The list of attempts on Latok 1 North Ridge is long and include some of the best alpinist of its time yet no one has managed to finish the line.
By Michael Kennedy (updated by David Falt)
This text was originally pulished as part of "No summit no cry" by Michael Kennedy in Rock & Ice # 157 March 2007
7145 meters/23,441 feet
Latok I (also known as Latok Central) is well-guarded on all sides by steep rock buttresses and hanging glaciers, and presents no obviously safe and easy path to the summit. The North Ridge is the exception, at least as far as safety goes; while there is some danger from serac fall at the base of the route, one passes quickly through the hazard zone, and once on the route you only have to deal with the more manageable risks of cornices, snow mushrooms, and technical difficulty.
The route has been tried at least 20 times since we were there in 1978, including multiple attempts by the same climbers. No one has yet reached our high point, poor weather and too much snow being the usual culprits. With a few exceptions, all of these attempts have been made in at least as good a style as ours. It is my hope that future parties will continue to treat the North Ridge with respect by leaving as little trace of their passage as possible.
The following chronology is as complete as possible given the source material available (listed at the end). I’d welcome additional details of these or other attempts I may have missed.
1975 – A Japanese team led by Makoto Hara circumnavigates the Latok group via the Biafo, Simgang, Choktoi, Panmah, and Baltoro Glaciers. Avalanches and rockfall prevent any meaningful attempts. July-September.
1976 – A Japanese team led by Yoshifumi Itatani attempts the couloir between Latok I and Latok III (Latok East), getting to about 18,700 feet before turning back in the face of serac fall. July-August.
1977 – An Italian team led by Arturo Bergamaschi investigates the route attempted by the Japanese in 1976 but decides it’s too dangerous. They make the first ascent of Latok II from the Baintha Lukpar Glacier. August-September.
1978 – Americans Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy (Canadian by birth but resident in the U.S.), Jeff Lowe, and George Lowe attempt the 8000-foot North Ridge, climbing capsule-style and spending 26 days on the route. They reach a high point of about 23,000 feet. June-July.
1979 – A Japanese team led by Naoki Takada makes the first (and to date only) ascent of Latok I via the South Face. After a lengthy siege and fixing much rope and three camps on the rock buttress left of the couloir between Latok I and Latok III, six members reach the top on two separate days. June-July.
1982 – British climbers Martin Boysen, Choe Brooks, Rab Carrington, and John Yates make two attempts on the North Ridge, the second to a high point of about 19,000 feet. July.
1986 – Norwegians Olav Basen, Fred Husoy, Magnar Osnes, and Oyvind Vlada attempt the North Ridge, fixing at least 600 meters of rope and reaching a high point of about 21,000 feet after 18 days on the route. They spend another 10 days in heavy snow before giving up. July.
1987 – French climbers Roger Laot, Remy Martin, and Laurent Terray fix rope on the first 600 meters of the North Ridge, and encountering heavy snow, turn back at about 19,700 feet. July-August.
1990 – British climbers Sandy Allan, Rick Allen, Doug Scott, and Simon Yates, and Austrian Robert Schauer make a number of climbs in the area, but don’t attempt their primary objective due to “the difficult and dangerous snow conditions and the forbidding appearance of the pendulous snow mushrooms adorning the North Ridge of Latok I.” June.
1992 – Jeff Lowe (U.S.) and Catherine Destivelle (France) try the North Ridge, encountering huge snow mushrooms on the route. Carol McDermott (New Zealand), and Andy McFarland, Andy MacNae, and Dave Wills (Great Britain) reach about 19,300 feet on the route during two attempts the same summer. July-August.
1993 – Americans Julie Brugger, Andy DeKlerk, Colin Grissom, and Kitty Calhoun attempt the North Ridge, turning back at about 18,000 feet in the face of bad weather. July-August.
1994 – British climbers Brendan Murphy and Dave Wills try the North Ridge, reaching a high point of about 18,300 feet on their second attempt. August-September.
1996 – Murphy and Wills return for yet another try, reaching about 20,000 feet before a dropped rucksack forces retreat. Two subsequent attempts are thwarted at 19,300 feet by poor weather. July-August.
1997/1998 – Americans John Bouchard and Mark Richey make three attempts on the route, the last with Tom Nonis and Barry Rugo, reaching a high point of about 20,000 feet. Unlike previous expeditions, they report high temperatures and dry conditions, which resulted in “considerable melting and rockfall from high on the face.” They follow the rock pillar from the bottom of the route, finding superb climbing up to 5.10. Bouchard, Richey, and Lyle Dean return the following year for another attempt, but never get on the North Ridge due to bad weather. August.
2001 – Wojciech Kurtyka (Poland) and Yasushi and Taeko Yamanoi (Japan) have a permit for the North Ridge but never attempt it due to poor weather. Stein Gravdal, Halvor Hagen, Ole Haltvik, and Trym Saeland (Norway) reach about 20,500 feet after 15 days on the route. August.
2004/2005/2006 – Twin brothers Willie and Damian Benegas (Argentina) try the North Ridge three years in a row. The first two years they encounter much snow and bad weather during their attempts in June and July; they find much drier conditions in August 2006 but a major storm stops them at about 18,000 feet.
2006 – Maxime Turgeon and Louis-Phillipe Menard (Canada) make an attempt on the futuristic North Face, retreating from 17,400 feet in the face of dangerously warm conditions. They then turn their attention to the North Ridge, but are turned back at a similar altitude by deep, fresh snow covering the previously-dry rock. August.
2007 - Bean Bower and Josh Wharton
2008 - Josh Wharton and Whit Magro
2009 - Colin Haley, Dylan Johnson and Josh Wharton started up to the left of the prominent rock spur leading up to the distinct bivy at 6000 meters.
Sadly this year Oscar Perez lost his life in an attempt to forge a new route on the Latoks, climbing with Alvaro Novellon. There original plan was to attempt the North Ridge.
Sources: The American Alpine Journal (1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999) The Alpine Journal (1991/92, 1993, 1997) Alpinist (Number 2, Number 4, website story 9/18/06) High Magazine (#171, 1997; #234, 2002), Collin Haley