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Historic First Descent on Great Trango Tower: The Exclusive Story

The Great Trango Tower in Pakistan has long been revered among rock climbers for its extreme conditions and incredible appearance. We spoke with three skiers who just completed the unimaginable descent.
(Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)
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The summit of Great Trango Tower was bleeding close. But even once they reached it, Christina “Lusti” Lustenberger, Jim Morrison, and Chantel Astorga would only be halfway to their goal — to make a historic first ski descent of this revered granite tower.

Just below the final pitch, at the top of the ridge leading to the summit, the party stopped before a large crevasse. In 2023, this crux had foiled Lustenberger, Morrison, and Nick McNutt’s first attempt to ski the hanging glacier on Great Trango.

This time, however, The North Face athletes would not be stopped so close to their goal. They had spent months planning, preparing, and organizing logistics; they had traveled across the world and waited at high camp for 4 days for the perfect weather window.

Then, on May 9, they’d gotten it, and the climb had begun. When the athletes reached the high crevasse — the point that had turned them around a year prior — it was clear they would make it past. They crossed over and continued up to the final obstacle, a bergshrund. Morrison took the lead. Lustenberger and Astorga belayed him across and watched as he climbed to the peak.

First descent Great Trango Tower, Christina Lustenberger, Jim Morrison, Chantel Astorga
(Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

“Watching him reach the summit was pretty amazing,” Lustenberger told GearJunkie. “His last big trip ended in tragedy, and it was uplifting to see him stand on top after so much hard behind him.”

Lustenberger and Astorga then followed Morrison across. Standing 20,623 feet above sea level, they took in the view together. They basked in the moment.

But they hadn’t done anything historic yet. Many have climbed Pakistan’s Great Trango Tower over the years. Climbers first stood atop it in 1977. However, until May 9, 2024, no one had successfully skied from the peak’s lofty summit. These athletes had come a long way to change that.

So, from the top, they packed up their climbing gear, clipped into their skis, and dropped in.

Return to Great Trango Tower: A Second Attempt on a First Descent

Great Trango Tower’s imposing granite cliffs, glacial hazards, and technical pitches might look unskiable to the average onlooker. But to Lustenberger, it was a spellbinding objective.

“I mean, it’s the Trango Tower. Look at it. Why wouldn’t you want to ski it?” Lustenberger said when asked what inspired them to pursue this first descent. “Some wild terrain just draws you in with such immense curiosity.”

(Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

After the first failed attempt, she and Morrison almost immediately started planning their second. McNutt wouldn’t join this time, though, and the duo filled his spot on the team with another TNF athlete, Chantel Astorga.

“I’ve always wanted to ski something beautiful in the Greater Ranges of the world,” Astorga said. “When I saw a photo of the ski line [Morrison and Lustenberger] had dreamt up, I was immediately drawn to the beauty of it.”

That ski line dropped in from the summit, straight down the gut of the Trango Tower’s massive hanging glacier. The skiers would trend right, traversing the bergschrund again, threading a narrow ridgeline over stomach-churning cliffs, and ending on the final, safest pitch down to the bottom.

It would be well over 4,000 feet of vertical descent.

First descent Great Trango Tower, Christina Lustenberger, Jim Morrison, Chantel Astorga
High Camp at Great Trango Tower; (Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

It took the athletes days to reach the base of the mountain. The high camp sits just above 17,000 feet. When they arrived, they were ready for action, primed to climb, and prepared to make the historic first descent. But the weather was uncooperative. They were forced to wait at that altitude, suspended in anxiety, day after day. Lustenberger said she had stomach sickness and started feeling symptoms of HAPE.

But on the fourth day at high camp, their luck changed. Lustenberger felt better. The weather cleared, and their moment was at hand.

Making the Climb

The three alpinists took the same approach most climbers use to access Great Trango Tower. But they wouldn’t ascend the sheer rock wall with all their ski equipment. So they followed the same route up that they’d descend, scrambling, climbing, and breaking trail through waist-deep snow.

First descent Great Trango Tower, Christina Lustenberger, Jim Morrison, Chantel Astorga
(Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

According to Morrison, the crevasse wasn’t as severe of an obstacle this second time around. The snow was more stable, the weather held out, and the team traversed it without issue.

When they’d made it across, there wasn’t much to stop them from reaching the top.

“The most exciting moment for me was when we climbed toward the summit, and I realized we were going to pull it off,” said Morrison. “It had been such a long time in both planning and training mixed with so many failed attempts that the success of making it to the top felt really sweet.”

Still, Morrison said he reserved the full celebration for later. Their mission wasn’t in the bag yet; they still had to ski down.

Chantel Astorga; (Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

Skiing Great Trango Tower

The athletes clipped into their bindings. By that time, it was late afternoon on top of Great Trango. The sun was setting, and it was almost golden hour in the Karakoram mountain range. Astorga said it was a beautiful ride down.

Morrison and Lustenberger slashed their first few turns from the 20,623-foot summit in what Morrison described as “sun-affected powder,” while Astorga chose to rappel down the first section. All three rappelled down the crevasse. Then, they carefully navigated the glacier’s narrow summit ridge on their skis.

The snow got choppier, punchier, and crusty as they descended — but it was stable the whole way. There were no avalanche scares, no falls, no surprises whatsoever.

“The ski descent was amazing,” Lustenberger said.

Morrison and Astorga agreed — it was a really good run at the end of a very long day.

When they finally arrived back at high camp, it was around 10 p.m. They dropped their skis, ripped off their boots, dropped their climbing gear, took a load off, and relaxed for the first time that day.

Morrison said it was close to midnight when they’d finished eating dinner — and the next morning, they still had a 20-mile hike out to look forward to.

But they’d accomplished their goal. The Great Trango Tower had officially been skied for the first time in human history.

Making History, Moving On: What’s Next?

Unsurprisingly, all three athletes are already looking forward to the future — toward new adventures. They all want to continue pushing their sports forward and testing their limits. Astorga, an alpine skier who considers herself more of a climber, said this mission inspired and motivated her to grow in new ways as a skier.

First descent Great Trango Tower, Christina Lustenberger, Jim Morrison, Chantel Astorga
(Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

“I knew skiing with Lusti and Jim in the bigger mountains would likely open my mind to new ideas, styles, and opportunities,” she said. While she acknowledges that this was Lustenberger and Morrison’s vision, she was grateful to have had her part in it.

For Lustenberger, the most powerful part of this journey was watching her friend, Morrison, who lost his climbing and life partner, Hilaree Nelson, in a tragic ski accident in the Himalayas last year, make such a triumphant return to the top of the world.

“It was really special, I think, for him to have that and to hold Hilaree’s spirit with him up there,” Lustenberger said.

Christina Lustenberger, Jim Morrison and Chantel Astorga
(Photo/@thenorthface and Savannah Cummins)

All three athletes have new adventures lined up already for summer and fall. Astorga will be going to India to do more alpine climbing. Lustenberger is already dreaming up her next ice and mixed climbing adventure. And Morrison is excited to continue skiing in the world’s highest and most remote places.

But, at least in the short term, Morrison said, “I’ll just embrace summer and walk uphill a lot.”

Follow Christina Lustenberger (@christinalusti), Jim Morrison (@jimwmorrison), and Chantel Astorga (@chantel.astorga) on their Instagrams or view their profiles on The North Face’s athlete webpage.

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