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Top Canadian Alpinists Heading to Karakoram

The Kunyang Chhish (left) and Pumari Chhish massifs

For the 2018 John Lauchlan Award, Raphael Slawinki and Alik Berg will be heading to Pumari Chhish East in Karakoram, Pakistan.

Originally, the trip included Chris Brazeau and Ian Welsted, but a permit denial changed the plans of the expedition.

The 2018 John Lauchlan Award was also given to Michelle Kadatz and Gemma Wilson for a summer trip to Baffin Island, see here for more.

“In late June of this year, Alik Berg and I, will travel to the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan. Our goal will be the unclimbed Pumari Chhish East (ca. 6,900 m),” said Slawinski.

The peak lies at the head of Jutmo Glacier, a remote tributary of the massive Hispar Glacier. In spite of having been the objective of at least four strong expeditions, it remains unclimbed.

“All attempts to date failed more than 1,000 metres below the summit, including my own foray in 2009,” said Slawinski. Read more here.

Their goal is not only to make the first ascent of Pumari Chhish East, but to do so by a technically difficult route on its south face.

“This broad, 2,000-metre high face presents a daunting challenge,” said Slawinski. “The granite headwall guarding the summit icefields is not breached by a single easier couloir and sections of it are threatened by hanging glaciers.

“All the same, I believe it is possible to find a hard yet safe passage up the face, at an altitude that is high enough to require good acclimatization yet low enough to still allow technical climbing. We plan to attempt the mountain in alpine style, with little more than the proverbial ‘rope, rack and shirts on our backs.'”

Slawinski believes the project represents a logical progression of high-standard alpine climbing in the Greater Ranges: lightweight style on a technically difficult, unclimbed objective.

Pumari Chhish East

Alik Berg

A Canmore local, Berg has been making headlines in the last few years. He has been on a tear with successful winter alpine ascents in the Rockies, an expedition to Alaska with a new route on the fabled east face of the Moose’s Tooth and a recent trip to Peru with two major first ascents.

He is the younger member the team, yet has a huge background of experience: starting at the age of 15, he has successfully completed 19 El Capitan aid routes. He has a bright future in Canadian alpine climbing. It will be his first trip to Asia.

Alik Berg Photo Fred McGuinness

Raphael Slawinski

Slawinski is known to most people in Canadian climbing circles, at this point having perhaps established more first ascents in the Rockies’ alpine than any other climber.

Adept at both technical drytooling and alpine climbing, he also has extensive experience in the Greater Ranges. On his last trip to Asia, for an alpine-style attempt on the north face of Everest, he was thwarted by an earthquake and the subsequent closing of the mountain by Chinese authorities.

He is eager to return to the Karakoram for the first time since 2013, when his and Ian Welsted’s first ascent of K6 West (7,040 m) resulted in Canadians being awarded the Piolets D’Or for the first time.

Raphael Slawinski Photo Slawinski’s Collection