Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dave's Article for CeraSport

CeraSport gave Ursus Films a ton of hydration drink mixes for our K2 trip and they were awesome. Dave Ohlson recently wrote an article for their newsletter entitled, "Hydration and the Mountaineer." If you're interested, you can download the newsletter here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Explorer's Web Interview with Dave Ohlson

Dave Ohlson, owner of Ursus Films, recently spoke with about the rescue attempt on Latok II. He was with Fabrizio Zangrilli and Chris Szymiec of Field Touring Alpine in mid August when they learned of the situation on Latok II where Spanish climbers Oscar Perez and Alvaro Novellon had a bad accident. Oscar Perez broke a leg and arm and was left in a precarious position with little fuel and food while Alvaro descended and put out the call for help. Top climbers from Spain immediately flew to Pakistan to help out. Ultimately, the rescue was unsuccessful due to a change in the weather, the length of time Oscar had been alone on the mountain and the risk to rescuers.

Read the interview and see pictures here:

Here are some more pictures not posted on

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rescue on Pumori with Fabrizio Zangrilli.

This is a video that we produced for It is up there somewhere, but I can't for the life of me figure out how one would get to it starting at the homepage. So instead, I've decided to post the video here.

Last Fall Fabrizio and I were on Pumori, in Nepal. Fabrizio had a client that was injured by a falling chunk of ice. This video is him discussing the accident and subsequent rescue. I wasn't on the mountain the day this happened. But I did wander into basecamp soon after his client had been put into a tent. I examined them and found some major problems which is when we made the decision that we could not wait for a helicopter to come to basecamp and had to evacuate to Gorak Shep where we hoped to find bottles of oxygen and more people to help.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dubai- The Land That Oil Made Green

The seatback screen on the Emirates flight from Islamabad showed a map of the world below us. The northern part of the United Arab Emirates was displayed as green, but looking out the window I could see only endless dunes dotted with scrub brush. The wadis (seasonal river beds) looked dry, but one or two had water in them. As we approached Dubai roads appeared and indeed, they were lined with green.

The Gulf States were inhabited by nomadic pastoralists for thousands of years and if it weren't for the sudden wealth created by oil this would still be a backwater. But Dubai has seen an incredible explosion of growth in the last fifteen years. The city now looks as modern, perhaps more, than any in the world. A twelve lane highway cuts through town, the world's highest building lies here and expensive and architecturally unique hotels line the beach on the Arabian Gulf.

Landing in Dubai the temperature was 108 degrees, but Dubai is made more hospitable by an abundance of air conditioning. The airport is cool and comfortable and full of fountains. This seems to be a theme throughout Dubai. Whereas oil made this country rich, water seems to be the real symbol of wealth in the desert.

I have a layover here, so after catching a shuttle to the hotel I decided to see a bit of the city. I caught a taxi and headed for Jumeira Beach. Modern cities interest me only mildly and since there's not much to do that isn't expensive I figured this was my best bet for passing the afternoon. The air that blows in off the Gulf is hot and humid and a haze obscures the horizon. In the distance I could see the Atlantis Hotel, built on a man made island. They are quite fond of these man made islands here. There are several off the coast here in what must be rather shallow water. One of them has attracted a bit of media attention as it is in the shape of a map of the world.

Walking along the beach the contrasts of life here were quite apparent. Bikini clad westerners laid out in the sun while women covered from head to toe in black walked into the water with their children. There are a lot of Westerners here working in the many huge towers that populate the landscape. Dubai is quite liberal and one sees attractive western women wearing just as little as they would anywhere else in the world. There are also a lot of people from other Islamic countries. For instance, both of my taxi drivers today were from Pakistan. Dubai has a shortage of native workers and so imports huge numbers of people to build the towers, drive the taxis and work in the hotels.

After my walk on the beach I went into the Jumeira beach hotel hoping to find a beer to drink. But because of Ramadan no one serves alcohol until after 7:30PM. So instead I sat for awhile watching the elites walk by, then headed back to my more modest accommodations (though they're still the best I've had this entire trip.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Broad Peak with the Milky Way Above

Ramadan In Islamabad

Returned to Islamabad today on a flight from Skardu. Up until this morning we were sure we would have to drive the Karakoram Highway, a thirty five hour trip. But luck was on our side and Chris, Fabrizio and I all managed to get tickets on the flight. There is only one a day and that's if the weather allows it, so they tend to get very backed up with passengers.

Ramadan (Ramazan, Ramzan etc.) has begun. This holiest month of Islam is marked by the holiest day of the year commemorating the day Mohammed received his revelations from God. It occurs towards the end of the month. During Ramadan the observant fast during the day and refrain from smoking or anything along those lines in order to learn patience, humility and to be more in touch with the plight of the poor among their community. In the evening the eating commences, very welcome after these long hot days. Lucky for us we don't have to observe the daytime fast, but I feel sorry for anyone working i a kitchen while trying to refrain from eating.

Here are a few randomly selected pictures from the trip:
The view of K2 from the confluence of the Godwin-Austen Glacier and the Savoia Galcier.

Another view of K2 from the slopes of Broad Peak. Taken by Fabrizio Zangrilli.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Latok II Rescue

Still haven't left Pakistan.

Myself, Chris and Fabrizio just returned to Skardu yesterday. We had returned previously from K2 of course, but circumstances changed when we heard of a Spanish climber trapped on the NW ridge of Latok II, a 7100 meter peak off the Biafo glacier. Two climbers had been climbing this route from the North when they had an accident around 6300 or 6400 meters. The uninjured climber climbed down and contacted his climbing club in Spain who sent the word out that rescuers were needed. Rather than restate the whole story I'll just say that it can be read about here:

Fabrizio took a preliminary flight out to the mountain on the 11th, returning with the uninjured climber on the 12th to plan the rescue. Fabrizio flew out again on the 13th with three Spanish climbers. Logistics were very difficult and it was not until the 14th that Chris and I flew out on an MI-17 helicopter with the rest of a team of climbers from Spain.

Needless to say, we were extremely disappointed to be calling off the rescue attempt. But there was no way we were going to reach the stranded climber. Weather turned very foul and with the long amount of time this guy had been up there it had become very unlikely that he could survive.

On our second day at K2 basecamp people watched as an Italian skier fell to his death below Camp 2 on the Cesen route. Those of us that hadn't seen it grabbed our bags, medical kit, stretcher and were ready for a rescue. In the end, it was only a recovery effort. We removed his body from the mountain and put him into a temporary grave in the ice. Standing around we were all silent and contemplative. One person said, "we did not know him, but he was one of us," and he began to cry. As I walked back to BC that day I thought about this and cried too. So for Oscar as well, although we did not know him, he was one of us. May he rest in peace.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summit Push

A lot has happened since my last post. Most significantly, everyone tried to reach the summit on August 4th. On August 1st everyone in our group left for Camp 2 on the Cesen while many teams left for Camp 2 on the Abruzzi. I decided not to try for the summit. This trip came up rather last minute for me and with filming as my primary goal, I was satisfied having gone to 7,100 meters (23,430 feet). So Chris Szymiec and I stayed down in base camp where we coordinated communications among all the members on the hill. On August 2nd the team went to Camp 3 and on the 3rd they attempted to move to Camp 4 at 7,950 meters (26,083 feet). With little rope fixed between Camps 3 and 4, everyone had to carry big loads, a difficult task at that height. Each member had to carry their personal gear, tents, stoves and importantly, oxygen. These huge loads meant that most people turned around. Only Fabrizio and two team members made it to Camp 4. Early on the morning of August 4th Fabrizio and Gerlinde went for the summit, while the two team members who made it to Camp 4 decided to stay put. Members from the Abruzzi teams joined them and everyone made their way into the bottleneck around 8,200 meters (26,903 feet), a narrow snow slope below a massive serac. I don't know much else at the moment because I ended up leaving basecamp the morning of the 4th. But I do know that no one made the summit that day.

Dealing with HAPE

On the morning of the 4th a Pakistani staff member from another expedition came into our camp and told us that someone was sick. A cook, Ali, had walked into their basecamp the day before and during the night he'd had trouble breathing.

As Chris and I prepared to go check him out we saw two people half carrying, half dragging him down the glacier to us. He was literally blue. He was breathing desperately, with loud wheezing. With a pulse oximeter we determined that his blood oxygen saturation was only 46% (normal saturation is around 95%) with a resting pulse of 140. It was classic High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.

For those unfamiliar with it, HAPE is one of those nasty things that can happen to people at high altitude. As the amount of oxygen in the lungs decreases the body constricts pulmonary arteries which in turn increases pulmonary arterial pressure. In susceptible individuals, or those that have traveled to high altitude too quickly, this increase in arterial pressure can lead to the leaking of fluid from blood vessels into the interstitial spaces around the lung and eventually, into the lungs themselves. Patients suffering from HAPE are literally drowning in their own fluids.

Lucky for Ali, we had what we needed to treat him. Left alone, he would have died within about 24 hours. But we were able to put him on oxygen, give him some drugs and put him inside our Gamow bag, a portable hyperbaric chamber that allowed us to effectively lower his elevation several thousand feet. In the long term, descent to a lower altitude is the only thing that will save a patient with HAPE. But a Gamow bag can mimic this for short periods of time. When Ali arrived at our camp he could not stand, was barely conscious and looked terrible. After one hour in the Gamow bag and on oxygen he was able to walk with the assistance of two people.

We kept the oxygen mask on him and began walking him down the glacier towards Concordia, about 400 meters (1,312 feet) lower. I quickly packed a bag and one of our team memebrs, Matt Gardiner decided to come with me. It was the two of us and about six Pakistani staff from different groups. It was really great to see them pulling together to help one of their brothers. Ali stumbled down the glacier while two guys held him up from either side. They all took turns doing this or holding the bottle of oxygen that was keeping him going. As a group we had two more bottles of oxygen, a stretcher and the Gamow bag with us. I also carried my stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and a selection of drugs in case things got worse.

In Concordia I tried taking him off oxygen to see if the reduction in altitude was helping. His oxygen saturation plummeted and it was clear we had not descended far enough. So we kept going and twelve hours after we left, we had gone down a total of about 600 meters (1,969 feet). This made the difference. Ali was able to sleep without oxygen that night. The next day we kept him on oxygen most of the day (mostly because he was exhausted) and walked another twelve hours. This made a huge difference and suddenly he was like another person, smiling and thanking us for saving his life. On the third day we walked the remaining distance to Askole. 100 kilometers (62 miles) in three days in what is now the middle of Summer. It was pretty miserable at times.

On the fourth day we took a Jeep from Askole back to Skardu where I sit now awaiting the arrival of everyone from basecamp. Ali has thanked us profusely, we've been thanked on behalf of his wife and children, the head of his agency came and thanked us and most importantly, Allah has been thanked. Ali bought us both hats as presents.

Production Almost Over

I ran out of battery power on the way down with Ali, but all in all I think I've gotten most of the shots I've wanted. Now that I'm back in a city I can properly charge things and will be concentrating on picking up some last interviews and b-roll here in Skardu. In a few days we'll be back in Islamabad where I have some more b-roll to shoot. After that I'm done really. I'll be back in the United States on the 17th and look forward to the editing process.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Camp 3

Returned yesterday from a sojourn up to camp 3. Chris Szymiec, Jake Meyer and I left camp 2 (6,450 m) the day before and finished fixing rope to 7,100 meters. We had two high altitude porters, Mohammed and Fareed, helping out carrying rope and a three man tent. At 7,000 meters we decided to let them go back down so they dropped their loads on a ridge line. There were some dead tents buried in the snow here and, since it wasn't clear how far we still had to go and clouds were gathering around us, I decided to chop out one of the tents and pitch ours in its place while Jake and Chris continued fixing above. It turned out we were closer than I thought and they returned shortly and helped to finish our platform.

Although our platform was large, sleeping over 7,000 meters was not very comfortable. It was pretty hard to work up much of an appetite, too. But the views were amazing and we had a good time laughing, melting snow and talking to the other camps on the radio. That night we had climbers in camps 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Shot some good video of climbing on the way up, the spectacular views and making dinner in the tent. In the morning, we climbed the last 100 meters to camp 3 where we fixed some more rope and stashed our tent. Fabrizio was descending from camp 4, refixing questionable rope along the way while other members were climbing up from camp 2 for their turn sleeping in camp 3. We sat in the camp for awhile enjoying the views, but feeling a bit knackered from the altitude. After fixing a bit more around the corner from camp, we descended to basecamp, 2,000 meters below.

Camp 3 sits below a large rock and contains several abandoned tents. After the serac fall last summer that killed 11 people, tents were abandoned at many high camps on the mountain. It's strange to find them, still stocked with food, fuel and miscellaneous items. They're mostly destroyed after being up there for a year, but one at camp 2 has actually been housing us this year.

The expedition has nine or ten days left. We are leaving here on August 7th. The clouds are closing in and it's probably going to snow tonight. The next possible day to move will probably be the 1st of August, perhaps the 31st of July. This means one last chance for the summit. We spent lunch discussing the logistics of this and what the possibilities are. We'll see how it all shakes out.

I spent last night and most of today getting some good photographs and footage. I walked down towards Broad Peak base camp this morning and got some good photographs of K2 with my Hasselblad. The mountains here are so huge that I find my lenses are not wide enough. I had to walk away from base camp in order to even fit K2 in the frame.

With our departure coming up so quickly I'm thinking a lot about what else I need for my intended Abruzzi documentary. Being on an expedition schedule makes it very hard to get every shot I'd like to. My hope is that with the material I get on this trip I can raise enough funds to come back next Summer and really focus on recreating Sella's photographs and exactly retracing the Duke's footsteps. There is the additional angle of the "Karakoram Anomaly," too. More time needs to be taken to gather the necessary information to make historical comparisons about glacier positions, mass, height and so forth. But this trip has been a fantastic start. The parallels between the 1909 expedition and ours are very interesting and I've gotten a lot of exciting footage. There are several projects that could be completed from what we've gotten already. I look forward to getting to work editing and working towards completion of the larger project next year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Call from Dave at Camp 3

Dave Ohlson yesterday had the opportunity to use the Field Touring Alpine satellite telephone and made a voice blog for them, from way up at camp 3 on the Cesen Route.

Take a listen here:

If you're curious, Camp 3 on the Cesen Route is at about 7,000 meters (22,966 feet) -- at least, I think it is. I don't read Russian and a Russian site was all I could find with an actual height for camp 3.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Living on the Glacier

Our base camp is situated on the Godwin-Austen Glacier. Looking at a picture of base camp (I'd post one, but satellite phones are pretty expensive) it would appear we're on solid ground, but this is not the case. Our camp is located on a debris covered portion of the glacier. As they flow through a valley glaciers pick up a lot of rocky debris that falls from the mountains above. On the lower stretches of large glaciers, below the nieve line (the point above which more snow accumulates than melts in a year), the surface is covered in this debris. Small quantities of dust or debris can hasten the melting of a glacier due to the absorption of solar radiation, but as the layer thickens, it actually starts to insulate the glacier. It also makes for a bizarre landscape.

Our camp is on rubble not far below the nieve line; the ground is covered in rocks the size of pebbles up to tent-sized boulders. The debris is not very thick and when the sun shines you can hear the glacier melting, a sort of crackling sound all around you. In the few weeks we've been here there have been large changes in the topography around us. My tent, for instance, is now situated on a platform as the ice under the debris has melted all around it. Many large boulders sit on top of platforms of ice as a similar process melts the surrounding ice. Off to either side of our camp are rivers flowing down the surface of the glacier, their beds made of pure ice.

Above our camp, on the way to the base of our route (45 minutes away), the debris ends, but the landscape remains bizarre with towers of ice called nieve penitentes all around. There are also large pools of water out there, a bit frightening when the visibility is poor and they're covered in fresh snow. The second time I walked out to the base of the route I had a funny surprise. I was within site of the rocky ledge where we stash gear and begin the climb. I wasn't watching my feet and as I half-stumbled down an incline below some seracs I saw that where my foot was about to land looked like a frozen over puddle. I crashed through the ice and although the puddle was only a few feet wide I plunged past my waist into the water. This is a common hazard here. Thin crevasses open and fill with water. Small on the surface, they can be very deep. I crawled out and took off most of my clothes, wringing them out and putting them back on. Luckily we weren't heading up the route that day.

Another strange facet of living here are the sounds. Laying in your tent at night you can hear the glacier underneath you. Loud pops and cracks, amplified by the fact you're laying on the ground. Sometimes it seems like the ice might crack open underneath you. But that's slower process. When we arrived there were no crevasses to speak of. A few very small ones were around, just big enough to break an ankle. In fact, many climbers have ended their trips due to tripping in one of these small cracks. Now, many weeks later there are considerably more and larger cracks appearing. Some of them get filled with rocks as they open, but others fill with water and one is now a couple feet wide and drops down about twenty feet. Walking around after dark without a headlamp is not advisable.

The K2 Diet Plan

Expeditions are a great way to lose weight. We eat very well here; big portions and rich food prepared by our cook Didar, who used to work at the Islamabad Marriott. But despite this fact and the fact that we've spent most of our time here sitting out bad weather in basecamp I've still had to tie string around my waist to keep my pants from falling off. Living at 5200 meters burns calories. Unfortunately a lot of these calories are taken from your muscles: Burning muscle tissue is more efficient than burning fat. So with the altitude and the cold distressing your body, it responds by withering away your muscle mass. After several years of these trips, I'm starting to have two classes of pants, pre- and post-expedition. The positive spin of this: Even though I'm losing muscle mass, my lower weight makes me a better rock climber when I return home.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Duke's Spur

In 1909 the Duke of Abruzzi's expedition surveyed nearly three quarters of K2, from the West Face which rises above the Savoia Glacier to the South Face above the de Felipi and Godwin-Austen Glacier (immediately above our base camp) to the SE spur and the East Face. The Duke's plan to climb K2 was extremely ambitious for the day. After their survey, they decided to attempt the SE spur, now known as the Abruzzi Spur. The climbing is difficult and the Duke and his guides reached a little over 20,000 feet before calling it quits. They later went to nearby Chogolisa where they reached over 25,000 feet, 500 feet shy of the summit and an altitude record that stood until it was surpassed on Mt. Everest in 1922.

A couple days ago I went to Camp 1 (5,900m/19,357ft) to sleep and then to Camp 2 (6,450m/21,161ft) for another night before returning to base camp. I was able to shoot spectacular footage of the views from Camp 2 and some decent footage of people moving between the camps.

Our route is the SSE Spur, generally known as the "Cesen" route after Slovenian alpinist Tomo Cesen. The conditions are excellent. Some deep snow in places, but importantly there has been little rockfall due to a late Spring.

Perhaps as soon as tomorrow (July 11) we will return to Camp 2, spend a night and then fix rope to Camp 3 (7,200m/23,622ft) the following day. Weather, as usual, is the determining factor. Fabrizio receives forecasts from a variety of sources and the consensus is no precipitation, but increasing winds over the next few days. The jet stream is directly overhead and its height is the important factor. When it dips down, winds at 8,000 meters (26,247ft) will reach over 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour). High winds above Camp 2 would preclude fixing to Camp 3. We'll have to play it by ear.

Filming is going well. Unfortunately, most of the time K2 is obscured by clouds. But there have been some nice periods and I've managed to shoot some nice light on the summit. After sunset I've been able to shoot some amazing stills of K2 lit by moonlight. On my many rest days I've been wandering about shooting anything I can find. Rivers flowing over the ice, avalanches (though I missed the biggest one), Yellow-billed Choughs, Broad Peak (another 8,000'er directly across the valley from K2), various base camps and a million shots of the grand vistas surrounding us.

More to come in a few days!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bad Weather at K2 Base Camp

The third of July. Sitting in base camp while it snows and blows outside. We've been here eleven days and have only gotten one good day of climbing in. Made a carry to base camp and, in the interest of the expedition, I left my camera behind and carried more rope instead. We had hoped to finish fixing line to camp 2 today and tomorrow, but bad weather has moved in early.

This morning I awoke to the sound of snow on my tent. Knowing that meant we wouldn't climb, I stayed in my sleeping bag until breakfast at 8:00 AM. In the morning it was frigid and windy and I wore several pair of long johns, boots, a down parka, balaclava and hat. By noon the temperature inside our tent was up to 95°F (35°C) as the sun tried poking out. Now it's snowing again and quite cold. It's a bit annoying, constantly having to put layers on and take them off off as the temperature fluctuates wildly.

We have ten climbers here, each with their own tent. Then there's our dining tent, with a long table and chairs, and our kitchen tent where three guys work most of the day to keep everyone fed. We also have a nice dome tent, a Marmot Lair, which is about seven feet high in the middle and a nice, warm place to hang out during these snowy days. It's where I'm tapping out this message now.

That's it for now. We're probably snowed in for another couple of days, so shooting lots of tent interiors and snowdrifts.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Power Problems on the Baltoro

K2 base camp is not a very sunny place. Situated on the Godwin-Austen Glacier between K2 and Broad Peak, the sun is usually obscured by clouds hanging around the summits. So I have to keep my blog posts short.

The hike from Askole to base camp is 66 miles and very rugged. The Karakorams are some of the biggest, baddest mountains I've ever seen. Very impressive.

We left Askole on the 16th of June and got to base camp on the 22nd. This walk took us from the last inhabited areas and high into the glacial valleys. It took several days to reach the snout of the Baltoro Glacier, from which the Braldoh River issues forth. This is one of the few glaciers in the world that has not receded... much. The snout appears to be in the same position as it ever was, with no terminal moraine at a distance from the end of the ice. The height has changed and, from looking at the walls of the valley, you can see that the maximum height was probably 200 feet higher than it is now, but that was probably more than 15,000 years ago.

The day after we arrived here we carried loads of equipment to the base of the Cesen Route (SSE Spur). Later, two skiers were attempting to descend from Camp 2. I didn't see it, but one of them fell almost 800 meters. We quickly put on our gear, packed the medical kit and hoped to help in someway. Unfortunately, the skier died and we watched rather helplessly as his partner dragged him down the slope towards the bottom. No one dared to ascend to them because the slope they were on is incredibly dangerous, threatened as it is by a massive wall of seracs at about 6,000 meters. Towards the bottom Fabrizio did go up and encourage him to continue descending without the body and to get out of harm's way, which -- thankfully -- he did. The next day we climbed up and recovered the body and the day after that, we carried him down valley where a helicopter came to pick up the body and his partner. It was a grim start to the trip and our only satisfaction can be in the fact that we were able to help in some small way. I hope everyone one will keep their eyes up and their minds clear for the rest of the trip as I really do not want to have to evacuate anyone else.

The latest update is that we have fixed past Camp 1. In another day or two I will go up, sleep at Camp 1 and then help to fix ropes to Camp 2. I may even sleep there before returning to base camp. The weather has been OK. It snowed last night and is cloudy and windy a lot, but it is not preventing us from moving on the mountain. The higher elevations are getting hammered by wind as the jet stream has dropped to about 8,000 meters. If we are lucky, the weather up high will improve when we get up there.

Wish us luck!

The Road to Askole

The road from Skardu to Askole is notorious for being narrow, bumpy and dangerous. Many people have died on this route as a result of rockfall or their Jeep plunging into the river below. We are lucky in that the road has been much improved over the the last ten years. Our Jeep ride took only six hours, where in the past it has taken some up to 16 hours with digging, flat tires, landslides and what not.

Fabrizio, Adam and I shared an open air Jeep on the ride up. A canvas roof and no windows allowed me to shoot out the sides effectively, but also meant that dust blew in all around us. Two thirds of the way to Askole we stopped and got out to look at a point where the massive Braldoh River pinches down to perhaps fifteen feet across as it pushes through a rock gap. Basically the entire force of the river pushes against a rock wall here and boils up and sideways to go farther down the valley. The ferocity and violence of that roiling mass iof water was quite amazing.

After our stop we changed seats so that instead of occupying the back right I had the front left (people drive on the left side of the road here). Ten minutes later we came to a muddy waterfall that fell from the right side across the roadway. I looked at the muddy road and contemplated getting out, but our driver charged ahead and I kept filming as as we passed through the torrent. I don't think I got any great video, but the audio of Fabrizio and Adam screaming as the muddy water poured in the right side of the jeep is quite compelling.

After the waterfall the driver stopped. He opened his door and put his head out. I watched him as we rolled slowly backwards, then stopped. He got out to wipe off the windscreen and I turned to Fabrizio and Adam and said, "Do you realize what he's just done?" These Jeeps have no emergency brake, so he had just rolled us back against a rock and then got out. We all shrugged. Letting go is an important part of staying sane in this part of the world. I looked at the brake and wondered if I'd be able to jam my foot onto it fast enough to keep us from rolling off the cliff. Later that day we learned that another Jeep driver had pulled the same maneuver, but his Jeep then rolled off the road and fell several hundred meters towards the river. Luckily, the passengers had gotten out beforehand.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pakistan Trip: A Quick Update & A Few Links

Hey guys, no new news from Dave and Adam right now, but they are alive and well on their way to base camp at K2 and Broad Peak. Their silence reminds me that I should let everyone know about a couple other places where you can see some updates from other members of the expedition.

Fabrizio Zangrilli is the expedition leader, and his blog is located at

Field Touring Alpine is the organization that put the whole expedition together. They have dispatches from the team, including audio dispatches, which are pretty nifty. You can find them at

You may also be able to find updates from from the field via Marmot at, and C.A.M.P. USA at

Check back again in a few days to hopefully hear a first-hand update from Dave as they come ever nearer to their final destination.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

From Dave in Pakistan: Hangin' in Skardu Part Dieux

In 1909 when the Duke of the Abruzzi and his entourage came to Skardu, "the Duke was received by the Rajah of Skardu and his brothers, accompanied by a suite of dignitaries, a numerous orchestra and a great crowd."

Vittorio Sella took a photograph of the polo grounds below a fort originally built in 1610. One of the many things the Duke did in Skardu was to take in a game here.

Today I stood in the same place that Sella must have, viewing the fort and taking photographs of a vigorous game of polo. I was wandering about looking for candy bars and toilet paper and so I didn't have anything but a still camera with me. Still, it was a unique feeling to know that I had traveled half way around the world to arrive at this exact spot, almost exactly one century later and to see the same people playing the same game.

The Meager Medical Kit

Today Jim Freeman, our expedition doctor came over to check out the medical kit I cobbled together for this trip. After having been involved in a bad accident on Pumori last year, I've become a lot more conscious of the fact that if you are not prepared to handle major medical problems in the field, people will die because of you lack of preparation. We were extremely lucky that our patient did not die last year. If someone died for lack of simple things like drugs, or oxygen, or the ability to listen to their lungs, I think I would feel like pretty shitty about it.

This kit will do I suppose. And it will have to, since it's the only medical kit that will be present at K2 basecamp. Jim and his kit will be over at Broad Peak basecamp, about an hour and a half's walk away.

On the 15th we leave to Askole on Jeeps and after that I'll be trying to update this blog via satellite phone.

By the way, if you ever come to Skardu, don't touch this flower.

And this is me in my traditional Pakistani kurta. Sweet huh?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hangin' in Skardu

Have two days to kill here in Skardu. Luckily it's a beautiful place; the perfect temperature, dry, and surrounded by impressive peaks. It is not lush by any means, but with abundant water from the Indus river and fertile alluvial soils there are huge groves of olive, apricot, cherry and mulberry trees, as well as poplars, acacias and willows.

However, mountain towns being what they are, afternoon weather changes quickly and now the wind has picked up and the sky is thick with dust. So I'm sitting in our spacious hotel room with a view of the mighty Indus river reviewing the photographs of Vittorio Sella and the words of Filippo de Filippi who wrote the official account of the 1909 expedition of His Royal Highness Prince Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, the Duke of Abruzzi.

On June 14th we begin retracing the steps of the 1909 expedition as we drive by Jeep to Askole, the last settlement before we begin walking to K2 basecamp. Finally finished with permits and security checks, Adam was able to load film into his 16mm camera, I've loaded my medium format still camera and we're ready to begin recreating some of Sella's photographs, documenting this expedition and otherwise kicking ass.

Skardu - Getting There

On June 11, 17 people had the pleasure of boarding a bus in the early morning twilight to make the long drive from Islamabad to Skardu. The drive along the spectacular Karakoram Highway is a 28 hour drive when things are going really well. With the continued military conflict in Swat and road closures due to construction and landslides, it often lasts longer. Last we heard they were waiting for the road to open at least ten hours away from Skardu.

For the last couple days no one has been able to fly, supposedly because Pakistani Generals were using Pakistan Airline jets to move around the country. The funny thing is that while everyone else got on the bus yesterday, Adam and I stayed behind with Fabrizio (K2 leader) and Chris Szymiec (Broad Peak leader) to do some filming. Then, come this morning, we got up, went to the airport and got right on a plane. We had a spectacular view of Nanga Parbat on the flight in.

Fabrizio remarked that in 19 trips to and from Skardu he's only gotten to fly once, and that was on the way out. Looks like Chris is our lucky charm. Fabrizio was so happy. I, however, had been secretly looking forward to driving the Karakoram Highway. I will get to do it on the way out though. It's much faster downhill, unless your brakes catch on fire, which happens... really.

Pakistani Alpine Club – hoop jumping and paper signing

The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) is in charge of administering mountaineering permits here. So on June 11th we went over to the ACP to sign some papers and meet our liaison officer. Because K2 and Broad peak lie near the disputed border with India it is mandatory that all expeditions be accompanied by a military liaison officer. We have been assigned a 29 year old Major. I can't remember his name so I call him Major Tom. He doesn't get the reference, but also doesn't seem to mind. As in Nepal, where a similar system is in place, liaison officers are not chosen for their mountaineering skills, knowledge, fitness or whatever. I'm not sure how they are chosen, but it seems to be a coveted position and is usually their first trip out of the lowlands. It does not always go well for either party... and I'll leave it at that.

For those of you who have read the Trial by Franz Kafka, or seen the Orson Welles movie Le Proces from the thirties (with Gregory Peck; really awesome) you can perhaps imagine the absurdity of a bureaucracy that has rules upon rules, many of which contradict each other and none of which accomplish the stated aims of having the regulations in the first place. When we arrived at the office they had two people on the permit. One on K2 and one on Broad peak. Three hours and four signatures later our team of 21 people has a permit listing something like 27 and we were free to leave. Major Tom was conspicuously silent during most of this officious paper shuffling and seemed extra nervous when we started talking about the rigors of high altitude, avalanches and pulmonary edema.

On a positive note, no one blinked an eye when I walked into the office with my camera rolling and kept shooting the whole time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dave & Adam in Islamabad

People say things like, "Man it was hot! Like, Africa hot." But seriously, these people must have never been to Pakistan because down here in the low elevation city of Islamabad it is HOT! PAKISTAN hot. And this is Spring time, so it's going to be even hotter when we return here in August--typically over 40 degrees Celsius (104° F).

We arrived here without event and have begun shooting some little slice-of-life segments, shopping for shalwar kamiz, riding in taxis that sort of thing. We have a rather large group. Some people have already flown to Skardu, the rest will go by bus tomorrow. After arriving and going to bed after 5:00 this morning I woke at 7:00 being kicked on the bottoms of my feet by Fabrizio who said, ”Be in the lobby in fifteen minutes. We got a flight.” It didn't work that way, of course. Mountain weather has kept flights from leaving for days, so although we were issued tickets, other passengers with pre-booked flights trumped us.

So tomorrow Fabrizio, Chris (the Broad Peak leader), Adam, and I get to spend another sunny day here and hope to leave the following day. By air if we're lucky, otherwise by land rover.

I realized today, as I was contemplating visiting the Abu Faisal mosque (a gigantic modernistic mosque built in the seventies by the Saudi King Faisal) that I didn't even bring a long sleeved shirt with me. At least, not one that can be worn in this heat. So I went out and bought a traditional and rather stylish kurta (the long cotton shirt worn by most Pakistani men). Mine has some great embroidery and will hopefully be impressive enough that tomorrow I will be allowed into the mosque, despite the fact that I am not a Muslim.

And by the way, for those of you who follow the news close enough to have heard, the bombing at the Pearl Continental was at the one in Peshawar. There is one here in Islamabad, right across the street from the hotel we had planned on staying at and, for much of today we thought that was the one that had been bombed. I was packing my camera gear to go to the scene when I was informed that it was the one in Peshawar. In any event, much of this city is locked down by roadblocks and the general consensus is that leaving is a good thing. Skardu is calm and quiet and a bit cooler.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Dispatch from Dave: Dubai: Land of Plenty

As Adam said, this place is like a cross between the Mall of America and Las Vegas.

Had the pleasure of seeing how little ice remains as we flew over Canada and Greenland, though the perpetual sunset is nice. Off to Islamabad in thirty minutes.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Off to Pakistan

Dave and Adam are on their way to K2 in Pakistan (or will be in about ten minutes, when their flight takes off -- and really not even then, since they're flying through San Francisco and Dubai). Watch this space for updates and hopefully some photos sent back from the mountain.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Seattle International Film Festival

Went to two screenings of films today.

Earlier today I went to a screening at the Seattle Center of :"Three Minute Masterpieces," a short film contest held by SIFF and the Seattle Times. The film I shot was called "Three Minutes of Movie Masterpieces."

Timothy Watkins and Charles Forsgren's pastiche of movie history, filmed in and around Seattle, lampoons "Casablanca," "Psycho" and other screen classics.

I shot in on my HVX200, but unfortunately, they screened a version they'd downloaded off YouTube, so the quality was not very good at all.

The second film, "Black Coffee" directed by Tran Quoc Bao and written by Charles Forsgren and Tim Watkins was made for SIFF'S Fly Film Challenge. Shot on black and white 16mm film it was in the noir genre with nods to hitchcock. I was only a PA and so can't say I contributed anything much. But it was satisfying to see it up on screen. Good job everyone.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lung Test at fourteen four

Thought I'd go test my lungs out before leaving for Pakistan. Climbed Gibraltar ledges on Mt. Rainier with photographer and artist Kendall Dewey.

Tried out a pair of La Sportiva's Olympus Mons boots too.

Conclusion: these are the warmest, most comfortable boots I've ever had.

And yes, my lungs still work.

Also, I did a sweet headstand. Well, maybe not sweet. But i did a headstand.

K2 and Broad Peak Expedition

We are pleased to be announcing that we've got some Summer plans worked out. While the prospect of loading the kids into the truck and hauling the Airstream around the great campgrounds of the West was very appealing, we have instead opted for a working vacation in Pakistan.

K2 and Broad peak, the second and twelfth highest mountains in the world are located right across from each other in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. K2 has been the scene of many notable expeditions, including one led by occultist and "wickedest man in the world," Aleister Crowley. We, however will be concerning ourselves with the 1909 expedition led by Luigi Amedeo, the Italian Duke of Abruzzi.

We have attached ourselves to an expedition to K2 and Broad peak being organized by Field Touring. Friend and occasional couch surfer at Ursus Films world headquarters, Fabrizio Zangrilli will be leading the K2 effort. The planned route is the SSE spur (marked in red) AKA the Cesen route after alpinist Tomo Cesen. This route is a slightly safer alternative to the Abruzzi spur (in yellow).

Dave Ohlson and Adam Forslund will be heading to Pakistan June 8th. Our primary goal is to film for a long planned documentary on the 1909 Italian expedition to K2. Besides comparing a modern day effort with the 1909 one, we are looking at the photographs taken by Vittorio Sella (images above are of the West Face of K2 and climbers in the Chogolisa icefall, 1909), recreating many of them and relating these to climate change in the Karakoram mountains. See more images of Vittorio Sella's by clicking here. Climate change in the Karakorams has many interesting facets that differentiate it from the rest of the world. While every research expedition we had hoped to accompany this Summer has cancelled due to the unrest in Pakistan, we think that accompanying this climbing expedition will allow us to make a solid start to the film. We plan to return in 2010 to follow research in the field and to do more photo recreations.

If everything goes according to plan we will be updating this blog via satellite phone every week or so. So please subscribe.

Friday, April 24, 2009

AAC Research Grant

Someone cares to fund interesting projects out there and their name is the American Alpine Club. Bless their hearts, they just awarded us the AAC Research grant for a project that will recreate historical photos in Pakistan.

The grant is small, but meaningful and hopefully by next year we'll be up and running on the ground in Pakistan. Well, maybe not running exactly. More like a saunter to be honest. And we'll have to lug around a lot of equipment so maybe it'll be more of a crawl. You get the point.

Thanks AAC!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grant Proposals & Post Production

It's been a long week of last minute proposal writing. February 9th was the deadline for the Sundance Institute's Documentary Fund grant program. This year we submitted a proposal for a development grant. This would be money to continue developing a documentary idea of ours that involves climate change in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. 

The Sundance Institute and it's famous Sundance Film Festival have done a lot for independent films since the Institute's creation in the early '80's. Most notable to Seattle area people is the Institute's support for "Iraq in Fragments," the Oscar nominated film that was produced by local filmmaker James Longley, with help from John Sinno of Typecast Films.

Some people have been asking me about "Beyond Thought's Compass" and what's going on with that project. Well, "it's in post production," is what I keep telling people. But in reality it's in a sort of suspended animation. Since the Fall 2008 trip did not go exactly as planned (see my first post) we've had to decide how to wrap up the project without all the footage we'd planned on having. It's coming along, but takes time. 

We have recently found footage shot by someone else that show our injured expedition member being cared for in Gorak Shep and her helicopter evacuation the next day. I also received some pictures.

This one show our patient on the left with a few of the French doctors who helped treat her that night.

This one shows Fabrizio on the left, exhausted after a day of extraordinary effort. I'm on the right. Looking at this picture I keep thinking, "why the hell do I have a such a big smile on my face?" 

Friday, January 30, 2009

More pics from Nepal 2008

Camp I on Pumori, courtesy of Fabrizio Zangrilli.

Te terrain just below Camp I, courtesy of Fabrizio Zangrilli.

An annotated version of the picture in the last post showing the positions of BC, ABC, CampI and CampII.

My favorite bridge. On the way to Namche Bazaar.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pics from Fall 2008 trip to Nepal

Our Camp, looking away from Pumori. Everest in on the left and pokes up between the leftmost hump, which is not a separate peak, and Nuptse on the right. The dome was our group tent and the blue one is our kitchen tent. Fall 2008.

Our camp below Pumori. You can see our little blue kitchen tent at the bottom. Fall 2008.

Fall 2008 trip wrap up


This Fall (2008) we headed to Pumori (7121m) near Mt. Everest in the Khumbu region of Nepal . The primary objective was to continue filming Matt Fioretti's story as he returns to climbing in the Himalayas after surviving aplastic anemia and a bone marrow transplant.


From the very beginning we were beset with problems. Sickness got to everyone. It seems I had terrible bronchitis for the first half of the trip then stomach problems for the remainder. Most everyone else had some variation of this theme. So when we walked into basecamp few of us were feeling top notch. Another team was there, a Peak Freaks expedition led by Tim Rippel ( They managed to fix ropes to Camp 2, but then abandoned their attempt due to very deep, unconsolidated snow above there. This was a theme all throughout the region this year as late monsoon snow was followed by very cold temperatures. There were no summits of Everest or Makalu and most teams could not get above Camp 2 on Ama Dablam. One team did eventually make the summit near the end of the season, but not before a huge portion of the hanging glacier that is the Dablam swept through Camp 3. Luckily, at the time, no one had gotten there or else the situation may have been similar to a few years ago when six people died under similar circumstances.


After being in camp a few days I walked to a lower altitude to try and get over some sickness. When I returned Matt came down from below Camp 1 and proceeded to get terribly sick with a chest infection. He walked down the next day, the day after that he went lower and I accompanied him. At this point he decided to bag it and go home. The main subject of my documentary leaving meant no more opportunities to get footage of him. So the project was a bit unsuccessful in that regard. Although I've gotten lots of great landscapes and footage on the way up, our hopes of filming on the summit were dashed.


Returning to basecamp the next day I found that there had been a terrible accident. A woman on our trip, guided by Fabrizio, was hit by a huge chunk of ice while descending from Camp 1. It hit her square in the chest, sending her tumbling down a fixed line to the next anchor and knocking her unconscious. When I got to basecamp she had been carried down 2000 feet of steep snow and scree and now laid in our big basecamp tent. While Fabrizio used our satellite phone to arrange a helicopter I went in and examined her. She was barely concious and very beat up. Most of her ribs were broken, her arm was badly hurt and most alarming was the large mass in her abdomen caused by internal bleeding. We have a pulse oximeter in our medical kit and using this we found her oxygen saturation to be below fifty percent. We had been alone at basecamp, but some sherpas were setting up tents nearby for another expedition. We were able to enlist their help, and their lightweight stretcher, to carry our patient accross the rubble that surrounds our camp and down to Gorak Shep, the last cluster of lodges before Pumori and Everest basecamps. There we were able to buy a bottle of oxygen and we found half a dozen doctors who began administering IV drugs. We stayed up all night monitoring her and in the morning a helicopter came. We'd hoped for a bigger one as I'd planned to accompany her to Kathmandu. Unfortunately, due to lack of fuel and the high altitude, the tiny helicopter that did arrive could only take her. We packaged her, crammed her in and hoped for the best. The helicopter struggled as it took off, obscured by a cloud of dust. For a moment we thought they wouldn't make it, but at last they banked, barely cleared the rooftops and took off over the Khumbu glacier. In Kathmandu the final diagnosis was a broken arm, severed motor nerves rendering it paralyzed, most of her ribs broken, a head injury, internal bleeding and a punctured, deflated lung. She's very lucky to be alive.


After this mess Fabrizio took off down the trail to head back to Kathmandu. Of the original seven in basecamp, only John and I remained. With terrible snow conditions we knew there was no hope of summiting. Our yaks would be coming soon anyways, so we climbed up, removed Camp 1 and carried down all the fixed rope we could. Looking accross the valley we could look into the cirque created by the Khumbu glacier as it falls down the Lhotse face and carves it's way down between Everest and Nuptse. How I would have enjoyed the rest of our climb! Alas, it waits until another year.


We spent the remainder of our time taking down the ropes and packing up our camp. The ten yaks came, were loaded up and we headed back down. On the ninth of November we learned the results of the American election. Our isolation was beginning to fade. By the 14th we were in Kathmandu, checking up on our injured team member and eating all the good food Kathmadu has to offer.


Failures notwithstanding, it was a good trip. It's always a pleasure to be in the high mountains. Most importantly, no one died, although it was touch and go for awhile.


Various websites have been reporting the accident. You can read an Agence France Presse article, as well as Fabrizio's thoughts and pictures on his blog :

The film tentatively titled, "Beyond Thought's Compass" has taken some unexpected turns. We are reviewing the footage shot this last year and are contemplating what to do next. This means either another trip to Nepal or just finishing with what we have now. We'll see.