June 3, 2008

Welcome to the Descent of Gasherbrum II Expedition – 2008 (June 4 – July 23)

Starting June 4th, Kris Erickson, John Griber, Hilaree O’Neill, and Ingrid Backstrom will focus their skills and passion on the Gasherbrum mountains of the Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan. This group will attempt to climb and ski/snowboard Gasherbrum II. Through live dispatches and video blogs, you will be able to witness an incredible summit and very aesthetic ski descent.

And tomorrow this team’s journey begins…

Gasherbrum II ( also known as K4) is the 13th highest mountain on Earth, resting on the boarder of Pakistan and China. Gasherbrum II is the third highest peak of the Gasherbrum massif and is classified as being in the Karakoram range of the Himalaya. The mountain measures an altitude of 8035 meters or 26,515 feet.

The route was first climbed 1956 by Austrian’s Fritz Moravec, Josef Larch, and Hans Willenpart. Some of the other historic ascents of the mountain are the second ascent in 1975 by a French Expedition as well as the first female ascent by the Polish woman, Wanda Rutkiewicz.

June 4, 2008

The Journey Begins

G201_2 Finally the last of the bags are packed and we’re off. The pile of gear sitting in my living room is a small mountain comprised of four base camp duffels, one ski bag, my carry-on camera bag and a small messenger bag with personal travel items. That’s just my pile everyone else has similar loads. I have an idea how much the overweight baggage will cost but across the team it will be in the thousands of dollars to make this trip happen.

It always amazes me how much technology and gear I take on expeditions and this particular trip is one in which we have more than average. I have remote power systems to keep my laptop, digital cameras, sat phones and most important, my Ipod cranking away. Skis and climbing gear, stoves, sleeping bag, down suits, 8 lbs of jerky from my local butcher in Livingston, peanut butter and all sorts of other comfort foods to satiate me over the course of the expedition.

G202 The start of the trip represents an exciting time and one of sadness as we embark on a journey of a lifetime we also must say goodbye to those we love. We will be in Islamabad on the morning of the 6th and I look forward to going back to a place that had a profound impact on my youth as I was only 23 the last time I visited, It’s been eleven years and the country is a very different place today. Change is one element in life we can all expect but sometimes it happens for the worse. I hope for the people of Pakistan the recent government changes are for the best. Time will tell.  – Kris Erickson

June 6, 2008

Pakistan Living

Kris_june6 Eleven years ago I first visited Pakistan, I was twenty-three years old and had just graduated from university. For all practical purposes my life had been mostly sheltered from the ways of life outside my small town Montana upbringing and visiting Pakistan for the first time provided a glimpse into how a huge portion of the world lived. When I arrived in 1997 my eyes were open to a culture I had read about but never imagined contain such striking contrast to the West. Aside from the countless journey’s over the Canadian border near to my home I had no way of exposing myself to this world and an expedition to the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan proved nothing like climbing in Canada. Drastically different with voices of Urdu in the streets and the call to prayer being broadcast from one of thousands of mosques at 4 in the morning, I knew from the first moment I walked out of the airport the East would be enchanting beyond anything I had ever been exposed to.

Now 2008 is upon us and the country of Pakistan is rife with turmoil in the political arena, it is infested with Al Quaida insurgents along the border with Afghanistan and most recently struggling to feed it’s population with rising food costs. Strangely, from a visual appearance here in the capital of Islamabad, life actually seems to be better for the people of Pakistan. On the surface I have a hard time believing there was a major bombing at the Danish embassy last week as the order of the country seems peaceful with improvements dominating the views. Building and construction seems abundant with new roads around the capital, workers and new heavy machinery paving the way for a continued modernization. Is this a benefit to a select few here in the newly built capital or across the country are the citizens of Pakistan seeing an improved way of life? Not unlike the urban areas of the western world where standards of living are higher for most, the rural communities hold the true glimpse of life often with less. My guess is not all see the benefits as the average Pakistani living outside the capital struggles to simply live and find a better way of life their family.

I look forward to seeing the changes of the country as our journey into familiar territory unfolds over the course of the next few weeks.

Kristoffer Erickson

June 7, 2008

“Bedazzled and Bedangled!”

I was feeling a bit apprehensive before coming on this trip; there’s the mountain—wondering if I’m fit enough, etc.–there’s also the factor of coming to a very different environment where the political situation could be described as less stable than home. However, pretty much since setting foot in Islamabad, yesterday morning, I have not felt endangered or scared in any way. Our Pakistani guides have been wonderful, as have all of the people we have encountered, from salespeople to service people to the gardener at the hotel who was picking off fragrant white blossoms and giving them to us by the handful this morning (I kept them in my shirt pocket most of the day—they smelled wonderful, unlike hot, sweaty me in this hundred-plus degree heat). If anything, I guess we’ve felt a bit like people are staring at us at times, but never in a bad way—they’re just curious, like I want to be staring back at them (it’s all I can do to practice restraint!), trying to understand such a wildly different culture. We arrived at the airport at 7am local time, feeling groggy but hyper aware and curious about what we were getting ourselves into. For the most part, no one could care less about our presence in the airport, which was reassuring. We were only missing two bags out of 24–pretty darn good, considering….; after a brief nap for some at the hotel, and a delicious late lunch of “Dall of the Day”—lentils and chapatti and vegetables—we headed to the offices of Hunza Guides to discuss the particulars of our trip. Amir served us cake and wonderful melon while we struggled to stay awake under the oppressive heat and jet-lag, and chatted amiably about gear, prices, the city, whatever. Finally he told us we needed to rest; I hit the pillow at the hotel around 8pm, not even thinking of dinner, and didn’t get out of bed until 6 this morning.

Today consisted of more great food and running errands around the city, trying to gather everything we need (including our missing bags) before hopefully catching a flight to Skardu tomorrow morning. I loved cruising around Islamabad in our stylish air-conditioned van, peeking out from behind the curtains while we sped down very organized and clean streets, past all of the bikes, motorbikes (some carrying up to four people, all looking totally stoked to be catching the open breeze), and highly decorated tractors, dumptrucks, and buses that put our boring old utilitarian vehicles in the States to shame—these cars are seriously cool. Even the tractors are bedazzled and festooned with streamers, paint and elaborate and colorful designs—like Hilaree said, “It’s as if everyone has their own bedangler and they just bedangle up their vehicles!” Now—bedtime. This jet-lag is something fierce!

Ingrid Backstrom

June 10, 2008

One Step Closer to G2

Yesterday we tackled our last leg of flying before heading into the mountains. The flight from Islamabad to Skardu is a direct b-line over the Himalayas. It was a beautiful day and the pilots were psyched to share their views with anyone interested in coming into the cockpit- domestic flights in Pakistan are apparently a bit different than the United States!!

Ingrid, Kip and I were the first to go into the cockpit as the mountains splayed out before us in an unreal panorama, with Nanga Parbat on the right, the Indus River flowing beneath us, and countless more peaks filling out the view to the left. We went back to our seats after a few minutes to let other passengers enjoy the view. As the flight came to an end, and the flight attendants ushered everyone to their seats to buckle up, Ingrid and I were again told we could go into the cockpit for the landing. You have to love Pakistani cowboy pilots inviting the ladies into the cockpit to show off their skills; and these guys had skills. The canyon they navigated was narrow enough at one point to warrant some wing tipping, all the while the alarms are going off in the cockpit with a very loud, automated voice repeating the uncomfortable phrase “Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!”. Ingrid and I just looked at each other, wondering if we shouldn’t be sitting down with our seatbelts on… Mind you, this was no turbo prop plane but rather a 737 jet! As we finally cleared the narrow gorge we could make out the landing just beyond a bend in the Indus River. A swath of concrete in the middle of the sand, surrounded by soaring mountains. They nailed the landing. Even sitting right there I could hardly tell they had touched down. The pilot said he liked to “kiss” the runway!

Skardu is an entirely different world from Islamabad. For us, it is much more comfortable. The town is small, in the mountains and not nearly as hot- all things that as skiers and mountaineers, we can relate with a bit better. We are staying at the Concordia Motel, a nice, very clean place on the outskirts of town, all our rooms overlook the massive Indus River with big peaks further in the background.

We have a full day in Skardu and Kim and I have to spend a good portion of the day at the government offices in town getting our visas extended from one month to two months. Fortunately our base camp manager, Karim, and our LO Major Zabir, both helped us to navigate the antiquated system of stamps and signatures and hole punches as our papers were put into huge folders. A bit of haggling went on as to what day our visas should end. Some arguing amongst the officials as to which pen worked better, whose name came first alphabetically, etc. and then we got our zillion new stamps in our passports and off we went.

Since the last few days have consisted of traveling, sitting, eating and trying to get over some vicious jetlag, we are really looking forward to tomorrow and to being one step closer to the Baltoro Glacier and GII.

Hilaree O’Neil

June 13, 2008

Surrounded by the giants

G2_2 A smooth departure from Skardu on Tuesday left us bumping along the road to Askoli with our caravan 3 jeeps deep. Kris, John, our LO- the “Major”, and Karim were separated into their own vehicle as per custom, and Kip was left as the sole protector of Ingrid, Hil and I in the “woman” jeep.

The paved road shortly turned to dirt and finally to a via ferrata for the 4 wheel world. We encountered only two obstacles- a minor vehicle repair and a sand slide near Askoli that covered the road. Luckily, two groups of porters had followed up behind us and leaped out of their open air trucks to assist in the process of shoveling and clearing the path by hand. The drivers plowed through, and the rest of our group met them on the other side, running the length of the road to dodge falling rocks.

Once in Askoli, we hopped out at the literal end of the road. For the ladies, we made a grand entrance. Surrounded by what felt like hundreds of Pakistanis, we were very much on display – which would be the theme for what seems to be the remainder of our time with the porter crew. These eyes are full of curiosity but the occasional leer can be a bit disconcerting. The presence of women, and in particular women climbers, is an extremely foreign and thought provoking concept to them

Kris_g2_10_4 The evening is Askoli was mild. A couple of folks in our crew have not felt well, but with some rest and a few meds, everyone bounced right back..Good news for our long trek ahead.

Wednesday evolved into quite the eventful day for us. The Serb, Russian, and South Korean groups organized their porters and headed out. We were the last group to depart. An intense feeling of desperation was building ominously around us for the remaining men looking for work and their chance to be selected. This was one of their very few opportunities for work for the year, and a rare chance to feed their families.


Our camp was a type of protective enclave within the village. As porters were chosen, filing through the gate one by one as the Sirdhar checked them off his list, emotions and anxiety heightened and within moments our team was in the midst of a mob-like scene. Porters began simultaneously storming the front gate and the two side walls with barbed wire, rushing to grab our gear. The scene was alarming- our group mobilized quickly. Ingrid flew superman style onto a pile of our duffels, Hil & I covered our respective piles, and our fellas ran after the Pakistanis dashing away with loads.

As quickly as it began, it ended, and loads were transferred back into the enclave. It was a disturbing experience for all of us. The pure raw hunger and desperation in their eyes was both haunting and heart wrenching. None of us had felt in danger, but our trip could have been shut down had we lost that gear. The honor and brother system in the world of porters is well in tact and the guilty parties returned a bulk of the stolen goods, as well as some guilty men being reprimanded by local authorities.

The trek that day was stunning, but also hot as Haites. We hiked 18km and gained roughly 350 meters. Intermittent streams and drafts of air from the Indus river kept us cool at moments and saved us, on occasion, from the heat of the day.

Kris_g2_5 We arrived in Johla in the late afternoon in the blistering sun, now also referred to as the deathstar. As our gear trickled in, we got our tents set up and congregated in their shade. At this point, our team had really begun to gel and it has been great fun to walk in with new friends.

Thursday morning we got a very early start, based on the previous day’s experience. The team cranked through on the hike and we did the 16km of sand and rock strolling in roughly 4.5 hours with a gain of another 350 meters. The day was cooler then before but the heat continued to beat down. /p>

Kris_g2_2_3 Once in camp at Paiyu, we rehydrated and rested in shade until our gear arrived. A few hiccups left Kris’s solar system a bit battered- but thankfully no worse for the wear, our head cook quite ill, and Kris and John’s tent bag arriving 10 hours late. <
The tents are our only escape from both the sun and the inquisitive eyes that surround us at all times. With 500 porters in camp, Ingrid, Hil and I provide quite the show. We are on display at all times and continue to take great care in covering up with our shawls. The staring is harmless but relentless. They stand in groups, sit perched on ledges, and just watch. Basecamp in four days will be a nice relief from the unwanted attention.

Today, Friday, is a rest day- mostly for the porters and animals. Our team is catching up on laundry, sat phone calls to loved ones, and recharging off the solar system. Our sleep last night at approx 11,000ft was good for all. The second half of our basecamp assault begins tomorrow with roughly 2,700 meters in vertical gain and 45km ahead of us. The mountain views around us grow more and more impressive by the day as we climb into this magnificent valley..as Kris would say “surrounded by the giants”.

-Kim Havell

June 13, 2008

G2 off to get a great start

Kris_g2_6_3 It is hard to comprehend the scale of the landscape here at Paiyu and even harder to explain what is like being surrounded by such huge mountains. Like the first time I walked around New York City in awe of all the skyscrapers, always looking up and seeing another building taller than the one you just saw. Paiyu sits at the toe of the Baltoro Glacier, the largest glacier outside the polar regions, almost 45 miles long.

Today is our first rest day on the trek to base camp, and our first opportunity to enjoy some of Oregon’s finest coffee. The Joe is working, and everyone is taking advantage of our time, washing clothes, taking pictures, talking with Porters and just enjoying the landscape.

Since arriving in Islamabad our schedule has been partly determined by the sun. Today is no different. The dry and rugged terrain offers few places to hide from the heat. The day’s productivity corresponds with your ability to hunt out the coolest shade. It’s hard to believe that of our 20-plus bags most are packed with specific cold weather gear.

Kris_g2_9 So far the food has been amazing! Days away from fertile earth and we are eating fresh fruit and vegetables. French fries and fried chicken. Omelettes and cereal. Dedar, our cook, has ten years experience providing trekkers with the fuel it takes to move in these mountains, and every meal has been a treat.

Relentless waves of heat, proximity to any town and the massive size of the terrain make it clear why climbers consider the Karakoram to be very unforgiving. But so far the Pakistani and Balti people have been so friendly, the landscape is far more grand than I could have imagined and our expedition is off to a great start.

-Kip Garre

June 20, 2008

From Base Camp

We arrived at base camp Tuesday, all happy to have finally reached our staging ground for GII. Unfortunately, 16 loads of our gear is still yet to arrive. Included in that gear is the majority of our camera, computer, and satellite communications equipment, some of our personal gear, most of our base camp cooking fuel, and all of our high altitude fuel canisters. These loads were last accounted for Monday.

Every day we wait anxiously, hoping that they will arrive. At this point we have enough fuel to stay in base camp for one week. Our local liaison, Karim, left Thursday to hike down the glacier and account for the missing gear. We hope that he returns soon so that we can put all of our energy towards the objective ahead of us – climbing and skiing GII.

In the meantime, we have begun the initial stages of our climb. On Thursday, we wanded a route through the ice fall. The weather has turned overnight and we awoke this morning to one and a half feet of new snow.

We hope to send another dispatch soon but will be out of communication until we recover our missing gear.

-Kris Erickson

June 24, 2008

Heading up the Baltoro Glacier

Heading up the Baltoro Glacier we start to recognize some of the peaks, Trango
Towers, Nameless Peak, Uli Biofo. Today I am excited we have such great weather
for hiking and checking out the mountains but hope that it doesn’t mean that
we will run into weather when we hit base camp.

From camp at Paiyu we get onto the Baltoro Glacier and head to Urdukus. Camp at
Urdukus will be the last time we camp on solid earth until we begin our trek
out. Here we will also see our last fixed toilets and showers. Urdukus sits up
off the glacier on the hillside across from Trango Towers. Once at Urdukus we
spend the afternoon finding shade and staring across the glacier at some of the
worlds most stunning natural formations and some of the greatest rock climbs on
earth. Since the heat has been so draining we decide to leave Urdukus early,
hoping to arrive at camp Goro 2 before the hottest part of the day. While
hiking we get a clear view of Broad Peak, one of the four 8000 meter peaks in
the area. The trail on the glacier is vague but the porters know the way well
which helps us to make good time to camp Goro 2.

After dinner the porters and cooks all gathered around our camp and began to
play music. Quickly porters from other camps showed up and the banging,
chanting and dancing took form. This seemed to be a good bonding experience for
everyone. The highlight of the night was when one of the porters dressed in
purple fleece top to bottom outlined in gold was pushed to the center of the
dance circle. Obviously trained in porter dancing he wowed everyone with his
funky chicken and pelvis pumps.

Again we decided to leave camp early with hope to avoid the heat for our trek
to Shagrin. We stopped at Concordia base camp for lunch. Concordia is the
confluence of the Goodwin Austin Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier and the Upper
Baltoro Glacier. Here groups heading for K2 go North while we head toward the
Upper Baltoro and for Base camp. Twelve days since we left home and we are
almost to base camp. I am excited to get settled in and go through my bags and
set up camp.

– Kip

June 24, 2008

Goro II to Shagring to Basecamp to Camp 1

G2_62408_2 So as Hil mentioned, our stuff got to basecamp really late so we are catching up on our dispatches.

Our camp in Goro II marked a significant transition from the dust and the heat of the past few days of trekking. Though the deathstar continued to pound down, we were now camping on a glacial rock moraine with a nearby cold stream. The ladies headed down first for some very cold water bottle showers and to do a bit of laundry. It was one of the most rejuvenating moments of the trip to date. The fellas got their turn shortly thereafter.

That evening was also one of the most fun of our journey so far..somehow our kitchen and porter crew had deduced that our group likes to have a good time, and so they arranged an impromptu Pakistani dance party in our mess tent. The group was comprised of porters from several different expeditions, and was full of talent. While one man would sing, another would keep beat on a gasoline drum, and the top few groovers would grab one or all of us on to the dance floor. The walls literally came down a short time after the party started as the audience expanded exponentially, leaving us all panting at 14,000ft. We hoped that the dancing might have removed some of the mystic of American women, but no such luck as we continue to be a source of great curiousity- though we had made some new friends.

G2_62408_03_3 The trek to Shagring, our last stop before bc, was pretty straight-forward. The highlight was lunch in Concordia where groups broke off for K2 and G1/G2. The weather was a bit cloudier that day and so no views of the summit of K2. We gained roughly another 350 meters before arriving to Shagring in rainy weather. Our final day of trekking to bc led us to our final home base at 16,150ft. We arrived late morning, and Karim, the Major, and Kris headed over to the military bc compound to gain approval for our camp spot at the head of the glacier ice-fall. They were successful in their negotiations, and so we were lucky enough to have the highest spot at bc and therefore relatively more privacy.

Our first two days were comprised of sorting gear, getting our camp and tent sites set up, putting up the TNF dome, and planning. We drew the short straw on porters on this trip, and were missing 16 loads up to our 3rd day in camp- so no communication for anyone other then sat phones. Our gear and remaining food finally arrived on the third day so stress levels greatly diminished for the TNF folks.

G2_62408_04 We have now had three pushes to Camp 1. The first day we headed up to about 17,200ft wanding/marking the route as we traveled. It was exciting stuff as the icefall is very broken, with significant crevasses. Kris did a tremendous job with some initial recon and also on the sharp end on this first excursion. For all of us, it was a great adventure to actually be the first group to really start putting in the route to Camp 1- very rewarding, and an unusual position to be in with the crowds that can accumulate in these mtns. For the group, putting in the route adds many other elements to approaching this unfamiliar terrain.

As more teams begin to arrive, on the 22nd, we got up at 2am and headed out into the darkness with heavy loads for setting up Camp 1. It was rough going- the weather and visibility were quite poor at times, we were dodging ahead of groups that were not quite as acclimatized, all the while breaking trail, punching through, and dangling some legs in crevasses as we attempted to negotiate the tricky conditions. We ended up working through some of the route with an Austrian team and Korean team right behind us. At about 10:30am, Kris made the leadership call of camping on a relatively flat, safer area a couple hours before Camp 1.

G2_62408_05 The other teams followed the piper and we soon found ourselves surrounded by 6 other tents. As the weather improved steadily throughout the afternoon, and the sun baked the glacier, the other teams came out and showed some unique color and character. We were surrounded by a 2 person Portugese team, a 3 person Italian team with a dynamo team leader, Gloria, who, due to the heat, decided to strut her stuff in great lingerie for us all to enjoy, a Swiss team, a German team, a Korean team, and an Austrian team.

The next morning, we finished up the route to Camp 1 at 19, 300ft, and spent the day setting up our future home for our next few pushes. The views of the rest of our journey were mind blowing, and the ridge line route that we will be moving up on on our next trip looks steep and exciting.

This morning, we arrived back at camp to a great breakfast, pseudo showers, and tent platform maintenance. We plan to go for Camp 1 and then Camp 2 early morning on the 26th..

– Kim

June 24, 2008

So On With The Climb

Hilaree_08 Our apologies to everyone who has been following our expedition dispatches. We’ve had the one two punch of computer problems (the computer with the dispatches crashed when it decided it didn’t like the high altitude) combined with a missing barrel with all of our technology inside. The latter issue took several days and a lot of grief to solve, but solved it is and we are all connected again!!!

So on with the climb!! We just returned from one night at camp ¾’ers and a second night at Camp 1. Two days ago we set out into the labyrinth of a glacier that makes up the route to Camp 1. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t exactly play out in our favor. The snow started falling and the temperature warmed up and we all expended tons of energy with route-finding and post-holing through a white out in waist deep snow. More than one of us fell in crevasses with a leg or two dangling into open space. As time wore on we realized that it was a bit silly to try to continue to push through to Camp 1. Kris made the call to make camp around 10:30 am somewhere on the upper glacier, hence Camp ¾. Apparently it was a good call because every other team ascending that day followed suite and pretty soon there was a cluster of 8 or so tents stacked together on top of a perfect little serac somewhere below the true Camp 1.

Hilaree_03 The next morning we woke to a perfect day-cold and clear. We packed up and headed to Camp 1, roughly two hours above us on a fairly clean route, especially now that we could see. Again we spent the night at about 19, 300ft, with everyone feeling great, we had plenty of time to dig out a great space and check out the route that lay ahead of us. It snowed again in the afternoon, as it has been everyday, but cleared for a beautiful evening.

We all got up pretty early so as to avoid the heat of the sun , which, even at altitude, has been overwhelmingly intense. Walking back down the route that was so difficult on the way up, felt like a different climb altogether. With all the teams ascending and descending in the last two days, the route was totally stomped in and felt like a cruiser, especially with the hard freeze from the clear nights.

Hilaree_06 It took us barely even 3 hours to make it to base camp, and as we were short on food for breakfast we were all extremely excited about Dee Dar’s cooking(we definitely scored with a great chef!) and a cup of strong coffee. The sun is shining, everyone is feeling great after a bit of food and we each took showers (except Griber, watch out!!!!)- we were all bummed that Ingrid didn’t join us on our latest excursion but it seems that she is finally healthy again and will be able to charge to Camp I in a couple days. We will be a whole team once again.

Thanks for all your patience and we promise to keep up our dispatches in the upcoming weeks,

– Hilaree Nelson O’Neill

June 29, 2008

Scrabble Anyone?

2008_pk__1709_2 Well, I’m happy to report from a personal standpoint that I have now successfully made a venture out of base camp! I had the lovely misfortune of catching some type of bacteria at some point along the early part of our journey, became ill in Skardu for a few days, and took Cipro for a few days to combat the illness. It went away for about 4 days of our trek to base camp, and then apparently the Cipro wasn’t strong enough, because a day’s hike out from base camp, it came back with a vengeance, leaving me more or less tentbound when I wasn’t running to and from the toilet (i.e., canvas tent over rocks, if we were lucky enough to be at a camp). Yuck! After consulting with both a Pakistani army doctor who was here in base camp as well as a doctor that Kris knows in Bozeman (thank you very very much!), I started a course of Flagyl, which is, as Kris said, “the nuclear weapon of antibiotics.” Needless to say, it wiped out the bacteria, but left me feeling pretty weak and feeble for several days. I held down the fort at base camp while the rest of the team first went up the ice fall one day, and then a day or two later they all went up to establish camp one and stay there for two nights. I was feeling pretty helpless, but at the same time I knew I needed to just chill and recuperate; I was seriously not feeling like myself. Our guide and cook and various other members took great care of me, and trounced me repeatedly at our new favorite Pakistani card came, a bewildering swapping and stealing-type game called Bazaar. The team returned, and after a day or two of rest, I got to join them for the next foray, up the ice fall to camp 1. The ice fall is spectacular—a maze of contorted, sculptured ice formations, corridors, and pillars. We began hiking at around 3am, and it was quite surreal to be crunching through these ice formations while the sky began to light up, the moon and the stars disappeared, and finally the peaks began glowing orange. We took it slow and steady, and it felt great to be moving again after a long spell of being tent-bound. Arriving at camp 1 around 10am, we pretty much just hid from the sun in our tents all day, dined on scrumptious freeze-dried meals, and hit the hay at approximately 7:20pm. Woo-hoo! What a wild bunch, eh?

2008_pk__1686 The rest of the group was up with a bang around 4 the next morning, and the ever tireless warriors that they are, they went up to camp two, some setting up tents at that camp, and others helping to fix ropes on the route. I waited at camp (because it was my first time at that altitude and everyone else had been there two previous times, we decided it would be better for me to just rest at camp one and acclimatize), melted snow for water, read, and watched the team through binoculars, proud of their progress and strength. It definitely feels weird to be so off the back, when everyone else already has more experience than me anyways, but I guess you can’t help it if you get sick—sometimes it just happens—I’m the only one on our team that had never been to Asia before, so perhaps my stomach just wasn’t as bomber. Hopefully now I’ll be on the same program as everyone; I totally appreciate their patience, support, and excellent care. For now, we’re in base camp and as it’s snowed several inches over the last day, we most likely won’t be headed up the mountain for at least another day and a half. Scrabble, anyone?

– Ingrid Backstrom

June 29, 2008

Life at BC & Setting Camp 2

2008_pk__1525_3 It is the 28th and we are all back at BC enjoying the 1st of 2 full rest days- the last 3 days have been extremely eventful.

The route to Camp 1 is a long stretch, requiring serious concentration due to the mileage and navigation through many “undoctored” snow fields. The next 3 sections are somewhat more direct. We are limited in personal mobility, having to travel in roped teams of two and three roughly 98% of the time due to the overwhelming amount of surrounding crevasses and severely broken terrain. Shuttling loads up has taken quite a bit of strength and coordination by all team members to prep for future higher camp travel. With 2 big pushes remaining, we are all currently resting, eating, and sleeping in BC.

The weather has been somewhat cooperative, aligning storms quite nicely with our returns to BC. We spend parts of each day repairing our tent platforms due to the glacial move, as avalanches cascade continually around us on the surrounding but safely distant peaks. The thunderous noise was quite a thrill at first, now it is more common place and we no longer crane our necks out our tents as often to watch nature at work. We have all been feeling quite well and sleeping well. It has been encouraging to finally see the remainder of the route before us..most members of this team would agree that this expedition and this peak have presented some of the greatest challenges and elements of any trip to date.

2008_pk__1635_4 At the expedition teams meeting on the 25th, the fabulous Gloria announced that she will wear black, red, and green lingerie (a Italia) at each respective camp on the peak. We are very much enjoying getting to know her and the rest of the Italian team, and indulged in an incredibly generous Italian BC feast with them yesterday at their deluxe site. Their cribs are just incomparable.

Between 3-4am on the morning of the 26th, our three rope teams headed to Camp 1. It was a beautiful morning and a smooth, serene trip with our 2nd batch of heavy loads. The excitement began the morning of the 27th. We started with a bang, literally, to Camp 2. While heating a gas canister, an explosion occurred that ended up harming no one – just a sleeping bag & pad, and two stoves. But, it also startled the team in the tent, and those adjoining.

We roped up to advance the flat portion of Camp 1 to the start of the direct climb to Camp 2. A large Swiss team was ahead of us that slowed our progress up the route. We ended up divvying up tasks to beat the heat and the melting snowpack, that was rapidly disintegrating to isothermic conditions- a scenario that has been ever present and a concern on this trip.

2008_pk__1846_2 The whole group reached the true Camp 2 together and subsequently divided up. Kris and Kip ended up re-fixing all the rope on the steep sections below, as the original lines consisted of cordelette (5-6 mil) poorly rigged to pickets- not good for the many jumars yarding on the rope. John, Hil, and I headed up to set up a higher Camp 2 at 21, 500ft (Camp 2.25). We are hoping this allows us to set up a higher Camp 3, with a shorter summit push. We set up two tents, adjacent to the Swiss and the “Vickers” team on a level col with astounding vistas to G1, the icefalls, and G4. It was quite a bit of effort to probe the entire perimeter, level, and set up tents.

John, Hil and I descended from Camp 2 around 11am. We caught up with Kris & Kip as they were finishing up the lines. As agreed to by all the expedition teams, we were contributing our fair share to the work load on the mountain (plus some)..our efforts were burning our group hard, as we are one of the first teams up, and doing a good chunk of general static rope carrying and fixing.

As John, Hil and I rapped the route, I reached Kip just as he and Kris got off the lines and were heading down the remainder of the route. As I followed moments behind them in the same path, while crossing a snow bridge, the snow broke away beneath me. I dropped about 15-20ft into a crevasse. Luckily, I landed on another very small snow bridge and on my feet. I yelled for help a few times, and as the soft snow floor continued to shift again beneath me, began self rescue. My ice axe was hooked in a lip above me, and so with little other choice, I stemmed up the walls, slowly punching in hand holds as I went. Pulling up and over the lip was a bit creepy but adrenaline pushes you through at times. When I popped out, I saw John & Hil rapidly descending the fixed lines, and Kip and Kris were catching their breath from running back uphill at 21,000ft.

2008_pk__1847_3 We all descended rapidly from there. John and Hil found extra rope on the route and joined up for the remainder of the descent. As the snow softened, Hil slipped in its thickness and slightly bruised some ribs on the blunt side of her axe, making it harder to breath at this elevation. It is much better now but just another challenge.

We returned to Camp 1 pretty tired and spent the day recuperating as another snow storm rolled in, depositing about 8 inches overnight. Ingrid greeted us back at Camp, acclimatizing and watching the day’s events through binoculars. She also later prepped some freeze dried delicious blueberry cobbler for both our tents..Yesterday, we returned to BC in the continuing snowfall. We have two big pushes left. We plan to leave early on the 1st to go to the eventual goal of Camp 3 and to set up everything for our summit attempt. Our clock is ticking on time, and we hope that the weather will cooperate.

– Kim Havell

June 30, 2008

Camp One , Camp Two, The Pee Bottle, and a visit with our Spanish and Italian friends.

2008_pk__1509_2 From Base camp we have been hauling gear up to Camp 1 to begin our climb. On our first attempt to Camp 1 new snow slowed our travels and we decided to camp about an hour short of Camp 1. The new snow and hot weather made post holing really slow and taxing. The next morning we made it to Camp 1. We set up our tents, probed out our area and crawled into our tents to avoid the midday heat that has been getting so hot! It is amazing that it can snow and that water bottles can freeze at night and then the sun comes out and it gets so hot, probably close to 100 degrees in the tents. We have been draping out sleeping bags over the tents during the hottest part of the day to help keep things cool inside. After one night at Camp 1 we headed back to Base Camp to regroup and get ready to head back up. This is our program for now, I am guessing we will trek through the ice fall to Camp 1 about five times before we move to Camp 2, Camp 3 and for a summit push.

On our next trek to Camp 1 we brought tents and gear to set up Camp 2. Heading to Camp 2 might be the most technically challenging and is where we will see some fixed ropes. After meeting with some of the other climbing groups it was decided that we would help fix some ropes between Camp 1 and 2.

2008_pk__1592 Waking up early was easy after spending most of the day in our tents hiding from the sun. By six we were heading toward the bottom of the face and feeling good about moving up. The bottom of the Gasherbrum 2 face is the steepest and most technical. Here, on a section called the Banana, there will be areas of fixed line so these sections will be safer to climb.

At the top of the Banana our team split into two groups. One group went higher to set up Camp 2 while Kris and I began working to re-fix all the rope below. I found it enjoyable and fun to help Kris and learn more about fixing lines.

2008_pk__1627 But so far one of the biggest challenges has been the Pee Bottle. Having a bottle to pee in during the night makes tent life much more comfortable. Personally getting dressed up to get out of the tent n the middle of the night doesn’t work. In my tent at Base Camp aiming into my pee bottle doesn’t really present any problems. At Camp 1 stacked between two females the process is much harder. Staying hydrated is essential at altitude and that means you must empty your blatter more often.

Last night while visiting our comedic Italian friends the issue about pee bottles came up. First, I have to thank our Spanish friend Esther Decroiq and her Italian friends Gloria and Simone. They invited over for some amazing cheese, salami and Olives. Italian coffee and a few hours of entertainment. Italians always amaze me with their hospitality and quality. So when the pee bottle issue came up everyone stated their view. We have one non-believer in our group while our friends had a few. Opinions flew but none of them had any effect on my view. Team leader John Griber claims “ the pee bottle is just has important as your harness, mandatory for expeditions.”

2008_pk__1861 We planned on heading back to Camp 1 tonight but the snowy weather might keep us at Base Camp for one more day of rest. Either way our next rip up should see us make Camp 3 and possibly spend the night there. If all goes as planned then we will come back to Base Camp for our final rest before we head up for a summit push.

Thanks for staying tuned in!.

– Kip

July 8, 2008

The Push to Camp 3

G2_july9_3jpg June 30th was a great team day- we have befriended the Italian team, and after their hospitality the night before, they joined us for coffee late morning. Our supplies are beyond limited and so we enjoyed great coffee and great company up at our site at BC. They are energetic, positive, and vibrant people to be around, and we all greatly appreciate the ambiance they create. That same evening, our team watched “Scrapple”, a classic Telluride film, in our fab TNF dome tent. For Hil and I, it was a nice little slice of home.

We ended up heading to Camp 1 on the 2nd of July, due to inclement weather the day before. Another 3am start got us rolling with the ladies as one rope team and the fellas as another. The afternoon at C1 was extremely warm as we geared up for our next push to Camp 2 & 3.

The morning of the 3rd, our team as a whole headed to Camp 2. Hil, Kip and I brought our skis. There was more tent maintenance and camp set up once we arrived but we had the camp to ourselves, more or less. We have been about a day or so ahead of the masses so far and that has allowed us more freedom and privacy on the ropes and at camp.

July9_kris Early afternoon on the 3rd, John, Kris and I set out to break trail and fix lines to Camp 3 for the next day push. The Swiss team’s Sherpas (whom they flew in from Nepal) followed up behind us about 4 hours later and finished where we left off. The three of us had an incredible afternoon being on the front line again as we worked the route up to about 22,000ft. Griber had some great cliffhanger moves as we moved up the mountain, as this section actually had more ice, exposure and steepness to it then the route to Camp 2 (which is different from years past). Kip and Hil joined us later, after working on tent platform maintenance etc that morning.

On July 4th, Kris, Griber, Ingrid, Kip and I headed up to Camp 3 at 22,750ft. It was slow going once again as we were the first team to move up on the new section, and encountered mixed conditions from pure ice to isothermic snow. We all got to Camp 3 between roughly 3-5 hours, after an 8:30am start from Camp 2. Camp 3 is situated on a steeper snow ridge, and so upon arrival, we had to again dig out tent platforms into the steep and exposed hillside. Kris had already dug out one platform as we all rolled in one by one.

Feet_july9 Our ski gear is now scattered about the mountain due to how we individually approached our loads. John, Kris and Ingrid have their gear at Camp 1, Kip and Hil at Camp 2, and mine is at Camp 3. We are constantly and carefully evaluating the ski route and are proceeding with caution as to what sections (if not all) can be skied safely. The mountain has changed dramatically in the past five years, according to several climbers that are here that have been here before, including the Italians. As the conditions are a moving target, we will make decisions based on what is before us on our summit push.

On the 5th of July, the five of us traveled from Camp 3 back to BC. The icefalls are changing rapidly as summer continues, and the melting within the route is extraordinary. It may take some time in our future trip/s to detour from the original route to avoid the opening crevasses and glacial pools.

July9 Now that all of us are back at BC, we await another weather window and are resting up for a summit attempt, which may be a few days away. As soon as we get a good 4 day stretch, some of us will move from BC to Camp 2 direct, and another group will go from BC to Camp 1 to Camp 2. From there, we will have to monitor our progress from Camp 2 to the summit…it is all weather and conditions permitting.

To date, we all are really pleased with the style in which we have climbed the mountain- carrying our own loads, hauling shared fixed line, fixing the route, breaking trail, etc. Each camp arrival has been a success in and of itself, and we are looking forward to going for the summit as a team of 6.

– Kim Havell

July 8, 2008

Camp 2 & 3

G2_july9_2 Heading to Camp 3 I am beginning to understand what makes high altitude climbing so hard, there is no air to BREATH! Eating is hard, sleeping is harder and that stinging headache won’t go away.

On our last push, the fourth up the icefall and our final before our summit attempt, we made it to camp 3 to spend the night.

From Camp 1 to Camp 2 everyone seemed to be doing well. We all had heavy packs with our skis and gear for up higher. The ropes we fixed earlier on the Banana worked well and allowed us to make good time. Here we had some amazing views looking back toward Base Camp and we could realize our progress. After some rest we decided that we should start to break the trail toward Camp 3 and begin fixing lines for the next day. Kris, Jon and Kim made it about half way to Camp 3, breaking trail and fixing lines. By the time we caught up with them they decided it was time to turn around so we left a tent and some rope there and headed back to Camp 2.

At first our freeze-dried meals for up high on the mountain were a great compliment for our American palates but now they are starting to lose their appeal and aren’t such a treat. It seems for all the work we are doing we should be eating more. I still get excited for my freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff but have a hard time eating all of it now. The high altitude weight loss plan!

G2_july9_3 The perch that is Camp 2 slowly began to seem further below has we made our way to Camp 3. Each step up meant that each breath provided less of the Oxygen needed to move forward. Camp 3, located high on the shoulder below the summit pyramid, is beautiful. From 22,750 ft. we can look down onto the Baltoro Glacier, can see into India and out into the mighty Karakoram. We were left alone at Camp 3 to take advantage of what little Oxygen was there. Sleep here was restless and not that comfortable but should help with acclimatizing.

From our high point at Camp 3 we descended all the way back to Base Camp for some quality rest before we will attempt the summit. It is hard to leave Camp 3 knowing that we will have to climb the six thousand feet back to Camp 3 before we attempt the summit.

Tens_july9 Now we will wait for some good weather, lets hope we get some. Our time is coming to an end and we need a few good days so we can try for the summit.

– Kip Garre

July 8, 2008

Shouting “Happy Fourth of July” back and forth between tents.

Asprin_jluy9 We’ve been at base camp for 3 days now after our last push up the mountain—we spent the night of July 4th at camp 3, over 22,000ft. As we ate our freeze-dried dinners huddled in two tents, we shouted “Happy Fourth of July” back and forth between tents. The views more than made up for the lack of fireworks and red-white-and-blue dessert buffets—even as tired as we were it was amazing to see all of the surrounding peaks as the sun was setting.

On the 5th of July, we made our way all the way back down to base camp, and we’ve been in hog heaven (well, compared to up on the mountain—in base camp you can eat Dedar’s home-cooked Pakistani meals as opposed to freeze dried food and gels, sleep well in your perfectly nested tent as opposed to the restlessness that sometimes comes at night at altitude, and drink plenty of “du chai,” the milk tea that tastes so awesome and that our cook is constantly making for us) ever since.

Ingrid_july9jpg All of our technology here at base camp—Kris and John even set up a makeshift computer desk in our TNF dome consisting of two boxes spanned by some Styrofoam, for editing and uploading and such—depends on solar power. We were lucky on the 4 days we were up on the mountain to have sunny weather, but since we’ve been back in base camp it’s been mostly cloudy with some occasional drizzle; fine for resting at base camp but not so good for all of the computer and battery needs, which is why we haven’t been able to post our dispatches until today. So, if you’re wondering why we can’t always be as prompt as possible with our blogging, that’s the reason. And now, having had a few days to rest, we’re all ready to get back on the mountain for our final push. However, like the tech stuff, we’re also now waiting on weather. It’s supposed to be unsettled for the next few days, getting worse towards the end of the week, after which we might have a good enough window to climb back up. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, we’ll be figuring out how to finagle another invite down to the Italian camp to snack on some more homemade cheese…..!

Ingrid Backstrom

July 15, 2008

A Call From Base Camp

The team just called via satellite phone with an update from Camp 3. The weather window they were hoping for never materialized and due to dangerous snow conditions they had to turn back from their summit attempt at 7400 meters. They have been waiting out a snow storm for the past couple of days at Camp 3. Despite wishing they had a bit more food and better weather everyone is healthy and feeling good. They plan to descend the fixed lines from Camp 3 and return to Base Camp in the next couple of days at which point they will send a full dispatch of the past week on the mountain.

July 24, 2008

Summit Push and Wrap Up!


The night of the 10th we were waiting on a weather call from Jim, the weather guy in Jackson. The reports from the Spanish, from Chamonix, and from the Italians were all varying. So, we were going to make our call based on the final American forecast. Griber talked to him at 10pm, and based on the weather feedback, we made the decision to go.

We left BC two hours later, at midnight, in steady snowfall for a direct push to Camp 2. It was fairly smooth going, and after a very brief pit stop at Camp 1, we arrived at Camp 2 mid-morning. The weather was rough throughout the day with whiteout conditions prevailing on our final approach to Camp 2. We were hoping that by climbing to and through the lower camps in the bad weather that we would get our clear weather window for Camp 3 to the Summit in a couple of days.

G2_july23_2 As we climbed through the night and the snowfall, once at Camp 2, we were forced with another decision- make the move to Camp 3 or stay one more night at Camp 2 and make the summit push through Camp 3 the next day. The group opted for the former, and a better rest at 21,000ft. It was a long rest day and we were eager to get moving as we hunkered down in the tents and planned for an early am start to Camp 3.

Sunday the 13th we awoke around 4am and headed up to Camp 3. The weather was marginal, and we pushed through the cold and snow once again to our tent at 3. Once there, we again had to redo the original tent platform and then dig out another spot for our other VERY small tent. We squeezed 3 people into each two person tent- warm but very, very tight. We would spend the next 3 nights at Camp 3 during our summit bid process.

G2_july23_3 Due to heavy snowfall, and the need for able bodies to break trail to the summit, we opted to make an attempt the following night. The 14th turned out to be a beautiful day, with avalanches careening around us, and several other teams making their way to Camp 3. We had committed to leaving the night of the 14th and aimed to summit the next morning with an agreed predetermined turnaround time of 2pm.

As we started assembling our gear, packed in like sardines at 11:30pm that night, the snow and the wind pounded our tents. We had committed to leaving, and with limited fuel and food reserves, our options were limited. By that point, all the other teams had backed out of the plan to move, but we pressed on.

G2_july23_6 Our two tents set in motion around 11:30 pm, and Griber and I headed out about 12:30am to start breaking trail. As he and I changed up lead on the initial slope, I flicked out the line and a small soft sluff cascaded down upon us- that was to occur several more times ahead. We were looking at a lot of new snowfall above. Kris and Hil followed up behind and we started leap frogging up the mountain. It was a very cold, very windy, and a very snowy effort.

We made our way to about 7400+ meters, regrouped, and made the decision to turn around. The avalanche danger was high and we were breaking trail in extreme conditions. After six hours of some serious work, we returned to Camp 3. On the return, Griber and I got some pretty nice turns on the last pitch back down to the tent, limited but worth it.

G2_july23_8_2 As we proceeded to get bombarded by unbelievable weather forces, every two hours or so, we had to dig out the tents, and though we felt safe in location, we were still concerned with wind transported snow crushing our very small tent spaces. It was an intense 24 hours back in camp 3…our plan was to be at BC the next afternoon, with another alpine departure planned for the next morning.

We rose at about 4am on the 15th to a beautiful but cold morning. We had some additional concerns for the snow pack in our descent. Due to some frozen extremities on some folks, we got a later start then planned but headed down the lines safely.

G2_july23_5 Immediately out of Camp 3, we encountered thigh deep snow and deep trail breaking. Due to the conditions, we opted to ski the last 1/3 of the climb down into Camp 2. The snow was decent but we were wary of crevasses and of slide potential, not only for us, but for those potentially climbing below. Turns out, however, that no one chose to climb up from Camp 2 that morning.

Our packs were about 70lbs plus each coming down, as we cleared each Camp. The heavy loads limited our agility, speed and progress. Arriving to the lowers of Camp 2 and into Camp 1, we encountered severely isothermic snow. The crevasses had opened up significantly, and the farther we moved down from Camp 1, we found ourselves making big leaps across the open gaps. Each step was arduous as we punched through into our knees and deeper, worsened with the added weight. The temperature gradient continued to be extreme as we were below 0 degrees leaving Camp 3, and by the time we hit the lower glacier, it was well into the 90s.

G2_july23_9 Due to loads, timing, team health etc, we had to time our last push and this journey as we did. Though not summiting was a great disappointment, we all feel good about our efforts, and as climbing as a team. As Kris has mentioned- if we had endeavored only to climb, without the combined climb and ski goal, we may have been able to move quicker on our 1st or 2nd trip up to Camps 2 & 3, but then also lost some members in those bids. By the end of this trip, most of us had spent 4 nights at Camp 3 at 23,500ft, 3 nights at Camp 2 at 21,000ft, 5 at Camp 1, hauled our ski gear to 24,500ft+, and broke trail for most of our big efforts. We headed out of BC on the 18th.

G2_july23_12 Our departure was preceeded by a garbage bonfire party and a final singing/dance session with the porters. Kris also pulled out a pretty fun fire trick to entertain the masses. The next few days we got our move on- It took us 2 weeks to get to BC from the States, and it took us 4 days to leave. We combined some long days of trekking (25+km) to make flights back from Skardu to Islamabad to home. The atmosphere on this return was much calmer for us, and temps much cooler with overcast skies and rain. We have befriended porters and are no longer such an anomaly for our foreign hosts. As we now sit in Islamabad having our first pizza (and beer in Muslim country) of the trip, we have some fond memories upon which to reflect.

– Kim Havell

July 29, 2008

Thanks Everyone Who Has Followed Our Adventures…

Thanks everyone who has followed our adventures–we’ve gotten lots of good feedback and it was definitely great to feel the love all the way from across the world!

Since my last post we pretty much had a whirlwind of action–I’m still spinning from it, both head and stomach, but that’s another story that we don’t need to get into. Our summit bid began after we got our forecast one night, and it had changed a bit from what we originally thought–it was about 10pm when we made the sat-phone call for the weather forecast, and about 12:30am when we started out for camp 1 as it seemed that this was our weather window–RIGHT THEN–didn’t sleep at all that night. Kip and I arrived at Camp 1 awhile after the others had stopped there to get water and grab some gear and they had all headed up to camp 2. We hung out through the midday heat and then at around 4 headed up the steep face and the “Banana Ridge” to join them at Camp 2. It was, for me, the best climbing of the trip–no one on the lines, solitude, cool temps, over an hour of alpenglow, and rhythmic, enjoyable climbing. The views were stunning, and we felt content when we got to Camp 2 just before dark. The next day it seemed people were feeling tired so we spent one day at Camp 2, and headed up to Camp 3 early the following morning, arriving in the early afternoon.

The weather seemed unsettled that evening, with occasional snowfall and some wind, so we decided we had enough food to wait until the following night for our summit bid–I think everyone in our tent at least slept ok that first night at 23,000ft that trip. The following day we just pretty much hung out–Kip and Hilaree and I were in one tent and we spent a lot of time talking about our favorite places to eat in Seattle (Hil and I both grew up there; Kip is a big Pike Place Market fan), and the foods we would eat if we could–standard tent talk. That afternoon it began to snow off and on, but we went to “sleep” ready to get up and go. At about 11:30 that evening it was still snowing a bit, but you could see the moon and we started up, Kip and I a bit behind the others–I had had a rough time that night and hadn’t really slept at all, so it took me a bit to get my poop in a group, as they say. We had their tracks for a while, but just as it began to snow heavily and the tracks were getting totally covered, we got to the fixed ropes, a lucky break. We could see the others’ headlamps not too far ahead–they were still moving up–we felt warm and comfortable despite the snow and wind, and we moved slowly upwards. After a few hours it became apparent that we were in a full blown blizzard; we had each kicked off at least one shallow windslab, and even the tracks 10 feet in front of you were totally blown in by the time you got there. It was pitch black–if Kip was looking forward I couldn’t even see a light at all outside of my own little headlamp’s circle, and the occasional twinkle from the headlamps of our team up ahead. It was the kind of storm where your hair and your jacket get frosted white; it combined with the altitude and the steep, rocky climbing to create a very surreal effect. At around 4:30 am, as much as we would have liked to wait until first light to get an idea what the weather was doing, we decided we had to turn around–this felt like a full blown storm, and we were exactly where you didn’t want to be in a full-blown storm.

As it turns out, at almost the exact same time, the others were having the same discussion a litle ways above us, and they reached the same conclusion–they got back to the tents about a half an hour after we did. The snow continued all day and all night, keeping us at Camp 3; Kip was getting out of the tent every few hours to dig one side of our tent out as it was getting almost totally buried to the top with blown-in snow. That night was especially hard–I had a bad cough and couldn’t sleep, Kip had a headache and couldn’t sleep, and I think poor Hilaree probably just couldn’t sleep because of all of our restlessness–either way, we all sat up in a panic at about 2 am and unzipped the tent to get some fresh air and contemplated going down right then and there, but it would have been too dangerous. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. It was a bit scary–but there was nothing we could really do except for relax and hope for good weather in the morning.

Which we got, thank goodness. Everyone descended the fixed lines in deep new snow; I wasn’t feeling too energetic and again was slower than the group. We skied for part of the way, which was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time–I literally would have to stop every two turns or so, and my hands started cramping up at random, making things even more interesting. I’m telling you, high altitude does weird things to you, I’m still trying to figure it all out!

We stopped briefly at Camp 2, and then skied down a bit more to the top of the “Banana.” By that point, I was utterly pooped out; totally exhausted. I knew the situation called for one thing only, and I took our our emergency stash–I chowed an entire Snickers and it never tasted so good. I may have even licked the melted chocolate off of the wrapper, I can’t totally remember. Then I steeled my nerves and we started rappeling down the steep ridge, me stopping every so often when my hands or hip flexors would seize up in a wicked cramp. After the banana we had to descend fairly steep, wide-open slope in mid-afternoon, not the best place to be when you can hardly even take one step downhill. But Kip kept us moving, and by 4pm we were safe in a tent at Camp 1–the others had gone on to base camp already but there was no way I could have negotiated the Icefall as worn out as I was.

Our porter friend Ashgar (in a Muslim country, he cruises around wearing a trucker hat that says, “Show your tits!” on it…he gets quite a reaction from all of the Westerners) gave us a few bags of French freeze dried meals (far superior, actually, to American freeze dried meals, quelle surprise), and we actually got some sleep for once, at least in between my coughing fits. The next morning, totally beat down and stripped of any and all pride that I once had, I paid a porter to carry my skis and one sleeping bag down to base camp for me to lighten my load. I’m not even ashamed to admit it now, that’s how tired I was at that point–from the coughing, the lack of sleep, probably dehydration, and not enough food. But we made it to base camp–John Griber, bless his heart, hiked up to meet us and took Kip’s heavy pack and Kip took mine. He brought us some Tang, which also tasted fantastic.

The next day we packed and tried to rest, and then it was ON–we hiked about 75 miles over three and a half days to get to Askole, hopped in Land Cruisers after lunch (and an entire sleeve of chocolate sandwich cookies, just to myself!), drove to a road closure with the porters, hiked over the landslide where the road was closed (the porters carried our gear this time), to another set of Land Cruisers to take us to Skardu, where we arrived at about 10pm. We kept passing villages full of apricot trees laden to the ground with ripe apricots, and when we found the perfect one our guide Karim stopped the cars and we stuffed ourselves and our pockets with the most delicious fresh apricots–I couldn’t have asked for anything better at that point.

Sooner or later we arrived in Islamabad–we ate some fantastic Pakistani BBQ at several meals, and we even had Pizza Hut once–did some shopping….and now I’m in Seattle. I made it just in time for Kitty and Jeff’s wedding, which was amazing, and now I’m enjoying some time with my parents…and still trying to figure out what it all meant. I know for sure that Pakistan is a stunning place–wonderful people, the craziest mountains I’ve ever seen, and the experience of a lifetime for me.

Thanks for reading!

– Ingrid Backstrom

July 13, 2010

Herve Barmasse & Team Acclimate

EXPEDITION UPDATE: In getting ready and acclimating for their upcoming attempt on G1, TNF athlete Herve Barmasse and his team Daniele Bernasconi and Mario Panzeri made a successful ascent of Venere Peak (20,669 feet) in China.

From Planetmountain.com

Barmasse described the ascent as follows: “A beautiful and difficult adventure. The grade… beautiful and demanding!” before adding “Just a few words and a nice video to describe the first ascent of this mountain which we found pretty tough. Demanding mixed pitches, cornices, deep snow and a descent down a completely different route to avoid the bivvy. Height difference 2150m. Two days, the last 800m in 8 hours… We decided to call this mountain Venere, like the planet which burns brightly directly above this beautiful mountain every evening.”

ExplorersWeb.com reports that the team is now at G1, has lost their porters and camels and have decided to carry their own supplies and attempt the climb, without a Base Camp. The team is attempting the unclimbed North Face of Gasherbrum I.

Herve Barmasse