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: http://www.k2climb.net/news.php?id=18592

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.