Current Pakistan Time
Dispatch 16: Post Expedition Update #2: The drive back
to Skardu from Hushe was considerably easier and more dramatic than the ride
to Askole we had taken to start the expedition. We passed through lush mature
fields of wheat, ripe apricot orchards and towns which seemed considerably
more affluent than their Askole counterpart. I had never seen an apricot tree
and was transfixed by the manner in which the translucent tangerine color of
the fruit contrasted with the velvet green of the trees' leaves. Combined with
a backdrop of 7000m snow capped sharks tooth peaks and towns with buildings
reminiscent of the Lhasa's Potala Palace and we found the entire ride
Arriving back in the familiar hustle and bustle of Skardu we
felt a sense of relief that our major adventures had come to an end. All we
had to do was shower, pack up, have a fine dinner and catch the plane in the
morning. Fred and I spent the afternoon sleeping and then headed out in the
early evening with John for a shave and to shop for traditional Pakistani
outfits to wear on the plane (as we had NO clean clothes to speak of). I had
accumulated about 3 months of long grey beard and it was quite a thing to see
4 inches of fur carved with a straight blade off of my face.
We had a wonderful amble around town, picked up some local
nuts and fruits, bargained for our outfits and a few gift items and enjoyed a
return to the laid back people of Skardu. We finally settled on a great little
shop with 380 rupees (about 7 USD) for high quality suits. Returning to the K2
Hotel we showered, donned our new clothes and joined our team for a final
dinner. We struggled to recognize each other at dinner as nearly all of us had
lost significant facial hair by this time. Particularly well disguised came
our beloved Sultan who walked past me several times before I had the slightest
realization that this was my good friend of 6 weeks!!
Our quest for a cold beer with real alcohol continued to be subverted as even
our finest connections had not a single source for fresh ale. It must be said
that Hunza water is significantly more powerful than Skardu water and and a
few bottles of this mixed with mango juice became an instant hit our first
night back!! We had been assured that a bathtub full of frosty lager submerged
in ice would be awaiting us but promises are easy to make and keep clients in
the remote confines of base camp hopeful and happy. We were glad for the
illusion and in truth did not miss the chance to add a hangover to our long
journey to come.
We awoke in the morning packed showered and moved to the parking lot to await
the airport shuttle. As is customary the clients wait at the hotel until the
plane is reported to have landed at the airport. We waited past the usual time
and began to watch the weather which seemed overcast but benign. At about 10am
we were informed that we could hop on the baggage bus and take a two day ride
to Islamabad or rest for a day and hope for the best the next day. Malte alone
among us had a flight on the 29th and could not take the risk. We bid him a
fond farewell along with a smug bit of pity as we were certain we would take
the easy one hour flight and meet him for supper the next day. We spent a
glorious day at the K2 hotel sipping tea in the garden and enjoying fine views
of the Serengeti-like plains below the hotel. Walter among all of us truly
seemed to have found his retirement home and became an lawn ornament fixed
upon two wicker chairs. In the evening he was to be found regaling a clustered
group of German trekkers in his mother tongue and thoroughly enjoying his new
position of authority on the Karakorum.
We watched Walter and thought of our own return, the stories
we would tell, the questions people would ask and wondered how we could ever
convey our own experiences. It is not an easy thing to answer with any depth
and richness the question "What did you do this past summer?" in the time your
family and friends will truly remain focused. I have been reading Joe
Simpson's newest book at the same time as Rum Doodle and it would seem that
some smoothly blended version of the two would work well. The incredulity and
absurdity of the 40,000 and 1/2 foot peak joined with Simpson's ability to
expand nearly infinitely small moments of terror and joy would be the best
expression of my own experience I can think of.
The moments of crossing knife-edged rock ridges at 7900m,
stepping down a few steps of black ice in an unroped section with a full pack,
vigorously extracting myself from a 2am waterfall, looking up at 5am and
seeing K2 gloriously bathed in purple hues, putting my medical skills to work
on a seriously ill Nepali Sherpa, singing happy birthday to Patxi in the
Basque language, flying past Nanga Parbat, hearing a class III avalanche
(according to Mike!!) slide by not 50m from my tentů..so many moments and each
one of them deserving of a context, description, comparison and reflection.
How does one sum up an expedition of a lifetime in such a way it makes sense
to those without such dreams and experiences. I envy the easy and loose manner
of writing Simpson manages as it leaves me sweaty-palmed and feeling that I
had actually been there with him. Good for me to have something to aim for!!
As you can imagine the next morning arrived with even more
dubious skies and we readied ourselves for 48 hours of aircon hell. Sure
enough at 10am we were told to toss our bags in the small coach and jump in.
The air was cool and we were hopeful that this was indeed the new bus we had
been promised. Within 10 minutes the power driving the awaiting coaches aircon
was diverted to kinetic energy--that is to say as soon as the wheels rolled
the air-conditioning ceased and we began to sweat and stick to our seats (as
would become our custom for the next two days).
We were lucky that we had a small crew and nearly two seats
per person. We were unlucky in that the shape and surface of the road
eliminated the idea of stretching out and sleeping. To the few who tried this
they found themselves alternately whacking their head against one side and
nearly being ejected out the open (hey it was hot) double-door on the other.
Most of us resigned ourselves to arms out the window and heads laid among the
softest materials we could find (bundled curtains was the fluff of choice
given that we had packed everything and anything of real warmth).
I had the added joy of having developed a significant gastrointestinal
infection during the course of the night and spent the first day curled up and
groaning. Because of my condition I also missed the free lunch of curried
chicken and cokes by a raging river. Looked like fun for the rest. As Patxi
and Julen had already experience this once-in-a-lifetime journey several years
earlier on a GII expedition they also engendered some sympathy on the part of
the rest for having to endure the rigors of the hot ride to Chilas.
The ride is along the famed Karakoram highway and along the massive Indus
river. Mike, as a kayaker and rafter, spent considerable time imagining the 32
foot rafts which would be necessary to negotiate the class 5 and 6 waters we
watched boiling hundreds of feet below us. The highway itself reminded me of
the route 1 south from Eureka to San Francisco if it was reduced to only one
lane and from time to time that lane was cut in half by mud slides. Windy,
rough, no guard rail, a fair amount of traffic, the road gives drivers ample
opportunity to test breaks on hairpin turns as well as when suddenly face to
face with oncoming fully laden trucks carrying a tremendous amount of
I am sure that all of this and much more has been described by other authors,
let me simply tell you that every word is true and that no one has been able
to fully encompass the terror and dread which leaves passengers numb after a
few hours. By the end of the day we simply looked up when we heard the screech
of brakes and noted the size and weight of the oncoming vehicle.
The scenery on the first day is bleak and passing through dusty cliff towns
one is struck by how tough and resourceful the people living on the edge of
the possible must be. The famed Spanish climbing team "al filo de lo imposible"
can at least go home when their climbing expedition is done. These people live
incredibly challenging lives with work that is either dangerous, difficult or
both and deserve the full time use of the Spanish title.
We arrived late at our hotel and after a fine supper and a few cokes headed
off to bed with the hopes of leaving at midnight for the Islamabad. 3:30am
arrived and our driver from Islamabad had not. We ate an early breakfast and
napped bags packed ready to leave.
At the appointed hour of 6am we loaded up on to the new aircon bus (equipped
with exactly the same system as the last) and headed off for the 12 hour ride
to the Shalimar hotel. In drastic comparison to day one we were to find our
road wider, our mountains more rounded and our valleys broader and greener.
We dropped down through northern California like (or the Sierras of Andalucia)
valleys and emptied out onto successful agricultural lands in the afternoon.
Many of us were struck by how much the area looked like the Kathmandu valley
both architecturally and agriculturally. Well painted houses and more elegant
homes began to emerge and it was clear we were in one of the more affluent
areas of Pakistan.
A town called Hybadabad (we think) seemed to be the most so with universities,
medical centers, military complexes and clean and elegant community parks. The
presence of women was much greater here particular uncovered faces and heads
which we had not seen at all in Skardu.
The long streets and heavy traffic of Islamabad was soon before us and our
arrival at the Shalimar Hotel came quickly. Entering the air-conditioned
immense foyer we knew we were finally done with the rough travel. All of us
except Fred and John that is. Fred still has to get himself overland to Delhi
and John had plans to visit the middle eastern countries and "stans" of the
former USSR. Then again they are both nuts so we will discount their obviously
flawed plans for months of rough travel on the heals of an expedition. We love
In any event a fine evening of BBQ lamb and chicken by the pool with a band
playing was marred only by the continued absence of any real beer. We sent
John and Fred on a mercy mission but they returned empty handed and we
contented ourselves with gallons of sprite and pepsi. We said sad and sincere
farewells and made hopeful plans for the future. The Polish route on Aconcagua
(with Field Touring) this winter looms large for many of us, Gasherbrum II
(also with Field Touring) next summer for a few and Makalu in two years sits
like a silent sentinel ahead of the Basques.
Mike and Walter and I spent the next few hours reducing our bags to the
official weights allowed and cramming dense objects into our surreptitiously
small carry on. In the end I believe that my carry on bag was in excess of
25kg but appeared reasonable. It was not until the third leg of my journey
that a representative of Virgin Atlantic commented on the bag. By that time I
was already on board and the plane doors were shut. Phew.
Mike meanwhile was redoing his ticket which had left him 1 1/2 hours to pass
customs, collect his bags transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick and reboard.
Emirates was fantastic in redoing his ticket and Mike ended up in business
class all the way the Colorado!!! (Alas Mike missed his connection in London
and had to spend the night in a Brighton hotel before continuing on.) Walter
and I had a final farewell coffee in Dubai and parted company hoping for a
reunion on Aconcagua this winter.
With this entry our company like the company of the rings parted company and
we each headed off for our next adventures. It was a fine group of people and
I am proud for the association and glad for the new friends. We spent a
wonderful time in an extraordinary place and look forward to what the future
will bring and confident that events will conspire to bring us together again
It has been a pleasure to be the official chronicler for our group and I hope
that I have done justice to my team and to our efforts on Broad Peak. I would
welcome any questions about the mountain and our group's experience. Please
pass them on to
Please stay tuned for our "lessons learned" and "trip
summary". We also hope to put out a route description that is more detailed
than anything we found before leaving including pictures of key spots.
More updates to follow
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