National Geographic : 1996 Apr
"If we need rope ladders to ascend a peak, then we've climbed our ladders, not the mountain itself." - TODD SKINNER TIME WAS RUNNING OUT. It was our 43rd day on Trango Tower, a 3,000-foot tooth of granite that rises like a bad dream out of the Karakoram Range in Pakistan. Clouds to the south were as black as oil. Winter was closing in. "Man, this storm looks scary. Let's vamoose," said Mike Lilygren, the most levelheaded climber on our team of cowboys from Wyoming. Together with Bobby Model and Jeff Bechtel, Mike and I were stuffed into hammock-like tents hanging off the rock face. There was nothing between us and the ice 2,000 feet below. Our tents were creaking and popping in the wind. For safety we'd clipped almost everything to the wall, including ourselves. A dropped toothbrush would be gone forever. BOBBY MODEL "I say we stay up here one more day and see what happens," I argued. I was desperate to keep climbing. "If we climb only one hour, we might not get that hour again." "Maybe not, but we'd be safer at Shoulder Camp," Mike said, referring to our two tents perched on a narrow ledge a thousand feet below. "We don't have a lot of fuel left." Jeff and Bobby were quiet, The reach exceeding his grasp, Mike searches for an edge in the rock as he pushes up into thin air 2,500 feet above Dunge Glacier. Using only their hands andfeet to climb, the team pioneered a new route up the East Face, each person doing his share ofpitches, or climbing segments. At Shoulder Camp (above) Todd Skinner debates strategy.