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Special interview: Luka Stražar and his adventure on Latok I

 - Athletes

In the heart of Karakorum, where mountains seem to reach the sky, three guys realized a huge dream. They finally achieved one of the most sought-after goals, that many strong alpinists tried and tried during the last forty years. CAMP athlete Luka Stražar and his friends Aleš Cesen and Tom Livingstone completed the first ascent of the North face of Latok I (7145m) that rises for 2400m from Choktoi Glacier. On 5 August 2018 they started climbing a couloir on the right of the North ridge, then they followed the ridge up to around 6500m and then turned right towards the col (6700m) between Latok I and Latok II. On the fifth day Luka, Aleš and Tom reached the summit and started descending the route. They descended for two days/nights and reached the base on 11 August, completing an amazing, historical alpine style success that Luka describes us in this special interview.


Why did you decide to try Latok I from North?
«In 2011 I had a really good time in Charakusa valley. I wanted to visit Pakistan again. Aleš was easy to persuade as well as Tom. Latok I is of course an appealing objective also because of its history but maybe not until after the climb I became to realize the full scale of its importance to the climbing community».

Was your first project to climb the complete North ridge? Or maybe did you think to climb Latok I from North via the most safe, logical, possible route?
«We had the idea to climb this line from the beginning, but because we knew there will be other teams on the mountain and if the conditions would be really bad we kept an open mind in terms of other objectives. During the expedition our initial idea or line, just got confirmed as a first choice. The conditions were ok and we wanted to move relatively fast on the wall».


What does it need to climb the complete North ridge? Better conditions? Or maybe... crazier alpinists?
«It is a very unpleasant task to deliver judgments of what and how to in the world of alpine climbing. There are so many factors that affect our activity that is impossible (or close to) to predict all of them, their interactions and influence. The “crazier” factor might provide a better chance to reach the top on a certain climb, but to me it’s definitely not a good idea for a long term relationship with alpine climbing».

Could you describe your route? What kind of difficulties and problems did you find on the mountain?
«There is 2400m of elevation gain from bergschrund to the summit. Navigating right and left added quite a few extra meters. Climbing was easy to moderate in terms of technical difficulties. 70 degree ice below a scary snow mushroom is still just a 70 degree ice... Mixed pitches was around M4 or maybe a bit harder».

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How did you acclimatize for the ascent?
«We had a rather boring acclimatization... Mainly just walking with some easy climbing. To me the funniest part was trying to ski in our climbing boots! The last ascent was on Aighta Kabata (around 6300m) with sleeping just below the summit».

How did Russian guys attempt and tragedy influenced your ascent?
«I would lie if I said that it didn’t affect us at all. Of course it did although we tried to minimize the emotional part and focus on technical and tactical aspects of our planned ascent».


Did you meet difficult moments and unexpected problems during your climb? Or did you enjoy the adventure and everything goes as planned?
«We followed our plan quite well. I don’t want to say that everything was easy, we had some tougher moments on our climb, but I think we handled the situation well and made good decisions when presented with a challenge».

What did you think when you get the summit? And when you come back to the base camp?
«On the summit: there is no room for the three of us here... At the base camp: I'm not able to realize and evaluate the whole events of the previous week and it will take me some time to do that. I didn’t bother too much, I was just happy, calm and tired».


Could you compare this ascent with that on K7 West?
«If you compare numbers or grades it’s easy. 2400m against 1600m, M4 versus M5, 7 days and 4 days... But that is not the point. Comparing or grading experience is practically impossible and usually when I try to do it I conclude that they were just different».

What CAMP products did you find good or maybe excellent during the ascent?
«I really liked the fit, stability and penetration of Alpinist Pro crampons. The simple and very useful design of Eghen 35 backpack. Lightness of Nano carabiners and their good handling even with gloves on. And a surprising versatility off the X-Dream ice axes. We were even able to attach a shovel on one of them and save weight because we didn’t need to take a handle with us».


What did Latok I leave in your mind? What does this success mean for you?
«The experience of a climb is at the moment being mixed with people’s or media response to it. At the moment I’m actually more dealing with the second and its influence on me. Success brought some sort of calmness».

Finally: are you already dreaming about new projects on great Himalaya/Karakorum mountains?
«After an expedition my mind (and body) is usually in a "recovery" mode. Bigger projects and ideas are stuck somewhere in the back of my head and they will be ready to come forward in the months to come. More relaxed experiences like rock climbing trip with my girlfriend to Morocco in October come first. Also I just finished my IFMGA mountain guide course, so that sort of stuff is occupying me at the moment. But in general climbing alpine style in highest ranges is something I want to do, a more defined objective will crystallize in the near future».