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Shining Through
Tahir Tower Base Camp, Kondus Valley - Friday, July 21, 2000

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It is mid-morning and the sun has made its way around to the south, heating up the golden granite and the ground and the base of the tower. The hot air rises up this vertical ocean of rock in calm predictable waves. Below me a gackle of crows are occupied surfing these thermals. Grouped in a loose circle they slowly drift up towards me as I belay Brady on pitch 31.

Brady has just finished navigating a wide chimney and has started working on the small deteriorating crack above. As the pitch steepens, he shouts down, "Send up my aiders all the small cams and any free biners left at the belay." The climbing has become more difficult and I belay the rope out in short predictable chunks.

The chimney in front of me has been used as a nesting area by the crows for generations. As a result, large piles of guano have accumulated and emit a pungent odor. The crows have road the thermals up to my ledge and are cackling to one another as they cruise by as if to say, 'Look at that stupid human lashed to rock standing in our toilet.'

The lead bird suddenly pulls ahead, out of formation, executes a quick barrel roll, tucks its wings and bombs straight down. The others imitate the first crow in an airborne game of follow the leader, leaving me alone to contemplate how far to the summit. On a large cliff such as this it is easy to forget the exact line and distances that you saw from the ground.

During the last three climbing seasons Zahid has worked with only rock climbing expeditions and he has a rough idea of what makes for difficult climbing. Last night during our 8:00pm radio check-in with him at Base Camp he said, "Maybe one or two more difficult pitches then much easier."

Jimmy questioned him, "Do you really think we are that close?"

"Maybe sir," was Zahid's confident response.

Brady finishes the pitch and I thrash up the chimney on jumars. My pitch begins with some free climbing up a fist crack, then the rock deteriorates and widens to No. 5 Camalot size. Thinking of Jimmy's fall yesterday makes me cautious and slow. Finally, I top out on a large ledge in a corner. With no sign of the top, I resign myself to the fact that the summit could involve several more pitches.

Brady leads up the steep corner commenting, "This is one of the best pitches I've led in days." He stems his legs out on the opposing walls and grabs incut holds that are coated with sharp mineral deposits reminicent of limestone. As he pulls over the top he yells down, "I think we are almost there." Then the rope races through my ATC and I knew he was on easier terrain.

I follow the pitch and gain the summit ridge. I am shocked that we are so close to the top. Taking two steps down toward the north side of the ridge, the white noise of the glacial river to the south disappears for the first time in a month. It's funny how you don't sometimes hear a sound until it's gone.

As I scramble up the third class terrain my feet dance around clumps of colorful wildflowers: sky blue forget-me-nots and yellow anenomes. As I catch Brady at the belay he says, "I think that's the true summit," pointing to the east at a pinnacle of rock rising 100 feet above the rest of the ridge.

We unrope and solo up fourth and easy fifth class terrain. In the soft lichen covered soil, I place my shoes on top of the fresh tracks of an ibex who has also taken this same path. I look around hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare mammal, but my eyes are drawn to the summit ahead.

From the summit ridge a rib of rock extends up to the base of the pinnacle. The hour is late and the climbing looks difficult, so we decide to descend and save the summit for tomorrow with the rest of the expedition.

The next day, after a morning marathon jugging session, we all arrive at the summit ridge. I rope up at the base of the rock rib leading to the pinnacle. As I walk the plank I look down at the sharkfins of rock waiting for me if I should slip. The climbing is easy, just a couple mid-fifth class moves, but there is no protection. Soon I am standing at the base of the steep section.

I fix the rope and Steph jugs up. Rain begins to seep from the gray clouds overhead and I am glad to be through the free climbing below. Steph calmly aids up the thin, discontinuous crack and climbs to the summit.

I clamp on my ascenders and move up the fixed rope. "Can you believe this summit?!?" exclaims Steph as I come into view. The summit itself is the size of two pool tables pushed together and just about as flat. I unrope and rotate 360 degrees taking in the view. Low clouds pour over the rock to the north softening their jagged spires. Below in the valley the green fields of Khorkondus are the only signs of humans in this glaciated land.

We are soon all on top smiling and chatting about our success and good fortune. We take pictures of each other and despite the sweat, dirt and a little blood covering our faces the true feelings of how happy we are to be standing on this tiny summit, come shining through.

As we jockey for the best summit pictures I move carefully over the saturated lichen under my feet. The lichen is pumpkin orange and growing brighter with the moisture.

A grayish object catches my eye. I bend forward and pick it up. It's a pellet from a large bird of prey; a clump of fur and bones that couldn't quite be digested. I think, "We are not the first animals to visit the summit." I stare off at the peaks shrowded in the clouds, wishing I could take flight and look at the hundreds of unclimbed walls of the Siachen.

Dave Anderson, Correspondent

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