Pakistan spires: 2005 quake relief workers bag Dofana's first ascent

Posted: Jul 26, 2007 03:53 pm EDT

( The Walter brothers are back in Pakistan - to continue the quake job but also for some climbing. In fact, Christian bagged the first summit of the season already on June 23, in a first ascent!

We have lost an entire generation, army sources told news agencies shortly after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.
Within days of the disaster, the Saxony Alpine Club launched a hands on aid campaign. Climbers Christian Walter and Jens Sommerfeldt took a plane to Islamabad, and hiked up with aid to villages impossible to reach for regular relief workers. Markus Walter meanwhile started a massive fundraiser.

The project will culminate this September (pending donations) but the guys have already had a chance to jumpstart the return to their real focus in Pakistan - mountaineering!

First summit of the season was a first ascent too

The Saxons bagged the first ascent of Dofana Peak (5,940m), which had two failed attempts back in the 70s/80s. All six team members reached the summit after climbing three days, alpine-style, from BC, located at 3,800m.

Dofanas name may sound unfamiliar to climbers, but many will remember its silhouette from on a historic picture showing Herman Buhl stepping on the summit of Broad Peak for the first time. In that image, Dofana was the peak appearing in background, right unders Buhls ice-axe. Dofana also stands out on the horizon for those traveling from Skardu back to Islamabad, as a challenging-looking, steep spire rising from the plains.

Love at first sight from a plane

In fact, it was that glimpse that attracted expedition leader Christian Walters attention for the first time: Back from a ski-touring trip on Deosai Plateau, Christian spotted the peak from the window of a PIA Boeing 737, flying from Skardu to Islamabad. He shot some pictures, and started planning an expedition without any further information. Later on he learned of two failed attempts done by Japanese climbers in 1976 and 1982. There is no record of any other team climbing Dofana since then until the Germans summited last month.

Veni, vidi, vinci

Christian Walter and his mates Axel Grusser, Paul Sass, Martin Schoerken, Joerg Schubert and female climber Annette Longo progressed quickly on the mountain reaching the summit barely 10 days after landing in Pakistan. After four days approaching BC and two other journeys acclimatizing on a neighboring 5,436m peak, which could have also posed another first ascent, plus one day resting, the team took advantage of the good weather and went straight up Dofana on a single-push, alpine-style climb.

The new route was done on ice-mixed terrain up to Dofanas summit, which provided stunning views of Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi.

Back from the summit, the team divided into two groups, one of them attempting Dofanas west pillar and the second group climbing 5,000ers nearby. On the way back, the team stopped at Sakargah (Allai Valley/near Besham), where Saxons Alpine Club is building a school.

Although 5,940m sounds not really like a huge mountain, Dofana Peak is actually one of the most prominent peaks in Pakistan, Christian's brother Markus Walter told ExplorersWeb. With its 1,875m of difference between BC and summit, Dofana is the ninth tallest mountain in the Himalayan ranges between the Indus River and Sutlej River, according to the list of Ultra-prominent peaks on earth (check link section). The tallest mountain in Dofanas area is, by the way, Nanga Parbat.

Christian Walter back to Sakargah

The German club has not stopped collaborating with humanitarian projects in NW Pakistan since the area was devastated by an earthquake in October 2005. Their efficient aid work was awarded among ExplorersWebs Best of 2005.

Christian Walter himself took a plane to Pakistan just five days after the earthquake, together with climbing mate Jens Sommerfeldt from Saxon Mountain Rescue team in order to set up an emergency medical team. The Saxons headed for remote areas where the Red Cross and the bigger NGOs had no access. Christian and Jens ended up in Sakargah, a small village high up in Allai which had been completely destroyed. The German reached there walking in rather tough conditions, since landslides have cut off all roads, and managed to set up an emergency hospital.

Christians brother Markus set off with fundraising, originally meant to cover the two rescuers costs But in two months he had gathered over 50,000 euro, so the club (now turned into an improvised NGO) got involved in several projects: First, providing the people with gas stoves and shelters enough to survive the winter; then, building a quake-resistant school, designed by Markus' girlfriend Madlen (also a climber and a civil engineer), which will be inaugurated in September.

School hopefully working by September

After the project culminates in September (as long as we get donations to cover a 30 percent gap between the calculated overall building costs and the current fundraising status), the Walter brothers and their team-mates at Alpine Club Saxony will focus again on mountaineering expeditions, Markus said. However, the recent first ascent on Dofana Peak proves that they never got the adventurous mountaineering out of view.

Christian Walter has previously summited Nanga Parbat and GII, and climbed extensively in the Karakorum. His teammates on Dofana were on their first visit to Pakistan, but they are otherwise seasoned climbers with experience in Alps, Central Asia and America.

Markus Walter summited Nanga and GII together with his brother, and has also topped-out Cho Oyu, Manaslu and Broad Peak. Last year Markus scaled three vrigin 6,000ers in northern Batura Muztagh together with Bruce Normand - now a recent K2 summiteer.

October 8, 2005 a 7.6 earthquake with epicenter in Azar Kashmir, an area of the war-torn Kashmir under Pakistan control 100 km north from Islamabad struck at 8:50 am local time. Villages crumbled to rubble, landslides blocked roads, and communications were cut.

Besham and villages on the Karakorum Highway below Besham were totaled. A huge number of children were lost: Most at school when the earthquake struck. We have lost an entire generation, army sources told news agencies.

Within days of the disaster, the Alpinclub Sachsen (the Saxony Alpine Club) from Germany launched a hands on aid campaign.

A team was sent with supplies to northern Pakistan: Christian Walter and Jens Sommerfeldt took a plane to Islamabad, to check the situation and provide first aid to the most isolated areas. There, they loaded their supplies in a mini-bus and set off northwards. The last miles to Besham were nothing more than a dirt path. The first sight was frightening. The hospital was empty. International help had not arrived. That same day, they continued to the Hindu-Kush Mountains. Where the road ended, they put on heavy backpacks and trekked up mountain paths to the upper villages.

They found families living under plastic sheets in constant rain and cold. Christian and Jens distributed tents and plastic covers they brought from Germany and gave first aid. People were coughing, the kids wouldn't speak. The two men began to shuttle electrical generators, rescue blankets, canvas and plastic from Besham. Relief agencies lacked people strong enough for the walks. A few days later, Christian and Jens trekked to Sakargah and set up a BC. Actually, they started attending to injured people even before setting camp.

#Mountaineering #Mountaineering

The Saxons bagged the first ascent of Dofana Peak 5,940m (click to enlarge).
Awarded ExplorersWebs Best of 2005, this time Markus Walter's (image) brother Christan bagged the season's first summit in Pakistan - in a fist ascent!
Dofana appearing in background, right unders Buhls ice-axe (click to enlarge).
Expedition leader Christian Walter and his mates reached the summit barely 10 days after landing in Pakistan. All images courtsy of Alpinclub Saxen (Saxony's Alpine Club). (Click to enlarge).