The European climber reached Hunza alone, by bus, on the notorious Karakoram Highway. Here, he spent his time in remote villages sharing his knowledge and passion for the mountains with the locals. He gave out crampons, ice axes and ropes and taught glacier safety and rope techniques to young climbers and budding alpinists. There was no organisation funding his efforts, no sponsors – just hard earned savings.
During his stay in the Hunza Valley, James always kept an eye on the weather. When a promising weather window appeared, he took a break from teaching and ventured into the heart of the mountains. In this way he opened three new routes in completely unsupported alpine style: the North East Wall of Passu East 7295m (two and half weeks alone in the mountains), a first ascent of Passu North 6884m and the South ridge of Maidon Sar 6090 m.
In the printed version of the Montana magazine, Martin Stolárik and I always award our annual “Big Heart” prize: an award for climbers that made an impression on us due to their spark and attitude. It’s all about projects driven by pure motivation, without excessive promo, done in a small team and in alpine style. We have decided to give the 2021 “Big Heart” award to twenty-four-year-old James Price, for his inspirational climbs and philosophy on his Karakoram expedition.
James is a British Alpinist currently living in the French Alps where he enjoys working as a healthcare assistant in a nursing home.
WHEN MOUNTAINS CALL
Does your job allow you to take off to the mountains regularly?
My job’s certainly not easy, when I’m at work, I usually have long, intense days… and it can be a challenge to schedule climbing into my weekly routine. So I usually work winters to save up and then climb through the summer. The good news is there’s lots of work in the medical sector and it’s very easy to start up again.
Why did you choose Pakistan for the 2021 season?
I had already been to the Hunza valley in 2020 and during that first visit I made lots of friends, many of whom were keen to explore the mountains. Some of them were already working as mountain guides or porters but no one had proper equipment or knowledge in rope techniques and glacier safety. So I decided to return with some equipment from France, and try and teach some of the basics: using ropes and just generally moving around the mountains in a safer way.
So the locals are interested in climbing the mountains?
Yes! In recent years there has been a big shift to venture into the mountains for leisure. Especially amongst young people, who no longer view the mountains as just a means to make money (hunting, mining, guiding and portering) but also as a place to explore and enjoy. They’re excited! During my time there I was able to climb some five and six thousand meter peaks with the young locals. An amazing experience for them and for me.
How do the young Pakistani climbers move around in the mountains? Are they agile?
For climbing, they have incredible potential: they are gifted physically and have a very good respect for the mountains and nature. I think we’ll have plenty of strong, good climbers coming from Pakistan on the scene pretty soon. Some of the locals have also tried making skis and snowboards with planks of wood to make the most of the winter snow fall.