Current Pakistan Time
Dispatch 15: Since Mike's last note we have been overwhelmed by the
intensity of events and are sorry to have not kept you as up to date as
usually we have. We had additional problems utilizing the 17yr old fax machine
at the K2 Hotel in Skardu!! We will make up for our delay with some nice
supplements to follow about planning and route information, lessons learned
and a general expedition summary. Stay tuned for the follow ups in the days to
come. Today’s installment is “final summit bids”, tomorrow we will have “base
camp to awaiting jeeps” and then “why fly when you can ride the Korakoram
Final Summit Bids: When we last left off Fred had just come down from the
Rocky summit after a fine bid for the true summit. He arrived exhausted and
content at C4 as Walter and I were arriving from C3. Fred was spent and ready
to head down after a good sleep. Walter and I made about melting water for a
soon to be undercooked supper at 7500m and learned what lessons we could from
Fred. We decided to leave even earlier that Fred in hopes that this would give
us the extra two hours we would need to reach the true summit.
After a truly horrible and
restless night in the lumpy and icy C4 tent, kicking each other for space and
trying our best to hydrate and force some food down, we roused ourselves,
melted water for the summit push, managed to warm up and put on our boots,
wiggled into our down suits, jammed our hands in to our large overmitts and
left the relatively warm confines of the Millet tent’s frosted interior. The
air at 7500m at 6am was brittle but mercifully calm and we left hopeful.
Walter and I each reached the col during the course of the day but neither of
us had moved quickly enough to be left with time for the true summit. Walter
contented himself with 7800m and fine views for his personal summit.
I had felt stronger than
Walter early on and reached the col at 11am with time for a run at the rocky
summit. Pushing on up the ridge alone for 3 and a half hours I reached the
second ante summit at 2:30pm. In consult with Mike at BC we decided that I did
not have the reserves of time and energy to proceed to the tantalizingly close
rocky summit. A mere 50-100 vertical meters away but too far for safety. Alone
on the narrow ridge, 500m above my nearest companion (and 3000m above the
next) and already a bit past my turnaround time, I selected a small memento,
took as many photos as I could, slowly turned around and began what I knew
would be an arduous and exacting two day descent.
The demands of working my way
down the well-seasoned and ever slimmer feeling fixed lines across narrow
corniced ridges and short rocky steps kept me well occupied and time passed
quickly. Before long I had reached the col, then the slopes below and finally
it was 7pm and the sun was setting on a small tent just before me. Walter
popped his head out and handed me a hot chocolate. What a pleasure it was to
be in the company of a friend once again!.
Reflecting on my day I
understood better the decisions made through the decades by mountaineers who
after years of planning and many weeks of effort stopped short of their
objectives by scant meters. In our team’s case many of us made challenging
choices to turn away from our goal due to weather, cold, physical limits and
time constraints. That we all returned from great and remote heights with our
fingers toes and lives is testament to personal strength and prudence that
will enable us to return again to the rare air of 8000m peaks. We received no
small reminder in the sad news from K2 and G1 where the mountains claimed
lives while we were climbing on Broad Peak.
Our loss of a tent at C3 due to avalanche and watching, from less than 50m
away, a significant avalanche pass between C1 and C2 had already alerted our
senses to the serious nature or our own route on Broad Peak. (Nevertheless,
like moths to flame we were all drawn by the phenomenal views of the uppermost
slopes of K2 and most of us already have at least one major objective
For Walter and I the climbing was not done and we descended on the morning of
the 22nd both exhausted and with great care. Missing fixed lines and black ice
under slushy snow added greatly to the objective dangers of descending. In
clearing out C3, C2 and C1 I became encumbered with additional weight that
left me descending from C1 in the dark.
A warm night, little water and low motivation led me to use the entire night
in a trancelike descent to BC. I was blessed with a stream at 1am from which I
drank greedily but the blessing turned into a nightmare when I rappelled into
the waterfall just below it at 2am. My hands and arms soaking wet I finished
off the evening rappelling into the 10m abyss of the crevasse which no longer
came accompanied with a snow bridge.
All in all it was a benign and fun epic that left me trudging into BC at 5am
with gentle morning light illuminating the valley. I had but time for hot tea
and breakfast before packing up and departing with the rest of the team at
8am. No rest for the weary.
Base camp to Hushe and awaiting jeeps
After a short day hike to Concordia we made our way on the 24th to Camp Munir,
by way of the spectacular Vigne glacier, where we stopped in preparation of a
very long day to come over Gondagoro La. It should be noted that the 24th of
July was the only day all summer in which we experienced any rain, a short 2
hour sprinkle. Wrested from our group sleep-over in the mess tent at midnight,
we trudged like zombies in single file across a large sweeping glacier and up
the steep snow slopes of Gondagoro La.
Fixed ropes made the ascension very easy and less than two hours later we
found ourselves in pitch dark on the pass. So much for the breathtaking
panoramic views of the entire Korakoram range! The descent was a bit more
harrowing as icy fixed ropes held onto by hand simply do not have the staying
taking power of a figure-8 and harness!! An exciting 2 hour descent brought us
out onto the flat glacier below and the start of a 20km adventure across a dry
glacier-scape, moraines and mesas all the while in the awesome presence of the
By 7pm all of us had made our way to camp where we encountered a Nepal-style
tea house with coca-cola and sprite which we consumed by the gallon. Along the
way Walter made friends with a man from Karachi who offered him real coffee
and great hospitality, While Walter sipped cappuchinos Fred and Sultan awaited
him asleep by a huge raging river crossing!! Fred and Alex had both suffered
over the pass with gastrointestinal problems that left them vomiting for
several hours. This malady had struck Julen and Patxi the day before and was
soon to hit Walter and me in the days to come. We think it had to do with the
dzo (a cross between cow and yak) meat we had in Concordia and Munir.
During the course of this day it seemed that we were suddenly in a different
world. A single day’s transition from snow and ice, boulders and stones to
sage brush, gnarled pine trees , wild flower meadows, wooded glades and golden
wheat fields. Too much for our senses to take in and we sipped cokes in
bewilderment in the shade of large trees. We were all staggered tha it should
take such little time to return from the stark environment of the korakoram to
the gentle world of the Hushe Valley.
I personally was reminded of the unbridled joy expressed in the wonderful
image taken by Galen Rowell of a returning korakoram climber standing to a
small grassy knoll with arms stretched high and rejoicing in the return to the
world of living things. It seemed more than serendipity that Walter should
make nearly the exact motion as I approached him in a similar spot!! It is
quite a thing to experience the transition back to the world of birds and
butterflies after being in exile for 35 days.
The next morning we took an easy 3 hour stroll down to Hushe and the home of
our high altitude porter Taqui. We were greeted at the town limits by singing
children and treated to a fabulous home-cooked meal at Taqui’s house and felt
welcome and at ease in this small but lush town at the edge of the populated
world. Soon we were loaded onto the trucks and on our way back to Sakrdu and
the K2 hotel.
We left the mountains sad to lose the simple comeraderie of our small team and
the strange community of climbers we had found but eager for showers and soft
More updates to follow
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