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

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