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 American Gasherbrum 2006 Expedition Base camp: SNOW


Dispatch #4: July 14 Gasherbrum Base Camp

Much has happened in the past couple of weeks. Lots of folks have summitted in the past week as the result of an extended period of brilliant weather (the best in the past three years in the Karakoram). We arrived a few days too late to make any serious summit attempt, and now we're stuck in the first major storm in  several weeks.

There are a couple of major 'issues' on G2 this year. First, the icefall and glacier between Base Camp and Camp 1 has deteriorated rapidly, and there are many large crevasses spanned by some very delicate bridges. So close attention needs to be paid to ropework, and even then most of us has poked a leg or more into a crevasse at this point, with little or no consequence. The second problem is the location of the route between Camp 1 and Camp 2. Only those who put in the fixed ropes have much good to say about it. The route runs right up the middle of the avalanche runout for the whole upper face.

We may need to move parts of the route to the more traditional slopes to the left.

However, the biggest obstacle I've faced so far is the heat. Even at C2 (6400m) the sun has been fierce! By putting our sleeping bags on top of the tents we've been able to languish the hours of 9 to 4 inside our tents.

I'm happy to have spent 6 nights on the mountain so far, 4.5 in Camp 1 (5900m) and 1.5 in Camp 2 (6400m). The 0.5's deserve an explanation. After a night at C2, the weather was holding so I decided to stay an extra night, then head down to Base Camp. About 7pm it started snowing, heavily, and the thought of descending the avalanche paths the next morning was not comforting. I consulted with some friends next door (who were also a bit jittery) and we decided to head down that night, before the snow built up. After a fairly straightforward descent in the dark (under 2 hours), we were at Camp 1 before 10pm. Of course, it was not snowing. However, in the morning we were 'redeemed' by some strong snow showers. I roped up with another climber and we picked our way through the crevasses which had become uncovered in the past week.

So now it's snowing (but the sun is charging my computer!) and we wait a few days for the weather to clear, hopefully in a day or two. 

One final note. I often say 'we', but I'm technically travelling alone. In respect for their privacy, I don't identify these folks I'm interacting with unless the need is crucial.

Cheers, Mike

Mike Farris is a Professor of Biology at Hamline University. He has previously reached 8000m on Kangchenjunga and 7900m on Broad Peak. His forthcoming book, The Altitude Experience, will be a practical guide to the art and science of travel up high. It will be published by Globe-Pequot Press in late 2007.

Dispatch #3: Base Camp at Last

Monday, July 3. We arrived in Base Camp yesterday. The trek from Paiju was mostly uneventful, in relatively good weather. We had some snow on the hike to Concordia, but by the time we stuffed about 20 climbers in a cook tent and ate some food, the weather cleared and the hike to our actual campsite was in good weather.

The weather has been quite variable. We're getting sun, wind, cloud, snow, then sun again. Luckily we've had some great views of the big mountains. Interestingly, I have yet to see my target, Gasherbrum 2!

The mountain is very crowded, with many more expeditions to come. There was a meeting today about the fixed (permanent) ropes. This issue is more difficult each year. Here's how it works. The first teams on the mountain must fix the ropes if they want to climb. Later teams (and individuals like myself) don't have to spend the time and money to fix the ropes, so these earlier teams want us to pay for the use of their ropes. On the other hand, there is enough rope in camp to fix the route 4 times, so why should we pay when we can set another set of ropes? At this point, I can proceed without paying anyone so in true local style, I'll ignore the problem until I need to deal with it.

I agreed to serve as 'expedition leader' as a favor to my friends at ATP, the trekking company that supplies all of our needs up to and including base camp. It's been as much work as I expected, and that's more than I cared for. I'll be happy to get up onto the mountain.

Speaking of climbing, tomorrow we're going to go drop a load of gear about halfway to Camp I. The goal over the next week is to get Camp 1 stocked with everything I'll need to climb the rest of the mountain.

I'll try and post some photos on the next dispatch.
Cheers,
Mike

Dispatch #2: The High Sahara

Wednesday, June 28. I'm sitting in the mess tent, drinking some milk tea and relaxing. We have had two days trekking in the usual numbing heat, and the rest day is good for all of us--porters, staff and members alike.

The jeep drive to Skardu was uneventful. We had an open-top jeep and I was able to stand up much of the trip, saving my butt and kidneys from a pounding. But it's always a relief to arrive in Askole. I didn't bother to walk around in the village, as I still had to pack for the porters. Each load has to be less than 25 kg (55 lbs). A porter earns 4000 rupees (about $66) for the seven-day trip to Base Camp.

The first day's trek is fairly flat but long. We arrived at the lunch spot, which has some trees, and waited and waited for the lunch supplies to arrive. Finally we find out that there had been some fights among potential porters for our loads, and our guide had to spend several hours sorting things out. Apparently the number of trekkers is way down this year, so there is not enough work.

After arriving at Jhula, the trip almost ended for me. We were standing around talking, and all of a sudden somebody said "Look out!". With my catlike reflexes I instinctively jumped to the side as two donkeys came racing through. I turned around to joke that I wanted more warning the next time, and then I heard "Look out!" and I jumped again as they raced back through again. Apparently the male donkey was lonely and his lady friend was not interested. Getting mowed down by an amorous donkey would have been an ignoble end to my trip!

Day two saw a very hot trudge through the sandy river bottom (hence the title of the dispatch). We took a little under 6 hours to get to Paiju, a forest hillside that is a haven from the sun. There is water, clean toilets, and a magnificant view. At night the porters danced and sang (and we danced some too). I recorded some of their folk music on my trusty digital recorder.

Tomorrow we move onto the glacier (which is completely covered by rocks, so we don't walk on ice). I've feeling fine except for some cracked skin on my heels, which I've dressed with a bandage. We have 3 Italians, 3 Americans (including me), and one Nepali, Dutch, and Dane in our group. We are getting along fine. Mike

Earlier: Update: Dispatch #1: Four beautiful words

Friday, June 23. "We flew to Skardu" may not sound beautiful to you, but they're music to my ears. I'm laying in a motel room in Skardu after a 45 minute plane flight, which allowed us to avoid two grueling days of driving up the Karakoram Highway.

So far the trip has paralleled my experiences the previous two years--long plane flights, jet lag, mind-searing heat in Islamabad. I've also seen a number of my Paskistani friends, and look forward to seeing others in the future.

On Thursday I gave the Alpine Club of Pakistan $500 donated by my friends and family for earthquake relief. The money will be used to help rebuild schools in the earthquake zone. The other $500 will go to the Central Asia Institute, to be used for the same purpose (see the link at the top of the page).

The weather has been generally clear, which was why we could fly today (Friday). The plane must fly by one of the biggest mountains in the world and land in a narrow, deep mountain valley, so bad weather prevents the plane from flying about 50% of the time. I had excellent views of Nanga Parbat (an 8000 meter peak) on the flight.

We have a variety of folks on our permit: A guided group of 3 plus the guide, a couple of Italians and a Nepali, and two solo Americans, Nick and yours truly. We travel and trek to base camp together, but will climb independently.

So far I've done little but eat, sleep, and shop for supplies. Avoiding the 100+ degree heat in Islamabad meant hiding in the air-conditioned room or in the restaurant of the Pearl Continental Hotel.

Saturday, June 24. It's 6am and I'm sitting on the terrace of the hotel, overlooking a river coming down from a side valley. The valley is fllied with poplar trees, and the surrounding mountains are mostly a uniform brown, the color of light mud, with occasional splashes of snow or grass. I'm only up at this hour because of the jet lag, but it's worth it to enjoy a few minutes of cool air and relative quiet.

Skardu is a town that has its own charm, I suppose. It's a frontier town at the end of the road, with eye-watering air full of diesel fumes and dust. There are hundreds of the shops common in the Third World. It does seems strange to walking around the dust, rocks, trash, and other filth and see shops advertising digital photo services.

The main goal today is to get my baggage repacked so that it is the right weight for porters to carry. We're also making sure that our outfitter (ATP) has all of the items we've requested. A walk through the bazaar, and probably a nap, and food, will complete the day. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will take the 8 hour jeep ride up to Askole, and we start walking the next day. I don't know when the next dispatch will be--maybe in 4 days, maybe a week

Wolf Göschl climbing near Gasherbrum La (G1, 6300m, 24. June)

copyright Gerfried Goeschl

Timeline:
June 19- fly to Pakistan
July 3- arrive at Base Camp
August 8- depart Base Camp
August 16- return to USA

From June 21 through August 16, I will be in Pakistan attempting the world's 13th highest mountain, Gasherbrum II (8,031/26,348 ft).

Gasherbrum 2 is located along the Baltoro and Abruzzi Glaciers in northern Pakistan. Four of the world's 14 highest peaks are found within a few miles of each other, including K2 (the world's second highest peak).

I will be climbing completely self-supported, without supplemental oxygen, without guides, and without high-altitude porters.

Many folks have asked about the political situation in Pakistan. While there are areas of Pakistan that are totally bad news, the main climbing areas have continued to be as safe for Westerners as anywhere in the world. The local inhabitants rely on expeditions for much of their yearly income, which helps. For two years I have found almost Pakistanis to be almost uniformly friendly.

While this route is not technically difficult, the combination of weather and altitude mean that even for the world's best climbers there is no certainty of reaching the summit.

Safety: Climbing the high peaks is not safe; but neither is driving to work. An interesting analysis shows that since 1990, these high peaks have become much safer than they were in the past.

The main difficulty in climbing these peaks stems from the lack of oxygen in the air . However, many climbers are prevented from summitting by more mundane problems. Mike Farris

 

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