Thursday, August 9, 2012

FTA Spantik 2012 Under Way!

FTA Spantik 2012

Noel nearing Spantik base camp © Brad Jackson
With our Broad Peak expedition concluded after a great effort we turn our efforts to 7027 Spantik under the leadership of Brad Jackson.  Brad is joined by Grace from our Broad Peak team, Noel who is an alum from Ama Dablam and a new member Avi. All in all looks to be a nice group and we hope they have a good spell of weather in the weeks ahead!

Brad and his group are at base camp and beginning the expedition in earnest today with technical skills review and more. Over the days ahead they will push some gear onto the hill and begin the acclimatization process.

Brad has sent in the following update to catch you all up on the expedition and we will have updates every 2-3 days through to the end of the month.
Aug 3 - Team unites
Avi and Noel arrived in Skardu today by catching one of the  supposed mythical flights from Islamabad. Grace and I seethed with jealousy. After settling in, we walked the mean streets of Skardu, checking out some rental gear we need for Spantik and I making my obligatory daily ice cream stop at a store named ‘Alaska’. Also as a pleasant surprise, we nervously put our ATM cards in a machine that looked like it may dispense cash and viola, it actually worked and Pakistani rupees flowed forth.
Tomorrow we shall sort out the rest of the gear and prepare for our departure to Arandu on the 4th August.

August 4th – Skardu to Arando
We were promised a leisurely 6 hour drive to Arando but circumstances conspired to the extent that although we left at 8am , I didn’t reach camp site to 8pm that evening.

The day started innocently enough. Our favorite jeep ‘ Oh my Cod’ arrived on time and we piled in with, Grace and Avi squashed in the front and Fida (our escort for the trip) Noel and myself in the back. We passed the police checkpoint on the outskirts of Skardu without incident and made our merry way to Shigar. This time we stopped off at Shigar Fort and took a brief tour of the 460 year old building and surroundings.
Noel, Avi and Grace in the Fort’s doorway © brad jackson

The journey continued and we started to cross the numerous wooden cantilever bridges that connect the villages of Baltistan. After several hours we came across what seemed like a migrating sand dune crossing the road and both our jeeps promptly became bogged.

Much to-ing and fro-ing ensued as the jeeps managed to reverse and took big run ups to get momentum across the sand. At one stage, I thought we would have to deflate the tyres to get additional grip but after about the 5th attempt, our fearless driver got us across. Prior crossing, Avi had got out of the jeep, to take a video of the attempt. To our complete hysterics, he started chasing after the jeep after we crossed the sandy area thinking we were leaving him behind.

At the next village, we had a bit of incident as some very exuberant potential porters wished to clamber on our jeep and sat upon our duffle bags. I was requested by Deedar to have a bit of a word to these guys, to get them of the jeep. I walked up to the crowd of porters and shouted at the top of my voice ‘Get Down Now’ and to my and everyone’s surprise they complied and got off the jeep.

Brad and Noel in an impromptu cricket match

The road become more treacherous and we were reminded of the later part of the journey to Askole. At one village, we had to temporarily repair the bridge with logs and rocks to cross but at the village of Doko the bridge had warped to be impassable. Our jeeps were stranded on one side of the bridge and we had to manually ferry our gear across the bridge and wait for other transportation on the other side. Our delay in journey was the Doko children cricket team’s gain. As we waited for a jeep, on hearing Noel’s and my nationality, a home made bat and ball was produced and we played some cricket against the locals. Even Grace had a go, doing her best for Canada and we forgave her for referring to bowling as pitching.
Grace showing Canada's best chance for gold in 2016 ;-)

After cricket we were invited to what I believe was the village chief’s house and sat in a room and was served tea and biscuits. The wait for transport dragged on and we all attempted to snooze in the room. This though was difficult, as it seemed every villager under 15 opened the door into the room to have a peek and then slammed it shut. This happened easily over 100 times.

After several hours, a lone jeep appeared, and it soon became apparent that we could not all fit in the jeep without causing severe some DVT’s. I volunteered to stay behind, and Grace, Noel, Avi, Deedar and Fida went forth to Arando. I returned to the Village Head’s room. In the absence of anything better to do, I fired up my MacBook Air and watched “John Carter’. Me and half the village of course. By 6:30pm, the lone jeep returned. Pretty good timing really as I started to watch an episode of ‘Archer’ and I was having an internal ethical quandary wondering if I should allow these village kids to watch. Just watch any episode of ‘Archer’ and you will understand what I mean.

I bundled myself into the jeep and we made our way to Arando. Some nervous moments as night fell and I wondered why the driver insisted on not using headlights. Perhaps the cliffs and overhangs looked less menacing in the absence of light. Then at what seemed to be like some pre-determined time, the headlights come on along with some ear–splitting screeching Pakistani music and I arrived at camp at 8pm, lucky not to be in a homicidal rage.

Noel, Avi and Grace had just started dinner and I gratefully returned to my team. Went to bed early, knowing the next day, we would have all the porters arrive to take our gear on the 3 day trek to Spantik base camp.

August 5th and 6th – Arando to Munpakora to Balocho (by Grace MacDonald).

After a night of rain we got a very early wake up from the dozens of porters who amassed directly outside our tents to begin discussions about the loads they were to begin carrying that day. I had been hoping for a bit more sleep and contemplated sticking my head out of the tent and telling them to SHUT UP but I decided since we would be spending the next few days with this crew it was best to just get up and start getting things ready.

Porters are always up early and eager to get going to you’re lucky to even get your self out of the tent before they start dismantling it. After a quick breakfast and camp tear down me, Avi and Noel started off on the trail through Arando to Munpakora while Brad stayed behind to deal with weighing the porter loads. We took a quick break in Arando waiting for porters to make sure we took the right trail. The friendly local villagers and kids came out to surround us and run away every time we tried to snap a photo but we’d developed some stealth photo techniques and tricked them into the odd photo.

It was a great day for walking, sunny with some nice cloud cover and the trail was fairly gentle. We eventually came to a small treed area where the portersstopped for a lunch break. We sat and chatted with them for a bit and metanother couple that was heading to Spantik. Always eager to keep moving, meand Avi headed out for the final push to our home for a night – a nice open fieldcalled Munpakora with a good water supply and flat camping spots. Our tents arrived at the same time so we set them up, this time far from where the porters would be in the morning, Brad and Noel came in about an hour later and after a simple lunch we all rested for the afternoon. Noel was suffering from a bit of a stomach bug and by the evening Brad seemed to have caught the same bug.

We decided to segregate them in one tent for the night so I moved in with Avi and we prayed we both wouldn’t wake up with the same bug in the morning. It rained again during the night so it was another wet camp teardown but the good news is Noel seemed to be on the mend and me and Avi were still healthy. Brad was slightly improved but still on the mend. So another quick breakfast and we headed out to our next stop – Balocho.

We were told this would take 5 to 7 hours and this was one of the more challenging days with lots of up and down trails. Avi took it a bit slower today as he wasn’t acclimatized and we didn’t want him ruining himself running ahead with me. There was less sun this day and more cloud and the plan was to stop for lunch along the way but when I reached the lunch spot it got chilly and despite my hunger I decided to inhale a sport gel and carry on with the porters. Avi ended up doing the same a short way behind me but the rest of the team got the rain during their lunch stop. Luckily I was only 10 minutes out of Balocho and while we had no tents, the porters took me in to one of their shelters and plied me with Balti tea and chapatis – and I was very happy to accept food water and shelter as we waited for the rain to pass. As our tents arrived I tried to find spots away from the porter huts and got them set up.

Avi arrived midway during that process, sat on a rock, watched me and inhaled a box of cookies. He did save one cookie for me! In fairness I was so hungry I would have been reluctant to share a box of cookies too. We laughed as he shared his story of somehow getting lost on the trail and having porter laugh at him as he tried to get back on the trail (eventually one of them went to help, but they tend to like to get in a laugh first). I also had a bit of help from a porter just outside camp when a took a step just a bit too long for my leg and found my self rolling and sliding down a steep slope towards the glacier. The porter who was in front of me quickly ran back (fast despite being fully loaded) and pulled me back up. These easy approach days never seem to be without the odd challenging moments. Brad and Noel strolled in a bit later and Noel seemed to be almost fully recovered but Brad was still dealing with the evil stomach bug so we continued with the tent quarantine for one more night. Me and Avi thought we had gotten off lucky.

Speaking of lucky - after the rain the sun came out and we really got to appreciate our beautiful surroundings. Across the glacier we would cross tomorrow we could see Laila Peak (Haramosh Valley), Malbuting and, our goal, Spantik. There was a beautiful sunset that night and a couple of us spent that time sipping coffee and watching the sun go down behind the mountains.

After a nice dinner with a great view, we settled in for another night of sleep, our last before heading over to base camp.

August 7th – Balacho to Spantik Base Camp
I woke up feeling better. Finally. I really had been offended at myself for getting sick in the first place. Not impressed. Grace had asked around told us it was a 3 hour journey to base camp and to this day cannot understand why we believed it would be a 3 hour journey to base camp.

Most of the trek was over glacier and admittedly the first 4 hours was benign glacial terrain. The last 2 hours, the glacier became heavily crevassed and the route became much more convoluted. Spantik base camp is perched on a ridge descending from the mountain and can be seen several hours before arrival and thus rally seems ot extend the time it takes to reach there. Unfortunately Avi, was not feeling very well on this leg of the trip, having developing symptoms of the stomach bug that had afflicted Noel and I the previous days. Personally, I find one of the uplifting aspects of travelling in the remote regions of the world, is seeing certain people’s resolve and dignity under difficult circumstances. Avi showed this with his tenacity in making base camp, as had Noel in making camp 2 days prior.

Avi working his way along the glacier to base camp

We made base camp in around 6 hours and Deedar and crew immediately went to task to make our new home. 2 porters from another team immediately set upon me asking for money and material for the fixed rope and in hindsight I should have waited before agreeing on terms.

We are sharing base camp with French, Basque, Dutch and New Zealand teams but at this point, it is just the Dutch and ourselves climbing as the other teams have finished their attempts on the mountain.

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