Martin Sieberer & Simon Messner on 15/07/2023

Pakistan, Karakoram (Masherbrum Range)

Yernamandu Kangri, first ascent, southwest face

Martin Sieberer (Austria) and I waited many months for our Pakistan visas, and they only arrived three weeks before departure. By this time, we had given up on the idea of going to Pakistan and were planning an European climbing trip.

In June, the approach from Skardu, via Hushe, to our base camp on the Masherbrum Glacier went smoothly. We sited our camp at 4,300m, only 20 minutes from the start of the Serac Glacier. Next morning we began to find a way through its maze of ice walls and crevasses. However, high radiation quickly caused avalanches and rockfall, causing us to stop at around 5,300m, and spend a night sheltering in our tent. Next day, with sunburn and headaches, we descended to base camp.

It then began to snow and rain, leaving us stuck in base camp for subsequent days, playing cards, reading and sleeping. Time didn’t want to pass. The 2023 summer season in the Karakoram was not an easy one: the weather remained unpredictable throughout, with fresh snow on the mountains. Some smaller expeditions didn’t even manage to reach their goals. We were lucky!

We were able to climb once more to around 5,300m, but, surprised by more snowfall descended the same day so as not to be stuck on the mountain. This was our only acclimatization. Would it be enough to go to 7,000m?

The weather improved mid-July and wondering if this might be our only chance, we waited one sunny day for the snow to settle and then set out on July 13. We took only the minimum of gear so we could move fast, even leaving behind our rope. By early morning we had reached 5,400m, where we dug out a north-facing platform in the edge of a crevasse and camped there the rest of the day and following night. The coolness of the crevasse made it bearable. On the 14th the weather was fantastic, but we were definitely not used to the altitude, and we sunk into the soft snow with every step. It was very exhausting and at 6,250m we had to stop and camp below a huge crevasse. We hadn’t considered how loud the noise would be of water dripping on the tent the whole day long.

At 4.15 a.m. on the 15th we left the tent and with nearly empty rucksacks, walked along snow ridges, crossed crevasses and panted heavily when we met any snow slopes. This took us to the “headwall”, the final southwest face (600m, 60-70°) of Yernamandu Kangri (7,163m; this is how it is pronounced by the people of Hushe, but other spellings exist, notably Yermanendu on most maps). With no rope (we had 10m of cord) we knew we had to climb up and down this unprotected. We both sat on refrigerator-sized blocks of ice at the base of the face, looking at it and not saying a word. Then, without any discussion, we stood up and started climbing upward. If either of us had brought up the subject of turning around, we would have both done so without any argument. High on the face, there was an icy section, above which waist deep snow led to the upper southeast ridge. We traversed granite slabs to a col, from where we saw the summit 100m above us. It was becoming shrouded in cloud.

At 11.15 a.m., exactly seven hours after leaving camp and exactly three weeks after leaving Europe, we reached the top. Our InReach device measured an altitude of 7,185m. We stayed only a few minutes, hammered a piton into a crack a little lower down, then started downclimbing the face. At the bottom the sun was shining with full force, making progress torturous. Finally, we reached the tent, where we spent a short night before descending all the way to base camp the following day, very tired but happy.

Apart from the 600m headwall, the 3,000m climb had not been technically difficult, but the terrain had been complex: many crevasses, exposure to serac fall, and avalanche risk. The final section was certainly prone to avalanche, but at the same time icy under a covering of loose snow.

Editor’s note: Yernamandu Kangri stands on the southeast ridge of Masherbrum and has no known serious attempt, although in 1981 Volker Stollbohm reached the col at the base of the northwest ridge during an attempt on Masherbrum. The 2023 ascent more or less follows the original route on Masherbrum until the plateau below Yernamandu Kangri’s final southwest face. The successful ascent of Masherbrum in 1960, by a talented American team, built on two previous British attempts; in 1938, where the expedition reached nearly 7,500m on the south-southeast face, and 1957, where the team retreated from around 7,700m. Between these two trips a New Zealand expedition reached 7,070m. While the New Zealanders climbed the middle of the icefall of the Serac Glacier, the two British and the American expeditions all climbed the right side of the Serac Glacier via the so-called Scaly Alley and had a camp on the top of the Dome (ca 6250m) in a similar spot to the 2023 team, which also climbed Scaly Alley. According to the German chronologer, Eberhard Jurgalski, prior to summer 2023 Yernamandu Kangri was the tenth highest unclimbed summit in the world.

Annotation: The text reproduced here is taken from the American Alpine Journal 

At around 6,250m we had to stop and camp below a huge crevasse. The panorama we had was simply impressive!

The final Headwall was snow-loaded and partly icy. Yernamandu Kangri (right, 7.180m) is located east of the mighty Masherbrum (left, 7.821m).

A happy Summit-duo: Simon Messner (left) & Martin Sieberer in their first high camp on the mountain.