If you get through your first day in Pakistan then you shall start thinking that up there, almost 8 km difference in altitude, there are two mountains to be climbed.
We reached Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, on June 13th after a 19 hours flight from Bucharest, with plane changing in Athens and Bahrain. This only after having an “adventure” with Olympic Airlines who canceled its flight to Athens into the last moment due to “technical” reasons (to be read: most probably due to the lack of enough passengers to make the flight affordable for the company). In the already known Asian style (I’m at the third expedition in this part of the world) we found out from Ali, the guy waiting us to the airport, that the very next day we shall leave for the Base Camp (when we should have left in three days instead?). I managed somewhat to deal with my initial angry that the stuff it’s not how it supposed to be and started to look at the bright side: we might save some good time for spending more up the mountain in case of the bad weather. But…this in the possibility of getting done everything we still had to buy in only one day. Last time in Kathmandu, Nepal it took us four days to do so. So, after just only a two hours nap we started a “marathon” shopping day. Boys only? ?. 40+ degrees Celsius, huge humidity, tons of dust, middle ages smelly (but picturesque and lively) bazaars, almost no traffic regulations…and…yes…no Fuji Provia slide films ? (although I was assured (yeah sure…) that I will find there; in the meantime I already ordered 40 rolls more, beside the 35 that I already have; they will hopefully reach me in Base Camp in three weeks time with an Austrian team). At the end of the day, on a complete darkness, we had almost everything, most important being the two car batteries that will store the energy given by the solar panels and the barrels to transport our equipment during the one week trek with the porters over the Baltoro glacier. I say complete darkness because starting few months ago there is a shortage of electricity in Pakistan ( it seems they don’t have enough dams) and the government decided to “save” on.
We left in the very morning of june 14th for our 11 days journey (hopefully, in case everything fits) to the Base Camp at about 5000m altitude. It’s somehow intriguing that in less than two weeks we’ll flip from 40+ Celsius degrees to even sometimes 40- in the cold nights. The trip to Skardu (with a night spent in Chillas at a quite cozy motel), the last city on our way and the “entry” points for the expeditions going for the highest summits in the Karokoram was a two days 800 km breathtaking journey in what might be one of the best places to see in a lifetime (and still more to come in the following days?. At it’s lower part we crossed a lovely sub Carpathian type region, and wondered to the damage it had got when the 2005 earthquake brought here a lot of suffering and despair. Luckily, there are some international NGO’s helping rebuild the area and supporting these people. The road starts to get on steeper and steeper slopes, with hundreds of meters below and amazingly built houses on the most unusual locations on even 500m altitude difference from the road, the only access being some shy path. There is a universe of mighty rocks with only unbelievably small green oases sheltering a house or two. I didn’t stop asking myself how these people manage to live here and what bad times brought them here. The road was through deep and narrow gorges and our driver made the ride much more exiting than it should really had to be. I just can’t understand why all these guys have this “lesser faire” attitude taken to its maximum all the time but when they get to drive. And they drive like possessed.
Driving further up the valley of the legendary Indus river ( it has always had a mystery aura on me since I was a child) we came to a point where, geologically three mountain ranges meet: Himalayas, Hindu Kush and the Karakoram. (just get on the internet and download the song “Halfway up the Hindu Kush” of Katie Melua and I bet you’ll just l-o-v-e it).
Some of the wise guys from the geographical societies refers to the Karakoram as being also a part of the Himalayas. For climbers this is doesn’t really matters. What really counts for them is the fact that four out of the fourteen summits in the world reaching abov 8000m lies here: K2 (8611m, the second highest after Everest), Broad Peak-8047m, Gahserbrum 1-8068m and Gasherbrum 2-8035m.
Skardu lies into the heart of Baltistan (the land of Balti people) and it’s the main city in the area. Though remote and difficult to access, the five valleys of Baltistan have been the means of contact between one empire and another, between one culture and another. Bfore they came under the influence of Buddhism, the baltis were animists; animism gave place to Shamanism and after that to Bon Po religion (4th-7th centuriesAD) only to be converted to Buddhism in the 8th century AD. Muslims conquered the area in the 15th century and from then on it’s people adhered to Islam. So strange the same area hosted so many different faiths along the years. In the same time, many races went through here. That’s why the Baltis are a curious mix of Tibetans, Afgans, Mongols, Kashmiris, Turks and Kirgiz. Today, after making final shopping (one more barrel and some snow stakes) we went to see a 2 millenia old carving of Buddha with a chopped box four meters above the groud. Locals says if you manage to throw a little stone in that carved place you’ll encounter plenty of luck on your way. Islamic locals namely. For me, in my European pragmatism was just a way to slowly destroy the monument, but…who can really know?!
Tomorrow we’ll drive by jeeps to Askole, a small village into the mountains from where we will start our trek to Base Camp. There we will hire our porters and let’s hope our “partnership” will finish without incidents since I still haven’t heard of one single expedition of having at least minor problems in dealing with them. (Alex)
After 5 days in Pakistan we are still into a very friendly landscape. We are at 2340m into a village called Skardu and only tomorrow we will enter into the wildest zone. The peoples are very friendly here, I don’t know why they are so scary warriors, but anyway I don’t want to find out. I didn’t see any Kalashnikov yet… at civil people of course.
You have to be very carefully what you eat and especially what you drink, because the local water could be infected whit different bacteria. Some mountaineers had to come back from the glacier because of this and their expedition could be over. There are many teams here: from Poland, Iran, Georgia, Sweden, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, USA and more. They are going to climb different peaks: Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak and K2, all of them more then 8000m.
We will start the trek to the basecamp the day after tomorrow. The equipment and the food will be carried by porters till the basecamp (5300m). Each of them will carry 25kg. We need 7 days to reach the basecamp so it will be a long trek. The trek will follow deep valleys, crossing wild rivers, climbing steep sections and because of this they can’t use donkeys or yaks to carry the equipment. This trek is very famous, is considered the 5th most beautiful trek in the world, so it will be very interesting. (Andrei)