American explorers Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk first attempted to climb India’s legendary Meru Peak via the Shark’s Fin as a group back in 2008, but stormy weather conditions forced them to divert their course just 100 metres from the top - tantalisingly close to the uncharted 21,850 ft summit.
They weren’t the first team of elite alpinists to be beaten by the Himalayas’ most technically challenging and dangerous mountain peak, but two years later the determined mountaineers returned to conquer it and successfully achieved the world’s First ascent of the Shark's Fin route, Meru Peak.
Speaking to Guinness World Records in a recent interview, Conrad explained: “The central pillar of Meru, the Shark’s Fin, was unclimbed when we tried the peak. Combine this with the aesthetic nature of the line and it was an obvious attraction for us.”
The group had known each other for a long time prior to the historic expedition as part of The North Face athletes team, with Conrad and Jimmy embarking on a climbing trip together as early as 2001. Conrad then met Renan in 2005 and they took on their first mountain in Nepal.
Renan was involved in a serious skiing accident in 2011 which left him with a broken spine and fractured skull, but it was important to the three men to go back and scale the summit together – and they did, less than 12 months later.
sharks fin team
Image credit: Jimmy Chin
Considered to be centre of the universe in Buddhist mythology, the Shark’s Fin is essentially a 4,000 ft wall and the steepest and most demanding line to take up the enormous Meru Peak.
It took the trio 12 days of gruelling climbing in temperatures of around -20ºF to finally get there safely.
“The hardest moment was when the portaledge [hanging tent] snapped and we were struck by falling ice. We were not certain we would make it to the summit,” Conrad said.
Although the trio's friend Chris Fiegenshaw was stationed at base camp with a radio allowing the team to contact him should they encouter problems, for the trek itself the team had only each other for support, carrying their own gear and taking it in turns to “lead the pitches” – a method which sees the leader of the group ascend a section of the peak, place their gear down, before stopping to anchor himself to the mountain rock in order to protect the other climbers from falling.
With Conrad, Jimmy and Renan having become the first people in the world to ascend the Shark’s Fin - a feat many experts had believed to be impossible, they hope that others will follow in their footsteps.
However, there could be a long wait for a new set of adventurers to take on the challenge. “It might be 20 years before the second ascent of the Shark's Fin route. It generally takes a generation before the next party wants to try the route,” Conrad says.
A documentary called Meru, filmed by the three explorers during their expedition and directed by Jimmy and his wife, was released last year after debuting at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. You can watch the trailer below.