south ridge.  They fixed 4000m of rope from 5200m to 7300m. This was Ken Takahashi’s third attempt on the mountain after failed attempts in 1986 and 1993.

And since then….. nothing.

Ultar Sar has not been summited since. It remains a  difficult and dangerous mountain to climb with significant avalanche risk.

The majority of attempts on the mountain have been made from the south and west sides with the long south ridge being the most popular. Attempts have also been made from the north but have largely been futile due to the significant  danger of the route.

The SE Pillar or Hidden Pillar has been attempted 3 times. The most recent time was Colin Haley and Jed Brown’s attempt in 2007 and it is Colin we have to thank for the above photograph. However, all attempts have been unsuccessful. It’s a challenging route at the best of times. With the route proper up the SE Pillar more than 3,100 m tall, the crux appears to be the rock barrier around 7000m. However as nobody has attempted the upper half of the route it’s impossible to know, but what is known is that it makes the North Ridge of Latok 1 look small by comparison, and while not as technical it is still sustained real climbing — very little simple slogging.

If you’re tempted to give it a go it’s worth knowing that the mountaineering season in this area of Pakistan runs from June to September with July and August being the most popular months to climb. Outside of these months snow can be problematic at high altitude and… beware, bad weather can hit anytime of the year.

Beware and take care.

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