Tomaszewski and Bielecki Open New Route on the Karakoram’s Frigid Uli Biaho

The last we heard, Marcin Tomaszewski and Damian Bielecki were in Skardu, Pakistan, bound for Shipton Spire. They had lost team member Pawel Haldas, when he couldn’t board the plane because his COVID paperwork was not in order.

For three weeks, there were no updates. Reports spoke of bitter cold in the mountains. Yesterday, the two Polish climbers emerged with an amazing new route under their belts.

The climbers had had to recalibrate their original Shipton Spire goal because there were only two of them. They made their decision when they saw the spectacular Uli Biaho Gallery (ca. 4,500m), which rises from the Trango Glacier.

The Uli Biaho Gallery from the Trango Glacier. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

In the shade

The climbers spent 11 full days climbing the 800m route. While not officially a winter climb, since winter only begins today, conditions were extremely hard on such a big wall. The climbers reportedly endured -32˚C, which they said they were expecting.

The real problem was that the sun never once touched that northeast-oriented wall. “[Climbing] on sunny walls in the same period would have been completely different,” Tomaszewski wrote, “as far as conditions on the wall, climbing techniques, and factors such as drying sleeping bags.”

Now go and try to climb this. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

 

 

Hauling in extreme conditions. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

The fight

The climb itself “was a fight,” Tomaszewski said. “Climbing in narrow and exposed areas with heavy gear for technical belaying, hauling gear up the wall, applying survival logistics, the bivouacs, the so-short days…These made us feel like being in the ring or a fighting cage with ourselves, without an opponent. Hence the name of the route: Frozen Fight Club.”

A frigid winter bivi, although it wasn’t technically winter yet. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

 

“Catching our breath while climbing on the verge of frostbiting all our fingers required a lot of attention and constant warming up,” Tomaszewski recalls. “In the evening and in the morning, our gear was all white, as if someone had sprayed it with nitrogen.”

There was no room for any error or omission. The heat released during the climb evaporated instantly when we stood still, giving way to the cold, as if we had suddenly crossed over to the shadowed side of the moon or Mars. Because of the lack of [flexibility], we could not climb in down suits, so quickly adding new layers of warm clothing became crucial. While climbing, it was snowing a little and a bit windy.

 

Up a frozen crack. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

 

No gloves! Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

 

Tomaszewski praised his climbing partner: “Damian is a pure winter climber and he quickly found himself adapting to the new conditions, although it was a big-wall premiere for him. He fought beautifully at the M7 pitch on the upper part of the route, which was difficult until the very end.”

After the summit, the team needed a last bivouac in the portaledge, including all the “standard procedure of getting into the sleeping bag, melting water, cooking a meal, and warming the feet.”

One of 10 cold nights in a portaledge. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

Blazing a winter big-wall trail

“Perhaps we are just blazing the winter trail for big-wall climbing…in the Karakoram and the high mountains,” Tomaszewski said. “Winter conditions on the Karakoram’s rocky faces benefit technical, big-wall climbers a lot, although it is not an easy piece of bread.”

In winter big-wall climbing, each existing line can be seen with a different eye, Tomaszewski points out, adding, “[Our climb was] another opportunity to learn more about yourself…come to a few conclusions, and finally eat a delicious meal after descending to the base.”

The Polish climbers are on their way back to Islamabad to catch a flight home. They expect to spend Christmas in Pakistan but be back in Poland by the New Year.

Tomaszewski has posted many more pictures of their climb on his Facebook page.

Uli Biaho Gallery: ‘Frozen Fight Club’, A3, M7, 780m, 16 pitches, 9 bolts for rappels and hauling. Climbed in winter conditions in 11 days, December 5-16.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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Uphill
Uphill
4 months ago

Life or death finger dexterity with no gloves at -30 C. Absolute madness, but good for them!

Thrill seeker
Thrill seeker
4 months ago

The Poles have taken on some of the toughest mountaineering challenges and don’t take no for an answer.
I’ll continue to watch in awe from afar.

B Geoffries
B Geoffries
4 months ago

Really good stuff. Tomaszewski always picks great partners and objectives. One of the finest alpinists of our time.

max muster
max muster
4 months ago

the title is wrong, they did not do a new route on uli biaho, but on what looks like a much smaller, and easier access wall right above the glacier – a different world altogether, i would guess. looks gnarly enough!

MedEverest
4 months ago

Congratulations !