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Bad Rock on the First Pitches
Karmading, Kondus Valley - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

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After breakfast with Zahid, Steph and I pack our bags and get ready to finally start our climb. Sunscreen, water, rack, 1,000 feet of rope. Jimmy and Dave are both feeling sick, so they stay down. Already a small crowd of locals have gathered around us, mostly staring, but sometimes making requests, translated by Zahid.

"If you find any dry wood up there, could you throw some down? Nobody has ever collected wood up there before."

"If you find any 'mountain oil' (a black ooze that leaks from cracks?) could you give us some?"

As we leave, a woman cries out. Steph thinks she's being accosted for showing her legs, since she's scandalously opted for shorts today. We later find out that the woman is extremely poor and was asking for money. Jimmy and Dave give her 100 rupees, about two bucks.

We walk five minutes to the base of our route. I've been itching to climb for some days now, so Steph asks me if I "need" the first pitch. The rock is horrible, frankly. We knew that the first few pitches would be choss, and they are. I grovel up a flare, stuffing huge cams into the sandy rock, rubbing the grime off my feet every move. The granite rubs off like little ball bearings under my shoes. No falls allowed. Soon I've run out of rope, far earlier than I'd expected.

Steph calls up from below, "Brady, I think this thing is bigger than we think!"

I have to agree. Steph takes the next pitch. She laybacks a disintegrating flare, working in bad gear along the way. She slips into a tight chimney, sometimes referred to as a birth canal. When she exits it she laughs crazily and yells down, "It's a girl!"

"What did you say?"

My second pitch was pretty good, relatively speaking of course. Dirt, loose rock, but a few good moves and not too dangerous. But by now we're feeling the heat. We brought ice gear, plastic boots, warm sleeping bags, extra gloves, and all the other Karakoram essentials to Pakistan. Yet we're climbing in the sun at 11,000 feet and I wish I'd brought some cotton climbing pants. The sun parches us. Steph wears a bandana around her head and shoulders to keep from getting burned. We wait for the sun to creep behind the wall, which it does late afternoon. Poor Dave and Jimmy are still in the sun down below, scorching under a tarp. It's nearly as hot as it had been in Islamabad down there!

Steph gets the last pitch. She climbs confidently through a runout crumbling face, up dirt and loose rock, behind a huge death flake. Later she admits, "I was praying I wouldn't pry it off and kill you, and chop the ropes."

There's no gear or rock good enough to set the anchor. She climbs around a corner pulling the rope in her hands to fight the rope drag and finally finds a not too rotten crack that she can garden out for an anchor. She's spent most of the pitch furiously cleaning dirt and twigs with her nut tool. She says it was the worst pitch of her life.

"Hey Steph, I thought you said that about the last one."

"I did."

We knew the early climbing would be grim. We rap down, finding a nice slab left of our route devoid of dirt and cracks. While cleaning dangerous blocks from a few ledges, I knock enough loose rock off to prevent any onlookers from being tempted to come and take a closer look. We walk down and greet Jimmy and Dave. They inform us that we'd gotten only half as far as we'd hoped for the day. This is good news. We fixed 700 feet of rope. Our first intended camp is at least 500 feet above. The wall is bigger than we thought, probably well over 3,000 feet. Dave also tells us that the things we were calling hand cracks far above might be squeeze chimneys. At least the rock looks a lot cleaner up there!

We look forward to cleaner rock in a day or two. Tomorrow may well be more of the same. I'm dirty, dehydrated, but very happy with how things went. We're finally off the ground, and it seems that we've found a suitable objective. The next two weeks should be very interesting indeed.

God I'm tired.

Brady Robinson, Correspondent

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