Great Tales in Mountaineering History: The Trango Towers

Trango Tower, also called Nameless Tower. Photo: Sebastian Alvaro

In the Karakorum, a group of rock towers feature some of the highest cliffs in the world. Located between the Trango Glacier and the Dunge Glacier, the Trango Towers lure those seeking to push themselves. The high degree of difficulty has led to some dramatic climbs.

Trango Towers, Karakorum, Pakistan. Photo: Wikiwand

The Nameless Tower (6,239m)

The Nameless Tower is a huge, pointed spire jutting 1,000m from the ridgeline. It was first climbed in 1976 by Britons Joe Brown, Mo Anthoine, Martin Boysen, and Malcolm Howells, via the Southwest Face.

Nameless Tower, seen from the trail to K2 Base Camp. Photo: Madison Mountaineering

These Brits were a peculiar gang, more enfants terribles than the professional sportsmen of today. But their achievement is notable. Some consider this the first expedition to transfer the big-wall style to a great mountain.

The British climbers on The Nameless Tower in 1976. Photo: Jim Curran

The climbers were accompanied by mountaineering cameraman Tony Riley and writer Jim Curran. Curran wrote a book about their adventure, Trango: The Nameless Tower.

The Great Trango Tower, 1984

The 1984 Norwegian East Face route is one of the most exciting and tragic stories in the history of climbing. It is an elegant, direct route of more than 1,500m of smooth granite. Hans Christian Doseth, Stein Aaheim, Finn Daehli, and Dag Kolsrud set out to climb the tower after a photo of this impressive wall appeared in Mountain Magazine in 1983.

The Great Trango Tower. Photo: John Middendorf

Because of bad weather, the four Norwegians took a long time to solve the lower part of the wall. They were pushing their limits. Some pitches involved climbing on precarious rock that barely supported their body weight. But the Norwegians knew that the greatest difficulties awaited them on the upper 500m of the route.

The slow climb meant that they ran out of food. Collectively, they decided that Aaheim and Kolsrud would only do 90% of the route, and then descend. Doseth and Daehli would continue to the summit.

The towers photographed by Sebastian Alvaro, from the same location that Jan Kielkowski sketched them. Photo: Sebastian Alvaro

The route of no return

Aaheim and Kolsrud returned to Base Camp. From there, they watched Doseth and Daehli reach the summit. But during the descent, the pair disappeared behind a rock wall. Days passed and there was no sign of the two Norwegians.

Three weeks later, a Pakistani helicopter arrived and located the two bodies lying in the snow. Bad weather meant that it was unable to retrieve the bodies. It’s not clear what happened to Doseth and Daehli. An avalanche could have ripped them off the wall, or they may have come loose from an anchor, resulting in a fall of more than 1,500m. Since their tragic descent, this route has been called “The route of no return.”

Great Trango Tower, South Wall. The Norwegian route is shown on the right.

Japanese Trango climbing expedition, 1990

Then in June 1990, the Japanese Trango climbing team, led by Takeyasu Minamiura, showed up at the foot of Great Trango Tower.

Minamiura’s team consisted of Masanori Hoshina, Satoshi Kimoto, Masahiro Kosaka, Takaaki Sasakura, and Yoshitaro Arisaka. They intended to climb the 6,286m Great Trango Tower via the Northeast Pillar, a variant of the 1984 Norwegian East Face route.

The climbers began in capsule style, climbing section after section, carrying all their equipment and food with them. Initially, they ascended to the right of the Norwegian route. Later, on the upper section, they rejoined the Norwegian route.

On August 17, after 25 days of climbing, only a few pitches separated them from the summit. So close, but they nevertheless had to abort the summit push. They had invested a lot of effort into this mythical route but they understood that it was time to descend to Base Camp.

Minamiura’s solo climb of the Nameless Tower

However, 33-year-old expedition leader Minamiura had another climb in mind. He chose to solo the East Face of the Nameless Tower. He started on a route to the right of the 1988 Kurtyka-Loretan route and planned to descend by paragliding from the summit.

After 40 days of climbing, Minamiura topped out. Writing for Alpinist in 2005, climber Greg Child described the ascent: “it is the closest to true alpine style that any first ascent on Trango has come, finishing the line that [Mark] Wilford and I started in 1989.”

Into the void

At the top, Minamiura collected his things: the little food he had left, and his bivouac gear. He tied them to a small paraglider and launched over the Dunge Glacier, more than 1,800m below him.

He needed only 10 minutes of suitable wind for his flight, but his exit from the rock failed. His parachute hit the wall and went flat. Luckily, his ice ax was stuck to his back, which prevented him from breaking his spine when he hit the wall.

Although it was windy during the day, Minamiura had to wait for the wind to pick up before he could jump.

Eighty metres below the summit, he hung from his paraglider over the abyss. Minamiura kept calm, took the radio out of his pocket, and called his companions at Base Camp. Minamiura communicated that he had an accident and needed, if possible, a helicopter.

Kimoto and Hoshina marched to the Pakistani army helipad in Payu. Meanwhile, Minamiura spent the whole night hanging from his paraglider at 6,000m. The next morning he managed to struggle free and reach a small, narrow ledge where he would spend the next six days.

The helicopter eventually arrived but was unable to stabilize at 6,000m due to crosswinds. Minamiura was told that helicopter rescue was impossible.

Improvisation and a repeat of the first route

Kimoto and Hoshino had to come up with another plan. They asked the pilot to take them from the Dunge Glacier to the Trango Glacier, that is, to the opposite side of the tower on which Minamiura was trapped. From there, Kimoto and Hoshino would climb the original British route up the Nameless Tower. The route had not been repeated since.

Meanwhile, Minamiura lacked clothes, food, and protection on the rock ledge. At night, he rolled up in his paraglider and rubbed his legs to keep from freezing.

While his two companions were climbing old frayed ropes, the Pakistani helicopter tried to drop some food for Minamiura, but the food fell into the void. A couple of days later, the pilot tried another food drop, again without success.

But a piece of cheese had caught between some rocks above Minamiura. Minamiura decided to take a chance and climb up to reach it. It was a very risky climb but he made it.

The next day, after three days of risky climbing, Hoshina and Kimoto completed the British route, reached the summit, and rappelled down to Minamiura. The three climbers continued their descent along the Yugoslav route. Two days later, they safely arrived at Base Camp.

Takeyasu Minamiura after the rescue at Base Camp. Photo: Takeyasu Minamiura

It is an incredible story of commitment, companionship, survival, and solidarity. Minamiura opened a new solo route, and thanks to the Pakistani helicopter, his two companions, and perhaps a fortunately wedged piece of cheese, he survived to tell the tale.

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About the Author

Kris Annapurna

Kris Annapurna

@KrisAnnapurna reports about outdoor activities, current expeditions, and stories related to the history of mountaineering in the Karakorum, Himalaya, Tien Shan, and other ranges.

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Uphill
Uphill
3 days ago

Another interesting and well-written article. Thanks Kris!

+3
Thrill seeker
Thrill seeker
3 days ago

Amazing, he just used up all nine of his nine lives.

+3
Don Paul
Don Paul
3 days ago

It’s the kind of climbing you can only dream of doing. I’m just not into life and death situations anymore. There is a bolted route on the Nameless Tower, anyway, that someone just climbed this year. Most of the others, on Shipton as well, sound too scary. Great Trango is no doubt the king of all big walls. I was inspired reading John Middendorf’s account of his first ascent of the Grand Voyage. Among other difficulties, there is no water on most of the route, so they had a big chunk of ice with them to melt and use as… Read more »

Gareth Parry
Gareth Parry
1 day ago
Reply to  Don Paul

There is no bolted route, just a route with some bolts in called Eternal Flame.

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chris
chris
8 hours ago

le grande fromage

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