Attempting The Toughest Climb In The World: The Athletes Of Link Sar

It is every alpinist’s dream to achieve a first ascent, but when that first ascent is in one of the most treacherous, remote and picturesque places on the planet it becomes even more special.

When Graham Zimmerman, Steve Swenson, Mark Richey and Chris Wright set their sights on becoming the first to summit the infamous ‘Link Sar’ (7,041 metres) in the Central Pakistani Karakoram they knew it was going to be a tough climb.  Their planned route would take them  via its 3,400 metre south-east face and imposing and exposed climb for even the most experienced of climbers.

So let’s get to know a little more about these big dreamers and hard climbers:

Graham Zimmerman:

Born in New Zealand, raised in the States. This is where Graham was first introduced to climbing, he then went to NZ for University and became a large part of the climbing community in the Southern Alps. After graduating, he moved back to America and became focused on alpinism ever since. This has taken him on expeditions from Alaska to Patagonia to Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan and all over the US and Canada where he has established dozens of significant new routes on rock, ice and snow.

Image By Graham Zimmerman

Graham is an incredible alpinist but also a filmmaker and filmed footage for the ‘Link Sar’ film on the climb itself. He is a multi-disciplined expert who excels in the wild corners of the world, having climbed new routes in the Pakistani Karakoram, shot films on the volcanoes of the Atacama Desert, and run complex logistics in the wilds of Ethiopia.

As a filmmaker, he has worked with brands and organisations including REI, Outdoor

Research and Outside TV. As an alpinist he has won prestigious awards in New Zealand and the United States for first ascents on four continents. Born in New Zealand, Graham has a degree in Geography (Glacial Hydrology) from Otago University in Dunedin. Now based in Bend, Oregon, he lives a life focused on creativity, inspiration, precision and adventure. For his climbing exploits Graham won the 2010 New Zealand Alpinist of the Year and was a finalist for the 2014 Piolet d’Or (alpine climbing’s equivalent to an Olympic gold medal) and won the 2017 Cutting Edge Award from the American Alpine Club.

Steve Swenson:

Born in February 1954, Steve is an American rock climber, mountaineer and renowned author. Steve also served as President of the Board of Directors for the American Alpine Club from 2009 to 2012. 

Swenson is known for his big mountain expeditions to the Karakoram range. One of which he wrote a book about, Karakoram: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict. This book was shortlisted for the 2017 Banff Mountain Literature Award. Swenson has been in more than 15 expeditions to the area.

Image Taken From Steve Swenson’s Instagram: ‘Friendships On The Mountains’ 

A highlight of Steve’s climbing portfolio is the 2012 ascent of the most inhospitable Sasser Kangri II with Mark Richey and Freddie Wilkinson. At the time this peak was the second highest, unclimbed mountain in the world to which they became the first to summit. For this achievement it was only fitting they receive the highly coveted Piolet d’Or.

For Swenson, Link Sar is another unparalleled accomplishment to cap off an astonishing climbing career. The retired engineer spent more than 50 years scaling rock and ice and managing expeditions to the biggest mountains in the world. Climbing the remote northern side of K2 without any oxygen in 1990with a small team, he then went on to  summitMount Everest solo, in 1994 without oxygen. In 1997, he earned a lifetime achievement award from the American Alpine Club.

He is married with two sons and after a 35-year consulting engineering career related to water and wastewater infrastructure projects, Steve retired to become a full time climber and alpinist and has never looked back. 

Mark Richey:

Mark fell in love with rock climbing at the Quincy Quarries near Boston when he was 15 and by 18 was confidently climbing and exploring the Alps. After climbing his way through Europe, Mark went on to achieve multiple first ascents and climb some of the world’s tallest mountain peaks. Over the years he has made more than 40 expeditions to the Himalayan and Karakoram regions.

Image Taken From Mark Richey’s Personal Pool 

His first ascents include, East Face of Cayesh and the South Face of Oecshapalka in Peru, unclimbed rock spires in southern Greenland and Pakistan, Yamandaka in the Indian Karakorum, and a close second ascent of the Shivlings East ridge in the Garhwal Himalayas. For his 31st birthday in 1991, Mark climbed Everest as part of the first New England expedition to the summit.  Living in Essex Mass with his wife Teresa and daughter Natalia, Mark has become an expert diver, bird watcher and nature photographer and has taken up surfing. He owns and operates Mark Richey Woodworking and Design, which build and instal high-end architectural millwork, and is President of the American Alpine Club.

Chris Wright:

After an early move from the UK to the US, Chris grew up in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains before finding climbing while studying cinematography at New York University. Afterwards, he became a fully certified IFMGA Mountain guide in 2006 and has been climbing and skiing across the globe ever since.

This has taken him from western US to Alaska, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Africa, Mexico, the Andes, and Canada

Image Taken From Chris Wright’s Personal Pool

His achievements include everything from big walls to virgin summits, first ski descents and traverses, and his guiding career has taken him from the Matterhorn to Denali, and from Pakistan to Mont Blanc. Chris has received the prestigious Mugs Stump and Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Awards for his ascents of hard new routes on unclimbed peaks in the Karakoram and the Himalayas, as well as the rest of the world, including the famed East Face of Alaska’s Mooses Tooth. He is easily excited by rocks, snow and ice, and by travel, coffee, beer and greasy food of any sort.

‘Link Sar’ is also an extraordinary short film about this team of mountaineers making the summit of their lives. Directed by alpinist Graham Zimmerman, it’s showing as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s upcoming Radical Reels Tour of Australia this October.

You can now STREAM the 2023 Radical Reels Program ONLINE at AdventureReelsTV.com

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