K7 isn't Everest, but race to top is keen

Competition between Australian and Japanese athletes is reaching a peak. Teams from the two countries are vying to be the first to conquer one of Pakistan's most difficult peaks in the Himalaya Mountains. The peak, known as K7 , is in the Karakoram region of northern Pakistan. K7 is only 6,934 meters high (about 22,750 feet), but five attempts to scale the summit in the past 20 years have failed. No one has tried to scale K7 since 1981. The eight-man Japanese team from the University of Tokyo's Ski Alpine Club will begin their two-month expedition on June 17. The Australian team arrived in Pakistan in April. Neither can begin the final ascent before mid-June because of snow and ice conditions.

The four members of the Japanese team interviewed en route from Tokyo to Islamabad were quietly enthusiastic. Using detailed sketches and notes from the earlier, unsuccessful expeditions, they described their strategy for the assault.

''We have concluded there are only two possible routes to climb K7,'' said team member Michiyuki Matsuda.

''One is to climb the hanging glacier. This could be the fastest, but it is also the most treacherous. The vertical face of the glacier requires both rare expertise in ice climbing and a quick assault to avoid creating avalanches.

''Another way is the north ridge, which we are going to try,'' he said.

The ascent along K7's rugged north face is slower and technically more difficult, the Japanese climbers said, but it is safer than scaling the hanging glacier. The north-ridge route is rocky and will require extensive use of ropes for climbing up and later rappelling down its thousands of feet of cliffs. During the past year, the Japanese have prepared for this rigorous adventure by scaling mountains in northern and western Japan.

Asked about the Australian team, which is taking a route he discounted as impractical, soft-spoken team leader Toichio Nagata said, ''Of course, we expect to beat them to the top.''

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