Dispatches - FTA Broad Peak 2012 - JuneFTA Broad Peak
8th June - Arrival
Flew to Bangkok and onwards to Islamabad. Really surprised to be greeted by some rather attractive Pakistani women working the immigration desk. Much to our surprise and with apologies to Pakistan, our bags were almost first of the conveyor belt and we were waived through customs with a friendly wave.
Our selves and accompanying mutant duffle bags were quickly loaded onto a bus with the help of an eager local who was not so eager having being rewarded with my only available currency of Singaporean dollars. Rather amusing, while we waiting for everyone to load on the bus, was to watch a car being forklifted out of the way. We speculated on what damage this was doing to the undercarriage of the vehicle.
The road to the hotel was busy yet dark. Streetlamps on arterial roads seem not to be a priority.
9th June - Islamabad
Caught up with AL, Hamza and Matt in the moring and had an impromptu breakfast with Naiknam and Ashraf Aman from ATP. Checked in to see that Louis was not in a jet-lagged induced coma after having arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Picked up his bag of goodies from stu and had thoughts of Christmas mornings around a tree as we inspected the goodies within the duffle bag.
Ben and I went on a drug run and bought up half of Islamabad’s supply of antibiotics and high altitude medicines for less than $50. On the same little jaunt, we also picked up some local SIM cards for additional comms as we make our way North.
Robbo and I in a bout of extreme cowardly behavior forgo the delights of Pakistani cuisine and dine at Dominos pizza for lunch. Large pizza for 2 around $5..woohoo.
Late afternoon, as the local temperature drops below 40 degree C, we sequester some fine local chariots and make our way, rally driving style to the embassy district for some further shopping, and coffee at Gloria jeans. Kudos to our taxi drivers who manage to squeeze the maximum performance and radical maneuvers out of cars powered with 250 cc engines. (That may be an over-estimation of the engine’s capacity)
That evening we meet our liason officer who when not escorting ourselves to the mountains manages to find time flying fighter jets for the Pakistan air force, yup that’s right our LO is a fighter pilot and incredibly enthusiastic about the mountains of Pakistan having explored the base camps of K2, BP and Gasherbrums already. We feel like we have hit the LO jackpot.
That night, once again Matt came for the fore and lead us Pied Piper like to one of Pakistan’s finer dining venues. Unfortunately for us, one of Islamabad’s extended families of roughly 7,000 people had the same idea of venue choice and we endured over an hour of highly diligent waiter avoidance as a phalanx of support staff waited on the other group. Once the food arrived though it was spectacularly delicious and team FTA’s collective mutinous thoughts of a restaurant coup d’état were abated.
After last night’s restaurant fiasco, we entered the Wang Fu Chinese restaurant with jaded eyes and a feeling of slight dread. We ordered the fried rice, beef and black bean and sesame seasoned lemon chicken and prepared to wait. Within minutes food was arriving at our table. The chicken fired rice was nice and served half our group. The beef and black bean arrived and was quite tasty. And then the sesame seasoned lemon chicken arrived; we were expecting a yellow coloured dish but instead arrived a bright red dish. Upon tasting, this dish was special, special as in the heavens opened up and angels sang. It was absolutely delicious and on rapid consumption we ordered 2 more plates of the same dish and all left the restaurant full of chicken and very well sated.
Al and I went to the Sarinah hotel for a massage and look around. The hotel had an amazing gym with modern equipment and a pool full of expats. The masseuses were funnily enough from Bali, so Eka and I had a good chat about her home town of Ubud in Bali.
Most of the day was spent with additional shopping, another drug run at the local pharmacies. Once again our group hired two of the matchbox rally car taxis and made our way to the expat enclave for coffee and a mission to find The North Face Shop. We missed the TNF shop on the way up but found it on our return. A future reference for all inbound Islamabad tourists, the 'TNF shop' is worse than any Thamel counterfeit shop and cant be relied on for any climbing gear.
11th June - KKH
Left at 5:40 am and arrived at 10:00 pm. Small earthquake at first rest stop café and interesting to see wild marijuana growing everywhere.. Bus ride whilest spectacular was fairly uneventful with minimal police checkpoint interference. Nice lunch at Beshan, at a hotel that has taken the Wall-Drug ethos of advertising as we saw the signs for the hotel an least an hour out from arrival.
After lunch we have been travelling in convoy with a European team who plan to ski Mustagh Ata and then for some of their member to do a U-Turn and come back to Broad Peak.
During the journey I think I have put on 10kg through a steady stream of bounty bars, reeses peanut butter cups and Potato chips. Energy input 5,000 Calories, energy expended 10 calories.
As we journeyed further north, women become less and less visible, In one town we saw a swarm of men busting about with women conspicuous in their absence. We are all speculating as to where the women are hidden.
All team members spectacularly healthy throughout the 16-hour ordeal and in high spirits. A good omen for the rest of the journey.
12th June - KKH to Skardu
Breakfast was declared for 04:30 am and the great thing about this group is that we were all ready and eating on the dot. At 4:00 am already the first rays of light are hitting the Karakorum and we could load our stuff on the bus without headlights.
The meal was a simple affair of some eggs and toast, followed up by some instant coffee and then we were back on the road.
Today’s drive was more spectacular with the gorges deeper, the cliff faces steeper and the rivers more wild. What we found amazing was that much of the road had been repaved and parts were as slick as a velodrome. Other sections of course had been affected by landslides but all in all a remarkably incident free trip from Islamabad to our arrival in Skardu.
The second day of the drive left many of us fairly much zombiefied and we often failed to truly appreciate the treacherous terrain in which we travelled. We dozed in and out of sleep in that eternal quest for a comfy position as the Karakorum Highway swept past us.
As we passed through the various villages on the highway, once again we noted the complete absence of women. At one point Al described a village as a ‘man colony’. Nearing Skardu though, women re-emerged and once hitting Skardu , gender normality for our western eyes somewhat returned.
The trip ended up taking us 34 hours from Islamabad to Skardu including our 6-hour stopover in Chillas.
Once settled in Skardu, Ben and I went to the ATP office and checked gear inventory and set ourselves up for a big day tomorrow setting up tents, weighing bags and checking gear for the fixed lines.
An organization day in Skardu. Breakfast was at 8am. The restaurant was at the Concordia Hotel was overtaken by group of elderly statesman who we dubbed ‘The Taliban’ and we were forced to eat brekky in the hallway. Just some eggs and toast but I was pretty stoked ot get some mango juice,
Stomachs filled we jumped straight into organizing our duffles. Basically we are allocated 2 x 25 kg loads, one allocated for the trek in and one for base camp and climbing equipment. The two K2 guys Al and Matt are allocated an additional 25kgs on top of that. We borrowed a set of dubious scales from ATP and set about ensuring that maximum weight of duffles was 25kg and the correct gear was sorted in each bag. I think we all went through those poignant moments when we realize that some of our comfort items would have to be left behind. My mammoth allotment of bumper bars kindly bought to me by my good friend Wendy’s parents in laws were divided in half, with the remainder allocated for my Spantik trip.
The eclectic mix of Mountain Hardwear, Eureka, MSR and Marmot tents were set up by our staff and then disassembled and Ben and I discussed tent allocation strategies on the mountain.
After a somewhat disappointing breakfast, we shuffled into lunch and was greeted with a superb meal of rice, coleslaw, roasted chicken, beef salad and noodles. We sat there completely sated and good news for Robbo who is gluten intolerant and cant handle a lot of bread products.
Post lunch we jumped into a couple of Skardu taxis in a quest to find Arnie some mittens, Robbo some snack food and for me to have a general look around. Upon alighting the taxy, we admittedly bumped into Zeshan our Pakistani Air Force pilot LO. He was looking for gear to climb the mountain, so I jumped into a jeep with him. The jeep took us ot the back streets of Skardu to someone’s house. I must admit I was a bit concerned at ne stage as we were ushered into someone’s bedroom and 3 stern guys walked in and closed the door behind us. Stern faces turned to smiles and tea was offered which we politely declined. Then over the course of the next half hour, a person would come in with individual pieces of climbing equipment, I have no idea what was happening outside the closed door but first appeared crampons, then 10 minutes later a 1950’s looking junar, 5 minutes later a harness and so on until we had almost all of Zeshan’s required gear.
After more smiles and goodbyes, we hopped back in to the jeep. The jeep by the way was apparently man made from spare parts of other cars, which is why I couldn’t quite figure out what type of car I was in. The driver also taught me how to close the door, which was slightly a more comfortable feeling than the previous trip, where I had to hold on the grab bar when turning the corner to avoid falling out of the car.
The driver retuned us to the Bazaar area where I immediately sighted Matt, Al, Hamza, Louis and Darren all fresh from purchasing local headwear . We continued the quest for Arnie’s mittens and just had a general look-see around Skardu in intermittent rain. I thought after working 10 years in Indonesia, I was pretty good at negotiating rather chaotic traffic, but completely messed up and had a motorbike stall in front of me. My understanding of Urdu is negligible but I gathered from the tone of voice that kind things were not said about me.
Passing by the Skardu polo fields we saw some kids playing cricket. Robbo suggested the following day we grab a cricket bat and challenge the Skardu under 13’s. So that shall be our quest for tomorrow.
Continued to sort our gear which we finalized at 30 loads at 25 kg each. Ben continued to tread the well worn path between ATP and the hotel organizing all the loads for base camp.
Louis, Darren , Matt , Al and Hamza walked up the Khorphocho? Hill taking about an hour to hour and a half. Apparently really hot conditions and Louis decided to free solo the upper sections to stretch out his climbing muscles.
Arnie rented a motorbike for 5,000 Rupees for one day and cruised the streets of Skardu
Robbo and I did as promised and played cricket with the local under 13’s. I got distracted by the polo game in the adjacent field and had a blast as I slipped through to the front of the field and risked life and limb to take some shots of the polo action.
Latest word is that we will depart tomorrow at 10 am. The Pakistani military is still confused with Arnie’s Icelandic visa free passport and so is still waiting on last minute permission to join us.
Today was our much-feared jeep drive to Askole, We started the journey half seriously asking the cost of a Russian helicopter. Bracing the worst, we were collectively surprised at the relatively short 6-hour journey. Yes the precipices were deadly and there were the expected harrowing views down to the raging river below but due to our terrified expectations, the journey seemed relatively mild in comparison. In retrospect, the journey was comparatively mild due to the collective skills of our 2 drivers. Negotiating extreme conditions with consummate skill, they pulled off some extraordinary driving with effortless panache. Our jeep was labeled “Act of Cod’ An ode to an ocean going fish We are not sure.
Due to ongoing issues with Arni’s Icelandic passport, we departed at 11:00 am and reached Apoligon? at approximately 2:30pm. Stopped for a delightful 1-hour lunch with rice and chicken curry before carrying on with the extremely bumpy second half of the journey to Askole. This is a beautiful image surrounded by snow capped mountains and an amazing rock face which one could spend weeks climbing different routes.
We are now in VE-25 tents and the expedition has started in earnest. We have met our kitchen and support stuff and we are waking up tomorrow at 4:30 am . Hopefully Arni will arrive here at 10pm this evening.
Wake up was at 4:30 am and breakfast at 5:00 am.
Loaded up all the porters and headed off at 7am after taking some videos and pics of the porters taking their loads one by one.
Headed off on the road and made the mistake of trying to take a photo of a bunch of three women carrying bushes. One cried no photo and underarm threw a rock at me. Ben had a similar incident when he was taking a mountain pic, three ‘bushes’ whirled around and shouted no photo. These bushes are women carrying large loads of hay? twice the size of themselves back to Askole. The first half of the 5 hour walk I was basically by myself but eventually caught up to Darren, Al, Arnie and Hamza at at an ideallic bend of the river covered in trees. We did some impromptu interviews after a quick snack and then continued.
We travelled along some interesting ridge-lines along a braided river and we walked in roughly low-30’s heat. My Pakistan warm weather attire was perfect and felt comfortable in the heat even though my pack was reasonably heavy. I guess running in Indonesia helps with handling high temperatures. Some of my more northerly neighbors suffered a bit more but we all managed to make it into Jumhla camp in a very quick 4-5 hours. We were expecting 6-10 hours, so once again a pleasant surprise to come in early.
The campsite has a phalanx of toilets that look like some kind of fortifications, totally at odds with the surrounding environment. Rumour states that these toilets were part of a muti million Baliti aid development package headed by former presidents Musharraf’s daughter. The toilets were built and the rest of the money used to buy a nice living in London. Well, that’s how the rumour goes.
Another early morning breakfast and another early start as we try and escape the Pakistan summer heat. The day is similar to the previous except more undulating and with every hour the mountains become more extreme. At this stage, I am worried about using up my repertoire of adjectives to describe the mountain-scape so early in the trip.
Robbo and I took a more leisurely ace than the day prior and I must admit I found it a bit harder, as my backpack seemed heavier and the air more still. We had a good rest at the 3 hour mark and did some interviews and general shenanigans while bemused potters looked on .
The second half of the trek to Puija revealed the awesome lines of citadel peak. A peak that looks like it was drawn by a 10 year old with a ruler. Extremely jagged shark tooth peaks that hopefully will appear in a few upcoming pics. We all made the lovely tree lined escarpment of Puija in 6-6.5 hours and looked forward to our rest day to catch up on some washing and considering this is 2012 expedition, the charging of our myriad of electronic devices.
In the afternoon I found a prime location overlooking Cathedral and citadel pics and with the help of some eager Balti porters took some pics. I also took some group pics but unfortunately Hamza was out walking so we had to reschedule our photo shoot again for the next day.
Dinner was an absolute feast with the continued presence of fresh mango as dessert making all of us extremely happy.
Today was a lazy day for most if us except Ben and Louis, who scrambled 400m above camp to get some glimpses of K2 and Broad Peak.
The rest of us rinsed our clothes of sweat and dust and I went on a charging frenzy as I got out all our goal zero stuff and laid out a solar panel blanket in front of my tent.
We managed to rustle up Hamza for the group photo shot and had some very tender goat for dinner. Early to bed tonight as we have an early 4am wake up for an early departure for our next camp on the glacier.
A long day to Udekas. We left reasonably early at 06:00am and didn’t arrive till 3 pm due to helping someone who has been weakened due to GI issues. This was the longest day of the trek and we had to make sure our water lasted the day. A big plug for the Camelbak All Clear as I just scooped up water from the glacial streams and UV filtered for 60 seconds.
The campsite at Udekas was dirty but we had a wonderful view over Cathedral and Citdael Peaks and Trango tower. We also had our first view of Broad Peak. Ben called me out of the tent to take pics. Matt, Darren, Ben and I spent quite some time watching the changing hues of the alpenglow on our intended mountain.
20 June – Udukas to Goro 2
Today was the day the absolute silence of the Baltoro was shattered by a pair of Mirages flying low and fast down the glacier. My first thoughts was of a massive avalanche as a piercing scream sounded ahead of us before screeching overhead. The Pakistani Air Force Mirage flyby was actually a gift from our liason officer Zeshan, who had requested a fly by while we were organizing our gear in Skardu. Even he was quite amazed at how low the flyby was, with estimates at less than 100m above us.
21 June – Goro 2 to Concodia
The most wonderful hike of the trek in to base camp. We weaved through penitentes and ice sculptures underneath Masherbrum, Mustagh tower and Mitre peak. The route was more undulating without the steepness that the glacier had shown in previous days. Robbo and I stopped to do some impromptu interviews/discussions as we had a lot more energy and the scenery energized us more than the previous days.
As we approached Concordia, skirting the striking Mitre peak, I just knew K2 was looming around the corner. Once K2 revealed herself about 100m from Concordia we stopped again and took photos of an almost completely cloudless 8,611 m mountain. The Abruzzi, the Cessen, the shoulder were all on display. I had read that complete views of K2 were rare, so was quite amazed to see her naked on my first visit. On arrival to base camp, I was just in photography frenzy, taking pics and videos of K2, G4 and Mitre peak. The afternoon light was simply perfect.
22 June - Concordia to Base Camp
Snow fell over night and we woke to a different landscape. Ben and Sayed left camp about an hour ahead of the main group to scout out the best place for base camp. An amusing story from a previous year, a keen member raced to base camp ahead of the porters and stopped at a scenic place. The porters caught up to him and dropped all the gear ignoring the fact that they were probably an hour out from the actual start of the route. For that particular expedition, all excursions to and from the route meant an additional hour to and from base camp.
The light snow across crevasses meant the start of the trip to base camp was slow and many of the mountains were covered except the summit of K2 often coming into view. At one stage, a piece of black Pakistani army communication cable was used as fixed rope to help us and the porters descend a particular steep part of the glacier. The remainder of the walk to base camp had Broad peak covered and K2 looming directly ahead of us.
Like many of the recent hiking days, our expectation of an easy quick walk dragged out to longer than expected and the heat rose as the clouds dissipated. A bevy of sitting porters sitting on the glacier revealed base camp and we surveyed our new home. Patches of relatively flat areas were sequestered and each member started to build the foundation of our new homes as the camp staff started building the cooking and eating tents.
Our tent platforms consisted of placing rock on glacier and filling with gravel to build ourselves above the glacier and mitigate the effect of water running beneath our tents as summer changes the glacier. I had bought my personal Hilleberg Nammtj GT, which has almost twice the space of a TNF VE-25 so spent considerable time making a flat space. Realistically I was having as much fun as a getting a new Lego set at Christmas, as I sorted out rocks to get the perfect platform.
The afternoon sun burnt of the clouds on Broad Peak and we had our first chance to survey the route. Broad Peak summit is very very close to base camp, much closer than I have seen on Cho Oyu and Everest. I could be wrong but the vertical and horizontal distance seems very similar, definitely no long approaches. Robbo and I were also surprised at the apparent steepness of the route but we were hoping that the fact that we were looking at the route head on may have distorted our perception on steepness.
June 23rd - Base Camp Rest Day
A wonderful sleep in as breakfast was at 8am. We had all been dreaming of base camp and our single tents and I think we all slept well without our tent partners. Today is an ‘active’ rest day as we sorted through gear, charged up devices and had a cooking stove ‘school’.
An ominous rumble in the afternoon and looking up at Broad Peak we see an avalanche roll down the face. We noted with interest the path of the avalanche and hope we can weave a path up the mountain out of the main avalanche routes.
June 25th - First trip up the mountain. Base camp to Camp 1.
Breakfast was at 4am and we headed off at 5am for our first trip to Camp 1. We weaved through the seracs and glacier to the scree slope at the base of the climb. Conditions were reasonably warm but cloudy and a thin layer of snow made footwork difficult with our HA boots. The start of the route is approximately a 40° slope and we put on our helmets, harness and crampons. Almost immediately we encountered a rock band, which proved surprisingly tricky. I slipped and was rewarded with a fat lip for my troubles as my jumar caught and I face planted on the back of my hand.
The climb to camp 1 took 4-5 hours with Louis leading the pack up the hill. The slopes were consistently 30-45° and just prior to camp 1, we really had to work hard as we plunged up to our knees to waists in certain areas. At camp 1 we didn’t stick around that long as the weather was inclement with intermittent snow showers. Was a successful day as between us we managed to get 10 tents to camp 1. Camp 1 has limited space though so we are not sure whether we can set up tents for all the team or split the team up and do some rotations.
Coming back down from Camp 1 was a question of a lot of arm rappels with one abseil/rappel on the rocky band. Attached is a pic of Matt, at the top the abseil. Once back at crampon point, we shunted our technical gear and tried to make our way back through the maze of the glacier. We didn’t realize how long it took to weave our way back through the glacier which looked quite different as the morning’s thin layer of snow had melted.
We were all pretty much back at base camp by 1pm, so a nice 8 hour day on the mountain. One team member had a problem with a headache, still acclimatizing to the altitude but overall a very successful excursion and really great to be on the mountain. We had left Islamabad on the 8th June, so had taken us a while to start climbing.
26th June - Base camp Rest day
A few sore muscles and tired limbs today. Was nice to have breakfast at 8am. Unfortunately I had my first GI incident last night around midnight, so I spent much of the wee hours of the morning, awaiting to evacuate my tent but luckily everything was controllable.
Today marked the day of the arrival of the 9th person of our team with Grace from Toronto arriving at camp. Grace has had an incredibly hectic schedule since arriving in Karrachi on the 19th June , and has made her way to base camp skipping several of the stops that the rest of us made to get here.
Weather here at base camp has been incredibly inconsistent with brief rays of sunshine immediately followed by snow showers. We are still deliberating on whether we go back to Camp 1 tomorrow but looks highly likely we will wait for the slopes of Broad Peak to stabilize from recent snow and head up on the 28th June.
Mat managed to fit into a shower much to the benefit of his ‘morale’. Arnie, Daren, Louis and Ben finally bought out the pack of cards and got stuck into ‘Contract’.
27th June - Base Camp Rest Day
Today we made plans for our first real rotation up the hill. Al, Matt and I plus the four HAP Said, Tacqui, Aziz and Mahadi will depart tomorrow for Camp 1, set up tents and sleep. The following day, we will help the HAP’s fix the lines to Camp 2. The rest of the gang Ben, Darren, Arnie, Louis, Grace and Hamza will follow up on the following day and then on their next day will carry up tents to Camp 2. After this rotation we should have sufficient tents at camp 2 for all members to climb direct to camp 2 in one group.
So aside planning, pretty much a lazy day as we took advantage of the first clear day in quite some time and dried sleeping bags and charged up our Goal0 devices. Frederick and Ernie the Swedish/Lithuanian duo popped over for a visit and Ben and Louis went just below Camp 1 to drop off some fixed rope.
28th June - Base Camp to Camp 1
A call of nature at 3:30am was an effective alarm clock and I used the half hour before our 4am breakfast to once again sort my gear to take to Camp 1. This was a carry load and this time I took up a sleeping bag, mattresses (Z-Lite and Nemo Zor), stove and food for a couple of days.
Al and Matt, took off first at about 4:45 am and I departed 15 minutes later as I piss farted around with additional gear. Once again I found myself weaving through the glacier making a couple of “Jackson variation’s’ on the route as I played footprint detective trying to follow the route. Each time through the glacier is different as the glacier melts away in the summer sun and former landmarks become distorted and unrecognizable.
Briefly caught up with Al and Matt at crampon point but the fixed roped I was carrying to Camp 1 weighed me down and soon they were in the distance. I did though manage to get past the rock band with lips intact, playing it more careful this time on the verglas covered rock.
‘Frederick from Sweden’ as he is fond of saying, passed me by and made a point of introducing myself. Next the four HAP’s passed by and I took some snaps as they trudged on up to Camp1.
I got into Camp 1 at 10am, not a great time; I blamed that on the fixed rope I was carrying, or could just be that I’m bloody slow. Matt and Al and the HAP’s had already established their respective tents and I was shunted into the ‘storage tent’ which was actually quite comfy as I padded the tent with the 7 packed tents and various other paraphernalia.
Once safely ensconced in tent it dawned on me the horror of what was I going to do for the next 21 hours. I for once was without electronic gadgetry having failed even to bring up my iPhone. So various packing and unpacking ensued and I got to play with my MSR Reactor for the first time. What a beast!. I wasn’t prepared for the incredibly fast boiling time as I am normally used to waiting ‘ages’ for snow to melt and boil. I had 2 liters of water prepared in less than 10 minutes and my thoughts of an idle afternoon of melting snow was swiftly quashed as I had all the water I needed.
That afternoon was pretty shitty, with light wet snow covering the tent and every 5 minutes I had to kick the top of the tent to prevent heavy snow collapsing the tent and blocking the light. Around 5pm though, the clouds dramatically broke, sunlight poured through the ripstop nylon and with head popped out of tent, we were treated with dramatic views of the Karakorum from Camp 1.
I am guilty of instigating a mass photo shoot as Al and Matt plus our Swedish/Lithuanian brethren were summoned on my behalf to get the hell out of their tents and have a look at the amazing view. Ernie and Frederick for some fun climbed the pillar at the end of camp 1 and we had fun taking their pics. I also got roped into helping Frederick film footage for his sponsored products and hearing him speak in Swedish of course reminded me of watching the original “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo’.
With the sun quickly tucked behind the mountains opposite, the temperature plummeted and we scurried back into our tents. After eating a dehydrated “Hash Brown’ meal for lunch which tasted like rubber with a slight aftertaste, I approached with trepidation the Mountain Hut ‘ Chicken Teriyaki with Rice’ but it wasn’t too bad with actual hints of chicken teriyaki flavor amongst the rubber taste.
29th June - Carry to Camp 2 and drop back to base camp
Morning was cold and my water bottles had partially frozen over night. I had put off the discomfort and slight risk of sleeping with my water bottles but looks like will have to sleep with bottles from Camp 1 upwards. We were in no rush to depart as we suspected that we would be waiting on the HAP’s to fix rope and our assumptions were justified. Matt carried some rope, I carried a 2-person tent and Al some snow stakes as we left Camp 1 bound for Camp 2. The cold conditions meant the snow was crisp underfoot and while the going was steep, we easily moved amongst well-defined steps. Trying to figure out what to wear was difficult as it was a cold morning, so when moving we were fine but while waiting for the rope to be fixed we quickly became quite frigid.
In fairness though conditions were quite benign with light cloud and low winds. Looking up towards the summit though we could see a maelstrom of strong winds and swirling clouds. As the sun rises behind the summit, the sun ray’s diffract through the summit clouds to give a really unusual light display, somewhat of a cross between a borealis and a rainbow. I haven’t seen this phenomenon anywhere else.
As the sun rose, the snow became mushy underfoot and our clearly defined steps of the early morning disappeared. The last hour in particular to camp 2 became particularly difficult as steps gave way and I imagined I was climbing the flutings of Siula Grande? in ‘Touching the Void’ (Of course I’m exaggerating).
Al, Matt and I didn’t spend long at camp 2. Matt, a 3rd time veteran to Camp 2 was surprised to see no tents pitched at camp 2 as in previous expeditions he had encountered 10- 15 tents. A product of the denial of visas to Americans and UK citizens and various international austerity measures we speculated. After caching the fixed rope, tent and stakes, we turned to face downhill. Going downhill is basically a very long arm rap session with 2 raps thrown in for good measure. Any new jacket is quickly cauterized with the nylon rope coiling around the lower arm and I blew out the finger on my Hestra leather glove from the continuous friction.
Arriving at Camp 1 we could see Ben, Robbo, Grace, Hamza and Louis milling around the precarious Camp 1 platform. We asked, ‘where was Arnie?’ and as if hearing his voice, we saw Arnies’s yellow helmet peeking over the edge. Arnie had some GI issues earlier that morning but in testament to his strength and endurance waited another hour for ‘issues’ to settle before making his way to Camp 1.
Even though we had only been apart 1 night, was really good to see the rest of the team and we swapped some idle banter and asked each other how we were. We picked up some stuff that we needed back at base camp that we had left at Camp 1 like headlamps, the illustrious pee bottles and our rubbish and continued on our merry way to base camp.
Ben had commented that one can get off the mountain really quickly and his words proved correct as Matt, Al and I dropped the 1200 m from Camp 2 to crampon point in approximately 2 hours. Matt noticed that one of the pitons protecting the fixed rope above the rock had popped out and we did some Scottish/Australian jiggery on belting in the piton and equalizing the anchors. I watched the piton as Matt rapped of the rock band and I then followed with perhaps one of my most careful abseils, gingerly placing steps down the rocks.
By the time, we got to crampon point we were knackered, buggered and f*&%d in our respective parlance as the day’s activity finally took its toll. The 30-45 minute journey through the glacier took us an hour, as we had to find some alternate routes to cross the deep and rapid flowing ‘rivers’ now streaming through the glacier after a full day of sun. We finally got back to base camp at 15:30 hours, yes just an 8 hour day but we were collectively spent. Atta served us some wonderful noodle soup and a gargantuan amount of rice and noodles but we were more thirsty than hungry and simply drank up a storm with some token efforts at eating the rice and noodles.
Despite being spent, none of us slept that well and it seemed we spent the hours till dinner listening to music and generally just lying on our backs. I went into the tent to get a drink and saw 3 members of the French team having a drink. We introduced ourselves and had a collective moan about the snow conditions on the mountain. I suggested they come around in 2 days time and our respective teams put our heads together on how we will climb the mountain.
30 June - Rest day at Base Camp and return of the remainder of the team.
Louis popped his head in around midday and then the rest of the team came in over the next 2 hours and those of us who were rested may have expressed an evil smirk as we witnessed members arrive in in various states of exhaustion from their return of tagging Camp 2.
July Dispatches1 July - Rest day and Canada day
At breakfast, three of our members, in a in a bout of patriotic fever sang the first 2 words of their national anthem before losing interest and leaving the rest of us to eat our porridge and eggs in peace.
Ben and I did a grand tour of the Broad peak base camp and met for the first time a 4 member Taiwanese team and a returning Polish climber – Pavel. We had morning tea with the remainder of the French team and were impressed with the hospitality and friendliness. Those guys are Chamonix guides and not requiring fixed ropes but were still willing to help out..Merci beaucoup. Unfortunately it looks like FTA is providing the vast majority fixed rope and manpower on this mountain and Ben and I spent much of the day calculating rope requirements.
At lunch, Al and Mat returned from their foray to K2 base camp and reported some disarray as it appears that some of the climbers there are waiting for a ‘big team’ to fix lines on either the Cesen or Abruzzi routes. The rest of lunch was spent eating of course and organizing ourselves for our first night to sleep at Camp 2.
The basic outline of the next couple of days is as follows. Louis, Grace, Matt and Arnie will climb to Camp 1 and rest on the 2nd July. The remainder of the team to spend an additional rest day and then Al and Darren go to camp 1 and Ben, Hamza and myself to try and make camp 2. The days following hopefully will be spent sleeping at camps 1 and 2 and then making our way to base camp before forecast snow and winds appear on the mountain on the 5th/6th July.
This evening we watched ‘The Dictator’ on Zeeshan’s wonderful Sony laptop and Polish Pavel joined us in the tent for the evening’s entertainment. We were finished by 8pm in time for the first group to get some decent sleep before their 4am departure.
2nd July - Another Rest day and push to Camp 1
Matt, Grace, Louis and Arnie went to Camp 1 while the rest of us had an additional rest day.
3rd July - Climb from Base Camp to Camp 2
Ben, Hamza and I pushed to Camp 2 while Robbo and Al climbed to Camp 1. The crew that had camped at Camp 1 that day pushed to Camp 2. I followed Robbo up to Camp 1. We got up a bit earlier that morning with breakfast at 03:30 am but still managed to depart at about 04:45 am and crampon point at 05:50. We were once again treated to a magnificent sunrise with clear views of K2. We did manage to wind through the glacier without too much difficulty. It was a joy to climb with Robbo on a crystal clear morning and Darren had left some of his earlier difficulties behind. Despite our steady pace, Fredrick from Sweden quickly passed us as did the French team, The French are guides from Chamonix and is a simple joy to watch their efficient movement up the mountains.
We got into Camp 1 at around 09:30 and I was struggling, once again I had made the mistake of not eating and drinking for over 3 hours and my body was struggling. At Camp 1 picked up my stashed gear and with a full load set off at a snail’s pace. I had been watching a lot of ‘The Wire’ recently and reminded myself of the quote “ as slow as a white guys in slippers’. After an hour slog, I finally sat down to some food and water and instantly felt re-energized and cursed my laziness at not eating earlier. I continued my merry way up to Camp 2 with the French footsteps quickly fading. It was hot but I was solely dressed in a Patagonia full sleeve silk top and the sun’s rays simply bounced off me. As long as I didn’t rush, I was in a comfy little body temperature homeostasis.
Rocking up to Camp 2, I saw Ben in a hive of activity. The platforms at 2 had not been prepared in the best manner possible and I sauntered over to assist Ben in chipping ice and removing additional rocks to ensure a more horizontal environment for our Marmot Thor 2 p tents. This activity took our breaths away as we performed manual labour at 6,200 m. Once the tent was somewhat more stable, we chatted with our fellow high altitude campers and briefly watched the sunset over the Karakorum. That night for diner, I shared with Ben a Beef Rotini (freeze-dried of course). Ben, also was roped into melting snow while I collected the same, and I had a laugh as Ben inadvertently filled up my pee bottle with water. We then watched the sunlight slowly fade through our tent …but this time I was prepared for tent bound drudgery and had my sat phone and iPhone on hand to pass the time until entering the land of nod.
4th July - Hang out at Camp 2
Today was just an acclimatization day. Al and Robbo left early in the cold hours of the morning at 5:00am and met us at Camp 2. We all spent the day just hanging out at Camp 2 on a milder day compared to the day previous. Ben and I went on an arduous and epic journey up and down camp 2 without crampons to visit the rest of the team. Louis went on a voyage of discovery up to about 6,650 m for a look at the route to Camp 3. Trusty ramen noodles were for lunch courtesy of Ben. For dinner, I provided Spaghetti Marinara, which was sans Seafood anywhere in the list of ingredients.
5th July - Descent from Camp 2 to Base Camp
A windy morning greeted us on the 5th and our previous night’s irrational exuberance of getting up at 6 am for a early departure dissipated as we snuggled up in our bags for an extra half hour of warmth. The sun hit our tents and I boiled previous melted snow and added a sachet of instant coffee. This was our sustenance for the morning’s activities and payback for non-eating was later as I struggled to return back through the glacier to base camp.
Ben and I were the last to leave at around 9am and I popped down the ridge just below Camp 2 to take some pics and videos of Ben rapping down the ridge with K2 in the background. The down climb was quick and uneventful and was once again was impressed at how quickly we get off this mountain. About 1:30 minutes from Camp 2 to crampon point. The snow wasn’t balling up our crampons so the fixed line really dug into our jackets as we whizzed down the lines.
By the time I hit the glacier, I was trashed. Once again, I had the odd feeling of requiring an incredible amount of effort to walk up a 5 m hill on the glacier despite my previous efforts.
At the end of the glacier, close to our base camp, our team has been stymied by a large river flow. I so wish I had caught it on video, but one of the Taiwanese teams’ HAP’s ended up throwing a sweater/jumper across the river to which we would hold on to the sleeve and then jump across. A completely insecure device to cross a river, but secure enough to give us confidence to leap. 6 of us sweater-leapt across the river and then climbed the last hill to the safe confines of our base camp.
6th July - Rest day and attend to climber’s frostbite
Al came down on the morning after his additional night at Camp 2 with Aziz. That morning Robbo helped me ‘landscape garden’ my tent as a sunken hollow had formed where my head should have laid.
At around 11am Ben received a phone call, nominally from the family of one the climbers on Broad Peak that he was in distress and needed a rescue team. A flurry of activity ensued as we tried to ascertain if the climber was actually in distress and needed rescue, complicated by the European language/Urdu/Balti/English interchange. We trained our eyes and telephoto lenses on the slopes of broad peak trying vainly to spot anyone in need of help.
Two climbers were spotted descending from Camp 1 and Ben and the HAP’s of Tacqui. Mahade, Aziz and Sayed formed a team to meet them at crampon point. They also took along some recently acquired bamboo lengths to use as an interim bridge to cross the swollen afternoon river in the glacier.
On meeting the climbers, Ben radioed ahead and we at base camp prepared to treat a case of frostbite. Water was heated to 100deg F and a sterile place for treatment was made in our storage tent. Upon arrival, the afflicted climber removed his shoes and socks in Ben and my presence and I was personally ecstatic that he showed no major signs of frostbite. We treated the climber for frostbite injury as a precautionary measure. Probably best I not get too immersed in private medical details, but appears he was very prudent in his decision making and turned around on his summit attempt before serious medical issues arose. His relative injury free escape from the mountain was of great relief to all of us at the FTA team.
7 July - Rest Day
A day of errands and preparations. Our next trip up the hill will most likely be our last rotation before the summit push. Matt and Grace decided to go up earlier than the rest of us. Such is the flexibility this trip allows and they were scurrying around getting ready. They made the bold call to wake up at 1:30 am and depart at 2am to escape the daytime heat.
Ben and I strolled over to the adjacent camp and checked on the feet of the climber we had attended the day before. His feet were in great shape and we spent the rest of the morning discussing war stories and naming obscure mountains that we would like to climb. Was a fun morning followed by a fairly lackadaisical afternoon. The evening’s entertainment was ‘Get him to the Greek’
8 July - Additional Rest day
We’re getting antsy now, we have had our rest and recuperation and time to get back up the hill. Last minute packing and milling about the mess tent as we idle time until our departure. Breakfast has been declared at 03:00, considered the best time between getting some sleep and escaping the sun on the slopes. Today we woke up considerably colder with a cloudless night, so we are hoping we will not get too cold on our early morning departure tomorrow morning. The plan tomorrow is to sleep at 2 and then move up and establish camp 3 at 7,100 m before dropping back to base camp again. We are taking up an additional tent, emergency oxygen, food for 3 days and various other sundries. The weather forecast is for high winds from the 13-15th so we wish to have camp 3 prepared and safely back at base camp before the possibility of being blown away.
July 9th - Base camp to Camp 2
We got up early, keen for an early start up to Camp 2 but were thwarted by some snow flurries and strong winds. We ate our brekky and then hung out till the flurries finished. We set up once again across the glacier and had magnificent views of K2 and surrounding mountains. The climb to camp 1 seemed different with the snow and melt cycles changing the nature of the ice up to camp 1. We moved quickly as we are now really acclimatized and were moving upwards on a big breakfast.
A quick stop at Camp 1 and Al Hancock moving fast had caught up to us at this time. Al was staying at Camp 1 as the rest of us moved to Camp 2 to meet Grace and Matt who had climbed up the day before. We shuffled on to Camp 2 with the snow and ice in reasonably good condition and not too much feet sliding backwards in the couloir sections. I was surprised to see Tacqui, Mahadi and a HAP from the Taiwanese team about an hour out from Camp 2. That day they had been tasked with pushing the tents and fixing the ropes to Camp 3. In a stilted conversation sliding past each other on the fixed lines, Tacqui explained that the weather approaching Camp 3 had been no good and that the tents were cached at about 6,700 m. This was disappointing news but of course understandable. But it was only once they were long past did I stop to think and wonder why they didn’t stay at Camp 2 and wait for the following day instead of retreating all the way to base camp.
Anyways, I got to camp 2 around midday and once again I was amused how difficult the last 20-30 meters to my tent proved to be. I, once again was sharing a tent with Ben. It was only once Ben arrived at Camp 2 that I realized it was his birthday. I wished the young lad ‘Happy Birthday’. He then confessed that he had been dropping hints all the way to Camp 1 on ‘how old he was feeling’ etc. As a birthday treat, I promised to cook dinner, which in reality just meant melting snow. We then settled into the small 2 person tent and waited for Arnie and Robbo to arrive before we could really relax. While waiting, I saw the arrival of the ‘Chinese team’, which consisted of a Chinese couple and supporting Sherpas and HAP’s. From Ben’s version of conversation with them, they had already climbed Everest Lhotse, Shishapangma, Cho Oyu and Makalu and were now on the way to try G1, G2 and Broad Peak. The Chinese entourage quickly settled into camp with Robbo and Arnie quick behind them.
July 10th - Rest day at Camp 2
Snow fell steadily that evening and quashed our hopes of pushing to camp 3 that day. We poked our heads out at 05:30 am and saw enough snow drift to realize that holding off a day for the snow to consolidate would be our most energy conserving option. Unfortunately Grace had basically run out of food, so made the choice to descend back to base camp for rest and resupply. Al radioed in from Camp 1 and misconstrued our future intentions and also hightailed it back to Base camp. The rest of us (Louis, Hamza, Ben, Arnie, Robbo and myself) hung in at camp 2 and tried to figure out what to do for the rest of the day. I was engrossed in Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’, so ended up flicking through that on my iPhone as I kept abreast of Cromwell’s rise to the head of King Henry VIII’s court.
July 11th - Camp 2 to Camp 3
A clear night meant our push to Camp 3 was on. The Chinese team was also helping with fixing rope to Camp 3 so we basically waited until the sun hit our tents before departing with the Chinese team. It was good to be moving on new terrain as we started the 45-degree slope to the ‘gendarmes’ above camp 2. Our little convoy of 7 FTA members and 5 ‘Chinese team’ made a good path in the somewhat consolidated snow. Through some of the more dicey sections, the HAP’s fixed some nice quality 7 mm rope and we made our way steadily to the cache point. As the day progressed, the weather deteriorated and we were buffeted with gusts. We had initially inwardly scoffed at the Chinese team donned in down suits at the start of the day but as the day progressed, I at least became jealous of their ‘Himex’ down suits as our team was just in shells and mid-layer insulating layers.
After picking up the cached 3 x 3 person tents we came across an undulating snowfield riddled with parallel crevasses. Some co-ordination on the fixed lines was required to make sure lower climbers did not pull the higher climbers into the crevasses. Prior to this point I had snapped at a 2 person ‘independent’ team who had had declared they were climbing the mountain without support and thus would not help with the fixed lines. As they came up behind me pulling on the fixed lines, I asked ‘what the deal was?’, but they just laughed and kept jugging on the lines. They are not our favorite team on the mountain.
As the sun dropped, the wind increased and we felt an increased need to get to Camp 3. Both our teams stalled at a rocky outcrop above the crevasses and the Pakistani HAP’s of the Chinese team asked Ben for help to fix rope. Ben gallantly took the lead and fed out rope and fixed while the rest of us waited. Once again, us clad in shells and fleeces etc looked on with green eyes at the down suit garbed Chinese team. After a numbing 30 minutes we got the go ahead to start ascending and we entered rocky terrain mixed with dinner plate ice. We had been on the go for 8 hours now and the sun was getting low in the sky. I was getting concerned that some of us would be getting cold injuries and was relieved that although I was cold, I was not yet dangerously cold.
Finally, we saw the camp spot as Louis and Ben milled around a flat spot. The day was far from over, as we had to dig out a platform for 3 x 3 person tents. Shoveling snow at 7,000 m was intense, Not my most graceful of efforts, but I found it easiest to sink to my knees and then shovel rather than the more normal standing stance, After about 10 shovels of snow, I was gasping for air and handed of the shovel to the other guys. From this co-operative effort we finally managed to get a space cleared and the mountain gods were smiling as the wind did dissipate as the sun set and we managed to get the tents up without too much further complication. We also kept all our fingers intact. I was very proud of Matt, Louis, Arnie, Darren, Hamza and Ben. We all worked very well together under very trying conditions.
It was getting dark as we finally got onto our tents and I think it fair to say that we were all collectively trashed. My dinner consisted of a kit kat and some orange tang. Ben managed to get in some 2 minute noodles and then we prepared ourselves for the cold, battening down the hatches so to speak by ensuring our sleeping bags were snug around our heads and feet were well insulated. Unfortunately, I quickly lost feeling in my toes and spent the night working my feet to ensure they didn’t freeze completely.
July 12th - Descent from Camp 3 to Base Camp
The morning was quiet, too quiet and Ben and I wondered what our charges were up to in the adjacent tents. Had everyone survived the night at 7,000 m ? Basically everyone was being as soundless as possible to avoid having to get out of sleeping bags. It was very cold that morning and spindrift has crept into all our tents overnight and frost covered everything not horizontal. All we could see was white from the eye slits of our sleeping bags. I was worried about my toes but also pining for basecamp so as light entered out tent, I covered my head and kicked at the walls to clear the snow. I shouted out to Robbo to get up and received a painful groan in response. Everyone else, thus knew that it was time to get out of camp 3.
Having left my pee bottle at Camp 2, I left the relative warm confines of the tent to free willy and saw the Chinese team trotting down the hill, their summit push aborted (due to high winds). I am sure I felt my fingers solidify as I painted snow yellow and once finished dashed back into the tent to warm up my digits. My attempts at cold weather bravery over, I snuggled back into my sleeping bag and waited for the sun to hit the tent.
Like cold-blooded reptiles, once the sun hit the tents, we collectively stirred and base camp really beckoned. We all had rudimentary breakfasts; mine was a kiwi bumper bar and a liter of water that I had slept with over night. Even in the morning sunlight, pulling down the tents was painful. Ben had the wisdom to wear mittens, but the rest of lacked the dexterous skills to thread poles and wore less warm gloves. Much huffing and puffing, rubbing of hands and selective profanities were said in getting down those bloody tents.
Louis and Matt had their tent packed up first and went downwards as Ben and I helped Hamza, Arnie and Robbo pack up their TNF VE-25. The fresh snow overnight meant that we were post holing down the hill but was nice to see the tents at Camp 2 quickly appear in view. Some funky rapping down the steeper sections amongst the gendarmes and we were back at Camp 2. We re-deposited our wet sleeping bags at camp 2, to hopefully dry out and I melted some snow and had another bumper bar.
The descent from Camp 2 to Camp 1 was shrouded in mist and intermittent snow. I almost ran into a Slovenian climber who was just acclimatizing above Camp 1. I hadn’t expected to see anyone on my descent. The tents at Camp 1 appeared through the shroud and seemed to coincide with a clearing in the weather. I waited at Camp 1 until I saw Ben and Arnie appear and then made my way downward. The path from Camp 1 in the afternoon is increasingly chopped up with mini waterfalls appearing beneath the snow. The rock band in the afternoon now is a waterfall and I hope to get a picture on our summit push of someone abseiling down that waterfall, although to take a pic there is an invite to a rock in the head.
I caught up with Robbo at crampon point and Mahadi was there with biscuits and tea, which was simply delightful. Spurred on by this additional energy, we walked through the glacier with ease, much better than last time. At the new bamboo bridge, I videotaped one of the Chinese climbers crossing, evilly hoping to get some footage of some climber dunkage not realizing that Matt had fallen of the bridge perhaps half an hour earlier.
We got back to base camp around 3-4ish and Atta was in attendance with some soup, rice and mixed fruit. I was craving fluids and skipped the rice and got stuck into the soup and fruit. Was really great to see Al and Grace again, but I soon sneaked of to my tent for a bit of a Nana nap before reappearing again at dinner. Grace and Al regaled us up with all the base camp activities, including the Aga Khan activities on the 11th July and the comings and goings of all the new climber at base camp.
July 13th - Rest Day
A day of low activity as we licked our wounds from our excursion to camp 3. Matt and Darren got an impromptu base camp haircut and we received various visitors from other camps.
July 14th - Rest Day
Hypothermia and frostbite was the subject of an almost 2 hour discussion as we talked about our proposed summit push and ways to mitigate our chances of cold injuries. Louis gave us a fascinating story of being the subject of a hypothermia case study in the Quebec winter and Matt discussed getting very very cold in the wilds of Scotland. After discussing the weather with Stu and then with team members we have put off for now departing base camp until the 17th (Al and Darren on the 16th) for a proposed 20th July summit attempt.
Now a very special culinary event happened in the evening as a Dzo (Kind of like a yak) arrived at camp and was promptly slaughtered. Until now, our sole protein source has been goat, which admittedly had been met with mixed reviews by various members. Personally, I had only really liked the accompanying sauce and not the meat itself.
The night’s entertainment was a British movie entitled ‘ The Last 7’ which I think was an adaptation of a theatre play. I left about halfway through the movie which seems was a wise move. 1 out of 5 ‘Adzes’ from the FTA base camp review committee.
July 15th - Rest Day
A very idle day as we all tried to minimize energy output and continued to drink and eat as much as our new found protein source as possible. We had a bit of a TV session in the dining tent in the morning, watching an episode of ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ followed by ’30 Rock and then some “Robin Williams Live”
That afternoon, the weather deteriorated again, and we had intermittent gusts and snow showers. I took this prime opportunity to take a shower…well when I say a shower, 20 liters of hot water was prepared and I was given an empty fruit tin to which pour water over myself. I had visions of shaving my beard and luxuriating in cascading warm water, but gusts of snow flurries up my nether regions meant the shower was short lived and my beard may be now thus defined as Arkansas-lite.
After yesterday’s disappointing movie, we switched to standard Hollywood Rom-com and watched ‘ Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ which received 3 out of 5 ‘Adzes’
July 16th - Rest day
Hearing Al’s voice at 0530 am, I unzipped my tent door and waved goodbye to Al, Darren, Sayed and Aziz as they braved light snow and made there way, for possibly the last time across the glacier up to Camp 1. Al and Darren had decided that it suits them best to make their way up to Camp 2 over 2 days, to conserve energy on their summit push.
Matt Grace, Ben, Arnie, Zeshan, Hamza and I had another meat-fuelled bonanza of a breakfast. (Louis was felling a bit poorly in the morning but recovered by the afternoon). The weather was still inclement and we hung put in the dining tent and generally bull-shitted. We started discussing our departure over the Gondogoro La pass, perhaps finding it easier to discuss our departure than our summit push. A member of the Chinese team across and we discussed climbing together but they are having problems with logistics and their HAP’s, so we shall see.
The rest of the day was spent organizing last minute items for the summit push and munching on as much crackers and cheese as possible.
July 17th - Summit Push
The summit push is on. Matt, Grace and Arnie, got up in the first wave for a 2am breakfast. Ben, Louis, Hamza and myself sleep in a bit and hit the dining tent at 4am. A superb morning with lingering cloud on K2 signifying little wind in the area, we crossed the glacier for hopefully the last time. As usual, crossing the glacier sleepy eyed, I was walking with two-left feet and I saw Ben, Tacqui and Mahadi trot merrily off in the distance. Unfortunately no-one fell into the river, so once again I was denied amusement at the critical bamboo pole crossing.
Hamza and Louis climbed steadily to camp 1 and Ben and I hung back and took our time climbing to conserve energy for the marathon task ahead. The waterfall rock band had almost doubled in length upon our arrival as the snow had melted back and the rock climb crux became more difficult and sustained. After the fourth attempt though, this was not as difficult as the first attempts. Our packs were not too heavy, we were carrying our down suits and additional gear for the summit push including goggles and high altitude mittens. For some reason I had Sarah Blasko’s ‘ Amazing things’ on repeat in my head on the way up to Camp 1. I’ve had worst songs stuck in my head.
After 4 hours, we snuck into camp 1. The weather was fickle and I couldn’t quite anticipate which clothes to wear to Camp 2. I stripped of a layer but regretted my decision as it clouded over and a breeze took hold. The Patagonia r1 Hoody went back on at a small horizontal snow patch next to a rock gendarme about half an hour climb from camp 1.
Acclimatized and not carrying too heavier a load, Ben and I chatted merrily. We discussed bold ideas of an Indian-Pakistani peace initiative and other ideas to solve the world’s problems. I popped into Camp 2 around 2pm and had a brief chat to Grace at the lower tent before making my way to our tent at the upper end of Camp 2.
Much to Ben’s disgust, we obviously had ‘squatters’ in our tent since our last stay. We have prime suspects but cant don’t have any direct evidence to name and shame. They had drunk all my coffee, left rubbish in the tent as well as a creepy slime (I shudder to think what it was) in the vestibule. Rant over, we settled in for the afternoon and made a concerted effort to eat and drink as much as possible for the days ahead. Trusty ramen noodles were promptly prepared as our mid afternoon snack and Freeze dried ‘Mountain Chili’ for was had for dinner. After checking with Stu and his weather report, I hollered to the rest of the team, that we would head to camp 3 at 8am the next morning. We didn’t want to leave too early to avoid having to start the day too cold and then have to change clothes for the midday sun.
July 18th – Camp 2 to Camp 3
I had an absolutely wonderful sleep at Camp 2. Clichéd snug as a bug in a rug. Packs were heavier this morning as we packed our down suits (or 2 pieces for Louis and Grace) in addition to our sleeping gear, stoves, fuel and food for 4 days up the hill. A steep rise to the gendarmes had the lungs straining and the weather ominously went from clear skies to overcast. Our wind adversary greeted us again shortly after departure and at the halfway point to camp 3, I switched to balaclava, goggles and OR Alti gloves to close of all avenues of heat loss to wind chill.
I was wildly optimistic at our intended arrival time at camp 3, hoping to arrive before 2pm but the biting wind; heavy packs and thin air had me arriving around 3pm. I was really pleased to see Robbo shrug of his earlier difficulties in climbing and make a strong climb to 3, easily cutting half an hour of my time. Grace too, arrived strongly ahead of me and Hamza followed closely in my footsteps.
Al likes to leave camp early in the mornings and set off to Camp 3 in his down suit. It was a good choice as he escaped any midday heat and arrived at camp ahead of all us with the HAP’s of Tacqui, Mahadi Sayed and Aziz. An extremely welcome sight on arrival at camp 3 was to see 4 tents setup. No lung breaking preparing of tent platforms and threading tent poles this time around.
On arrival at Camp 3 (~7,000m), it was snowing combined with a strong gusty wind. Our plan to set up my Nemo Tenshi as a fifth tent was abandoned. This meant that we had to squeeze 4 people into one of the 3 person tents. So it was a very cozy Ben, Hamza, Matt and I that squeezed into a Marmot Thor 3P. Louis, Ben and Darren were our neighbors to one side and Tacqui, Arnie and Mahadi on the other side. Al, Sayed and Aziz were on a platform about 50 m up hill. Upon arrival at camp 3, almost everyone donned their down suits and it was a down-fest in the tent as down suits were funneled into down sleeping bags. During the night, everyone apologized for their constant wriggling and fidgeting in the tight quarters but realistically we had so much down padding between us that we hardly felt a thing.
Ominously the snow continued to fall during the night, sounding like sand on the tent walls. Sharing a stove amongst 4 people, we melted snow, prepared ramen and munched on our sacks. Sardine packed in a tent can be dispiriting but with Zen like Hamza and stoic Matt, we settled in well. As eyelids lowered for the evening, we collectively willed the snow to stop.
July 19th - Waiting at Camp 3
Ben on the radio at 6am to Al stirred me from a terrible sleep. Not even sure if I could use the word sleep but I did remember some dreaming, so I guess I got some rest. It had snowed intermittently all night and Ben and Al agreed that it best we hold off our push to camp 4 until it stopped snowing.
I was shocked when Hamza then informed us that he had vomited during the night and continued to have a headache that morning. It was with a heavy heart, that Ben recommended that due to Hamza having a combination of AMS symptoms, that he should descend. I had named Hamza the ‘Khan Tengri King’ due to his ascent of that mountain in 2010 and was quietly confident that he would climb very high on Broad Peak. I was quite devastated that he would be descending.
Matt also decided to descend. For the past 2 days he had been suffering some unspecified ailment that had been affecting his climbing performance. Matt had been arriving at camp later than his expectations and this did not bode well for his summit attempt. Matt made the brave and wise decision to descend to repair and recuperate for his attempt on K2.
In the space of an hour, our 4-person cell had become a spacey 2-person berth. The snow continued to fall. Louis popped his head into our tent at 9am and he and I optimistically agreed that snow would stop soon and the afternoon sun would consolidate the snow into a wonderful solid pathway to the summit. Ben called Al again and we held our decision for the summit push to 6pm. We were basing our decision on a weather forecast that had predicted a shot at the summit on the 19th and 20th but the outside reality was completely at odds with the forecast. The Swedish climber Fredrick has earlier dubbed his German weather forecaster the evil incarnation of Herman Goebbels due to the inaccuracy of his forecasts and I was starting to think falling the same lines of our weather forecaster as the snow continued to fall into midday.
More 2-minute noodles were prepared for lunch and copious snowdrift into the vestibule meant collecting snow for water was a task easily done from within my sleeping bag. As the afternoon dragged on and the sound of very dry snow continued to abrade against the tent, my optimism faded. Ben kept talking about food, the best sandwiches he’d had and the sumptuous Italian buffets he had dined upon. This can be very frustrating when one’s present food options consist of 2-minute noodles, happy cow cheese and some unloved freeze-dried food.
6pm rolled around and our worst fears were confirmed. In a continued theme, snow still fell. Now he snow turned from annoyance to danger. The slopes above our tents were forming the foundations of an avalanche, which was to have dire consequences for one person the following day. We cancelled our previously suggested midnight departure for a summit push and mentally re-arranged ourselves to pack up and head back to base camp the next morning. Once again as night fell and temperatures dropped snow continued to fall but strangely even with just 2 people in our tent, the night seemed warmer and I just used my sleeping bag more as a blanket rather than as a cocoon as per the previous night.
July 20th – Part 1 - Ernestas’s story
Ernestas from Lithuania was camped by himself at 7,300 m (Camp 3.5) on the morning of the 20th when avalanche struck at 4:50 am. Ernestas had woken up 10 minutes prior to the avalanche and started preparing his gear. The avalanche thrust Ernestas, still in his sleeping bag and inside this tent 150 m vertical down the hill. As the avalanche pushed him down hill, the tent opened and all his gear fell out and snow filled his tent. By extremely good fortune, the snow filling the tent actually helped stop his slide down the hill and Ernestas stopped 5m before a 20m serac. A further 5 m slide would have undoubtedly led to the death of Ernestas.
Once stopped, miraculously with no poles of his tent broken, visibility was poor with snow and fog. Ernestas got out of the sleeping bag and started checking for all his gear. He only found one boot, 10 m above the final position of his tent plus some additional gear. Ernestas’s right la Sportiva Olympus Mons boot was missing and his portable radio was completely flat.
Ernestas looked for his boot for 5 hours but to no avail. The decision had to made to descend as his right foot was freezing up. His trekking pole and ice axe, he left behind and he started to descend. The descent was made with one lboot and crampon on his left foot and just the inner boot on his right. At around 10:30 Ernestas met the Iranians at camp 3 and they gave him 2 cups of tea but they had no radio. The Iranians wanted to ascend the mountain the next day so stayed in the tent.
The descent continued, now with some additional gear that he had left at camp 3, a light axe, ski pole and incredibly a load of rubbish. On the way to camp 2, Ernestas met porters from the Chinese team. These guys had a radio and Ernestas was finally able to contact his camp. He asked for an extra boot and crampon. They asked how the condition of his right foot was and incredibly, his toes had not yet frozen. Descent continued to camp 2 and unfortunately no one was at camp 2 (He must have just missed the departure of our group) Ernestas then encountered the Chinese team. They offered Ernestas to stay with them at Camp 2 but he wanted to continue the descent. At camp 1, Ernestas met Arnie from our team and Ernestas offered to descend with Arnie but at that time Arnie wished to stay at camp 1 to melt water.
At 5,300 m Ernestas met Jordie, a Catalan with ATP who had carried up an extra La Sportiva boot up the mountain after being contacted by the Chinese radio. The boot was size 47 as opposed to Ernestas’s size 44 but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Jordie also gave Ernestas tea and an Energy gel. At that time, Farhat, a porter with the Catalan team, carried Ernestas’s backpack the rest of the way downhill.
At 6pm, Ernestas finally made base camp, an epic journey 90% of the way down the mountain with one boot and no frostbite. An incredibly lucky escape. Ernestas is of course now preparing to move camps and attempt K2.
July 20th – Part 2 - FTA team descends
Oblivious to what Ernestas was undergoing, we woke up at camp 3, our aspirations to summit completely quashed by the continued snowfall. We prepared to strip the mountain and descend. To save room, Ben and I wore our down-suits so we had additional room to store tents and gear in our Cilogear backpacks.
Al, Sayed and Aziz stripped their camp and made their way down. The rest of us waited till the sun had partially poked its way through the clouds and snow and stripped down the 3 x 3 person tents. Being in down suits, meant that my hands were slightly less susceptible to the cold and was able to help dismantle the tents in 5-minute intervals till I had to stop and rewarm my hands through vigorous shaking and rubbing. Louis was ready first and headed down the hill and Darren and Grace helped dismantle the second of the 3 person tents. Arnie helped Tacqui and Mahadi with the TNF VE-25.
I think it was around 9pm when we finally began our descent. The snow had settled in and visibility was very poor. I believe Al had to sit on the slope at various intervals till he could see the waypoint at the bottom of camp 3 and the rest of us were lucky that we had 50 m visibility to see the path of descent.
Our beards, moustaches and goggles iced over as the snow stuck to our clothes and packs. The continued snowfall also meant that we were often post holing. This meant our bodies would stop in the snow as we fall to our knees and thighs but the inertia of our packs kept going forward.
About an hour from camp 3 on the descent, I rapped of a steep snow slope and due to the heavy snowfall, ‘slurpeed’ side on into a crevasse. I managed to get myself in an incredibly awkward position as the tail end of the rope clipped through a wire gate biner hanging on the gear loop on my harness. I ended up lying sideways with my legs in the crevasse but my backpack pulling me down the other side. It took me over a half an hour to extract myself from the crevasse using my jumar, shoveling and the limit of my abdominal muscles. I could see Ben and Tacqui occasionally through the snow and mist but they couldn’t really help. Ben later told me that he told Tacqui that it looked like FTA lost an assistant and as such there would be more food available at base camp later that afternoon.
Down the other side of the slope, the heavy snowfall continued and I paused to rest to get a ‘Bumper Bar’ and water into me. The snow then kind of consolidated and I caught up to Arnie just above Camp 2. Robbo and Grace were at camp 2 and very gratefully they packed up a tent and additional gear to take down the hill. Ben and I used every available strap on our Cilogear packs to strap as much as possible to our packs. Thank god, the weather remained overcast at this stage as we were obviously still in down suits and would have died if the sun came out.
The descent to camp 1 was not too draining and we had a further rest stop at Camp 1. On the way we saw the Chinese team and I asked why they were ascending when there had been so much snow. They were committed, so wished them luck and safe passage.
Ben, Darren, Grace and I had a collective pause at camp 1 and psyched ourselves for the last descent from Camp 1 to Base camp. Due to the incredible danger of rock fall, we left in stages. Robbo first, Grace second, me in third and Ben bringing up the rear. Arnie was at a different pace to the rest of us and we accepted that he would be coming several hours later.
With big packs and massive crampon balling, arm rapping was less of an option and we all turned around more to rappel. I caught up with Grace at a rock band after some momentary confusion as to why she had stopped. A piton had fallen out and Grace was rightfully concerned about rapping from the remaining anchor. I made a temporary ice axe belay and watched in alarm as the fixed rope sawed back and forth across sharp rock as she descended. Ben then caught up with me and grabbed the hammer of my pack and hammered in the loose piton. Despite my previous alarm, all I wanted to do was get down the mountain and I rapped down as fast as possible. The rest of the way to crampon point, was a bit of a daze as the weight of my pack pressed further into my shoulders and my legs became heavier and heavier.
At crampon point, the Catalan team and porters were waiting and this was the first I heard of Ernestas’s epic journey from Camp 3.5. I waited for Ben to drop down and we dumped the group gear (tents etc) into waiting duffle bags. The crossing of the glacier was the last straw and we easily decided that the FTA porters could come across in a couple of days to pick up the tents. We had dome enough.
The glacier crossing was long and arduous. Ben and I had both run out of water at this stage and had no hesitation in filling up our water bottles from the glacier streams sans any filtration. Once again, I was soo thankful that the weather was overcast, so while I was very hot in my down suit, I wasn’t dying. I guess I got to base camp around 5pm, a very long and epic day. I immediately stripped out of my down suit, changed into lighter gear and made my way into the dining tent. I immediately sucked down 10 cups of Tang and water followed by soup. I was very glad to be ‘home’.
We saw Ernestas at 6pm and he informed us that Arnie was staying at camp 1. At 9pm, listening to music, I heard Arnie come into camp. Everyone was back at base camp and now all that lay ahead of us was resting, packing and preparing for the trek back to Skardu.