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Women and Chalk; Mauro “Bubu” Bole’s New Route on the Shipton Spire

 Women and Chalk; Mauro “Bubu” Bole’s New Route on the Shipton Spire

by Fabio Dandri

December 29, 2001

Photos by Fabio Dandri

Women and Chalk is the new, extreme route opened by Mauro “Bubu” Bole on the east wall of Shipton Spire (5850 mt), the spectacular granite peak situated in the Trango Valley in Pakistan. The route was opened during the recent Expedition lead by Bubu together with Mario Cortese – his climbing partner, and me, Fabio Dandri, photographer and cameraman.

The new route, an extremely logical and continuous sequence of cracks and dihedrals leading straight up to the mountain top, climbs the 1,150m the impressive and breathtaking vertical overhanghing granite wall up to the final crest, just below the summit where it crosses Ship of Fools (1997American route). Women and Chalk, 5.13b, Shipton Spire, Pakistan, photo Fabio Dandri

More than three week’s work spent between the Base Camp and the Wall; thirteen days of actual climbing with levels of difficulty almost always exceeding 5,11a and at times, on exceptional pitches, between 5,12d and 5,13b. Altogether, 29 extremely difficult pitches, one after the other, making it one of the most difficult routes in the world – especially considering that it ranges between 4,500m and 5,700m in altitude; making Women and Chalk, 5.13b, Shipton Spire, Pakistan, photo Fabio Dandri Bubu the first person to bring 5,13b over 5,000 m. The unrelenting ascent was all the harder due to the really bad weather which was ever changing; no cloudless blue skies for us but snow and hail every day for at least an hour at a time. So, in addition to the stress and technical difficulty of the climb itself, most the route was opened in the snow battling the extreme cold. The eastern exposure of the route also meant there was little or no sun. All these factors contributed to Bubu opening no more than an average of 100m a day, however little the distance, it took all day long. The surprising thing is that the whole route was climbed on-sight, simply using nuts and friends and at belay stations, a nail and spit hammered in every now and then (except on two occasions when the rock was particularly wet and the crack wide). Mauro

1,100m of fixed ropes were left on the wall to be used for the next day’s climb from the same altitude reached the previous day. These ropes were essential for transporting climbing gear up long the route. To photograph and film the climb, I hung from the ropes for hours on end trying to find the perfect shot, rather difficult considering I was swinging to and fro.

With a lot of effort, we lifted almost 300 kilos of gear along the first half of the route so that we could set up two ortaledges.They hung at 500m altitude over a sea of ice and became our home for nine days; four square metres of nylon suspended over nothing but air where we chatted, joked, slept and ate. Therefore, besides our climbing gear and portaledges, we also had to carry backpacks full of clothing, sleeping bags, 40 litres of water, ovens, pots and pans, packets of dehydrated and canned food, energy bars and a solar panel to recharge video camera batteries. Lovers of comfort, we also brought along a cassette player. In addition I also took with me a few kilos of reflex and digital cameras, film and batteries.


The expedition was organised in no time at the end of June. Craving this great adventure helped us organise everything in just three weeks. On July 15th, Mauro “Bubu” Bole, Mario Cortese and me were already on board our Pakistan International flight to the Trango Valley. To tell the truth, getting to the famous towers isn’t as easy or as quick as it sounds. After getting through some red tape, we had a 21-hour coach trip to Skardu, a small town used as a starting point for all treks to Baltoro, ahead of us. The trip was a nightmare but we still hadn’t experienced the seven-hour jeep ride to Thongul surrounded in dust and jumping along like kangaroos; the suspension held up, pity about our backsides!

At Thongul we started walking; two days on dirt and sand until we reached the crowded village of Paiyu and one day on the moraines up to the Shipton base camp, a lovely triangle of green which survives the threat of the nearby glacier. If you know the way, it takes two hours to cross the moraines and the glacier to get to the start of the route. We didn’t so it took us more than five hours the first time round. We set up a tent and spent the next ten days there. Mauro

The exceptionally variable weather initially forced us to stay put and extend our acclimatization at the base camp until 26th July when we finally were able to set up the tent at the base of the wall and open the first pitch of the route. The bad weather set us back a few days yet again. It was only at the beginning of August that we finally got some rhythm and on the 10 th we reached the first 500m and set up our portaledges. On the 15 th we got to the crest under an incessant snow storm, finally wiring Women and Chalk.

A great achievement given the altitude and harsh conditions, pushing the stress, exhaustion and hardships we encountered into second place. We entered our makeshift homes in the evenings tired and starving; Bubu most of all, exhausted and tried by the arduous climb.

See the Trailer for the movie of the expedition. The movie is produced by Barcode Films and will come out in December 2001.

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