Pakistan Gasherbrum Expedition Wrap-up…Going Home

POST #99: Pakistan Gasherbrum Expedition Wrap-up…Going Home

I sat comfortably on my plane in seat 25A as the aircraft went airborne.  The potent scent of BO permeated the cabin from Skardu to Islamabad that day.  When I thought I couldn’t take the terrible smells anymore, the flight was over and I was out and into the sweltering heat of a rainy and tropical Islamabad.    I really couldn’t decide which was worse: sustaining the disgusting smell of the guy seated next to me as he picked his ear wax and wouldn’t stop putting his arms over his head in flight, nearly assassinating me with armpit odor, or the muggy smoggy wreaking stink of Islamabad.  I guess both were en route to getting me home sooner rather than later.

High on Gasherbrum II at 7600m / 25,000′   (July 27, 2013, Sunrise)

By good fortune my stay in that filthy city was short, but very eventful. What was left of my team and I were treated to a dinner out at a fancy steakhouse with the famous and most well-known politician and former mountaineer in all of Pakistan Mr. Nazir Sabir!!!
Nazir, now in his early 60s was the first pakistani climber to climb K2, G1, G2, and Broad Peak.  In fact, in 1982 he climbed with the famous Reinhold Messner himself when Messner came to climb G1 and Broad Peak in Pakistan while becoming the first to climb all the 8000ers, the 14 highest peaks in the world.  It would be my dream someday to accomplish the same.  I couldn’t imagine what it was like 30 years ago to climb in the Karakoram…….it is still rugged and wild today, but 30 years ago it had to be even more unreal!  We were told that sometimes it would take 5 to 7 days to reach Askole and then another two weeks to trek into the Concordia basecamps for access to the peaks.  Wow!  Now it takes about a third of the time to get in there.
This was a real treat…we were also joined by Dawa Sherpa, the most recent summiteer of all 14 highest mountains in the world and the youngest to climb all 14 at the age of only 31! It was a humbling honor to meet Nazir, given his stature in Pakistan.  We were taken to a steakhouse in Islamabad, and listened to stories from Nazir all evening long.  All the while I enjoyed one of the finest cuts of beef found in all of Pakistan.  But it wasn’t just about him…..he was asking questions about all of us…about our climb, our trek, where we were from….everything.  He found out I was from Colorado, and, as it turns out, Nazir has actually been to Colorado (Last Year), and we chatted about bringing him back to Colorado in the coming year to help promote the tourism and climbing in Pakistan.  We would do a hike of one of the 14ers!  After Nanga Parbat, Nazir fears that people won’t come next year.  “It will be very interesting to see how many foreign climbers and trekkers come to Pakistan next year….I am afraid it will be few.”  He said.
I had a chance to show him some of the photos I had taken of one of the military bases near our basecamp.  “The camp was filthy and the new Military General Habib promised us he would be cleaning this up this year”, I told Nazir.
“They’ve been saying that for years”, said Nazir.  “But the military has done nothing up there in two decades.”
Helicopter ruins from a 2005 crash at 16,000′ on the Duke of Abruzzi Glacier.
When the night was over we said our goodbyes, and I was still in awe of one of the pioneers of modern mountaineering in Pakistan.  I feel truly blessed to have met some of these real life legends of climbing, especially in the past year. (For example when I met all of the members of the first American  1963 Everest Expedition earlier this year in San Francisco).  No matter what, I feel truly blessed to get to do what I do for a living…..I get to climb mountains! And travelling to the ends of the earth for a peak is only a very small part of why I do this.  It also makes me appreciate life, the people around me, and the people back home I am close with.  And for everyone at home, be thankful everyday that you get to live one amazing lifestyle in the United States, because after the things I have seen and for the people that have died at the hands of the Taliban on this trip, we are all very lucky to have our lives in the good ole U.S.A.  12 people died in climbing accidents, avalanches, etc. on K2, G1, and Broad Peak this season.
Strong winds can kill quickly above 7000m if the right choices arent made, especially without bottled oxygen.
I am glad that my luck held up and also that I made the right decisions to keep luck in my favor wherever possible.   For many people, climbing mountains is a sport that has many different reasons.  For me I climb to take me to different parts of the world, but also I climb because getting to the summit is only a small part of an expedition.  On 8000m peaks you spend so much time focused on the summit, and even on a 50 or 60 day trip, your summit day is only  1 day……and reaching a summit can be merely half an hour.  It’s about the relationships you build with others, the people you meet along the way, and the journey and places you get to visit and see throughout.   IT’s also about coming home alive and well, to live to fight another day. It’s about not being afraid to tell the people that touch your lives or who are most important to you that they mean the world to you. Mountains for me aren’t about greed and selfishness,  they are about humility and sacrifice.  They are about making the right decisions, and to be honest, sometimes mountains are about luck and nothing else.
I would also attest that a mountain is very much like a beautiful woman, a woman I’d hope to find and spend the rest of my life with someday.  Many people I have met have told me that I am married to the mountains or “Your wife  (if you had one)would never let you do what you do if you ever get married, etc” And it’s all garbage in my book.   Here is how I see it: The summit may seem impossible to obtain at first, but then it becomes more realistic as you get to know her and invest more time in her.    The most gorgeous women are  the most dangerous, just like the mountains. IN some situations,  you have absolutely no chance to make it to their summits.   However…..with some patience, perserverence, and getting to know the beauty and what can and can’t be done on the mountain, the beautiful peak (woman), will finally relax and know that you care, and you will eventually be allowed to go to her coveted summit.
But a mountain (lady) can also be like Gasherbrum 2.  Maybe you get to know some or even most of her intricacies, but yet when it is time to reach her summit, she still won’t let ya go up and she’ll toss an unexpected wind or squall your way.  She’ll be a bit standoffish. This is called real life.  Perhaps you will hope for another good summit window and try again…..perhaps you will be turned away.  And…..maybe you won’t make it quite to the top, and then you will always wonder and wish what it would be like to get to spend your time on the summit and enjoy the magnificent views.  Wondering how great that view could be will always bring you back.  And if you made the right choice and survived the mountain, perhaps you will be granted a chance to make amends and make things right and write your glorious ending the next time.  Yes, mountains and women will always go hand in hand, and I think you can learn a lot from both throughout your journeys and adventures in life.
 So while I sit on this plane again, and wait for my chance to get back to my beautiful mountain town in the Rocky Mountains, I am thrilled that this expedition turned out as it did.  If anything it is making me more hungry not only for the next expedition, but it is motivating me to tackle my next projects, friendships, and relationships with the caution, respect, love, humility, and passion they deserve. I encourage all of you that have followed me on this adventure to do the same.  Be thankful for what you have in life, where you are and best of luck in all of your adventures for the rest of this year and beyond.
Thanks again for following and check back in a few weeks as I work on Sleeping on the Summits 2 and chase some new adventures!  Can’t wait to get home for some much needed rest!
Special thanks to my Sponsors Silver Oak, Steadman Clinic, Education Foundation of Eagle County, as well as my family, my parents, brother Jared, sister Krista, and my close friends Bob Pietrack and Chris Tomer.    Tomer…thanks for weather forecasting as well!
   AND…TUNE IN TO DATELINE NBC on the Evening of August 23, 2013 for the premiere of the Mount Everest Documentary from my Everest Climb last Season!
Until next time……Cheers,
 Dr. Jon

Jhula to Askole to Skardu. Last Day of the Trek Out. Aug 15, 2013. (A10)

Post #98: Jhula to Askole to Skardu.  Last Day of the Trek Out…..but lots of complications!
Aug 15, 2013. (A10)
Jhula means ‘basket’ in Balti.   Thats because at our campsite, there used to be a river crossing that was on old cables via a basket.  The basket crossing no longer exists.  Now you have to hike a mile up the river and a mile back down in the side-valley.   It is more time consuming (and tough on the tired body when you’ve been trekking now for 4 days in a row), but at least now there is a bridge over the raging torrent of a river that comes down from glacial meltwaters.
I awoke to clear desert skies and a cool breeze for the final morning of my trek back to civilization.  Three days and nearly 60 miles from basecamp has worn me down!  Legs are tired, and even some soreness on the shins and tendons of the ankles and toes.  A final breakfast of some muesli with eggs and chipati and I was off in the shadows of the peaks.
My Last Clif-Bar of the Entire Expedition…I’m all out!
The bonus for leaving early again was the cool shadows as well as the knowledge of getting to Askole by 10am, effectively ending the trek, but not the journey.  Depending on timing, we would either wait a day to take jeeps overland to Skardu on rugged 4WD roads, or try and go the next day (Because we heard that the roads out of the area were blocked by landslides or swollen glacial creeks in many places…more on that in a bit).   Anyway, I got out and down the trail with Migma and we pushed ourselves along the trail quickly, reaching Askole by 10am.
The remaining few hours to get back to Askole are pretty flat along a river, and there’s honestly not much to report here.   But…. The Highlights included:
Seeing the terminus of the separate Biato Glacier…..this glacier is almost a big in volume as the Baltoro and nearly as long.
Crossing this swollen river on a bridge that would splash you and make you feel like you were gonna get swept into the Braldo!  Those rapids were brutal!!!!!
Getting back to the Green Pastures of the village of Askole….and eating a tasty lunch in a shack that was infested by flies!
 Decision made: After lunch we decided to go for it and try to get back to Skardu late that evening (Which meant a chance for  real shower and a real bed to sleep in!!!) .  I was told that the road was blocked or washed out in up to 3 places.  It ended up being 4.
We loaded some old school tractors in Askole for the first 45 minutes and headed up the side of the mountains to our first crossing.  A mudslide and glacial creek flow had taken the road out completely.  Here some porters as well as Mingma, Arnold, Karma, Dorjee, Charlie, and I had to unload our stuff and our duffels and expedition gear and carry it across the washout to the next waiting jeep vehicle on the other side.  This process continued for the rest of the day and 4 total crossings.   This is actually business as usual for the Baltistan Region for this time of year….roads are washed out by landslides and glacial melt flows on a regular basis.
How many Baltis, Sherpas, and ARNOLDS?  🙂  can you fit in the back of a Jeep?  Ha ha!!
 It was an exhausting and entertaining process.  Some of the porters were up in arms because we were carrying stuff and they wanted to get paid for carrying but we already paid them for the trek, so some refused to help….others were nicer and helped us anyway…..we did give them a good tip though.    The second crossing got even more interesting later in the afternoon.
Not only was a portion of the road covered with a raging torrent of muddy streamwater, but there was a section of road completely gone.  What do ya do when you have a full jeep of gear and an army of Balti Pakistani porters as well as Nepalese Sherpas?
You Spend Three hours  rebuilding the missing section by hand!  By 5pm once debris was cleared away in the creek and the road was rebuilt, we got the Jeep across….I took a video of the crossing and will have to post it with better internet on youtube.
 Anyway, by near darkness and nightfall we hiked across our 4 and final section of a landslide to jeeps awaiting our team on the other side.
 Then it was off to the nearby settlement and restaurant they call ‘Polygon’ for a dinner of Chicken Stir Fry.    The road was long that night, and bumpy until Shigar, then we kicked it onto the pavement and into high gear arriving in Skardu by 1am.  I must say that our awesome driver Nika didn’t get stuck once and constantly had his “No problem”  attitude…he was bumping lots of Britney Spears in his jeep ll night long along with some other Pakistani tunes too….was great to get back to Skardu in one piece!   He even let me download some of his best local hits for my ipod!
 Now it’s time to await a flight back to Islamabad and eventually get back to the United States.   IN other news…….there was a shooting of three gov’t officials near Chilas by the Taliban that were investigating the Nanga Parbat tragedy, so we have heard that the embassies are closed in Islamabad and that the Taliban is likely going to strike something soon again. Here we go again!  Geesh….my timing couldn’t be better to go back through Islamabad!  Will prob Stay in Skardu until my U.S. flight from Islamabad in a few more days.    Thanks for your good wishes and support out there…looking forward to getting home eventually.  I will post again an Expedition De-briefing with some final thoughts to wrap this expedition up.
 Best,  more to come !

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Irdupayu to Payu to Jhula, Another 10 hour Day and 20 Miles.! Aug 14th, 2013. (A9).

Post #97:  Irdupayu to Payu to Jhula, Another 10 hour Day and 20 Miles.! Aug 14, 2013. (A9).
Pakistan 2013
Today is Pakistani Independence Day……….A National Holiday. Interesting……..   AND…..It was the third day in a row trekking down the Baltoro.  Another long day to get out of the Karakoram on the way home…..but I continued to savor Every minute of it.  After All, I have kind of decided that this is probably my favorite mountain ramge (ranks right up there with the Elks in COLO)
 I woke again before 6am, actually it was 5am, and getting light fast.  At 12,600’ at IrduPayu it was a warm morning, above freezing and I went to the dining tent in Shorts for a Final round of Pancakes on the Expedition.  Barely a cloud in the Sky and the Great Trango Tower looked good in the early morning light.
I wanted to get moving before the Sun came up, because it was going to be a Hot one.  In this unique environment, the Glacier actually flows into the Desert at it’s terminus, it is such a contrast yet such a surreal landscape.   Green Pastures along the valley walls also made the backdrops stunning (Photo I mentioned from yesterday’s trek in Irdukas with the Horses)
 Sand dunes were present to the west of camp as I walked along the side of the glacier.  At times I trudged through them and felt like I was headed to the beach rather than down a huge mass of ice.   In shadows and dropping below 12,000’, the air was getting very thick now.  Payu Peak and the Spires across the valley were brilliant in the rising sunlight.  Nearly 50 miles from Basecamp now, and approaching the Glacier’s Snout, I crossed terminal moraines and rock piles and saw the Braldo River to my west carving it’s way towards the lower valleys.
The ticket to relatively even ground with an actual trail on dirt and Alluvial Fan could be seen on the Valley Floor to the Right of the End of the Glacier…..I couldn’t wait for freedom.  I had been on a Glacier for the past 50 days and I was ready to feel real earth underneath my feet as opposed to ice and snow.
The end of the Baltoro Glacier is a truly unique environment and a special place.  Ice is covered in Piles and mounds of rock.  Sometimes the Ice shows through but I covered in Black Dirt… some places the ice is visible, in most places there are actually plants and gorgeous purple flowers growing on the Soil at the end of this glacier over the top of the ice.  Some sand dunes and fine dirt piles have been bull-dozed and left behind as the ice has melted.  These rocks and dirt and ice have probably taken over 1000 years to make it all the way down to this point….some of the rocks carried down after being shaved off of the peaks of K2 or Gasherbrums, or other mountains High up the Valley over 50 miles away.
My favorite spot was to sit on the Glacier 500 feet above the valley floor and peer down into the enormous snout.  This was where the Braldo river was literally Gushing from the Glacier and running down into the Valley Beyond. It resembled a Giant Milk Shake of Rock Flour and mud and Dirt emulsified into the Water that suddenly became a river.  This huge hole looked rather dangerous, the river very powerful and it was astounding that this huge mass of ice like a sponge was now releasing this massive torrent of water to quench the thirst of the desert basins heading out towards Payu, Jhula and Askole.  Eventually this body of water makes it to the Indus River and all the way to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan.
I took my first steps off of the glacier and on solid dirt ground along the riverbank felt like and old sailor letting go of my sea legs (my “Glacier” Legs. )  I bid farewell to the largest glacier on earth, as well as my final Nutter Butter cookies and Clif Bars for the entire trip!
 It was a scenic trek, and the journey still had another 5 hours ahead plus a half day to get to Askole.    I took a break an hour later in the Campsite of Payu, a desert oasis with large Shade trees of green and a coke I bought from the local porter caretaker of the campsite for 600 Rupees for 1.5 Liters ($6)……ice cold soda tasted too good on the hot day.!
The afternoon got hotter as I dropped lower along the raging Braldo river.  A couple of glacial stream crossings were interesting to watch with some of our porters and a foreshadowing sign of crossings yet to come as we exited the Baltoro valley.
At 4pm I reached Jhoula as the sun lowered below the high Canyon wall to cool me off for the Afternoon with tired legs after three days of trekking.  I was hoping I’d be strong enough to make Askole the next day.
   “This journey just might get even more fun with the Jeep Ride back to Skardu tomorrow afternoon” ,  I thought.
 We shall see…….catch you tomorrow!

Concordia To Irdupayu In A Long 12 Hour Day 20mi Down The Glacier

Post #96: Concordia to Irdupayu in a long 12 hour day 20mi down the glacier
Concordia to Irdupayu
It was a chilly start to the morning, but much warmer than mornings of the expedition, being at a lower altitude than basecamp already.  I was up early to eat breakfast with my teammates Mark, Grace and Arnold.
 I caught a glimpse of K2 walking from my tent to the dining tent and the aroma of pancakes turned my attention from the Savage Mountain to the Savage in me with my hunger.  I knew it would be a long day on the glacier, but I was also excited that I would get to drop below 15,000’ for the first time since the 4 of July.   Out the screen windows of the dining tent, some of the highest mountains in the world were present….some in fog and some in clear view.
I ate my breakfast slower than normal, knowing this would be my last morning to see all of the bigger peaks for quite some time.  By the afternoon I would be 20 miles west down the glacier and in view of an entire new set of spectacular peaks near the Trango Tower group……….all stunning for sure.
When the meal was over I put my freshly filled water bottle in my pack, zipped up the contents, took my jacket off (as the sun was warm already), and bid K2 goodbye for the last time.  The summit was soon concealed behind a nearby peak as I started to drop west on the Baltoro glacier.    The day became hot….and sunny quite quickly.  Once again I was in shorts and getting used to the ups and downs of hiking  the glacial moraine.
With every side valley I passed en route to Goro II and then Irdukas, then Irdupayu along the way I felt like an early explorer.   These names aren’t the names of villages at all, rather just primitive campsites along the way as the Baltoro has no permanent settlements along it’s routes to Gasherbrums or K2 once you leave Askole.
It would be so cool to come back and go up each one of those separate glacial valleys.  Dozens upon dozens of peaks, all jagged, some snow covered and some melted off with some incredible rock to climb.  Granite cracks, enormous peaks….and some have probably never been climbed.  The trail continued on for what seemed like forever, but I didn’t mind.
Soon Masherbrum, nearly 8000m popped into view to my south.
A snowy massive chunk of steep rock and ice….something out of the Harry Potter series or some other far-fetched fairy tale.   This North Face of Masherbrum I was told conquered a few year back by Steve House, the crazy, but fantastic American Climber who has cheated death many times in his career.  I hope I get to live a long life as a mountaineer, but so much more than a mountaineer……..many have died here and I don’t ever plan on being one of them. Seeing these peaks in this place was real life and these Pakistan Mountains were so real you could reach out and touch them.
By 2pm I crossed some central glacial moraines that are at the Elevation of Colorado Mountains at about 14200’ and headed to the south side to a cropping and outpost on the side of the valley overlooking the glacier called Irdukas.  This place was very green at least at the campsite (but not as you look toward the peaks) and is also one of my favorite view points of the Glacier and Peaks.    I took a really awesome photo of some horses and Broad Peak in the background to the East when we trekked in here at the end of june….that one is an award winner for sure and will remain etched in my mind, I still have to download it from my Canon Camera.
The sheer enormity of the northern wall across the glacier from Irdukas is stunning, and the huge granite and metamorphic peaks make Yosemite look small by comparison.  Peaks like Castle and Cathedral are properly named here….and the Trango Group dominates.  Some of the Spires have never seen humans on them, while others have been climbed only once or twice EVER.   After a water break, I had two more hours to go to get to our intermediate camp at 12,600’ for the evening.
I hustled down towards the camp along the rocky moraines as I went.  My fatigued legs were looking forward to a cool dip in the creek at the Irdupayu camp and savoring yet another excellent camp site.  20 mile day was completed…..two more days of trekking long days to get out of the Baltoro  to Askole and on to Skardu so I can go home via Islamabad eventually……and see all of my amazing family and friends: let’s continue this adventure tomorrow shall we?

Waving at K2, Approaching Basecamp

Jon’s cruising!  His Team is following the yellow line and has already passed the turnoff for K2.
They’re nearing their primary Basecamp near the Gasherbrums.  Basecamp sits at roughly 16,732feet or 5100m.
This photo is from a different expedition but gives you a good idea of what climbing the glacier is like.  It’s no easy task.
More to come!
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