Three Ski Down Great Trango Tower in the Karakoram

It sounds as surreal as skiing El Capitan in Yosemite. The Trango Towers, the most famous rock spires in Pakistan’s Karakoram, draw big wall climbers, not skiers. Yet a hidden line did exist. Ace skiers Jim Morrison, Christina Lustenberger, and Chantel Astorga found it and made it happen.

“We hustled, we waited, we roasted, and we sent,” Christina Lustenberg wrote about the feat. “This line is wild like no other, [an] edge of the world kinda s**t. To be up there, in the flow, climbing and skiing was real-life magic.”

Skiing on big wall terrain

Morrison and Lustenberg were on their second attempt to ski the Great Trango Tower, but Chantel Astorga was new to the bold idea.

“I always thought I’d visit the Trango Towers for climbing,” she wrote on Instagram. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that my first trip [here] would be for skiing.”

Christina Lustenberg with skis on her back while climbing Great Trango Tower in Pakistan

Christina Lustenberg during the climb. Photo: Christina Lustenberg/The North Face


The typical image of the Trango Towers is three vertical granite spires in a toothy range. But the biggest, the Great Trango Tower (6,286m), has a more alpine-like system of ridges and gullies on its South and West sides.

“We climbed and skied down the West Face,” Lustenberg told ExplorersWeb. During the ascent, they established a high camp at 5,000m, she added.

Spring season potential

The three — two Americans and Lustenberg, a Canadian — went in spring before the summer heat melted the snow capping the tower. They found a continuous narrow line down the edge of the ridge, as seen on the route line below:

Ski descent line on Great trango Tower's west face, marked in red

The climbing/skiing line. Photo: The North Face


A summer view of the Trango group doesn’t have the same skiing potential:

The Trango Towers partially capped by clouds

Left to right, Trango II, Trango Monk (further away), Trango Tower (also known as Nameless Tower), and the Great Trango Tower to the right. The new ski line goes down its back side (hidden). Photo: Wikipedia

A line from the summit

“Oddly, we found a way [to do the ski descent] by imagining a ski line from its summit,” Jim Morrison explained. “What seemed impossible based on its massive vertical wall became a goal due to a natural winding ribbon of snow and ice from its summit.”

Trango Nameless tower and trango II from the summit of Great Trango Tower

The view from the summit. Photo: The North Face


Morrison admitted this was an emotional expedition since it was his “first significant goal since Manaslu,” where partner Hilaree Nelson fell to her death near the summit during their attempted ski descent. Lustenberg and Astorga were also Nelson’s regular skiing partners. They have dedicated some of their best skiing lines to their late friend.

The team will eventually share further details on the expedition. Not surprisingly, a documentary is also in the making: Leo Hoorn, Erich Roepche, and Savannah Cummins filmed the climb and ski descent and took the photographs illustrating this story.

Morrison was on the North Side of Everest last fall with a superstar North Face team, hoping to ski down the Hornbein Couloir. Bureaucratic problems ended the attempt even before it started.

Note: Back to the beginning of this story, no one has skied down El Cap, but Americans Jason Torllano and Zach Milligan did ski Half Dome three years ago, and it looked scary. Check the video here.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.