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 fabriziozangrilli.blogspot.com.

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 www.fieldtouring.com/?page_id=710.

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

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.