In July/August of 2003 Adventure Consultants organised an expedition to the Baltoro Glacier region in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan, with the objective of climbing Gasherbrum I and II (8,080m and 8,035m).
23 July 2003 - Patience & Energy Conservation
Unless you are a go-for-it super-alpinist, a summit push at very high altitude follows a methodical process that cannot be rushed. So what has changed from yesterday? I have joined Darren and Paul at Camp 3, the High Altitude Porters humped a big load to Camp 3, and as planned the other members took an extra acclimatisation day at Camp 2.
As forecasted, afternoon convection cloud appeared for the first time in a few days. This did not pose problems but makes one very aware that good weather cannot last forever. Considering our timing right now preparing for a summit approach we do feel rather vulnerable in this regard.
So what else happened today? Pitching tents at Camp 3, naps, endless cuppas, radio schedules and an awareness that we are high, very high in one of the most amazing mountain regions of the world. This is Darren & Paul's altitude record at Camp 3. Also lots of time dreaming, strategising and mentally preparing for our move to Camp 4 (7,400m) tomorrow and the much anticipated summit on the 25th which is still on. I guess we all wonder quietly to ourselves how are we going to go without oxygen up there, what the day's going to be like, whether we're going to be up to the test. Time will tell.
Mike Roberts from Camp 3, 7,000m on Gasherbrum II
24 July 2003 - A Bookmark in our Progress, by Darren Scott
Owrrrgh from Camp 2! Yes our foray towards the summit that was due for completion tomorrow, the 25th, has been put on hold by the weather gods. Paul and I have been pushing our O2-less acclimatisation schedule, trying to make the most of the glorious weather we had been experiencing. Mike had put in the hard yards and joined us in Camp 3 making us sound a solid summit team, but it all came to a halt overnight with snow and wind from the west so instead of heading up to Camp 4 we descended in poor visibility down the scary seracs to join our colleagues at Camp 2.
Before departing, Paul used the opportunity to discuss the forecast with Miss Poland from another expedition. Note, the limited numbers of women in the area means that most are automatically crowned. After weeks of living at close quarters covered in the detritus of human existence, I think the misty conditions may have improved his chances.
So now we wait again, not for our bodies to acclimatise but for a few days of clear weather to make a dash for the top. 'Dash' is probably a bit optimistic since after our two nights at 7,000m we are noticeably weaker. We are gambling that we will get a break sooner rather than later and so avoid having to go back down to BC to recover.
Already we are starting to fantasise about food and more importantly about beer! As a Muslim country, Pakistan has a dearth of drinking establishments although there is speculation that one can be found in Islamabad. We will seek to clarify that situation in about three weeks time. On reflection, though I suspect the desire for such unreachable food and drink products is more about the comfortable surroundings in which they are found.
Here at Camp 2, the conditions are fine but without comfort, the tents shake and the snow presses up outside. People retreat into whatever state helps them pass the time. Small things take on great significance; some music, a journal or in my case a simple bookmark reminding me of home.
We try to look through the bad weather towards conditions that will again allow us to climb towards our goal. The forecast says we are here for two more days, may the hours speed by.
25 July 2003 - Camp 2 to BC, by Darren Scott
Wow, what a difference a day makes, in this case a day at 7,000m. The unstable conditions that dogged us recently disappeared this morning leaving clear climbing weather. As reported yesterday our plan was to head back up but a short test up a rise near camp revealed the alarming deterioration in our strength. Our Japanese colleagues had already decided to return to BC after uncomfortable nights at Camp 2.
After much hand-wringing angst, Mike, Paul and I reluctantly headed down also. More than 10 days above BC including 5 days at or above 6,500m was a bit too much for our bodies this time round. So down we went, a little drunkenly along the sagging snow ridge then rappelling the horrid ice chute, arriving in Camp 1 just after lunch.
The fine weather resulted in a stressful trip down the glacier to BC, softening snow bridges requiring careful footwork. Mr Masui had a moment with one crevasse, losing his pack in the process. Paul turned speleologist to retrieve it. The ice fall section was barely recognisable but there was nothing vague about the welcome from the BC staff. Haji, the flute playing BC cook, turned on a great spread including some fresh cucumber that he procured from somewhere. Unfortunately our shrunken bellies couldn't do justice to his efforts. Tomorrow starts up to three days of BC rest. Time for a wash and a change of clothes.
26 July 2003 – Sleep
As we pass our time at BC in rest and recovery mode we will keep you updated with some Base Camp vignettes. Today's was written by Darren Scott and is entitled 'Sleep'.
Like many things, you don't really value sleep until you are missing it and after a period of deprivation, doesn't it feel good to get it. Last night, back here in the relatively thick air of BC, sleep came easily and it provides stark relief to the quality obtainable at altitude. Would that it be as simple as just breathing a little faster? Oh no, the high altitude sleeper must contend with the dreaded periodic breathing. This uncomfortable affliction comes about because of the high respiration rate, a side effect of which is to lower the concentration of carbon dioxide in the lungs. CO2 levels are, of course, your trigger for taking another breath and so you stop breathing, but there is another trigger for breathing, a lack of oxygen, which by listening to my tent mate kicks in up to a minute later. The result is a panicked gasping as your body tries to catch up. Panicked gasping, you guessed it; you have just started the cycle again. It's like trying to sleep with two constantly arguing flatmates. No you don't need to breathe, yes you do. Needless to say, it's nice being back in Base Camp for a while.
By Darren Scott at Gasherbrum Base Camp
27 July 2003 - Life Near the Border
So here is another short Base Camp vignette from Darren Scott entitled 'Life near the Border'.
As many of you would know there is a long-running dispute between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir region. Currently it is partitioned by a Line of Control (LOC) that is patrolled by both sides. As it happens our BC is just a couple of kilometres away from Conway Saddle, the Military post on the LOC near where it intersects the Chinese border. These posts are fully active and we regularly hear practice firing of small arms and machine guns.
Climbing expeditions in this politically interesting area attract special attention from the military, such as another military post at BC and a permanently attached Liaison Officer (LO) for each expedition monitoring our movements and actions, including photography. The LOs, most often Majors in the Pakistan Army, are generally courteous and helpful. However get a few of them together on a quiet day and they get up to mischief. Yesterday a couple wandered over to the Base Camp Pakistan Military post and had a quiet word to the commander. A short while later they are conducting shoulder mounted rocket practice. The quiet mountain afternoon was punctuated by the whoosh of rockets closely followed by their explosion on nearby mountain targets. Just another day near the border.
By Darren Scott, at Gasherbrum Base Camp
28 July 2003 - Profile of Takashi Ozaki
Snow and inclement weather has delayed the departure from BC to Camp 1 for the final summit push. At this stage, we're hopeful that tomorrow will produce a more pleasant day.
Profile of Adventure Consultants guide Takashi Ozaki, by Mike Roberts:
In 1982 a young, proud, impetuous Takashi, at the cutting edge of oxygenless Himalayan climbing, found himself at a vertical to overhanging blue ice impasse 400m from the summit of K2. Soloing on virgin ground, without a rope, 1,000m above a tenuously pitched camp and with an overall exposure of 3,500m, Takashi was forced to retreat. His crampons penetrated the ice mere millimetres. The following day he watched his best friend fall to his death while descending from a successful summit attempt. This was the first foreign expedition to K2 on the Chinese side. Takashi describes this expedition as a major turning point in his climbing career particularly in terms of developing humility and an attitude of safety.
Takashi's prolific history of climbing had an unlikely beginning. Physically weak and feeble as a child, Takashi only began hiking due to his passion for butterfly collecting, realising in the process he had a love for the mountains but a fear of heights. As Takashi matured he felt a need to confront this fear and during his late teens headed to the European Alps to pursue his dream of climbing.
Over three seasons Takashi completed many of the big name European routes, including the Bonatti Pillar. Then disillusioned after several tragic accidents Takashi gave up climbing only to be lured several years later to the challenge of Himalayan big mountains. Between 1977 and 1986 Takashi climbed six 8,000m peaks, plus two ascents of Everest, and was considered a rival by Reinhold Messner to becoming the first person to ascend all fourteen 8,000m peaks.
In the mid-1980's Takashi married a beautiful French Embassy employee named Frederique and started a family. In 1984, still afflicted by the 8K climbing bug, Takashi found himself climbing Dhaulagiri in the winter, with his wife and 3-week old baby near to Base Camp in Jomsom. The same year he attracted a lot of media attention by climbing 6,000m Island Peak with his one-year-old son on his back. Laughing, Takashi says that it is hardly surprising that his son prefers beaches to mountains. His Himalayan climbing ambitions are juggled in between family trekking and adventure holidays.
Frederique's position in the French Embassy took them to exotic locations including Kathmandu, Dhaka, Tokyo, New Delhi and Hong Kong where the family now resides. During the six years of residence in Nepal, Takashi was involved in making documentaries on topics such as the snow leopard, musk bear, honey hunters and the yeti. In 1996 they were a key organising force in a documentary team that made the first ascent of the highest mountain in Burma (Myanmar), Hkakabo-razi at 5,881m. Located in the eastern corner of the Himalayas it took two attempts of three months each to complete the ascent of this politically and physically difficult of access peak.
Takashi's return to the world of 8K peaks took place on the Adventure Consultants 2001 Makalu Expedition where Takashi became one of the successful summitters.
Today Takashi is committed to a career in professional guiding and has been training in the Japanese IFMGA system. He has been happy to share his immense expertise in the high Himalaya with the Adventure Consultants GI and GII Expedition and is a valuable member of the team. But where will Takashi live next? It looks like France, where his 15-year-old daughter will soon start school.
21 July 2003 - Return to Camp 1
It's 11am, we've made it to Camp 1 in good time, it took about 4.5 hours for all, everyone doing pretty well so that's a good sign of acclimitisation. We will rest at Camp 1 for the day - it's another absolutely stunning, perfect day here. Darren and Paul are resting up at Camp II and feeling OK. Everyone's in high spirits and things are going well. Till tomorrow, Mike.
22 July 2003 - On the Move
This report attempts to outline the logistical coordination of our GII summit attempt for families, friends and other interested parties.
Today was yet another fantastic day on GII. I think it was the fifth summit day in a row, I'm losing count. Paul and Darren made the big jump from Camp 2 to Camp 3 at 7,000m where they are overnighting. The three High Altitude Porters mobilised from BC to Camp 2, carrying valuable and heavy oxygen supplies. They then dropped back to Camp 1 for the night. The remainder of the members did the hard pull from Camp 1 to Camp 2 where they will have a rest day tomorrow. The steep snow areas on this section of the route are slowly being transformed into challenging ice slopes.
Moving on, the plan for Darren and Paul is to rest at Camp 3 tomorrow, the 23rd, and then to move to Camp 4 on the 24th in preparation for a summit attempt without oxygen on the 25th. All going well it is my plan to join them tomorrow at Camp 3.
Takashi and our three Japanese members plan to move to Camp 3 on the 24th. They also plan to attempt the summit on the 25th but they will use oxygen and start from Camp 3. As you can see we have different schedules for those using oxygen and those not using oxygen. So there you have the basic plan. Fingers crossed that the jetstream cooperates and stays well to the north as the weather forecast predicts.
I'll be sure to keep you updated as the crucial summit push approaches. Meanwhile, thoughts of all members are very much with loved ones, families and friends.
Mike Roberts, from Camp 2 at 6,400m on Gasherbrum II
29 July 2003 - The Eyebrow Effect
Some of you who are interested in weather forecasting may be aware of something called Complexity Theory, a branch of mathematics dealing with complex systems. In such systems, tiny perturbations can grow into massive and unpredictable effects. In weather systems, this phenomena has been popularised as the 'butterfly effect', where a metaphorical butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon eventually giving raise to storms elsewhere on the planet.
Well, we believe we have identified a similar effect at the local level here in the Karakoram. We have named it the 'eyebrow effect'. Careful observation over the past days has confirmed our original hypothesis that was formulated on the 23rd of July when we were last at Camp 3. It occurs when a member of the expedition says 'Could be summit weather soon?' accompanied by eyebrows raised in askance. Inevitably it seems, as is the case today, the result is wind and snow to such an extent that we are back in our sleeping bags waiting for it to pass. Today we were desperate to get to Camp 1 but visibility was too poor to navigate the icefall. Bad weather is forecast for Friday's summit attempt that will now delay our start for three or four days. It is certainly frustrating being acclimatised and now rested but having to wait on the weather.
The next time a member initiates the eyebrow effect we may test another new theory; that the group pummelling of the offender is an effective counter measure.
By Darren Scott, still at Gasherbrum Base Camp
30 July 2003 - At Base Camp, by Darren Scott
'Nothing can be less like a mountain at one time than the same mountain at another'. Lesley Steven, 1871.
Today was a glorious day at Base Camp, barely a cloud in a warm summer sky, rimmed by the imposing Gasherbrum peaks. This was the kind of day that mountaineers dream of, if they are in a position to summit. In contrast we are only poised to start our bid to the summit and require more than a single day's good weather to begin the process. Our plan is to move to a camp each day: Camp 1, Camp 2, Camp 3 before heading to the summit from Camp 3 at midnight on the 4th day.
The current weather cycle seems to alternate between a few good days and then a few bad ones making it difficult to pick the best departure day. In addition, the jet stream that has been well to our north has started to move back towards us compounding our weather anxiety.
The pressure to get it right is immense. Time continues to trickle by and we realise that there is now probably only one attempt possible for GII. GI has slipped from our grasp, perhaps for the best (having already claimed three lives from other expeditions). It is interesting to look at the dinner table and see the strain on the faces in the gaslight. Everyone feels the need to get moving to take action to climb, however again we will go to bed expecting to sleep late and then spend another day looking at the sky.
31 July 2003 - The Best Laid Plans
Well, we have finally snapped. Our faith in the ever changing forecast has diminished to such an extent that we are just going to bash off on our summit attempt anyway. Currently, there is a storm due on Sunday, which we plan to sit out at Camp 2 (6,500m), and move on when it is over. Now that the decision has been made, people who had been idly passing time are moving with alacrity. Loads are being made up, personal gear checked and communications arrangements finalised.
We may lose or we may win, but we will never have this opportunity again. It's just a case of striking out on the adventure and accepting the result.
By Mike Roberts at Gasherbrum Base Camp
1 August 2003 - Back at Camp 1
On another incredible day in the Gasherbrum Cirque, the team slogged up the icefall to Camp 1, across a neve completely devoid of pleasure. No crowds and basically no wind made it a hot crossing and we are not looking forward to the final return journey down the now circuitous route.
Tomorrow we return to the steep ice faces and snow arêtes to Camp 2 and we will then know whether we rested or atrophied in our six-day stay at BC. The weather forecast continues to be unclear and we will just take one day at a time. Que sera que sera.
By Mike Roberts, from Camp 1 - Gasherbrum II
2 August 2003 - Poised at Camp 2
Today all members made the arduous trip from Camp 1 to Camp 2. I think everybody is thinking 'phew, thank goodness that is the last time I will do that section of the route'.
Progressively today the sky clouded over which has us all wondering how tomorrow's weather and thus the plan of the day will unfold. It is a balancing act, move to Camp 3 too far ahead of the anticipated summit weather and one tires at the 7,000m elevation rather than rests. Those using oxygen have more leeway in this respect. Noticeably everybody is psyching up for the huge demands of summit day. We'll keep you updated tomorrow.
By Mike Roberts at Camp 2, Gasherbrum II
3 August 2003 - Stormbound at Camp 2
Left to its own devices, the human mind can take itself on some amazing journeys. Without any physical tasks to carry out, lulled by the constant crackle of graupel on the tent fly, it seems to reach back through time re-evaluating its experiences in the cold glare of hindsight. Its current state seems to have a significant bearing on the compassion with which it delivers its verdict.
Such is the position that we find ourselves in today. Tent bound by wind and snow, running to the end of our permit period and recently in receipt of a forecast that has the bad weather continuing for at least another three days. Our slightly depressed mind has taken pleasure in reminding us of the long stretches of great weather while we were acclimatising. Could we have pushed harder? Could we have altered our schedule? Could we have endured some more of the bad to take advantage of the good? Well, such questions are singularly unhelpful to our current situation they are nonetheless occupying our thoughts at present.
We have supplies at this camp for three days after which we either have to move up or down. Time passes snug in our sleeping bags, rising periodically to melt snow for drinks and food, as we wait on the weather.
By Darren Scott, at Camp 2 on Gasherbrum II
4 August 2003 - The hand of doom...
It is mid-afternoon on the 4th at Camp 1. The soothing sound of the cooker plus the incessant sound of snow falling on the tent, combined with a Milo threatened to lull me into a deep and relaxing sleep. Sleep last night at Camp 2 was fitful to say the least and it was not just due to the rarefied air. Continuously falling snow and strong winds are the ominous ingredients of avalanches. Perched on an exposed ridge, Camp 2 is potentially threatened by steep avalanche slopes from above. It took very little time this morning consulting with my guiding peers to make the call to evacuate Camp 2 due to the avalanche threat.
The weather forecast signed our fate. A deep low is expected to bring significant amounts of precipitation over the next few days, which is surely happening. Also the jetstream is on our brink. The decision to descend was not taken lightly considering the whiteout conditions and unstable snow. Furthermore the decision to descend effectively ends our summit chances. However it is better to retreat and fight another day. A decision validated by the rumble of another avalanche just this second.
Adding to the epic nature of the descent, Darren had developed breathing difficulties overnight which were overcome by the use of oxygen during the descent. As I write this Darren is recovering well, and the reasons for his breathing difficulties remain an enigma.
What next? We will wait for the weather to clear, the snow to consolidate and then we will begin the process of unwinding the logistical pyramid. The bulk of the work in recovering Camp 3 and Camp 2 will fall to our three High Altitude Porters who we were reunited with today at Camp 1.
By Mike Roberts, Camp 1 on Gasherbrum II
5 August 2003 - Return to Base Camp
Several hours hard slogging through fresh snow saw all members back at Base Camp, gratefully dropping heavy packs and in time for a massive lunch. At Paul's radio request, baked beans, eggs and chips were on the menu. All that was missing was a pint of Newcastle Brown or the equivalent. This was one of those occasions where the enforced sobriety of Pakistani culture seemed in need of relaxation.
Intermittent snow showers throughout the afternoon did little for drying our damp sleeping bags and gear. This morning we briefly had a view of the summit pyramid of G2 covered in heaps of fresh snow and being swept by tempestuous westerlies. Base Camp is the place to be right now for sure.
By telephone we confirmed today that our porters left Skardu this morning with Nazir Sabir guide Gulam Hassam. Gulam is a colourful character and friend of both Paul and myself from previous expeditions. We are sure he would endorse our sentiments for a beer.
Thanks to a kind offer from a neighbouring Spanish expedition, beef was on the menu tonight, of the canned variety. We have found companionship with the Spanish during our storm retreat from Camp 2. Our three High Altitude Porters are psyched to recover Camp 3 tomorrow, which will involve a very early start. For the rest of us, the breakfast gong will sound at 8am. So, cheers for now.
Mike Roberts, Gasherbrum Base Camp
7 August 2003 - The Storm Has Broken
The storm has broken; the sunshine is lifting our blanched spirits and drying our damp gear. Cloud, driven by strong westerlies, continues to linger about the high peaks. Rest and recovery was the name of the day for members. Our three High Altitude Porters meanwhile forced the route the Camp 2 in deep snow to recover gear.
A potential drama has yet to unfold on G2. Two members of a Polish expedition have not been heard from in six days and it is thought that they had been trapped at Camp 4 (7,400m) in the storm. We hope to hear word of their safety later today from our High Altitude Porters.
What follows is an account by Darren Scott of descending from Camp 2 to Camp 1 in the storm, entitled "Making It Back".
I knew something was wrong when I started to dig out my ice axe and crampons. They had been placed carefully at the back of the tent but now were under more than a metre of snow. Critical pieces of equipment, they would be put to solid use as we descended from Camp 2 away from the ever-increasing avalanche danger. But no matter how hard I breathed I still could not catch my breath. This is crazy, I thought. I was OK at 7,000m so why am I getting dizzy here at 6,500m? Hmm, feels like I am losing blood pressure. Hands are freezing. This is getting serious.
One of my mantras in climbing is 'getting to the top is only half the job'. Well we hadn't made it to the top but there was still a serious piece of work to make it back to safety. Camp 2 to Camp 1 involves delicate traverses and steep descents on thin snow arêtes followed by multiple rappels down the ice chute, past anchor stations that receive more than a little verbal encouragement regarding their integrity. Still it is hard to convey here the gripping nature of the situation. Snow continues to stream in at near horizontal angles and above us in the gloom the rumble of avalanches reminded us of our precarious situation. We really had to get moving but how to do that when you can barely stand?
The feeling of helplessness is profound. Imagine a place where little more than 10 paces in front of your tent puts you down a 500m face, where each movement and decision must be sound to avoid the myriad of disasters that await the careless. Then imagine being a careless, bumbly climber in the middle of it! All I could do was lay down, feeling like I was losing consciousness.
It is about this time that one starts to appreciate the steady nature of one's companions. Paul went off to secure oxygen equipment from Takashi, who had already begun descending, a task in itself. Mike rearranged loads and forced drugs and fluids into me. Once on O2 things were better as far as breathing was concerned but significantly more difficult for climbing. The bulky oxygen mask prevented vision of my feet and the air leaking out of the top fogged my goggles. Under Mike's watchful guidance we made our way carefully down the arête. Occasionally a step would collapse into the void but in whiteout conditions, you can't see the exposure so it is not so bad.
Rappelling is a different story. Lowering yourself without vision, hoping that you end up in the right place and that the anchors are good for the next rappel. Quite spooky. Once again it was good to have companions there again to help and check belay devices before the next section. Eventually after about three hours of effort and concentration we made it to the base of the ridge. We roped up and headed out across the glacier to Camp 1, arriving to a welcoming committee of other climbers and High Altitude Porters. Never have I been so happy to crawl into a damp sleeping bag. I haven't had many bad days in the mountains but this was certainly one of them and it was great to have support of companions helping out.
Now we are back in BC in relative comfort, waiting for the porters to arrive. G2 dominates our skyline, although now we barely look at it, our relationship with it has ended. It is time to go home.
7 August 2003 - Marking Time at BC
It has been a long timeless day under the Karakoram sun at Gasherbrum BC. Firstly, the two Polish climbers trapped at C4 for five nights have descended safely.
Our three High Altitude Porters have had a day of hard action recovering tents and equipment from C3.
For the remainder of us, it has been a matter of marking time as we wait for our porters to arrive so the return trek can begin. Popular activities include: leisurely meals, playing Backgammon, sleeping (of course), reading, sorting and drying equipment.
Today we were invited to a sumptuous outdoor Japanese lunch by a friendly neighboring expedition. Thanks to the cooks for a fantastic and memorable meal. Meanwhile, still on the subject of food, Paul is making a cheesecake for tonight's desert and is threatening us with homebrew - dreams are free! Riveting stuff isn't it.
Hurray for now
8 August 2003 - BC Holding Pattern
It was another day in BC 'holding pattern'. Spectacularly picturesque 'jet stream clouds' created a flurry of photographic activity this morning. Video was probably better able to capture the rapidly changing sinuous cirrus forms.
What else happened today? We found ourselves on the periphery of the rescue of an Iranian climber with pulmonary edema who appears to be now stable at lower elevations. A lot of broken tent poles were repaired.
I found myself the unlikely winner of a Backgammon competition. My teacher of this entertaining pastime, Paul, fell by the wayside. Even Darren with his dislike for number games outside of work hours has taken to playing. On the ever topical subject of food Paul (who else) managed to secure all sorts of exotic meats from a departing Spanish expedition.
Just when I thought we had seen the last of Darren Scott's wonderful cybercast contributions, Darren tells me he is going to tackle the subject of what motivates him to climb. This should feature tomorrow.
Hurray for now
11 August 2003 - Finally Underway
After five days of glacial lassitude at BC, today was a major shock to the system. The first day of our return trek involved eight hours of rough glacial hiking at 5,000m, which everyone found tough. It was clear today that our porters felt there were a wide range of possible routes across the Baltoro Glacier. Porters were scattered far and wide and from time to time would find themselves dubiously placed and in need of Paul or myself to wield an ice axe and cut a row of steps.
Tomorrow will see us up and away at 2m heading for the Gondogoro Pass and down the valley to Hushe.
Below is Darren's last contribution to our cybercasts:
Some final thoughts for those who will silently (or otherwise) ask 'Why?'.
This is meant to be a short examination of our thoughts on the matter of mountaineering motivation and, at times, may seem to slip into Messner-like hyperbole. For that, we apologise. First, a quote.
"In the 20th century death terrifies men [sic] less than the absence of real life. All these dead, mechanised, specialised actions, stealing a little bit of life a thousand times a day, until the mind and body is exhausted, until that death which is not the end of life, but the final saturation with absence." (Raoul Vaneigen)
That sums it up really. The drive to climb mountains stems from a need for the richness that this life has to offer.
We travel in the footsteps of Ghengis Khan and Alexander, in the lands of Lapis Lazuli and brightly coloured carpets.
We join with climbers from other nations, eating their food, learning their customs.
We marvel at the stark beauty of our landscape, which requires no special effects for perfection.
We confront life at its most basic, the avoidance of death, but stand in mute denial when the unthinkable happens.
We rely on our companions and feel somehow enriched when that trust is repaid.
We see with absolute clarity the importance of partners, friends and family left behind.
We feel alive.
Thanks for being there.
12 August 2003 - Gondogoro La (Pass)
Starting in the very early hours, the expedition crossed the Gondogoro La, the last significant obstacle between BC and civilisation. This pass is particularly challenging and technical but is also the shortest route home. Enterprising locals from the village of Hushe have placed fixed ropes for security and charge on a per person basis.
The much-celebrated views from this pass unfortunately eluded us due to low cloud. However, everyone was excited to make this difficult crossing. After a steep descent of some 900m we were treated to our first greenery in 5 weeks and an amazing array of spectacularly colourful alpine flowers. Descent brings ever thickening air which is accompanied by a natural high and sense of well being.
Five hours' walk tomorrow will bring us to the road-head at Hushe Village where we will camp the night before undertaking the 7-hour jeep drive to Skardu the next day.
13 August 2003 - Shangrila
Our trek concluded today in the village of Hushe. This small village is the home of our climbing Sirdar, Rosi Ali, who had prepared a welcoming afternoon tea for us which more closely resembled a mini banquet. Paul's juggling shows attracted a huge crowd of children and adults alike.
The friendly town of Hushe acted as a buffer for re-entering civilization and allowed us to rest weary legs after the testing Gondogoro La section. Our cook Haji and cook assistant Abbat prepared a wonderful dinner using local produce. The freshly picked potatoes were exquisite and the mangoes with NZ whipped cream sure made dessert popular.
14 August 2003 - Shangrila, Skardu
This morning we drove by jeep to Skardu where we stayed at a resort called Shangrila - paradise on earth. We all had high hopes of flying to Islamabad and avoiding the two-day bus trip on the Karakoram Highway (KKH).
Despite perfect weather, several days of cancelations had created a backlog of passengers that ruled out any chance of our being able to fly. The highlight of the day (apart from getting clean) was the final dinner with the Nazir Sabir staff. They had laboured mightily over the past 7 weeks to make this expedition a success, and although there was no summit, everyone is coming home safely.
15 August 2003 - Shangrila, Chillas
So here we are tonight staying at another hotel called the Shangrila in the town of Chillas on the KKH. Tomorrow evening (August 16) should see us back in Islamabad, provided there are no road blocks.
There is no doubt that this has been a tough expedition, and everyone deserves to be tired. However they should also be satisfied with their efforts on the mountain, which simply would not let us climb it this time. Big mountain expeditions are the result of daring dreams, and sometimes those dreams take a while to come true.
4 July 2003 - To Paiyu
With inclement weather preventing flying, the expedition left Islamabad by road on June 28 and drove to Chilas via the Karakoram Highway, and then on to Skardu. They continued driving in jeeps to Askole at 3,000m, the last village accessible by road. The on-foot part of the trek to Gasherbrum Base Camp then began with a walk to the campsite at Jhola (3,200m) yesterday. They were joined by 152 Balti porters at Askole. Today the journey continued to Paiyu (3,600m) bringing them near to the start of the 62km long Baltoro Glacier. Tomorrow they will spend a rest day at Paiyu and explore the local area. There have been a few of the expected minor ailments, such as blisters, but all are doing well so far and the weather has been perfect, apart from being very hot.
As the team gets to know each other some interesting facts are emerging. Everyone was surprised to learn just how many of Pakistan's 8,000m peaks Rozi Ali has been on - his tally so far is: Gasherbrum II summit x 3, Gasherbrum I expeditions x 3 (summit x 1), Broad Peak summit x 1 and Nanga Parbat summit x 1! The superb cooking skills of Haji Baig are also being much appreciated.
6 July 2003 - Long Trek to Urdukas (4,200m)
Today was by far the hardest day yet with a long day travelling over the glacial morraine for 9-10 hours to reach the campsite at Urdukas. Mike Roberts reported that everybody is doing well, going by their good appetites and high spirits. Thankfully some rain clouds moved in and the showers brought the temperature down from blisteringly hot, which was much appreciated. All day they have gazed at the phenomenal scenery of Cathedral Towers, the Trango Group, Nameless Peak, Uli Biaho and so on. Eye candy for climbers!
A great rest day was had at Paiyu yesterday. The expedition was treated to a porter Balti Hunza dance for many hours. There was another surprise - a musical performance from Haji Baig, who it turns out is a famous Hunza flute player and has brought three different flutes with him on the expedition. Expedition member Sato is a classical flute player who plays every day at home in Japan, so this was rather special.
7 July 2003 - Urdukas to Goro II (4,500m)
Reporting by phone from Urdukas this morning, Expedition Leader Mike said 138 porters had just left camp and they would follow shortly for the trek up to Goro II today. Another tough walk is expected, following and crossing the glacier all the way. The expedition medical clinic has been in full swing overnight whilst in camp, with the porters queuing up to have their ailments treated - everything from blisters to chronic diarrhea to sunscreen.
There are reports of 27 expeditions in the Karakoram this season but so far the various groups are quite spread out so the AC group have largely had each campsite to themselves. All going well they should reach Gasherbrum Base Camp on July 10.
9 July 2003 - Arriving at Gasherbrum Base Camp
Today the Adventure Consultants Gasherbrum I and II Expedition completed the 7-day trek to Base Camp (BC), which is located at 5,150m. On this final stage we had 109 Balti porters. For the third day in a row, the giant mountains in our midst were mostly enveloped in low cloud. Early morning starts meant we were drinking tea in our tents by the time the snow started falling. Yesterday for a period of about five minutes at Concordia, cloud opened to reveal the daunting summit of K2 far, far above us - an incredible sight.
Our BC site is located on the moraine at the junction of the Abruzzi and South Gasherbrum Glaciers. Preparing our BC site took a lot of work, stacking rocks and cutting ice. Thanks to our local guide, Baig, and helpers yet again.
After confirming that all our expedition equipment had safely arrived I, as expedition leader, gave what is a traditional speech to the Balti porters, thanking them for their hard efforts, and for safely and timely transporting our supplies. For those who are unaware of mountaineering history in these parts, the Balti folk of Northern Pakistan, whilst being warm, friendly and colourful characters, do have a history of mischief and going on strike. Thus the reward for not going on strike was to receive 'baksheesh', a tip, which reated a great cheer.
Within half an hour of arriving at BC, a Hungarian expedition had cordially invited us to a 4.30pm viewing of a movie called 'The Raging Bull'. Yes, we have DVD's in these parts! This title, I might add, got the imagination of some members going. At a time when we are less occupied, we anticipate accepting such hospitality. There are approximately ten other expeditions at Gasherbrum BC.
Tomorrow we will have a rest and organisation day here at BC and we'll celebrate Emiko Masui's birthday. Haji said he'll do some cake baking in her honour! Snow is still falling here, this is Mike signing off from BC.
11 July 2003 - South Gasherbrum Glacier to Camp I
Firstly, a quick recap on last night. Our cook, Haji, not only produced a wonderful cake complete with candles for Emiko Masui's birthday, but also treated us to a classical rendition from a one hundred-year-old Hunza flute, quite fantastic.
Today our two High Altitude Porters, Rozi and Ahmad, carried our first loads to Camp I at 5,900m and pitched a tent. Takashi, Paul and Mike reconnoitred the South Gasherbrum Glacier and carried loads to 5,800m. A 4am start on this moonlit morning revealed beautiful light on the six Gasherbrum peaks and multitude of other immense mountains surrounding our location. This first trip above BC is always a hard slog, and today was no exception.
Meanwhile, members remaining at BC realised what at first might have seemed like thunder was in fact a volley of anti-aircraft fire echoing in the Base Camp region, which we were assured is practice only by Major, our Liaison Officer. From our BC the Pakistan Army Camp on Conway Saddle, at 6,000m, is visible. Apparently only 4km away on the other side of Conway Saddle is the Indian Frontline encampment. Thank goodness the long-simmering Pakistan-Indian border conflict is presently in a non-confrontational phase with the prospect of peace talks. May they be successful.
Tomorrow all members will head for an acclimatisation load carrying trip to Camp I.
Adventure Consultants Gasherbrum I and II Expedition 2003 Dispatches
The Adventure Consultants Gasherbrum I and II Expedition 2003 has begun! The team members have travelled to Islamabad in Pakistan to meet for the first time. They will set off from here by road or air (depending on conditions) for Skardu and the beginning of their trek into the Baltoro region to reach Gasherbum Base Camp.
The expedition team members are as follows:
Expedition Leader: Mike Roberts - New Zealand
Assistant Guide: Takashi Ozaki - Japan
Hiroyuki Kuwabara - Japan
Kunihiko Sato - Japan
Yukiteru Masui - Japan
Emiko Masui – Japan
Darren Scott - Australia
Paul Rogers - New Zealand / UK
High Altitude Porters: Rozi Ali and Saeed Ahmad - Pakistan
12 July 2003 - Fine Weather in the Karakorams
Update from Mike Roberts at Gasherbrum Base Camp: Today I have remained at BC while all other team members are engaged in an acclimatisation trip to Camp 1. Through radio communication, I know all is proceeding well. Today is stunning and the streaming jetstream clouds affecting the upper 1,000m of the mountain adds to the beauty. One of our Pakistan staff members was beset by strong abdominal pain yesterday. Today he is feeling better and fortunately, my services in organising a helicopter rescue are not required.
The following is written by Darren Scott, one of our team members:
The Pursuit of Mountaineering.
Mountaineering is an intensely personal pursuit requiring strong desire and self-discipline. Once engaged in the struggle to climb a mountain it is easy to forget that your journey affects not only yourself but all those around you. On the 10th of July, we witnessed first hand the intensity of emotion that accompanies this endeavour.
Since our arrival at BC, we had been aware of the dark cloud hanging over one of the GII Expeditions. Their climbing team had been out of contact somewhere above Camp 3 for the past eight days. During this time there had been some fairly bad weather and it was thought that they would have been without food for the past three days. Their BC team was at the point of giving up, fearing an accident of some sort. A couple of times a day they would take out their radio and try to make contact only receiving back static, adding to their despair.
Then around 12 noon today we watched them try again, from a little rise near our tents. It was the same process, call...static, call...static, but then call.....faint voice. Even though we could not understand the language we knew it must be them because the caller straightened, and went back with an excited question. On hearing the answer he turned and yelled to his team mates, who until that point had been strewn about the camp, listless and despondent. For one incredibly long moment they were frozen as the good news sunk in, then they began to cry, hugging each other, falling to the ground and rolling around in an amazing display of emotion. Some called up the mountain giving voice to their relief after days of tension. What had looked like a significant climbing tragedy was over.
Other expeditions emerged from their tents and stood around and clapped. The leader thanked everybody and cried some more. After eight days they finally had their friends back.
13 July 2003 - Acclimatising
The task of acclimatising to the Camp I altitude of 5,900 m continues. At this stage, one balances acclimatisation day trips with rest days. Hand in hand with this goes the provisioning of Camp I, and the stashing of personal high altitude clothing and equipment. A typical day trip to Camp I begins with a wake up at 3am, breakfast at 3.30am and hopefully departure at 4am, which is first light.
Today was a good/bad day. In other words, cloud and high winds prevented climbing up high but visibility on the lower route was fine. On the return from Camp 1, typically in the early afternoon, a sumptuous lunch is eaten and today, afternoon cloud nullified the intense Karakoram heat and made for ideal napping. The cycle repeats tomorrow.
Expedition Leader, Mike Roberts
15 July 2003 - Perfect Day
Today all the expedition team members are having a rest day at BC, on a beautiful perfect weather day in the Karakoram. They intend to move up to Camp I tomorrow to stay and will then spend an extended period at Camp I and above on Gasherbrum II, treating Camp I as an Advanced Base Camp (ABC). The phone will travel with them so we can expect regular updates on their progress.
16 July 2003 - First Night at Camp I
Patience is definitely a virtue for those whose goals in life include climbing a big mountain. Big in this case describes something taller than 7,000m, since the climb to these altitudes requires the body to undergo significant acclimatisation, or "acclimation" in the USA, and it is not something that is taken lightly.
Yesterday we watched the helicopter evacuation of an injured climber from Camp I (5,900m). This a helicopter's extreme operation limit, increasing the risk of a crash, so they bring a backup. This expensive safety feature is in part to get the unacclimatised crew down to an altitude where they can survive.
As you are doubtless already aware, when it comes to improvement the human body just won't be rushed. Its task at altitude is to manufacture increased quantities of red blood cells and make the most of the ever decreasing quantity of oxygen in the atmosphere. Typically we try to take 3-4 days to accomplish a 1,000m height gain, this increases at heights above 6,000m. We do this by using load carries to the next camp to provide the stimulus for the body to get to work.
Today we moved to Camp I, where some 50 tents from 14 expeditions are pitched in close proximity. English is definitely a second language here. Tomorrow the acclimatisation process continues with a load carry to Camp II. The afternoon will be spent laying around drinking water letting the body do its own thing in its own sweet time.
Mike Roberts signing off from Camp I, Gasherbrum I and II
17 July 2003 - Camp II Established
Today, our three expedition High Altitude Porters and two guides established Camp II. Early morning snowfall delayed our departure but before long the temperature was soaring as we moved up the steep lower sections of the South West Ridge of Gasherbrum II.
Camp II is a confined space on a knoll and is safe from avalanche danger. It took two hours hard digging to prepare a tent platform. To our surprise we opened up a large crevasse, which precipitously undermined the tents of another expedition pitched nearby. On our descent from Camp II time was taken to re-fix anchors connecting sections of fixed rope. Ice screws have a habit of melting out in intense heat, and we experienced that today.
Meanwhile, the rest of the members retrieved the equipment cached at our 5,600m depot. Back-carrying, as we call it, is a great way to adapt to newly gained sleeping altitudes. Tomorrow it is planned for all members to do a day trip to Camp II. The old axiom of climb high/sleep low.
Meanwhile, a predicted high pressure system and good weather for later in the week has a lot of expeditions heading for a summit attempt and consequently, the upper mountain is receiving a lot of activity. Deep snow on the upper mountain has made conditions slow and difficult and in the last couple of weeks jet stream winds have been high, preventing summit attempts by teams who are ready.
Report by Mike Roberts
19 July 2003 - Action in Action on Gasherbrum
The last two days have been eventful. On the 18th, AC members climbed from Camp 1 to Camp 2. Darren Scott remarked "I came looking for adventure and I found it between Camp 1 and Camp 2'.
Of the fourteen 8,000m peaks GII and Cho Oyu are considered the easiest to climb and are often compared. Last year expedition member Kunihiko Sato summitted Cho Oyu. He was aghast at the increase in intensity of climbing GII, especially going up to Camp 2. The ice slopes that lead to Camp II are up to 50º and challenge one's ability to co-ordinate breathing with stepping at altitude. Take too many steps and you'll quickly go anaerobic with your body in oxygen deficit, not to mention the problems of creating lactic acid build up.
Every mountain has its peaks and troughs, so to speak. The height difference on Everest between Camp 1 and Camp 2 is about the same as GII, 5,900m to about 6,400m. On Everest, you have a relatively gentle walk up the Western Cwm and on GII you have a challenging climb up icy slopes and airy ridges. The impression of expedition members is that over the past decade the lower slopes of the SW Ridge of GII have definitely become more challenging.
Amidst the toil and grandeur of the day the Karakoram mountains resounded with a volley of Pakistan Army mortar fire, which was just practice as Major, our Liaison Officer, again reassured us.
Emiko Masui stopped just short of Camp 2 and is happy to call that her high point. She now wishes to focus on the fantastic trekking this region has to offer, plus the food at BC is great.
Today members are very happy to be resting, eating and recharging their batteries. Darren and Paul have elected to rest at Camp 1 while the remaining members descended to BC. After the rest day, Darren and Paul plan to sleep at Camp 2 for two nights. Then if conditions allow they will spend a night at Camp 3 (7,000m) which will mark the completion of their acclimatisation program.
Other members will have an additional rest day at BC tomorrow and then begin the step by step process of climbing to and sleeping at Camp 2 and Camp 3. It is planned for all members to co-ordinate a summit attempt on GII in about 7-10 days, weather permitting of course.
This morning our three High Altitude Porters pitched tents and cached supplies at Camp 3. They have now returned to BC for a hard-earned rest day.
Also today one of our Nazir Sabir staff members was evacuated to Skardu by helicopter as he was suffering from severe abdominal pain. A civilian contractor usually liaises with the Pakistan military and arranges for an emergency helicopter evacuation. In this case, according to strict army protocol, two Lama helicopters flew to the military camp, half an hour's walk above Base Camp, and conducted the rescue in a very efficient manner. We wish Baig a speedy recovery from what appears to be a kidney stone problem.
After the departure of the helicopters, I found myself outside drinking tea from the very finest of china with the very hospitable commanding officer of the military camp. All this seemed quite incongruous considering the "mad max" nature of the army camp and the spectacular day on which many people, allegedly 25, have summitted GII.
Minyana for now, Mike.
20 July 2003 - Sunny in the Karakorams
Today was perfect! The troublesome jetstream is well to the north and skies are blue. The members resting at BC were treated to a spectacular parapente descent from Camp 4 to BC by a member of the Spanish expedition. Showers, sumptuous meals, oxygen briefings combined with rest and before you know it, it'll be 4am and we will be on our way to Camp 1 again. Meanwhile, radio conversations reveal Darren and Paul arrived at Camp 2 in good time where they are presently reseting.