Tough struggle on Masherbrum

Masherbrum in clouds
Bad weather on Masherbrum

Marek Holecek is not at a loss for original images when he describes the difficulties on his extreme climbs. Like now on the 7,821-meter-high Masherbrum in Pakistan’s Karakoram. “Even a horse-drawn carriage would get tired of this terrain,” the Czech climber writes on Instagram today. “We are progressing at a snail’s pace and hoping that the snow conditions will improve with higher elevation.”

Deep and loose snow has robbed them of their strength, says the 47-year-old. “The weather forced us into the tent in the afternoon, as we could not see through the fog to the tip of the nose and it started to snow lightly.” Holecek and his team partner Radoslav Groh will spend their now sixth bivouac at an altitude of 6,800 meters, according to their own information.

Similar route as the Austrians in 1985?

Masherbrum (in 2004)

Where exactly they ascend is unclear. At home in the Czech Republic, Holecek had still held out the prospect of a route via the North Ridge on his website. In Pakistan he then spoke of the West Face, presumably he meant the Northwest Face. Because yesterday he let it be known that the direction of their climb was now clear: “We are heading to the Northwest Ridge.” It sounds as if the two Czechs are taking a similar route to the Austrians Robert Renzler, Andreas Orgler and Michael Larcher, who succeeded in the first ascent of the Northwest Face in 1985.

Including the first ascent of Masherbrum by the Americans George Bell and Willi Unsoeld in 1960, only four expeditions to date have ended with climbers reaching the highest point of Masherbrum at 7,821 meters. A Polish team succeeded in 1981 in making the first ascent of the 7,806-meter-high West Summit. On the descent, two of the three Polish climbers froze to death.

Unclimbed for 37 years

After the Austrians 37 years ago, no one reached the summit. The extremely challeging Northeast Face of Masherbrum is still unclimbed. Among others, the Austrians David Lama, Hansjörg Auer and Peter Ortner failed on this wall in 2014. The top climbers Lama and Auer, as well as the American Jess Roskelley, died in an avalanche in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in 2019.

Odyssey on Baruntse

Holecek (l.) and Groh (r.) on Baruntse
Holecek (l.) and Groh (r.) on Baruntse

Holecek and Groh have already proven that they are capable of busting through even the most adverse conditions. In spring 2021, they opened a new route through the challenging Northwest Face of the 7129-meter-high Baruntse in Nepal in alpine style – that is, without bottled oxygen, without Sherpa support, without fixed ropes and without fixed high camps. For four days and nights they were stuck at around 7,000 meters in zero visibility and sometimes hurricane-force gusts. In total, they were on the mountain for ten days before they could descend to safe terrain and be flown out from there by rescue helicopter.

Holecek has already been awarded the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of the Climbers” twice: in 2018 for a new route through the Southwest Face of the eight-thousander Gasherbrum I in Pakistan and in 2020 for a new route via the Northwest face of the seven-thousander Chamlang in Nepal – both tours in alpine style with his Czech rope partner Zdenek Hak.

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