I have known for years that I want to try and climb an 8000 meter peak. Finally, the summer after I was supposed to graduate approached and I signed on with Field Touring Alpine to climb Gasherbrum 2. Well, there wasn't enough interest for G2 and since they were running a high profile Broad Peak and K2 double header they asked if I wouldn't mind climbing Broad Peak instead. I looked up the stats and saw more people had died on it so I asked the owners of FTA if it was more dangerous but they cited that mountain conditions on G2 have changed in recent years making it more difficult so it was about the same as Broad Peak. So I agreed and gave them a lot of money. I spent the winter doing climbing and hiking and shopping for overboots and -20F sleeping bags and other expedition gear. I went rock climbing in January and February to get used to trying to do technical climbing with frozen fingers on slippery rock. I ran with snowballs clutched in my hands. I soloed the easiest gully on Mount Washington in New Hampshire because much of the route on these mountains was supposed to be that steep. I spent most of the spring running a lot of miles and trying to rock climb as much as I could. I was able to turn in a few decent races and after my competitive season I ran a double marathon in 9:31 in May. I figured if I could run for 9.5 hours then hiking for that long shouldn't be a problem. A few last minute workouts culminating with a swim in Lake Michigan and at a point where I could honestly try to climb 5.12a in the gym had me feeling very prepared for this expedition.
I left Wisconsin on June 8th. First it was an hour drive to the airport. Then a flight from Milwaulke to Cincinnati and another from Cincinnati to JFK in New York. Then a fantastic 13 hour flight from JFK to Dubai. That flight was terrible! I had an isle seat and so half the time when someone went past they would bump into me or my chair. I didn't sleep a wink on that flight. I watched a movie at the beginning while they served us supper then I spent three hours rolling around trying to sleep. After that I just gave up and watched three more movies. Emirates flights always have a tv in the headrest and they have dozens of new movies so I caught up on all the big blockbusters of 2008 and a few of 2009. Then I had two hours in Dubai to try and find my way around the airport and finally found my gate for the flight to Islamabad. It was a culture shock looking at the crowd waiting for a flight to Pakistan. I was the only white guy. There were a few people wearing Shalwar Chamises which looks like the same thing the Taliban wears, because it is what many of them wear, but it's also what 170 million people in Pakistan wear too. As I am waiting there, getting a few stares, three other members of the expedition showed up. We all started talking and since none of the four of us had ever been to Pakistan discussed our nerves a little bit and talked about the very low actual security risk. At least, we talked about the low security risk to make ourselves feel better because at least I was wondering 'what am I doing?'
We jumped on the Boeing 777 flight and I watched another movie and a half before nervously unboarding onto the tarmac. I stepped into a fully loaded airport shuttle that drove us the 2 minutes to the terminal. We went through customs where they only asked what country you were from and how long you were staying. No one ever asked if you had anything to declare. I had a few things that I thought they might take away but they never asked if I had any contraband. The next time I'm going to bring a lot more questionable things. Namely five pounds or more of good sharp cheeses. There we met another four members of the expedition that had arrived within minutes of us on other flights. The eight of us, each with our own luggage push cart full of expedition duffel bags, made our way out of the airport. When we got close to the doors they asked to see those little stickers that matched our luggage tickets to prove we weren't stealing anybody's baggage. Then we went through the glass doors and there were about two hundred people waiting behind a simple waist high metal fence in the lobby of the airport for their friends and family. They were all quite quiet (it was 4 AM). I was very surprised. In Costa Rica when you went out of the doors there were dozens of taxi drivers trying to mob you and lots of yelling. Here is was quiet. We found the bus to the hotel and piled our hundreds of pounds of stuff into the van. Most of us got seats but a few people ended up getting a taxi for the 20 minute ride to the Envoy Continental hotel. As soon as we arrived and signed the register we got our room key and I fell asleep for the first time in a day and a half.
I roomed with Jim, the doctor, so at 8 AM we were woken up three hours later with one of the trip leaders in our room asking about medical supplies. That was my introduction to the most famous climber I have talked to for more than five minutes. I went downstairs and had breakfast, complete with chapatis (tortillas). Most of the expedition was there. A few headed off that morning to the airport to get on a flight to Skardu. The rest of us talked about what to do and many of us decided to go to the supermarket. We didn't exactly translate our wishes to the bus driver very clearly but we ended up at an outdoor mall and after 30 minutes of walking around found a store with decent prices and a good selection. I bought some nuts and tea and a lot of Snickers. Then after everyone had their fill we headed back to the hotel. It was about 11 or 12 and lunch wasn't until one. I layed down on my bed, not expecting to sleep...
I woke up at 4 AM the next morning having missed two meals, including a roof top bar-b-que and team meeting where they told us we were driving the karakorum highway (KKH) instead of flying. My roomate slept through supper as well so we both woke up and had showers, watched tv, freaked out a little that we were in Pakistan, and coming down stairs at 6 AM we were greeted with "Where were you? We're driving, get your bags down here ASAP!" So we ran up stairs and grabbed our bags and threw everything together and were on the busses and off by 6:30.
The road started out on the highways of Islamabad and wound it's way northeast. The entire KKH is paved. I was expecting large sections of dirt but it was just 100 meters here and there. The pavement wasn't exactly the autobahn though, it was rather rough. The first day we just drove and drove with a stop every three hours or so. We had lunch at 4 PM at this little hotel in a steep canyon. Just after lunch we started to have a police escort. It varried from one guy on a moped to three guys in a 15 year old pickup, to one guy that didn't even have a vehicle but just rode in an extra seat in one of our two busses. Around this time we passed the cutoff to the Swat valley where much of the fighting with the Taliban was/is the sign said "Swat Valley 80 km." The escort continued into the night. Most of the time they would ride with us for 20 minutes or so and then we would get a different escort or not have an escort for awhile. When it got dark out the police cars would put a flashing blue light on top and all I could think was: 'Look here are the infidels. Direct all anger this way.' We had a stop at midnight were they wanted our passport numbers and for us to sign a log book. We were close to Chillas at that point which is close to where there is a lot of fighting and so it was a stressful moment signing onto the ledger in the dark in the middle of nowhere. But there wasn't a problem and we kept going and got to the Shangri-La hotel at Chillas at 2 AM. Jim and I once again skipped supper and went to bed thinking we would wake up at 5 for breakfast. It turns out that the Chinese were doing blasting on the road ahead and we weren't going to leave for awhile. Well, I woke up at 5 AM and quickly found out that we weren't leaving immediately so I lounged around in a chair and walked around the hotel a little. Finally at seven we ate. I sat at a table where everyone else had climbed Mt. Everest. It was quite intimidating because it's Everest and here everyone had done it. We started talking about mountains and it seems that many of them were very disappointed by how easy Everest was and so they were coming to K2 to be challenged more. It seems that Everest has fixed lines from base camp to the summit on both sides so there is really nothing you have to solo, unlike the mountains in Pakistan. Also on Everest the level of Sherpa support is enormous so you carry very little weight at any time. The weather is also very predictable in Nepal so it is rare to have to wait out a storm and you can pretty much write out the acclimation schedule before hand and then actually follow it which due to the storms in Pakistan is nearly impossible. As one Everest summiteer later told me "If you actually want to get to the top of an 8000 meter peak go to Nepal."
The second day of driving was only ten hours on the road compared to the 18 hours the day before. We had views of Nanga Parbat although it was mostly covered in clouds. We also stopped at the junction of the Indus and another river which is were the Karakorum, Himalaya, and Hindu Kush mountains all come together there is a little monument. The Indus river is quite impressive. There are no dams or cannals as far as I saw. It has rapids that are huge! It looks just terrifying most of the time. The best way to describe it is that the best kayaker in the world came to Pakistan and tried to go down it and he died.
Several hours later we finally made it to Skardu, which is at a spot where the river opens up into a wide plain so it is quite a different sight from two days of narrow canyons. Over supper that night we decided that we would stay in Skardu two nights to arrange everything like oxygen, tents, gas, rope, and cookware that would be needed on the mountain. The next day we spent time opening each brand new Marmot tent and tying on all of the cord and sorting gear to head to the two different base camps. We also spent some time shopping in the bazaar (down town). We also shot some video for a possible upcoming documentary about the 100th year anniversary of the Duke of Abruzzi's 1909 expedition to K2. We happened to meet the first Pakistanni to climb all five 8000 meter peaks in Pakistan and the guy who painted signs for the Central Asia Institute (Greg Mortenson's schools for girls). I bought some more food and a shalwar chamise and an Afghan hat. We also stopped at the "Internet for Tourists" internet cafe with five working computers used the surprisingly fast internet. Since we all finished our shopping and web surfing at different times I ended up walking back to the Concordia Hotel alone. It was terrifying at first. Here I am, a total foreigner walking alone down the street in Pakistan. It turned out fine obviously and I made it back to the hotel fine.
The next day, the 14th of June, we loaded ourselves onto jeeps and began the 6-16 hour jeep ride from Skardu to Askole. A flat tire, a mud waterfall, and too many hairpin switchbacks slowed us down a little but it still took
only around seven hours. There were times on the jeep ride going up switchbacks where the driver would have to back down and then go up again making a three point turn which was very nerve racking as the back of the jeep hung over the air the wheels maybe one foot or less from rolling off the edge. However, we made it all safe and sound to Askole where the kids begged for pens and didn't takes baths. Our jeeps turned around as soon as they were unloaded and on the way back met an expedition coming up at the mud waterfall. While they were negotiating passage a jeep carrying gear for the other expedition fell into the river. The driver had gotten out to negotiate on foot and the rock he stuck behind a wheel was not big enough so it rolled backwards into the river. I think they managed to salvage most of the stuff.
In Askole we set up the North Farce tents (North Face tents that are gray market with terrible zippers that regularly fall apart) that we would use the rest of the expedition at base camp. I had a fun moment while we were setting up the tents because I happen to own a North Face Mountain 25 and we were using VE 25s which is quite similar so I had no problems setting it up. There were two English Everest veterans that were having a rather difficult time though so I made the joke they could climb Everest but couldn't set up a tent. They shot back that not everybody is a rocket scientist like I am. I don't remember many of the jokes but I did spend a lot of time laughing in Pakistan.
The next morning at 6 or something we had breakfast and the porters gathered for the opportunity to get a 25 kg load and carry it up the valley to base camp. There was really not that much chaos. The sirdars and guides kept it pretty organized. The porters were only let into the tiny ATP (Adventure Tours Pakistan) compound when there was a load for them. After video taping a little of the spectacle I headed off in a light rain up the valley. I was planning to hike with the camera crew but they two of them kept stopping and after an hour I gave up and did my own thing. I put in my iPod Shuffle and the first song that came up was "Live your Life" by T.I. and Rihanna which is the most appropriate song I can think of to start an expedition.
Several hours of hiking later after passing and getting passed by David and Gerlinde (rock stars of 8000 meter climbing) I made it to Jola, a barren patch of rocks and dirt. When I got there Taqi our high altitude poirter greeter me by grabbing my shoulders and saying, "You are strong". That made me feel good because he's a pretty strong climber. It was not warm or sunny and it was a little windy. One great thing about expeditions is climbing into a solid tent on flat ground not at high elevations and into a warm and dry sleeping bag. I slept really well throughout the expedition despite the wind and snow storms that happened at night.
The next day we hiked to Piayu. The hike was through dry creek beds and on the side of the mountains where the trail was often not much of a trail but just the place that 200 other people walked and packed the dirt down. Piayu is the last stand of trees before the Baltoro Glacier so you can see it from somewhat far away. It felt you could see it the last three hours or so but it could have been much less. They slaughtered a goat that night and the next day we had a lay over day to rest more. I got sick on the layover day and had a pretty horrible day. Several other people got sick about that time as well. Instead of the random one or two people getting sick out of the 20 of us I think that 2/3 of us had some stomach bug at some point. Most caught something on the way in because of the 247 porters that were milling around our cook tents and shaking our hands. At base camp it was much more sanitary.
The next day we left Piayu and took the 13.5 mile hike to Urdorkas (I am probably spelling most of this stuff wrong).The first hour was on the dirt then we switched to the Baltoro glacier. I was still sick and it was eight hours of pure torture. When I got to camp I ate and went to bed. I wasn't in the mood to socialize.
The day after we went to Goro 2 (yes there is a Goro 1). It was windy that night and there were no more latrines so the whole placed smelled pretty bad. The day after we made the hike to Concordia and had our first views of K2. Concordia has no toilets as well so it smelled terrible, defiantly not a place to hang out for a long time. Concordia also has a great view of Gasherbrum 4. Everyone on the K2 part of the expedition was sitting outside of the dinning tent in a row staring at K2. You can look at pictures and read trip reports but when you actually see it it's terrifying. K2 is steep. The next day, June 21st, we hiked to base camp at 4800 meters or 15,800 feet and said goodbye to the K2 crew, even though I was to hike up there several times throughout the month we spent there.
The first full day at base camp (BC), the 22nd, we did nothing. Well we sorted gear and ate and talked about stuff, but no climbing. The next day our two high altitude porters (HAPs) and our two guides hiked up to camp one fixing braided Korean rope as they went and set up the tent at camp one. The rest of us just crossed the glacier and hiked up some scree to the base of the route at 4960 meters. The day after we all headed up to camp one (5650 meters) leaving BC at 5 AM. I got there around 10 and spent maybe a half hour. While up there we had our first member leave the team because of an eye ulcer or something. I video taped the helicopters from camp one and it gives good perspective of how high even camp one is. Then I headed down and was down in time for lunch at 1 PM.
After that the rest days kind of run together. So we took several days off and then since camp one in only big enough for a half dozen tents and we had only one three person tent we split up into groups of three to sleep at camp one. I was in a group near the end with one of the guides. We had planned to go up at 5 AM like normal but there was a few inches of snow falling at 5 AM so we decided to wait and leave at 4 PM instead. That was a very interesting hike. I've hiked at all hours of the day but on trails or rocks not snow. The first several hours it was hot and we were sweating. The snow was completely mushy and it slowed us down marching through knee deep snow. Finally after eight the snow firmed up and we could move faster. However, it also got a lot colder and we had to stop to warm up our fingers every ten minutes. We also had to turn our headlamps on. Finally, we got to camp one after I think five and a half hours or so. We more or less immediately crawled into our sleeping bags and turned on the stove. For an hour or so we boiled snow to rehydrate and ate and drank. Then I had a fantastic ten hours of sleep. In fact it was hot and I had to unzip my sleeping bag from the foot box. Throughout the expedition I slept in a 0F Feathered Friends sleeping bag on the mountain. At BC I used a -20F EMS bag, which I had intended to use on the mountain but when I told the veterans about that and that my 0F bag weighed a pound less they said to use that one.
I only tented on the mountain with three people and these were their sleeping systems: one slept in a down suit with an elephants foot over his lower half, one slept in his down suit with a 32F sleeping bag and he wore his over mittens on his feet, the third had a -40F North Face sleeping bag. I slept in my 0F bag wearing one base layer at camp one, and two base layers at camp two and three and I only wore socks to bed at camp three.
The next morning we woke us soon after nine when the first groups from our expedition were heading strait up to camp two. A few of them stopped and hopped in the tent to brew up and rehydrate a little before heading to camp two. Then the two of us that had slept at camp one pulled our boots on and headed up with light packs. It only took three hours to go from camp one to camp two. The first part was unroped but it was low angle. Then there was several hundred meters of fixed rope that was fairly steep. As you neared about 6000 meter the wind usually picked up and the climbing seemed to get a little harder. There was also another unroped section at about 6100 meters on a relatively thin ridge so two meters to the left was a huge vertical drop off and two meters the to the right was a steep snow slope. Then just before camp two was a very short 20 foot tall steep section of 60-70 degree snow or ice. There was a strand of 6 mm cord there and the views looking down at that point were pretty awesome. Just above that section there was more unroped climbing. Again it was not steep but there was the cliff on the left and the steep snow slope on the right. I stayed at camp two for a half an hour. I didn't want to take my crampons off because I was planning on going all of the way back to BC and it was already 2 PM. I enjoyed my first time above 20,000 feet and I didn't even feel like I was suffocating. I left them my sleeping pad and headed down.
We had a bunch more rest days, I believe this was when I didn't climb from June 30th to July 5th. I only have like 30 seconds of video from that whole week. For the most part, it would snow six inches and we would wait for it to melt for two days and then it would snow again. We started to play cards in earnest then. We only played 500 and seven up. A game of seven up took about a hour and we probably played 30 games or more and a game of 500 usually took two to five hours so we didn't play quite as many, maybe only a dozen games. When we weren't all playing games or eating crackers and chapatis with Marmite and Vegemite and vegetarian organic pate I spent a lot of time in my tent. I read Three Cups of Tea and spent some time writing in my journal. I then spent a lot of time listening to my iPhone and playing Soduku on my iPhone. At BC I managed to set the speed records on all of the levels including 2:32 on easy and 8:49 on expert so mentally I didn't feel any slower up there. I also went up to K2 BC and spent the night with all of my friends up there. They also had a scrabble board. It seems that 4800 meters is actually a pretty low base camp. On Cho Oyu ABC is at 5800 and Everest north side ABC is at 6500 meters so we could actually recover and heal quite well at BC.
While there is an ABC at Broad Peak it's not used much. It is really like half camp. I have a 20W solar panel which was always enough for me to charge my camera batteries and iPods and I usually had extra power to give to other people. So I really didn't have to stop listening to music. The German expedition had a Powerbook laptop and 30 dvds so we went over there several times for cinema night when we knew we had a rest day the next day. So I may be the only one, but I never really got very bored at BC. There was always something to do, albeit something I had already done for 20 hours.
Finally, the weather cleared and the entire team headed up. I went up to camp two and it took about eight hours. I didn't drink enough on the way up maybe 1.5 liters and we didn't have breakfast so that was all I had drank all day. I spent the rest of the day boiling snow and drinking and eating a dehydrated meal that was actually pretty good. Of course when your body is using 5000 calories a day a 600 calorie meal is so desperately needed that pretty much anything with salt would taste good.
That night we went to bed at 8 PM and I woke up at 9 PM with a headache. It was small and felt like a throbbing in the front of my head. I wriggled out of my bag and took half of a diamox and drank some water. Throughout the night I continued to wake up every hour or two with a worse headache and I drank my water until about 4 AM when I ran out. When I woke up at 5 for the radio check to decided if we were going to go up to camp three or wait I decided to go down. That night was the night that put me on the second team and not on the first team. I descended strait to basecamp, not drinking anything along the way and was there by 9 AM in time for breakfast. At BC a liter and a half of Tang, coffee, and Ovaltine in an hour was all I needed for the headache to go away. Knowing what I know now I probably could have stayed up there and drank two liters and I would probably be fine but it's the first real altitude headache I've ever had and I really don't want to get HACE. This entire expedition I played it on the safe side because I like my fingers and toes and my life.
That day several members of the expedition made it to camp three and spent the night. Things were looking pretty good. Unfortunately, we had our second helicopter evacuation (which I got all nine minutes on video) for a man and his wife because he had reactive arthritis and had back pain. We were very sad to see the two of them go because they really livened up the conversation and mood. They were also willing to play cards all the time and had so many stories about Australia and New Zealand. It was a sad day when they left.
Several days later after everyone got down those of us that hadn't slept at camp three went up with that as the goal. We got to camp two and I was hydrating like crazy I think I had 5 liters or so that day and so I slept quite soundly and woke up without any headache. The next day we headed up to camp three. There are some unroped sections through camp two which are somewhat steep maybe 40 degrees or more and again you are often two meters from huge drop-offs. Just above camp two there are some more steep sections there is a 25 foot tall 70 degree section that is usually ice again protected by a 6 mm and anchored by two old ropes around a rock horn.
This made me nervous because one of the ropes was core shot and they were both from previous seasons and this was a section where having a rope was really nice especially on the decent. There was an icy traverse near there as well and I was thankful that I brought two files to base camp to sharpen my stuff (and to finish my two prototype ice axes.) Above these steep and traversing sections the rocks ended and the route went up a very broad snow slope. It was wind swept and icy in most places. There were even some bright green 5 mm fixed ropes from the recent winter expedition, although our ropes had been fixed over the top of those.
After a few hundred meters there was a flat spot at 6600 meters that was unroped and the wind was gusting to 30 mph and there were a number of dark clouds at our elevation in the distance so we took a rest break and decided to go down all the way to base camp. It was a good decision because the next morning we woke up with six inches of snow on the ground at BC. The last hour of the hike to BC is across the glacier. This was always the worst part because you take your crampons off and you're thirsty and hungry and there are like seven 20 foot tall ridges to go over and three streams to cross and it's just not fun in huge plastic boots when you're very tired. This time I had some extra battery life on my camera and I video taped the last 42 minutes into BC.
I know we had one person on the expedition fall while on the fixed ropes but I think that most of us fell crossing the glacier. Personally I was jumping across a stream on the way up and smacked my knee and it was sore for two days. We always wore gloves through the glacier as well because more than one person fell and scraped their hands on the ice and rocks. Some of the streams had black ice on the rocks so instead of walking across them people would fall off of them at 5:30 AM when everything is a little hazy.
What followed was waiting for a weather window. I went up to the Gilkey memorial one day and was astounded by the huge number of plaques.
It turns out that 78 people have died on K2 and most of them have plaques. I was expecting a dozen or so but there was 40-50 plates and plaques. A very strong reminder of how serious these mountains are. Every day there was a camp wide leader meeting to talk about the various weather forecasts and organize everybody because we all wanted to work together to make breaking trail easier. It kept snowing and our date to leave base camp was nearing so we finally decided on the 16th for the first team to leave BC and summit days of the 18th for the first team and 19th for the second team.
I was in team two and there was four of us plus Taqi the HAP. Two headed up leaving at 12:30 AM and the other one and I woke up and had breakfast at 5 AM. We headed off and off we went to camp two. I climbed right near Taqi until ABC and then he just took off and I didn't even see him until camp two. We caught the early crew just before camp two and passed them arriving at camp two to see the surprise of one of our guides still at camp two. Apparently he had headed up to camp three and had bonked half way there and decided to abort his summit push. When moving around on these mountains people often moved independently out of sight or hearing range from anyone else. It was a rare day when I was close enough to someone to have a conversation.
At camp two it was decided that Taqi would stay behind to boil water for those coming down, or so I thought. We hydrated and ate more freeze dried food. Went to bed and the next morning We got moving and I was the first one of our team off just after 8 AM. On the way up I passed two members of our expedition and another person coming down. One had turned around at 7500 meters because his toes were cold and the other turned around because he didn't feel the greatest and he was required to solo a traverse that he didn't feel comfortable with so after going up it he decided to turn around at about 7700 meters.
The route to camp three from camp two goes through the steep rocky section then the broad ridge then the unroped nearly flat section then another 100 meter, probably less, steep section with a rope then the last hour or so was completely unroped and icy. Again I was happy I had sharpened my crampon points. I arrived at camp three just before 2 PM feeling good. I checked both of the tents for the remaining member of our team that was still up the hill and he wasn't there so I radioed I was at camp three and that we were still missing one member. I sat outside my tent then and turned my GPS on and it read 23,050 with an accuracy of 20 ft. I got in the tent and saw there were some freeze dried breakfasts there and I hadn't brought a freeze dried meal because I thought I wouldn't have the appetitie to eat one but I was hungry. So I radioed to the guide who owned them and he gave me free rein so I ate one and then searched the tent for other good food but there was nothing good. I had some hot chocolate and GU and Shot blocks and I think a Clif Bar or Builder Bar. During this time I kept sticking my head out the door to watch a man and woman from the German expedition descending very slowly. About 3 PM they reached camp. She was in bad shape. She got in the tent and I thought 'I'm going to have to help rescue her'. About an hour later she emerged from her tent looking much better and descended with a high altitude porter. I think she had HACE. The man who helped her descend eventually had bad frostbite on one toe and was helicopted out two days later. About this time the member that had made it to 7700 meter got down to camp two. Except that the three tents we had at camp two were gone. All of our stuff was in a pile covered with rocks. It turns out that Taqi had taken down camp one and two and gone down to BC. While this was inconvenient at the moment the next day when the rest of us came down it was much appreciated.
This entire time I was going crazy because there were still people up the mountain and it was getting cloudy and a little windy with snow flurries so not great conditions to descend unroped from 8000 to 7000 meters. I ate some amazing cheddar cheese while I sweated fear for those still up the hill. There was one person staying in our tent that was not part of our expedition and so we thought he was still up the hill. The last two members of our team arrived around five or six. Then around five I was looking out the door and I saw three dots appear just below the col. There was a lot of radio traffic. Then there was four dots. Then six dots, nine and finally 13. The rumors were that someone had fallen (on these mountains, unroped a fall almost certainly means death otherwise people wouldn't be talking about someone falling.) Since I was feeling really good, probably because of adrenaline, they told me to get the names and expeditions of everyone coming down so they would know who is ok. However, half an hour later they decided that radio silence would be better and to worry only about the one remaining member of our expedition. So around 6:30 I went outside the tent to watch the survivors come in. The clouds would obscure the view and there were bumps on the route down so I would see people then they would disappear for awhile. When they got closer I could watch them walk a little ways then sit down in the snow. People don't really sit on the snow if possible. You can sit on a backpack or rock but plopping down on the snow like they were doesn't keep you very warm.
First a pair of skiers came down. Two turns and a rest, two turns and another rest it was rather slow. People trickled down in ones, twos and threes over about three hours. I stood outside of my tent watching the spectacle. At one point I'm sure I saw someone fall and slide and I'm sure their feet were level with their head. I thought I had just watched another person die. It was getting dark so I went back in the tent still missing our member and the sleeping bag in our tent with the mysterious person was still empty. At 8 PM the four of us called off our summit bid because we fully thought we were going to have to help people down or we might have one member that wouldn't be going home. Finally around 9 PM after I had been in my sleeping bag for an hour, not sleeping, but waiting the mysterious man showed up and the remaining member of our expedition showed up. I was so relieved.
Not many people can sleep at 7000 meters. I am a pretty good sleeper but I just rolled around and got a little sleep here or there. This was the only time I wore my mittens. I wore them for about 15 minutes while I was still trying to warm up inside my sleeping bag. This was also the only night I wore socks to bed. Finally I gave up at 5:30 and got up and started boiling snow. I had a slight altitude headache but it went away with a half liter of water and tea. It was snowing so we just sat in our tents eating, drinking and talking. The Dutch/Swiss leader of the Swiss expedition was in our tent and we talked about everything from organizing an expedition to the alps and he even show us pictures of his family. We also talked about the woman that died because he knew many details. As I learned later she slipped and fell and went 400 meters down to where camp four usually exists. She was more experienced at that altitude than almost everybody else up there. All it takes is one wrong step and years of experience don't matter. She was far more experienced than I and she lost just like that. These are very serious mountains.
At 8 AM we got out of the tent and started taking it down. It was difficult taking the poles apart because after maybe five second the cold would seep through my gloves and I would have to swing my arms to warm up my hands again. Eventually we finished taking down the one tent and I strapped the tent body onto my backpack and headed down.
I stopped at camp two to pick up the food I had left there and take a dump. Relieving yourself up above 6000 meters is always an event. Using a pee bottle and then putting it at the foot of your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm is nerve racking because of the fear that it might spill. Taking a dump can pose other problems. It is important to not pollute the snow near camp because of the people in the future that will melt that snow and drink it. Also, one member on our expedition actually got frostbite at 7500 meters because he had to go and while he was his figure eight was hanging off of his harness and stuck to his skin. Several days later he had a small black spot. The perfect frostbite?
When I got to the base of the route I heard "I-dawg!" and I looked around puzzled and then saw Chris and Taqi who had brought up tang and cookies. We embraced and then I sat down on a rock and drank a liter and a half of tang in five minutes. We hiked back across the glacier together and it was by far the easiest trip down the glacier of the entire expedition.
The day after I headed up to K2 BC and said goodbye to my friends up there. I also watched another helicopter evacuation of a member at K2 that coughed too hard and strained the muscle between his ribs so it hurt for him to breathe. Another full helicopter evacuation I got on video.
On the way back to BC I fufilled a long held desire to go running. The first time I went running about 30 seconds in I felt like I couldn't get enough air in and I only lasted another 40 seconds. The second time I went running just before camp it was 40 seconds before I ran out of air and I only made it another 50 seconds. So now I know what running at 16,000 feet is like.
The next day we woke up at 5 AM and had breakfast. We said goodbye to the four members that were going over to K2 and started heading to Ali camp. It was an eight hour day, it could have been seven but we wandered around the glacier by Concordia with the Germans, but trying to take a short cut on the Baltoro Glacier isn't the best idea.
At Ali camp I had milk tea for the first time and it was amazing! To save weight and porters on our hike out over the Gondogoro La we didn't bring the big plastic lawn chairs and instead ate on the floor. We also didn't bring tents and eight of us (the five of us and then three Italians) slept in our dining tent. I slept like a rock but I think I was the only one.
We woke up at 3 AM and had breakfast and then starting hiking in a light snowstorm toward the pass. It was so beautiful the dark with our headlamps illuminating the falling snow and the crunch underfoot were like a Christmas movie it was so perfect. It was cloudy all day and once we hit the fixed ropes we began to pass the porters for the German expedition that had left at 1 AM. At the top of the pass visibility was 20 feet. I waited for the next person to come up and it was Javid our waiter/cook. He didn't even turn around to check the view but kept going and told me I should not stay up there. So I descended the icy slopes clutching the fixed ropes. Then after the fixed ropes was a traversing section with very poor steps and none of us had crampons so it was a little sporty but I never took the ice axe off of my pack because it wasn't terribly bad.
Finally I was coming down and saw a patch of grass I can't describe how wonderful a palm size tuff of grass is after not seeing anything green for a month. Despite the fact that I was pretty wet at the point it was great to hike down the valley on dirt and mud with the grassy meadows and the fog and clouds limiting visibility. It was pretty fantastic. We had lunch at the first camp there at 10 AM and then decided to keep going to Siachu or something. Around noon the clouds cleared up some and we hiked in the sun for awhile. The trees gradually got bigger and the grass more plush. We eventually saw yaks and a donkey and flowers. There are huge pink and white flowers in the valley. We passed right beneath Laila peak which has a spectacular wall. The hike the second half of the day was fantastic but it was tiring. I am not a slow hiker and I was on the go from waking up at 3 AM until reaching camp at 4:30 and others didn't arrive until 6 or so. Once I reached camp I had cold mango juice and a milk tea then I journaled by the river and I think I might have slept.
The next day was a three hour hike to Hushe where we ate lunch at Taqi's house with all of our cook staff instead of them serving us and then we got on a jeep to Skardu. The jeep had suspension problems and we had to stop several times to weld it together and tie a piece of wood into the suspension. At one point along the road while we were waiting for it to get fixed one of the guys on our expedition was watching these three girls play and one of them saw him and brought four apricots to a rock and then he walked down with a big goofy smile on his face and brought them back. When the little girls saw we liked the apricots she went into the house and got a five inch plate to bring us more and we laughed. Then her brother came out with a 10 inch plate and we laughed harder. So we ate our fill of apricots. Further down the road at a security checkpoint after signing our names to the register we wandered to the side of the road and I climbing on another persons shoulders and grabbed a bunch of fresh apricots but I only had a dozen before I was told to stop or it would not be good.
Upon arriving at Skardu we ate supper and I had some culture shock because there were two other families with about 20 people total in the dinning room and the women weren't wearing head scarves and they were all very noisy. After quietness at every meal and headscarves on the local women for five weeks this was very odd.
We waited five nights in Skardu for a flight. It was bearable because the hotel had HBO and Starz. We also went to the Shangri-La hotel for bar-b-que night which was really nice. That was July 25th which is a holy day for Shiite Muslims so we took a detour around a self-flagellation ceremony after one of our crew went in and took a bunch of pictures. While there I bought a yak hair rug from Hunza. We also had a banquet with all of our cook staff. The first full day we wanted to shop and rest but then we didn't have tickets because ATP screwed up and confirmed tickets for us for August 8th, then several days the plane didn't fly but finally two of us got on the flight on July 28th. I then spent three nights in Islamabad watching HBO and Starz out of India.
I got on the plane and flew to Dubai. I flew out with one member of the expedition and he had a 23 hour layover in Dubai complete with a hotel and was nice enough to let me come up and show and hang out. We went to the bar downstairs for awhile and met some people and had some laughs then took a four hour tour of the largest shopping mall (most people call it Dubai) in the world. It's a city designed to extract all of the money you have. Nothing was cheap. It's a nice place but I'm really more into the outdoor thing not the big city with expensive stores thing.
I got onto the flight to JFK and fell asleep in maybe 10 minutes after we took off. I woke up at one point and everyone was finishing their suppers. I slept about five hours total then watched more movies I hadn't seen. I went through customs and I declared an animal product (some xue horns, it's a cross between a yak and a cow) and they asked if it was prepared at all and I said it was cleaned with alcohol which it was and they never even looked at it they just took my word and let me through. I had to go to the ticket counter to recheck my bags and get the next two tickets. Then a flight to Detroit (which is my favorite airport because it's so simple) then to Milwaukee and out to the Olive Garden with my parents.
For More Information
Read my blog
. It will be updated with various stories and some of the seven hours of video from this expedition for the rest of this year. I only took 150 pictures on this trip but the video more than compensates for the lack of pictures.
Field Touring Alpine Dispatches
Jake Meyer's Blog
For information on a possible documentary from Ursus Films read their blog
Fabrizio Zangrilli's blog
I took eight hours of video on this trip and have put together a 78 minute documentary. The trailer on YouTube
is well worth your two minutes, in my opinion.
If you are interested in seeing the full length film you can buy the DVD: My First Expedition: Broad Peak
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