Sani Pakkush: Welfringer and Fine succeed in a winner with the backhand

Symon Welfringer (r.) and Pierrick Fine (l.)
Symon Welfringer (r.) and Pierrick Fine (l.)

Sometimes things just happen differently. French climbers Symon Welfringer and Pierrick Fine, both in their mid-20s, had actually planned a project in Nepal this fall. But because of the corona pandemic, it was uncertain for a long time whether the Himalayan state would even be open to foreign visitors. So they decided to change their plans and travel to Pakistan to tackle Sani Pakkush.

The shapely 6,953-meter-high mountain is located in the Batura Muztagh massif in the northwest of the Karakoram. It had been scaled only once before, in 1991 by a German expedition: Hubert Bleicher, Arnfried Braun, Daniel Ketterer and Leo Klimmer had climbed up via the steep Northwest Ridge. Welfringer and Fine – they had already opened a new route in 2019 in the Karakoram on the 5,960-meter-high Risht Peak – had another goal: the still virgin 2500-meter-high South face of the mountain.

Hardly restful bivouac nights

Sani Pakkush Couloir
In the couloir

After two weeks of acclimatization, Symon and Pierrick leave their base camp on 16 October – in perfect weather, even if the thermometer drops to minus 30 degrees Celsius at night. “We spend five days in the South face of Sani Pakkush climbing a couloir more or less steep, from 50 to 90 degrees, more or less loaded with snow, ice and rock on the left side of the summit,” Fine describes the ascent route.

The couloir leading to the summit ridge hardly offers any places for bivouacs. “On the third day, we were really exhausted after two bad bivys,” reports Welfringer. “We decided to put our tent at an altitude of 6,400 meters on the summit ridge where we find a nice and comfortable crevasse to have a proper rest.”

Pierrick (l.) und Symon am Gipfel des Sani Pakkush
Pierrick (l.) and Symon on the summit

The next day, the two of them climb – “across splendid meringue cornices”, says Pierrick – to the highest point. “With a constantly changing quality, it was harder and harder to go up the summit,” writes Symon. “But after seven hours of hard work, sometimes digging into powder snow, we arrived at 2 p.m. local time completely exhausted on the summit of Sani Pakkush at 6,953 meters.” The following day, 20 October, the two Frenchmen returned safely to their base camp after descending through the South Face.

Big piece of alpinism

Welfringer and Fine name their route “Revers gagnant” – that’s what they call a winner with the backhand in tennis. “This name refers that we played against all odds by choosing to go to Pakistan without any long reflections and at a season supposed to be bad for alpinism,” Symon writes. With the first ascent of the Sani-Pakkush South Face, however, they have managed to achieve “a big piece of alpinism”, says he. Indeed.

“This Pakistani adventure has shown us that in the mountains if you want to have fun, the most important thing is organizational flexibility and adaptability,” concludes Pierrick. Sometimes things just happen differently.