Thursday, June 14, 2012

FTA Broad Peak 2012 - All well in Skardu

Skardu Days

Our team has been enjoying a few great days in Skardu getting the gear ready, eating a ton of great local food, making final purchased for the hill and taking some well needed walks and hikes.

They are already feeling the change in altitude and officially beginning the acclimatization process. At just about 2500m/8000ft Skardu is a great place to being adding red blood cells and raising the hematacrit level! Unlike some other places where one achieves a rapid ascent by flying in to Lukla or Quito, the altitude profile is much nicer in Pakistan and it is very rare for anyone to suffer from AMS on the trek to base camp.

With good luck tomorrow morning they will be off to Askole and begin the trip in earnest. We are awaiting one last permission from the authorities to allow us to proceed into the militarily restricted zone where Broad Peak, Gasherbrum 2 and K2 are located. There are a very few countries that do not need to go through the visa process to come to Pakistan and this includes Iceland. The consequence is that Icelanders also don't get an official visa stamp of any kind in the passport so the authorities here have had to do a bit more homework to sort out Arni's exact status!

Brad has all the news fit and unfit to print from the last few days - enjoy!

FTA Broad Peak 2012 - On the road to Skardu at the junction
of the three highest ranges in the world © brad jackson

Updates from Brad

10th June
After last night’s restaurant fiasco, we entered the Wang Fu Chinese restaurant with jaded eyes and a feeling of slight dread.  We ordered the fried rice, beef and black bean and sesame seasoned lemon chicken and prepared to wait.  Within minutes food was arriving at our table. The chicken fried rice was nice and served half our group. The beef and black bean arrived and was quite tasty. And then the sesame seasoned lemon chicken arrived; we were expecting a yellow colored dish but instead arrived a bright red dish. Upon tasting, this dish was special, special as in the heavens opened up and angels sang. It was absolutely delicious and on rapid consumption we ordered 2 more plates of the same dish and all left the restaurant full of chicken and very well sated.

Al and I went to the Sarinah hotel for a massage and look around. The hotel had an amazing gym with modern equipment and a pool full of expats. The masseuses were funnily enough from Bali, so Eka and I had a good chat about her home town of Ubud in Bali.

Most of the day was spent with additional shopping, another drug run at the local pharmacies. Once again our group hired two of the matchbox rally car taxis and made our way to the expat enclave for coffee and a mission to find The North Face Shop. We missed the TNF shop on the way up but found it on our return. A future reference for all inbound Islamabad tourists, the TNF ship is worse than any Thamel counterfeit ship and cant be relied on for any climbing gear.

11th June
Left at 5:40 am and arrived at 10:00 pm. Small earthquake at first rest stop café and interesting to see wild marijuana growing everywhere.. Bus ride whilst spectacular was fairly uneventful with minimal police checkpoint interference. Nice lunch at Beshan, at a hotel that has taken the Wall-Drug ethos of advertising as we saw the signs for the hotel an least an hour out from arrival.

After lunch we have been travelling in convoy with a European team who plan to ski Mustagh Ata and then for some of their member to do a U-Turn and come back to Broad Peak.

During the journey I think I have put on 10kg through a steady stream of bounty bars, reeses peanut butter cups and Potato chips. Energy input 5,000 Calories, energy expended 10 calories.

As we journeyed further north, women become less and less visible, In one town we saw a swarm of men busting about with women conspicuous in their absence. We are all speculating as to where the women are hidden.

All team members spectacularly healthy throughout the 16-hour ordeal and in high spirits. A good omen for the rest of the journey.

12th June
Breakfast was declared for 04:30 am and the great thing about this group is that we were all ready and eating on the dot. At 4:00 am already the first rays of light are hitting the Karakorum and we could load our stuff on the bus without headlights.

The meal was a simple affair of some eggs and toast, followed up by some instant coffee and then we were back on the road.

Today’s drive was more spectacular with the gorges deeper, the cliff faces steeper and the rivers more wild. What we found amazing was that much of the road had been repaved and parts were as slick as a velodrome.  Other sections of course had been affected by landslides but all in all a remarkably incident free trip from Islamabad to our arrival in Skardu.

Pit-stop on the KKH © brad jackson
The second day of the drive thought left many of us fairly much zombiefied and we often failed to truly appreciate the treacherous terrain in which we travelled. We dozed in and out of sleep in that eternal quest for a comfy position as the Karakorum Highway swept past us.

As we passed through the various villages on the highway, once again we noted the complete absence of women. At one point Al described a village as a ‘man colony’.  Nearing Skardu though, women re-emerged and once hitting Skardu , gender normality for our western eyes somewhat returned.
The trip ended up taking us 34 hours from Islamabad to Skardu including our 6-hour stopover in Chillas.

coming into Skardu © Brad Jackson
Once settled in Skardu, Ben and I went to the ATP office and checked gear inventory and set ourselves up for a big day tomorrow setting up tents, weighing bags and checking gear for the fixed lines.

13th June
An organization day in Skardu. Breakfast was at 8am. The restaurant was at the Concordia Hotel was overtaken by group of elderly statesman who we dubbed ‘The Taliban’ and we were forced to eat brekky in the hallway. Just some eggs and toast but I was pretty stoked to get some mango juice,

Stomachs filled we jumped straight into organizing our duffles. Basically we are allocated 2 x 25 kg loads , one allocated for the trek in and one for base camp and climbing equipment. The two K2 guys Al and Matt are allocated an additional 25kgs on top of that.  We borrowed a set of dubious scales from ATP and set about ensuring that maximum weight of duffles was 25kg and the correct gear was sorted in each bag. I think we all went through those poignant moments when we realize that some of our comfort items would have to be left behind. My mammoth allotment of bumper bars kindly bought to me by my good friend Wendy’s parents in laws were divided in half, with the remainder allocated for my Spantik trip. [Brad is leading our Aug 1 trip - confirmed with spaces still!]

The eclectic mix of Mountain Hardwear, Eureka, MSR and Marmot tents were set up by our staff and then disassembled and Ben and I discussed tent allocation strategies on the mountain.

After a somewhat disappointing breakfast, we shuffled into lunch and was greeted with a superb meal of rice, coleslaw, roasted chicken, beef salad and noodles.  We sat there completely sated and good news for Robbo who is gluten intolerant and cant handle a lot of bread products.

Shopping trip in Skardu © Brad Jackson
Post lunch we jumped into a couple of Skardu taxis in a quest to find Arnie some mittens, Robbo some snack food and for me to have a general look around. Upon alighting the taxy, we admittedly bumped into Zeshan our Pakistani Air Force pilot LO. He was looking for gear to climb the mountain, so I jumped into a jeep with him. The jeep took us ot the back streets of Skardu to someone’s house. I must admit I was a bit concerned at one stage as we were ushered into someone’s bedroom and 3 stern guys walked in and closed the door behind us.

Stern faces turned to smiles and tea was offered which we politely declined. Then over the course of the next half hour, a person would come in with individual pieces of climbing equipment, I have no idea what was happening outside the closed door but first appeared crampons, then 10 minutes later a 1950’s looking jumar, 5 minutes later a harness and so on until we had almost all of Zeshan’s required gear .

After more smiles and goodbyes, we hopped back in to the jeep. The jeep by the way was apparently man made from spare parts of other cars, which is why I couldn’t quite figure out what type of car I was in. The driver also taught me how to close the door, which was slightly a more comfortable feeling than the previous trip, where I had to hold on the grab bar when turning the corner to avoid falling out of the car.

The driver retuned us to the Bazaar area where I immediately sighted Matt, Al, Hamza, Louis and Darren all fresh from purchasing local headwear . We continued the quest for Arnie’s mittens and just had a general look-see around Skardu in intermittent rain.  I thought after working 10 years in Indonesia, I was pretty good at negotiating rather chaotic traffic, but completely messed up and had a motorbike stall in front of me. My understanding of Urdu is negligible but gather from the tone of voice that kind things were not said about me.

Passing by the Skardu polo fields we saw some kids playing cricket.  Robbo suggested the following day we grab a cricket bat and challenge the Skardu under 13’s. So that shall be our quest for tomorrow.

14th June
Continued to sort our gear which we finalized at 30 loads at 25 kg each.  Ben continued to tread the well worn path between ATP and the hotel  organizing all the loads for base camp.

Louis, Darren , Matt , Al and Hamza walked up the Khorphocho? Hill taking about an hour to hour and a half. Apparently really hot conditions and Louis decided to free solo the upper sections to stretch out his climbing muscles.

Arnie rented a motorbike for 5,000 Rupees for one day and cruised the streets of Skardu
Robbo and I did as promised and played cricket with the local under 13’s. I got distracted by the polo game in the adjacent field and had a blast as I slipped through to the front of the field and risked life and limb to take some shots of the polo action.

Latest word is that we will depart tomorrow at 10 am. The Pakistani military is still confused with Arnie’s Icelandic visa free passport and waiting on last minute permission.

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