Friday, August 28, 2015

Getting to Hushe

In the July and August of 2015 I led and expedition to the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan to attempt two major unclimbed peaks.  They included Changi Tower, a 6500 meter (21,325 feet) granite tower; and K6 Central, a 7100 meter (23,293 feet) snow and ice massif.  I returned to Skardu recently, the closest city in Northern Pakistan with even slow internet, and over the next week or so I will make several blog posts telling the story of our expedition.  To make it fun I will post lots of pictures and enough text to give you a sense of what exploratory climbing is like in one of the most remote, rugged, and politically challenging mountain ranges in the world.

Our expedition included Scott Bennett (30), Graham Zimmerman (29), and myself (61) as the leader.  Over the past 35 years I've led or participated in 15 expeditions to the Karakoram.  For Scott and Graham this was their first trip.  Mark Richey who is much closer to my age was originally part of the team, but for business reasons he was not able to attend so I became the senior member of our team, albeit with a lot of experience that was the only thing that gave me a fighting chance to try and keep up with my much younger partners.

This trip was made possible for Scott and Graham, the two aspiring Himalayan climbers in our expedition, by the generous support of the American Alpine Club's Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award, The Mugs Stump Award, the New Zealand Alpine Club's Expedition Fund and the Mount Everest Foundation.  I believe these grants should be used to help young talented climbers like Scott and Graham have these kinds of opportunities and that old farts like me should pay for their own trips (which I did).
This trip could also not have been possible without the help of Nazir Sabir Expeditions (NSE) who ran the in-country logistics, the teams amazing cook Rasool and assistant cook Nadeem who kept the team healthy and psyched throughout the trip, Jim Woodmency ( who's spot on forecasts allowed the team to send with confidence, and our Liason Officer Major Abbas.

Big thanks also goes to the team members sponsors Arc'teryx, Outdoor Research, Rab, Petzl/Alta Group, Camp, Scarpa, Exped, Thermarest, MSR, Edelweiss, Julbo, Iridium Telecommunications, CW-X, Trail Butter, Redd Bar, and Goal Zero.


The three of us flew out of Seattle on July 2nd and after a brief stop in Dubai arrived in Islamabad in the fourth of July.   NSE staff had our itinerary well organized and other than performing a couple of errands like changing money and buying foods at the Western Store (grocery store for expats), we headed to the airport the next day to fly to Skardu.

Graham our treasurer changing a stack of Ben Franklin's for Pak Rupees

Shopping for goodies at the Western Store in Islamabad

We had promised our friends and family that we would fly from Islamabad to Skardu because in recent years the security situation for foreigners to travel by road along the Karakoram Highway (KKH) has deteriorated.  Violence from the war in Afghanistan has spilled over in the tribal areas along the border with Pakistan which are close to the KKH in places.  We intended to avoid the road.
The problem is the Pakistan International Airlines flights to Skardu are weather dependent and therefore irregular. 
Flying past Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world, on our way to Skardu

We were fortunate that PIA started flying large jets on the weekends so there was plenty of space and the weather was nice the day we left Islamabad.  The flight over part of the Himalayas to Skardu is spectacular. 
Graham is psyched after landing in Skardu one day after reaching Islamabad
 Skardu is the launching place for most expeditions to the Karakoram and is the capital of Baltistan.  Once in Baltistan we didn't have to be that concerned about security because the people here are peaceful Shia Muslims.  The majority of people in the whole of Pakistan are Sunni Muslims and the majority of those people are peaceful as well.  The perpetrators of all the violence along the border with Afghanistan are militant Pashtuns, a small part of this ethnic group of Sunni Muslims who do not live in Baltistan.  Once we reached Skardu we were surrounded by friendly and peaceful people who have gone out of their way to make every one of my trips to the mountains here an absolute pleasure.  Although we felt it was unnecessary, the Pakistan Government in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan assigned a police officer to each expedition to let us know they were doing everything they could to ensure our protection. 
Nawaz, the police officer assigned to us in Skardu.  He was a very nice man looking serious here for the photo 
From Skardu we drove to Hushe, the village near to where we started our trek.  There had been a lot of rain so the road was washed out in several places.  We were glad that we had very skilled jeep drivers! 
Approaching one of the many washouts on our drive to Hushe
Backhoe repairing a damaged road section
The Karakoram mountains also provide a natural barrier between Pakistan, India, and China whose borders come together here.  The borders between several of these countries are heavily disputed and militarized.  To ensure we had all the necessary permits to travel into these high security restricted areas, we had to show we had the necessary permits and sign in at several checkpoints along the way.
Graham signing in at a check post
Getting through road damage from a rain swollen creek.
 Stay tuned for my next post about my friend Rasool who has been accompanying me for 28 years as a cook on expeditions to the Karakoram in Pakistan.


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