Masherbrum – just look – don't touch

The Masherbrum northeast face rings a bell among most mountaineers. The bell they hear has the sound of an alarm. The Russians may get a tinnitus when they just hear the name, Masherbrum. They tried the northeast face a couple years ago, but turned around before the actual climbing really starts. They did not return. That doesn’t usually happen to them. The K2 west face, the Jannu north face, the Latok III north face - they all had to give in to the Russians - along with massive effort and wear in every sense of the word. Steve House had a similar experience than the Russians. He toyed with the idea to climb the face as well, but he decided to back off.

The northeast face of Masherbrum is still there. Unclimbed. Untouched.

Peter Ortner and I would not change that this year. We were aware that this would most likely be the case before the expedition already. The history of the face admittedly gives one little hope to just go there and climb it. My last big project in Patagonia taught me that it doesn’t hurt to start aiming low and maybe just have a look in the first year.

When we reached basecamp on the Yermanendu Glacier under Masherbrum, we immediately started observing the face. Sitting on a pad, Peter and I scanned every meter of the 3000 meter tall face with binoculars, and discussed possible lines. We quickly agreed: We’d never seen a wall like this. In front of us stood the north face of the Eiger, and on top of it a granite monolith which reminds me more of Cerro Torre than it resembles the summit structures of the other Himalayan giants.

I felt like I had found what I was looking for. A face that is so incredibly big and difficult, that one is easily tempted to consider it impossible.

Our first acclimatisation climb turned out easy, boring and toilsome.

On our second one, we brought skis and descended an icy flank from a small summit around 6100m. For some reason - probably material fault - Peters binding got torn off from his left ski and he fell. He injured his knee. At first, it was not clear what that meant for the rest of the expedition, but when we had to abort our third acclimatisation climb at about 6300m because Peter could barely walk anymore, we knew that, like the others before us, we had to - at least for now - back off. One would need to be completely out of his mind to start up such an “impossible” face with an injured knee, a face that spit out six Russians before.

It’s probably like other times in life, in the right moment you can’t do anything wrong, and in the wrong moment, you can’t do anything right. We decided to leave for home.

We’ll be back next year, and we’ll see if we catch the right moment. I am certainly looking forward to finding out…

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