Since more than four weeks Peter and I are now sitting here at the Baltoro glacier, in this barren mountain range, which consists of nothing but snow, ice and rock. Black, gray and white are the colors that dominate here. Even the sky has only been gray, since we arrived here in Chogolisa base camp, two weeks ago.
No matter how much I love these mountains, I have to admit that this unreal world has something hostile to it. At night, temperatures drop well below freezing point and during the day they hardly rise beyond. Each day begins with Chapati and cold feet and ends with rice and cold feet. I yearn for a solid meal, a hot shower and a soft bed. But yet we have not given up the hope to make it to the summit of Chogolisa, even if the motivation is now a different one than it was before our expedition.
Chogolisa with its 7665 meters is no Trango Tower and definitely no Cerro Torre. It’s a trapezoidal snow peak, technically relatively easy and still the "most beautiful roof ridge in the world," as Fred Pressl, one of the first ascentionists of Chogolisa, described it in 1975. Why Pressl went on in calling the mountain a “tough bitch”, we would first find out later.
After Peter and I had climbed Trango Tower and arrived at our new base camp, all we saw of Chogolisa were huge flanks that were rutted by crevasses and seracs and dusted with snow. Looking a bit deeper though, we saw some sort of a teacher, a mentor in this mountain. Our main motivation wasn’t just to stand on the summit just to be able to say, we were at 7000 meters above sea level. We wanted to go up in order to find out for ourselves how we would feel up there. It has never been and will never be our goal to stand on top of Mt. Everest just for the sake of having reached the highest point on earth. But still, both Peter and I know that even if a mountains altitude for us will never be a challenge in itself, we will still need a lot of high altitude experience in order to realize our future climbing projects.
Our first attempt took three days. Peter and I climbed up to approximately 6800m, but then suddenly bad weather came in. Clouds rolled over the ridges to the right of us, it began to snow and the wind whipped us back to our base camp.
Now we were able see “the bitch” Fred Pressl was talking about. Our ultimate goal we have achieved already. We now have a clear idea of climbing on high mountains, but still the thought of reaching the summit stays in our minds, it doesn’t let go. I know that I will never come back to this mountain again. The monotonous, undemanding trail breaking, which is required on this peak is not for me. What I'm really looking for, I will not find here, but by now I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t try again and give my best, I will feel some kind of dissatisfaction as soon as I’m home.
In two days our porters will come. They will take down our base camp and carry all our gear over the Gondogoro La, a 5600m high pass, towards civilization. We will follow, but first Peter and I are going to start a final attempt.
In bad weather we trudge back along the glacier, then up the first steep flanks and as we build up our tent at 5800m finally Charly Gabl’s predicted weather window arrives. It stops to snow and stars start shining down from the black sky.
The next morning Peter and I ascend to the point to where we had to turn around the last time. For a few hours we lay down below a small serac that offers us protection from the icy wind. Then, at midnight, we start our summit attempt. The snow is deep, it reaches up to our hips and makes the breaking trail incredibly exhausting and grueling. We count our steps: One, two, three, ... twenty. We stop, lean against our poles or lay down in the snow.
After nine hours of torture, Peter and I are finally on the summit. We look down the ridge where the mountaineering legend Hermann Buhl fell to his death and continue to let our eyes wander over the panorama. Since 1986, no one has been able to enjoy this view. Before us lies a sea of peaks - a sea of future goals.