In the Karakorum, a group of rock towers feature some of the tallest cliffs in the world. Located between the Trango Glacier and the Dunge Glacier, the Trango Towers attract those looking to challenge themselves. The high degree of difficulty led to spectacular ascents.
The nameless tower (6,239 m)
The unnamed tower is a huge pointed spire jutting 1000m from the ridge line. It was first climbed in 1976 by Britons Joe Brown, Mo Anthoine, Martin Boysen and Malcolm Howells, via the southwest face.
These Brits were a peculiar gang, more terrible children than today’s professional athletes. But their success is remarkable. Some consider it to be the first expedition to transfer the big wall style to a large mountain.
The climbers were accompanied by mountaineering cameraman Tony Riley and writer Jim Curran. Curran wrote a book about their adventure, Trango: the nameless tower.
The Great Trango Tower, 1984
The 1984 Norwegian East Face route is one of the most thrilling and tragic stories in rock climbing history. It is an elegant and direct course of over 1,500m of smooth granite. Hans Christian Doseth, Stein Aaheim, Finn Daehli and Dag Kolsrud set out to climb the tower after a photo of this impressive wall appeared in Mountain magazine in 1983.
Due to bad weather, the four Norwegians took a long time to solve the lower part of the wall. They were pushing their limits. Some pitches involved climbing over precarious rocks that barely supported their body weight. But the Norwegians knew that the greatest difficulties awaited them on the upper 500m of the course.
The slow climb meant they ran out of food. Collectively they decided that Aaheim and Kolsrud would only do 90% of the course and then back down. Doseth and Daehli would continue to the top.
The road of no return
Aaheim and Kolsrud returned to base camp. From there, they watched Doseth and Daehli reach the top. But during the descent, the duo disappeared behind a rock wall. Days passed and there was no sign of the two Norwegians.
Three weeks later, a Pakistani helicopter arrived and located the two bodies lying in the snow. Bad weather made it impossible to recover the bodies. It is not known what happened to Doseth and Daehli. An avalanche could have torn them from the wall or detached them from an anchor, causing a fall of more than 1,500 m. Since their tragic descent, this road has been called “The Road of No Return”.
Japanese Trango Climbing Expedition, 1990
Then in June 1990, the Japanese climbing team Trango, led by Takeyasu Minamiura, showed up at the foot of the Great Trango tower.
Minamiura’s team consisted of Masanori Hoshina, Satoshi Kimoto, Masahiro Kosaka, Takaaki Sasakura, and Yoshitaro Arisaka. They intended to climb the 6,286m Great Trango Tower via the North East Pillar, a variation of Norway’s 1984 East Face route.
The climbers started out in capsule mode, climbing section after section, taking all their gear and food with them. Initially they rode to the right of the Norwegian road. Later, on the upper stretch, they join the Norwegian route.
On August 17, after 25 days of climbing, only a few lengths separated them from the summit. So close, but they had to abort the push to the top nonetheless. They had invested a lot of effort in this mythical route but they understood that it was time to go down to base camp.
Minamiura’s solo ascent of the Nameless Tower
However, 33-year-old expedition leader Minamiura had another climb in mind. He chose to isolate the east face of the unnamed tower. He started on a route to the right of the 1988 Kurtyka-Loretan route and planned to descend by paraglider from the summit.
After 40 days of climbing, Minamiura has reached its climax. write for Mountaineer in 2005, mountaineer Greg Child described the ascent: “It’s the closest first ascent to true alpine style that any first ascent on Trango has made, finishing the line that [Mark] Wilford and I started in 1989.”
In the void
At the top, Minamiura recovers his belongings: the little food he has left, and his bivouac equipment. He strapped them to a small paraglider and launched himself over Dunge Glacier, more than 1,800m below him.
He only needed 10 minutes of decent wind for his flight, but his exit from the rock failed. His parachute hit the wall and crashed. Fortunately, his ice ax was stuck to his back, which prevented him from breaking his spine hitting the wall.
Eighty meters below the summit, he clung to his paraglider above the chasm. Minamiura remained calm, took the radio out of his pocket, and called his companions to base camp. Minamiura communicated that he had had an accident and needed a helicopter if possible.
Kimoto and Hoshina marched to the Pakistan Army heliport at Payu. Meanwhile, Minamiura spent the whole night hanging from his paraglider at 6,000m. The next morning he managed to break free and reach a small, narrow ledge where he would spend the next six days.
The helicopter eventually arrived but was unable to level off at 6000m due to crosswinds. Minamiura was informed that helicopter rescue was impossible.
Improvisation and rehearsal of the first course
Kimoto and Hoshino had to come up with another plan. They asked the pilot to take them from the Dunge Glacier to the Trango Glacier, that is, to the other side of the tower Minamiura was trapped on. From there, Kimoto and Hoshino would climb the original British route to the unnamed tower. The route had not been repeated since.
Meanwhile, Minamiura lacked clothing, food, and protection on the rocky ledge. At night, he curled up in his paraglider and rubbed his legs so as not to freeze.
While his two companions were climbing old, frayed ropes, the Pakistani helicopter attempted to drop food for Minamiura, but the food fell through the void. A few days later, the pilot attempted another food drop, again unsuccessful.
But a piece of cheese had gotten stuck between rocks above Minamiura. Minamiura decided to take a chance and climb to reach it. It was a very risky climb but he did it.
The next day, after three days of risky climbing, Hoshina and Kimoto completed the British route, reached the summit, and abseiled to Minamiura. The three climbers continued their descent along the Yugoslav road. Two days later, they arrived safely at base camp.
It’s an incredible story of commitment, camaraderie, survival and togetherness. Minamiura blazed a new solo road, and thanks to the Pakistani helicopter, his two companions, and perhaps a luckily stuck piece of cheese, he survived to tell the tale.
About the Author
@KrisAnnapurna reports on outdoor activities, ongoing expeditions and stories related to the history of mountaineering in the Karakoram, Himalayas, Tien Shan and other ranges.