Eternal Flame, Nameless Tower, first free ascent by Huber brothers
Between 11 and 14 August 2009 the German brothers Thomas and Alexander Huber carried out the first redpoint ascent of Eternal Flame, the legendary route up the S Buttress of Nameless Tower, Trango, Karakorum, Pakistan. The route had been established in 1989 by the Germans Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Christof Stiegler, Milan Sykora and originally graded VI, 7b+, A2.
Eternal Flame, the world-famous route which pioneered new difficulties in Himalayan climbing, has finally been freed in a single push by none other than the German climbing aces Thomas and Alexander Huber. The 650m line up the Nameless Tower in the famous granite Trango group had been established twenty years ago by an extremely strong German team comprised of Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Christof Stiegler and Milan Sykora and after an immense effort at over 6000m they four graded the masterpiece VI, 7b+, A2.
The route captured the world's imagination and over the last two decades many of the world's best have tried their luck at freeing the line, but all ground to a halt due to prohibitive weather conditions combined with the extreme difficulties at altitude. Significant steps forward were made by Denis Burdet, Nicolas Zambretti and Toni Arbones who freed two of the four aid pitches in 2003, while two years later the Spanish brothers Iker and Eneko Pou climbed a variation to the 10th pitch, paving the way to an all free ascent, but due to bad weather they were unable to go for the redpoint.
The Huber brothers arrived in the Karakorum at the end of July together with their cameraman Franz Hinterbrandner and Mario Walder and realised their luck immediately: the weather was surprisingly good. Within 10 days they had already established Camp 2 on the Sun Terrace, from where they then discovered a variation to the difficult traverse: a 30m line up small cracks which led via a slab to the crack system used the by the first ascentionists. These two new pitches, "Come on Baby" and "Light my Fire", went free at 7a+.
After three days rest at Base Camp they received a call which they hadn't even contemplated in their wildest dreams: a six day perfect weather forecast! Thomas and Alexander set off immediately and, swinging leads, climbed the new start to reach the original line, from where they ascended another three pitches until meltwater rendered further progress impossible. Their climbing was documented throughout by Franz Hinterbrandner and Mario Walder.
The next morning they jumared back up their fixed ropes and continued upwards, towards the famous 10th pitch, Eternal Burning. Here they realised that the crux on the variation chosen by the Pou brothers was prone to meltwater in the afternoon and so they set about discovering new ground 4 meters to the right: a 20m crack led to the upper and drier section of the Pou variation. The Hubers named these pitches "Wish you were here" and "Burn for you" and graded both of the 7c, before climbing one more pitch and calling it a day, rappelling back to their camp.
The third day proved testing, as a 7c+ overhanging fingercrack required a intensive bouldering session prior to being freed. They then redpointed one more pitch and, seeing the lateness of the hour and the continuing good weather, opted to go for the summit push the following day. On 14 August the finishing pitches flowed smoothly and they reached the summit at noon together with Hinterbrandner and Walder. Surrounded by the Karakorum giants, all four savoured the intense moment. Two decades after the first ascent, the final piece in the Eternal Flame jigsaw puzzle had been lain.
Alexander told us "There's no doubt we were extremely lucky. To be successful, so many different things have to fall into place. The weather was great which meant we could climb perfectly, up the cracks which were free of ice. I take my hat off to the achievement and free climbing instinct of the first ascenders. This route is a true enrichment for mountaineering. With "Eternal Flame" Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Christof Stiegler and Milan Sykora have passed on the best and most beautiful free climb on the globe. We are thrilled that we could play a little part in developing this route!"
Planetmountain will endeavour to find out more about this ascent in due course.
S. Buttress, Nameless Tower, Trango, Karakorum, Pakistan.
First ascent: Kurt Albert, Wolfgang Güllich, Christof Stiegler, Milan Sykora, 09/1989
Original grade: VI, 7b+, A2.
First free ascent: Thomas & Alexander Huber 11-14/08/2009
Grade of route: 7c+
Number of pitches: 24 pitches