Baintha Brakk Mountain Climbing

As far as I can work out (and please correct me if I’m wrong) this is a mountain that has only been summitted twice, despite numerous attempts by highly qualified, top-of-their-game mountaineers.

Baintha Brakk is famous for being one of the hardest peaks in the world to climb. It is steep and craggy and 7,285 metres (23,901 ft) high.

Officially it lies in the Panmah Muztagh, a subrange of the Karakoram mountain range, North Pakistan, but it is a disputed border with India claiming it to be an integral part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is a complex granite tower, steeper and rockier than most other Karakoram peaks and is on the northeastern side of Biafo Glacier (west of K2). It is sinister and foreboding and its sheer east wall looks and acts like a medieval fortress. It is exceptional in its combination of altitude, height above local terrain, steepness. For example, its South Face rises over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) above the Uzun Brakk Glacier in only 2 kilometres (1 mile) of horizontal distance!

It is because of this steepness and rockiness that the mountain was nicknamed ‘The Ogre’ and became so attactive for extremely highly qualified mountaineers.

There were two unsuccessful attempts on the peak in 1971 and 1976, but it was finally sucessfully summitted in 1977 by two Britons, Doug Scott and Chris Bonington. On 13th July, 1977, Scott and Bonington set off from a snowhole at 7,000m in a lightweight bid to make the summit. They climbed via the Southwest Spur to the West Ridge, and over the West Summit to the Main Summit. Tricky climbing led up to the final tower with a nearly vertical 100m granite face.  The long second pitch involved very demanding free- and aid-climbing (VI and A2) and included a giant pendulum movement at half-height to gain a second crack system. Above that, several more hard, challenging  pitches led to the summit, which the pair reached just before dusk.

This was probably the hardest technical climb ever achieved above 7,000m at that time.

On the descent, Scott attempted to make a diagonal rappel from just below the top, slipped, made a huge involuntary pendulum across the wall, slammed into a rock corner on the far side and badly broke both his ankles. From now on the descent would be a fight for survival, or as Scott reflected, ’so that’s how it was going to be; a whole new game with new restrictions on winning’.

After a night out in the open with no equipment, the two continued rappelling and were eventually met by Antoine and Rowland (members of their team), who escorted them back to the snowcave, Scott on hands and knees. The four were then trapped for more than 24 hours in a fierce blizzard with no food remaining.

Rowland made a superb effort, leading the team through atrocious weather over the West Summit and down to a second, much poorer, snowcave. The next day the storm was, if anything, worse but the three fit climbers battled down, escorting a sliding or crawling Scott towards two flattened tents left at the West Col. If things weren’t already bad enough, they then took a turn for the worse after Bonington fell, breaking two ribs and badly damaging his hand. It was now left to Antoine and Rowland to get the party off the mountain before it became too late.

Four days later, when Scott finally crawled over the moraine above Base Camp, his clothing torn to shreds, his knees raw and bloody, Braithwaite and Estcourt (the remaining team members) had already left, having given the party up for dead. Scott was subsequently carried for three days by local porters to the nearest village, where a helicopter was able to evacuate him. However, a bad landing put the aircraft out of action and Bonington was forced to wait another week before he could be flown to safety by which time he had contracted pneumonia.

The 1977 ascent has undoubtedly gone down in the annals of British mountaineering  history as one of its supreme moments, but only confirms that when operating at the highest levels, climbers often tread a very fine line… a line between life and death.

The second ascent of Baintha Brakk was made by Urs Stöcker, Iwan Wolf, and Thomas Huber, on 21 July 2001, via the South Pillar route, following their first ascent of the subsidiary peak, Ogre III (6,800 metres – 22,300 ft). Mountain INFO magazine characterized their ascent as “arguably the most notable mountaineering achievement during the entire 2001 season.”

By the beginning of 2001 almost 20 expeditions, involving world-class mountaineers, had tried the Ogre by various routes, most concentrating on either the elegant South or South East Pillars. Few had come within 300m of the summit and no one other than the Scott, Bonington, Stöcker, Wolf and Huber had managed to stand on the highest point.

Baintha Camp near Snow Lake (5,000m)

Much of Baintha Brakk remains unconquered – the South Pillar, the South-West Face, the East Summit, the South-East Ridge and Baintha Brakk II despite many valiant efforts which have been made over the past decades…

For those who dare to have a go at the mountain, hungry black bears add to the challenge. The bears have a penchant for seizing expedition food and terrorizing cooks and Pakistani Army liaison officers who guard the base camps below.