John and Anne Arran

by Mick Ryan Anne and John Arran The well-travelled Sheffield (UK) couple of John and Anne Arran have just made almost-free ascents of two big wall routes in the rock spire wonderland of Nangma Valley in Pakistan´s Karakorum mountains. On the 4800m Denbor Brakk they spent seven days climbing capsule-style to free the 500m Czech route Bloody Mary, which was established in 2004 by Václav ?atava and Pavel Jonák and which already had free pitches up to  UIAA IX- (7b+/5.12c). Of the route?s two aid pitches the first (A1) went on natural gear (at E6 6b or 7b+/5.12c) just left of the original offwidth roof, while the other (A2) was freed on top-rope (at 7c/5.12d), initially some way right of the knifeblade aid line. John didn´t want to add bolts to an existing aid pitch without the consent of the first ascensionists, but felt that the addition of two further bolts to the pitch would be in keeping with the nature of the other hard pitches and would make the climb one of the best, hardest and most varied lines in the region. PHOTOS:See this photo of John hanging out on pitch 7 (E4/6c/5.11) of Bloody Mary during the first free ascent and Anne, here launching up the fine cracks of Bloody Mary pitch 14 (E4/6c+/5.11+).   The Arrans then turned their attention to Zang Brakk, also 4800m, looking to find a free-climbable line up the South-East Pillar. An Austrian team had previously free-climbed to half height (at 7c/5.12d, now thought to be 7b+/5.12c) before running into blind seams. By opting for a variant line (and by climbing two pitches of E6/7, or 7c/5.12d)  the British couple were able to continue their free ascent almost to the top of the 400m pillar. Hampered by five days of unsettled, snowy weather they ran completely out of food and water, so could not hang around to work and redpoint the crux pitch, which they had aided on tiny blades and peckers at A3.?I had a quick play on top-rope,? John explained, ?and the fingertip layback crux would make a great free pitch at around E7 6b or 8a/5.13b, although it may need a bolt or two for protection.? They pressed on to the summit on day nine, all of the free pitches having been climbed onsight. As nearly all of the 500m route?s seventeen pitches involve hard crack climbing (including six pitches of 5.12). John reckons that Welcome to Crackistan must rank as one of the most continuously hard jamming routes on any big wall, and now awaits a completely free ascent. PHOTO: See the line of Welcome to Crackistan on Zang Brakk here. The expedition was supported by BMC & MEF grants, and John and Anne would also like to thank Arc?teryx, Boreal, Lyon Equipment and First Ascent for their generous equipment support.