Dreams of the Unknown
June 15 - August 15, 2000
Wednesday, August 9 2000
"The Nangmah holds several expeditions worth of granite towers and alpine objectives. Amin Brakk is a beautiful giant tower, but the lower half is totally blank...."
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Every hard-core big wall climber harbors the dream to take a few close friends and venture into an unknown land with granite walls and spires that have never before been climbed.
Unfortunately, oftentimes reality makes this dream hard to fulfill. It takes money, of course, but more importantly, you have to find that unknown land before all the other dreamers do. Most of the major exotic big wall climbing areas of the world, like Baffin Island, Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan and Alaska, were discovered years ago. Those areas still present fantastic new route possibilities, but they are known commodities.
A few years ago, renowned adventure photographer Galen Rowell, along with two of North America's strongest climbers, Peter Croft and Conrad Anker, began to explore the little-known treasures of the Charakusa Valley in the Karakoram of Pakistan. As it always does in the climbing world, word quickly spread about the trio's journey to the Charakusa. It wasn't long before Jimmy Chin showed up on Rowell's doorstep in Emeryville, California, eager to find out more.
Chin waited five days before Rowell was able to see him, but it was well worth the wait. Rowell showed him photos of the Charakusa, igniting his imagination with images of towering walls and spires thrusting up to the sky.
As he left Rowell's office, Chin began piecing together what became a full expedition to the Charakusa, with members Brady Robinson, Jed Workman, Doug Workman and Evan Howe. In the summer of 1999, the team picked several plums in the valley and came back with tales and photos of the fantastic climbing. Chin also came back with something else, an idea of what to try next.
As he poured over a map of the Karakoram, Chin wondered what lay in the Kondus Valley, just to the east of the Charakusa. He soon learned the Kondus was part of the militarized buffer zone adjacent to the disputed Kashmir region on the India-Pakistan border and had been closed to foreigners for almost 20 years. He also learned that little else was known about the valley, except for a key observation written by John Mock, one of the last foreigners to see the area, in his Lonely Planet Guide to Trekking in the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush.
"These eastern valleys have some of the finest clean granite towers in Baltistan," wrote Mock, of the Kondus, "rivaling the Trango Towers for size and sheerness." Spurred on by that unconfirmed information and undaunted by the fact that the Kondus is part of a closed and dangerous militarized zone, Chin applied, in conjunction with Nazir Sabir Expeditions, the leading Pakistan trekking agency, for permission to explore and climb in the valley.
While he waited permission to climb in the unknown land with granite walls and spires, Chin put together the other half of the dream: getting a few close friends to join in the exploration. Brady Robinson was ready to go and Dave Anderson and Steph Davis soon followed. All that remained was for the Pakistani government to grant permission, which was highly unlikely given the sensitive nature of the area.
In April of 2000, the Pakistani government did the unexpected and granted permission. The expedition was on.
Join MountainZone.com as we follow the Forbidden Towers Expedition to the Kondus Valley and its unknown challenges, as the team members send in dispatches and digital photos to illustrate the journey.
Will they find what they seek?
Matt Stanley, MountainZone.com Staff