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Day 10 - Tuesday 17 June 2008

During the night we had to dig out our sleeping bags. Up to now we’ve been comfortable in just a liner but the nights are getting cooler as we get higher. I ended up having to burrow around in the kitbags stacked outside the tent to find Clare’s.

The Swiss group camped nearby were up and about at 04:00 this morning, preparing to leave. They were talking loudly with the porters and shouting to each other while taking down their tents. Considering the porters were partying until late last night, albeit without the benefit of alcohol, they were doing pretty well to get away so early. They entertained themselves with plenty of singing, dancing and drumming. No women of course, just 120 men having ‘fun’.

Porter accommodation at Paju. [Clare]
Mark interviewing Fida outside the cook tent. [Andy]
The cook team in action, Little Karim (on chair), Nordin (at the back). [Clare]
Two porters with Ashgar, one of our HAPs. [Andy]
Fida looking relaxed in shalwa kamize. [Clare]
FTA cook tent and mess tent at Paju. [Clare]

Last night I found I wasn’t sleeping too well so today I took half a diamox to speed up the acclimatisation process. Also drank vast amounts of water requiring frequent visits to the toilet before lunch! Best to take full advantage of a rest day! Talking of which, I also had another ‘shower’ this morning, washing my hair in the near freezing water ouch! Otherwise most of the day has gone to just chilling out and listening to MP3s in the mess tent it’s far to hot in the smaller tents.

For lunch today we had pizza followed by freshly killed goat’s liver and chips excellent. Chris gave us a couple of lectures on hypothermia and altitude sickness. Useful revision even though I thought we were supposed to be an experienced bunch. However, it seemed like some of the altitude stuff was quite new to some people maybe it’s just a language thing?

Fred sending email in the mess tent. [Clare]
Resting at Paju, Fred relaxing with a book. [Clare]
Surech reading 'How to get Rich'. [Andy]
Chris checking for new mail from Stu. [Andy]
Fred. [Andy]
Lunchtime Uno session, Mark, Andy, Francois, Nacho, Jean-Rene, Fred and Surech. [Clare]
Steak and chips for lunch, Djaveed bringing more supplies from the kitchen. [Clare]

Dinner was Kentucky fried goat ribs, pasta and dahl. The ribs were tasty but mine could have done with a bit more cooking, they were almost raw. Anyway, I was still pretty full from lunch.

The problem with rest days is that they are always over too soon, back to the tent at 21:30 because we have yet another 05:00 start tomorrow. Apparently we are going to have a long day tomorrow and skip one planned overnight stop on the way in.

Day 11 - Wednesday 18 June 2008

Up at 05:00 and managed to get everything packed up before 06:00 for a change we must be finally getting the hang of this trekking business. Pancakes for breakfast, excellent.

Preparing to leave Paju, the porters collect their loads. [Andy]
Fred, Clare and Jean-Rene wait while Fida organises the porters. [Andy]
More porters prepare to move out. [Andy]
Finally on the trail, leaving Paju. [Andy]
Heading into the early morning sunshine. [Andy]
Porters on the early morning tail from Paju. [Andy]

Started walking at 06:45, 45 minutes alongside the river and then very quickly up onto the moraine that runs the length of the Baltoro glacier. A long day of hard walking with a lot of up and down on the loose rubble of the moraine. However, we did get some spectacular views of the Trango peaks. Everyone walking much slower today we are becoming less competitive as we get higher and as we get to know each other better. Just as well, wouldn’t do to knacker ourselves completely before we even reach base camp. As the oldest member of the climbing group a new experience for me I have an excuse to sit back and let the younger members compete for poll position!

The snout of the Baltoro glacier. [Andy]
Nameless (Trango) Tower (6239m) and Great Trango (6286m) form the main part of the Trango Massif. [Andy]
Impressive peaks alongside the Baltoro glacier. [Clare]

Walked mostly with Clare and Fida today. Clare went for a slide in a landslide zone and hurt her knees but she recovered pretty quickly with just a few bruises. Nothing too serious. Fida is proving to be a true mountain gentleman, he watches over her every step of the way.

Clare with the Trango Tower. [Surech]
Fida, Clare's personal guide. [Clare]
Crossing the Baltoro glacier. [Andy]
Loose rock and steep ice on the Baltoro. [Andy]
A beach! Variations in terrain never cease to surprise us. [Andy]

Lunch break, the weather is cooler, the team pensive. [Andy]
Chris with Great Trango behind. [Andy]
More views of the Trango Massif. [Clare]
More views of the Trango Massif. [Clare]
Clare and Fida on the Baltoro. [Andy]

We stopped for lunch at the campsite where it was originally planned we should spend the night a good decision since it turned out to be a pretty grim place, especially since the sun is not shining today. Not that we are complaining too much about that! Captain Useless, our liaison officer, was persuaded that he was suffering from life-threatening AMS (altitude sickness). Sensibly, he elected to return himself to Skardu where he spent five weeks living it up at our expense. Worth every penny, nobody was sad to see him go.

Continued up the Baltoro in the afternoon with huge icefalls on our right and the Trango massif on our left. Fida told us about one expedition where he was cook for a Japanese guy who planned to base-jump off the top of Trango Tower. His parachute caught up on a rock outcrop and he was left dangling near the top. Apparently they threw food at him from a helicopter for a week while waiting for his friends to climb up and rescue him, but all he managed to catch was one cheese triangle.

Onwards and upwards to our next campsite at Urdukas (Balti for ‘Broken Boulder’). A few showers of rain on the way and ominous clouds building down the valley.

I left Clare with Fida for the last bit which turned out to be a pretty steep ascent up a grassy slope to finally reach the campsite. It started raining big time as we arrived. The ATP people were rushing madly to get the tents up and the supplies under cover. The porters only have large sheets of polythene to shelter under, they were spreading them out along the ledges and boulders around the campsite, blocking several of the trails in the process. Everybody rushing to get themselves a few dry inches before everything gets soaked.

Mud splattered bag in a wet and muddy tent at Urdukas. [Andy]

Spent a crazy 20 minutes getting wet and covered in mud while trying to get our 4 bags from where the porters had dumped them to the cover of our flysheet. One of the yellow bags was still tied to the porter frame and it was impossible to see how the knots were tied. In the end I had to beg for some local help. The two HAPs (High Altitude Porters), Taaki and Ashgar, are amazingly helpful. Had a major disagreement with Clare because she wanted me undercover while I was far more concerned about keeping the gear dry.

The rain eased after a while and I had a walk around Urdukas. It’s a long walk from the tents to the toilet area, especially with the enforced detours around the porter campsites.

After a while the rain returned with a vengeance and we are now sheltering in the mess tent watching the group playing Uno and listening to the thunder booming and rolling outside. The porters must be having a rough time in their makeshift shelters. They are hardy people but this must be testing even their limits. Chris just had to treat one of them with a deep cut in his thumb blood everywhere and he was shaking as if he was rapidly going into shock. Chris bandaged his thumb to the size of a large banana, poor guy!

Give me snow any day, anything is better than rain!

Day 12 - Thursday 19 June 2008

Looking back at Urdukas from the Baltoro. [Andy]
Greenery gives way to snow and ice. [Andy]
A resting porter beside the trail. [Andy]
A porter on the move. [Andy]
Members of the team heading into the forbidding clouds. [Andy]
Fred amongst the icebergs on the Baltoro. [Andy]
Looking up the Baltoro towards Concordia. [Andy]
Fida in his element. [Clare]

Rained and thundered during the night. Quite a lot in fact. But it must have stopped at some point. At least we were dry in the tents. Plenty of soft mud to wallow in this morning following our 06:00 start and the path to the toilets was no longer obstructed by porter shelters. The weather is cloudy, mist on the mountains. Warm enough to wear only a t-shirt at breakfast.

Set off at 07:15 for what was supposed to be an easy day walking up the glacier. Turned out to be another long slog with ‘3 hours’ turning out to be five and a half in reality. Although we knew we were walking slowly it still turned out to be a surprise, we have got used to taking less time than expected, not more.

Along the way we were treated to a fantastic view of the summit of Masherbrum (aka K1, 7821m), the characteristic curved ‘beak’ appearing above the clouds absolutely stunning.

Despite all Fida’s efforts, Clare managed to go for a slide on some ice and inflicted a deep puncture wound just below her right elbow. You could see beads of yellow subcutaneous fat coming out of it. Fortunately the cut itself was only a couple of centimetres long. I patched her up and packed it with antiseptic cream. Some time later, just after Chris had caught up with us, she did the same again releasing a massive gush of blood from the wound. Chris stuck on a couple of steri-strips and a better bandage. Tonight we will probably flush it with water and redress it. Fida was devastated and became even more protective, maybe not the best solution since it didn’t give Clare a chance to get her confidence back.

Tonight’s campsite is called Goro II. A pile of stones perched on top of the Baltoro glacier, itself largely a big pile of stones these days (apparently Riaz, our ATP base camp manager, was shocked to see how much the glacier had retreated in the last 12 months). Our tent is perched on a rocky knoll almost totally exposed to the winds. I think Fida is trying to ensure that we (ie: Clare) get the best tent sites with the best views at each of the places we stop, although sometimes it does have its downside. Anyway, I have built a few stone walls to try and give a little protection.

Now we are waiting in anticipation of something to eat and drink. The sun is coming and going so it is burning hot one minute and cool the next. Blimey!

Later... dinner arrived and it started to rain. The decision is to wait and see what the weather is like at 06:00 tomorrow before we get up.

Our tent at Goro II. [Andy]
Cook tent and mess tent at Goro II. [Andy]
Porter shelters at Goro II. [Andy]
Snug as a bug - plastic covered porter shelter. [Andy]
Day 13 - Friday 20 June 2008

The rain turned to snow during the night, depositing a thin covering over the entire glacier and improving its aesthetics considerably. Since the snow had stopped falling we all emerged in various states of reluctance from our snug sleeping bags and prepared to hit the trail again. However, it then started dumping big, wet snow flakes again as we were having breakfast and our departure was delayed, the conditions being too unsafe for the porters who have no waterproofs and only thin canvas shoes. In theory they all get a 400 rps clothing allowance to buy gear for the trek but, not surprisingly, many of them don’t spend it. Hence a lot of them are walking around with almost non-existent socks and in some cases old bits of clothing stuffed into their shoes to try and keep their feet warm. Not surprising either that they often try to get medication from us for their various ailments. Chris’s medical kit is already depleted of a lot of stuff. Hygiene is another serious problem up here, even the porters report frequent stomach problems. While we have generally become increasingly sceptical over the effectiveness of western medicines and try to avoid their use as much as possible, the porters have almost absolute faith that a single pill will fix all their problems. Sadly, they are quite likely to have their illusions shattered. On the other hand, if a couple of aspirin dulls the pain of acute toothache for a while it must seem like something of a miracle!

Early morning snowfall at Goro II. [Andy]
Packing for another day on the trail. [Andy]
Porter shelter in the snow. [Andy]
The camp gradually disappears. [Andy]
Taking down a porter shelter. [Andy]
Stunning early morning clouds over and around the peaks. [Andy]

The snow quickly stopped and we left Goro II at around 08:40. The views this morning with the fresh snow on the ground were spectacular. The towering silhouette of Gasherbrum IV occasionally emerged from the clouds ahead to spur us on. Most of us are definitely going slowly now, soaking up the views, taking lots of photographs and generally conserving our strength. A contrast to the racing start a few days ago. I am lucky since Clare gives me an excuse to walk slowly at the back with Fida. Chris and Mark also walked most of the way with us today. Clare was finding the going harder but pushed on.

Porters leaving camp. [Andy]
Slushy early morning trail. [Andy]
Heading for Concordia. [Andy]

Today’s target is Concordia, the place that everyone has been dreaming of reaching. Spectacular mountain views and stunning beauty are rumoured to await us. Michael Palin flew in by helicopter when he came here, wallowed around in the snow for 5 minutes and then flew out again - nice work!

On the trail beside the ever-present military phone cable. [Andy]
Mark, Andy and Chris taking five. [Clare]
On the trail between Goro I and Concordia. [Fred]
Fida remains aloof. [Clare]
Mitre Peak (6025m), south of Concordia. [Andy]
Approaching Concordia. [Andy]

Just short of Concordia we stumbled across another Pakistani army camp where are couple of guys were holed up in appalling conditions. All these camps are connected by a single strand of armoured cable that stretches the length of the Baltoro. It has been our constant companion on the walk in. Whether it works or not is another question, in some place the wire is broken and the cores are simply twisted together and left exposed to the elements. Still I guess it’s cheaper and perhaps more secure than modern comms. All of these army camps are surrounded by a mess of old fuel cans, piles of scrap metal and disused plastic igloos. But they are still pretty sensitive if you try and take photographs. One of the army guys at Concordia turned out to be a good friend of Fida. We are just starting to realise that Fida is one of the best known guys in the area he seems to be known and respected by everybody, people almost queue up to shake his hand along the trail. As usual we were invited to drink tea with them, hard to avoid although we are always concerned about sharing the dirty metal cups that they use. We managed to escape after drinking only a few mouthfuls of juice so hopefully there won’t be too many ill effects. It’s too early in the game to risk serious stomach problems.

The mountain views from Concordia are indeed stunning, the pyramid south face of K2, the massive Broad Peak and the flat topped triangle of Gasherbrum IV dominate the area surrounded by a host of only slightly lesser peaks. Concordia itself is the confluence of the Baltoro and Godwin Austen glaciers. Despite its reputation it is actually something of a rubbish tip with copious amounts of refuse and excrement from previous expeditions scattered everywhere. A lot of it was probably buried in the snow during previous seasons but now the snow has gone it’s visible to everyone. It needs some serious cleaning up.

Regardless though, it’s always been a dream to see this legendary place and we have finally made it. It is amazing to be here and be seeing it with our own eyes. At the moment K2 is partially hidden behind clouds and showing little inclination to reveal itself but we are here for a while so there is plenty of time. Ashgar has pitched a tent for us in a prime position with door pointing straight up the Godwin Austen. Travelling with Clare has distinct advantages; they always try to give us the best tent locations!

The gear arrives at our tent in Concordia, K2 in the clouds. [Andy]
Broad Peak (8047m) from Concordia. [Andy]
Broad Peak (left) and G-IV (right) from Concordia. [Andy]
The characteristic summit of Gasherbrum IV (7925m). [Andy]
Mess tent and cook tent at Concordia, looking towards the Gasherbrum massif. [Andy]
Gasherbrum IV. [Clare]
Ashgar, Clare and Taaki in front of K2. [Clare]
Evening sunshine at Concordia. [Clare]
Evening at Concordia. [Clare]
The bizarre pyramid of Mitre Peak from Concordia. [Clare]

We plan a rest day here tomorrow but the porters are staging a revolt, I guess they can smell the end of the trip approaching and they are keen to head back home as quickly as possible in order to pick up more work. The season is short for them. They are paid by the day and by the stage rest days are not the most lucrative for them.

Later: It seems to have been decided that they will take stuff to base camp tomorrow while we are having our rest day. Spent a few minutes sorting out 3 bags for them to take to BC while we keep one here. Watching them strap the bags to their pack frames you start to think it’ll be a miracle if anything reaches BC intact. They are not averse to actually standing on the bags while using their entire bodyweight to tension the ropes. I think the general consensus in the group is that, although we feel sorry for them and really respect what they are doing for us, we are developing a moderate dislike of them and will be more than happy to see them go when we reach base camp.

Dinner and then off to bed.

Day 14 - Saturday 21 June 2008

An excellent night’s sleep disturbed only at 04:00 by the porters setting off to base camp. They even managed to kick the guy ropes of our tent as they passed by, which, given its location, should have been impossible! Maybe the feelings are mutual!

Anyway, today is the longest day of the year and the sun hit the tent at around 07:00. I emerged shortly afterwards and opened the tent zip to see stunning views of K2 revealed in all its classic splendour. A giant snow covered pyramid filling the entire valley in front of the tent. The classic routes Abruzzi Spur, Magic Line, Polish are all there. Truly amazing!

Early morning view of K2 (8611m). [Andy]
K2 from the tent doorway. [Andy]
Broad Peak (8047m) from Concordia. [Francois]
Taking it easy at Concordia. [Fred]
Arty black n white photo of K2. [Andy]
Clare and Andy posing in front of K2. [Clare]
Group photo in front of K2. [Fred]
Francois and Jean-Rene bagging sponsor photos. [Clare]
The Management - Chris, Taaki and Ashgar. [Clare]
Ashgar - The Pied Piper of Concordia. [Clare]
Thank you for the music! [Clare]

A rest day today so time for some washing and serious drinking. I washed my trekking trousers in the glacial stream, one way to get used to cold hands. Lunch was the usual green soup, tinned tuna and ‘TUC’ biscuits followed by canned fruit salad. Possibly the best meal of the day!

Andy washing clothes in a glacial stream. [Clare]
Mark doing laundry. [Clare]

The weather looks a little unstable but all the clouds seem to be held off by the confluence of the three discrete weather systems generated by the high mountains in the area. Tried to nap in the tent but it was just too hot. Wandered around for a while and watched the porters starting to trickle back after their round trip to base camp. A long day for them. Saw Gloria, leader of the Italian expedition, negotiating with the porters too. Not exactly sure what she was up to but she eventually headed off towards Gasherbrum base camp carrying only a handbag and a lightweight down jacket these Italians are weird!

More games of Uno followed by dinner and then yet more Uno. Bed around 22:00. Francois decided to sleep out on the glacier. He set up his mattress and sleeping bag in an area that, if you ask me, must have been one Concordia’s toilets at some point. But what the heck he’s happy!

Day 15 - Sunday 22 June 2008

Nacho in the snow. [Andy]
Packing up the Concordia camp. [Andy]
Ice formations on the trail out of Concordia. [Andy]
The team heading up the moraine towards Gasherbrum base camp. [Andy]
Glacial lakes and ice cliffs. [Andy]
Waiting for the negotiations to see where we will spend the night. [Andy]
Onwards, ever upwards. [Andy]
Last camp before base camp, Taaki, Ashgar and Fida with a couple of the porters. [Clare]
Porter loads abandoned beside the trail, Baltoro Kangri in the background. [Clare]
Our last campsite on the walk in to base camp. [Andy]

More snow fell during the night, woken by the sound of Francois trying to get into the tent he shares with JR. It had more or less stopped by 06:00 when I got up. Although the cloud base was really low there seemed to be blue sky above us. In the distance the mountain views seemed more reminiscent of Antarctica than the Karakoram wispy clouds and pastel colours, beautiful!

Occasional snow showers, snow on the tents and nobody in any real hurry to get moving this morning. A leisurely breakfast of omelette and chapattis in the mess tent.

Set off at around 08:15 in a snow shower which gradually eased off. Soon able to dispense with the waterproofs. Walking at the back with Clare, Fida and Mark. Mark’s not too well and walking slowly with a stomach problem at the moment. The porters after all the trouble they stirred up in the last few days have now suddenly decided that they don’t want to go all the way to base camp today. Instead we have to stop at an intermediate campsite which we reached after only 3 hours. Since it was a height gain of 130m above Concordia we were not too impressed and after big discussions the porters eventually agreed to go another 2 hours.

Mark was getting progressively worse and having to stop frequently and there was serious danger of losing the so far excellent entente cordial of the group. I eventually decided to push on ahead to catch up with Chris to let him know about Mark and suggest he exercise his authority to set up the midway camp. After so long at the back it was a pleasant change to shift into high gear and actually be overtaking the porters for once. Feeling pretty good. When I caught up with Chris it turned out that the porters had already decided to stop and were downing their loads at a point at an altitude of 4850m on the Abruzzi glacier. I told Chris about Mark and he headed off to halt the rest of the group who were some way ahead. Clare, Mark and Fida arrived about 30 minutes after me so I headed off a bit further up the valley. Met Chris on his way back, apparently the team had taken the news quite well. Fred, JR and Francois had gone a bit further so I sat with Nacho and Surech for a while before heading back to the campsite.

While we were waiting around for the tents, two rescue helicopters disturbed the peace of the valley on their way up to base camp. Apparently on their way to pick up the body of the French climber and extreme skier, Jean-Noel Urban, who was killed in a crevasse fall on Gasherbrum I a few days ago. We had actually met his distraught friend walking out earlier this morning.

Lunch and then off to the tents for a kip. Fida was talking to Chris about some of the expeditions he’d been on. He seems to have been part of every big one in this area since the 1970s. Back home in his village he apparently has some land where he grows apricots and even owns a tractor. I think he must be quite well off by the standards of most people around here but you would never know it. He’s about the most modest person I have ever met. Video clip of Fida dancing [wmv format 7.7MB]

Evening sunshine on the glacier. [Clare]
Andy listening to MP3s in the tent. [Andy]
The porters indulge in a little light entertainment. [Clare]
The porters got rhythm. [Clare]
Somebody's got to stay home and prepare the dinner. [Clare]
Porter dance 1. [Clare]
Porter dance 2. [Clare]
Porter dance 3 - Fida shows them how it's done. [Clare]
Porter dance 4. [Clare]
Porter dance 5. [Clare]
Porter dance 6. [Clare]
Nacho has a go, but this is no tango! [Clare]
Hamming it up before the cameras. [Clare]
Nacho, Fida and Jean-Rene larging it up on the glacier. [Clare]
Day 16 - Monday 23 June 2008

Looking back towards the Vigne glacier and Gondogoro La. [Andy]
View down the Baltoro towards Concordia. [Andy]
Base camp at last. Gasherbrum I and the icefall. [Andy]
Fida ready to start preparing a tent site for Clare. [Clare]

They promised us a hard day today with 300 vertical metres of ascent to reach base camp. In reality it was the easiest day of the trek, just a couple of hours easy walking up the median moraine of the glacier and suddenly there was base camp just ahead of us. We strolled in and then sat around while tent spots were allocated. True to form Fida got us the penthouse position on a small hillock rising above the moraine. A great view but if there’s a serious storm we will be toast. Francois’ tent is just a few metres from ours but the others are down below with a fine view of the Italian/Spanish group’s toilet tent. The latter seem to spend all their time arguing. There’s also a largely Austrian group here and probably several more that we haven’t discovered yet.

Spent the afternoon sorting gear. Unlike the others, I don’t have my own tent here so I have to store my kit bags in the ATP store tent. Not ideal but it should be OK. Watched Chris fixing up some rope on the glacier for us to practice on tomorrow. Gave my boots and crampons a bit of a workout, nice to be back in them after so long, first time I’ve worn crampons since Arolla.

As usual the evening was spent playing Uno. Since it was Clare’s birthday today they made her a cake, bringing it out just as she thought she was going to get away with it! Half the cake went back to the kitchen tent for the ATP people to eat damn, I wouldn’t have minded a second piece!

Day 17 - Tuesday 24 June 2008

Breakfast at 08:00, or a bit later actually. Spent most of the morning messing around on the glacier practicing jumaring up and abseiling down fixed ropes. Good fun but very hot in the sunshine.

Andy practicing fixed rope techniques. [Clare]
Surech, Ashgar and Andy. [Fred]
Francois prepares his home for the next few weeks. [Clare]

Tomorrow the plan is to head up to camp 1 starting at 03:30 to avoid the heat. Today Nacho went alone up the icefall but we plan to go roped up, just in case, which will make it more tiring. I plan to take only a very light load tomorrow although JR and Francois seem to be heading up with everything but the kitchen sink.

I thought I’d be one of the weakest of the team, technique wise, but I’m actually starting to think that I have more experience than most of them, especially when it comes to spending time at altitude. What this means for our future prospects remains to be seen! One step at a time. Looks like I’ll be sharing a tent with Mark since Fred and Surech have become inseparable and the two French guys naturally go together. I would guess Mark is the least experienced and he has a previous history of serious altitude problems from Cho Oyu could be he’s the weakest link, we will see.

Chris hinted that we may split into 2 teams to make the logistics load easier we would need fewer tents at each campsite etc. If that happens it’ll be interesting to see how he divides us up. But a lot of things that Chris ponders out loud never actually happen so I’ll just sit back and watch with interest! Off to sort gear for tomorrow now... hmm - what to wear? Also have got to carry a cooking pan and stove plus some gas cartridges, and 3 days of food. Hope it doesn’t all weigh too much.

Day 18 - Wednesday 25 June 2008

Climbing through the icefall. [Fred]
Impressive icicles in 'Superman's House'. [Fred]
Looking up the Gasherbrum icefall, summit pyramid of G-II on the left. [Clare]
Francois above the Gasherbrum icefall. [Andy]
Looking up to the summit of Gasherbrum II. [Francois]
Chris after arriving at Camp 1. [Andy]
G-IV behind the Korean tents at Camp 1. [Andy]
Andy back at base camp. [Clare]
Gasherbrum base camp. [Clare]
Fida prepares to meet another day. [Clare]
Clare in front of the icefall, G-II summit above. [Clare]
Abandoned army helicopter on the base camp moraine. [Clare]

What a day! Didn’t sleep too well but up at 03:00 to eat a quick breakfast before donning harnesses etc. and heading off to the glacier. Crampons on and then we divided into two ropes. Chris, me, JR and Francois on one, Nacho, Fred, Mark and Surech on the other. Chris spaced out the positions on the rope but screwed up, making the length between me and JR far too long so I had to take in some coils. The moon was really bright on the glacier so we hardly needed our head torches as we wound our way between giant blocks of ice up, over, through and around them. We found the route marked by occasional wands and therefore relatively easy to follow. Not being acclimatised we found it quite tough especially on some of the steeper sections. There were a few short sections that needed front pointing up, the most complex was probably a 6m high ice block in an enclosed ice section that became known as the ‘Superman House’ due to its similarity to Superman’s arctic HQ in the movies. As the sun gradually worked its way down the surrounding peaks we continued to struggle our way up through the jumbled icefall.

Eventually, after ascending over 300 vertical metres above the base camp we emerged onto a more level area of continuous snow where the crevasses were further apart. At last the walking became easier and we were lucky enough to be in the shadow of G-I for the time being. When the sun did eventually hit us it was like being thrown straight into an oven.

We continued upwards with occasional short rests. Below us from time to time we could see the guys on the second rope. They were moving more slowly due to the huge amount of weight that Nacho was bringing up the mountain.

Onwards and upwards in the blazing heat, jumping over crevasses and following the winding trail left by previous teams. Eventually we saw a couple of tents on a snow dome in the distance which we optimistically thought might be camp 1 but as we got closer realised it was just somebody’s Advanced Base Camp. Overcoming our disappointment we continued upwards for another 200 vertical metres eventually emerging onto a huge glaciated plateau encircled on three sides by the six Gasherbrum peaks. A staggeringly beautiful place apart from the crushing heat which was rapidly turning the crispy snow to mushy porridge.

Even on the plateau we still had a way to go to reach camp 1. Weaving around huge crevasses which could have easily swallowed large buildings we made our way towards G-II until we eventually saw Taaki and Ashgar heading towards us. They told us we only had another 5 minutes to go to reach the campsite. Topping a final small ridge, there it was a single two-man Eureka tent pitched beside the trail close to a collection of tents belonging to a Korean group.

We quickly dropped off the gear we had brought with us and headed back down before the sun made the snow conditions any worse than they already were. About 150 m below the plateau we bumped into the second rope who were in the process of caching their gear at an ABC. They had decided not to go any higher due to Nacho’s slow progress with 25kg of gear.

JR, Francois and I left Chris with them and continued on downwards. Quite an ordeal since we had had virtually nothing to eat and very little to drink all day. Working our way back down through the icefall was a nightmare, for every descent there seemed to be a new ascent afterwards. But eventually we staggered into base camp to be greeted with litres of cold Tang and some welcome food, tinned fruit being the most welcome of all.

Had a quick ‘shower’ and then sat around waiting for the second rope team to return. Everyone was back in camp by about 17:00 a very long day for some people and we all agreed that it had been pretty hard. Everyone in bed for an early night tonight!

Day 19 - Thursday 26 June 2008

A well earned rest day today! Still very dehydrated after yesterday. Took half a diamox this morning hoping to get my pulse rate down to a more reasonable 60 bpm. Some people took the opportunity to do more washing today but I’m just sleeping and trying to figure out what to take tomorrow when we head back up to camp 1 to sleep.

Day 20 - Friday 27 June 2008

The Gasherbrum icefall. [Andy]
High winds distort the clouds above G-I's summit. [Andy]
Lenticular clouds over Gasherbrum I. [Surech]
Chris en route to Camp 1. [Andy]
Jean-Rene, Abruzzi glacier and base camp far below. [Andy]
Blessed shade on the trail to Camp 1. [Andy]
The heat takes its toll once the sun hits. [Surech]
Andy and Chris at Camp 1. [Fred]

Another early start, breakfast at 03:00 which means that the long suffering kitchen staff have to fire up the cookers at 02:00 to boil water for us poor buggers! Leave base camp at 03:30 into the icy cold of the icefall. Much procrastination due to too long rope lengths. People don’t seem to be familiar with how to take in coils - pretty standard glacier stuff you would have thought, especially considering we are climbing on the thirteenth highest mountain on the planet!

Started out through the icefall but more delays due to Mark calling it a day and turning back. Eventually we were able to get away, once again meandering up and down through the ice as the sky gradually lightened. At least there are no fixed rope sections in the icefall this year. Just a few short intervals of front pointing to interrupt the flow. Easy stuff compared to Huascaran last summer. The sun came up and started cooking us as usual but we eventually made it to Nacho’s ABC where his little North Face tent was still standing.

Surech dug up the cache left by the second rope two days ago. It was well frozen in so I finally summoned up the energy to give him a hand. After a longish rest we continued on, the last couple of hours were pretty tough but we finally arrived at camp 1. Fred and Surech, with the additional loads picked up from the cache, were a long way behind. Eventually Taaki and Ashgar were persuaded to go and give them a hand, but they were very reluctant to go and do it.

Started melting ice for water, some people opting to break open the freeze dried food already but I had caviar and biscuits washed down with one and a half litres of hot chocolate. The stoves that Chris bought in Skardu are not brilliant, some are better than others. Chris and I struck it lucky with an MSR Pocket Rocket which seems to do a reasonable job, but they are not very efficient now that there is less than 50% of normal sea level pressure.

Sharing a two-man Eureka tent with Chris. These tents are too low to sit up in and we have to sleep with the doors open because they are not long enough either. Apparently they are really strong though.

It started to snow later in the afternoon so everyone retreated to their tents. Surech was showing off his down suit, bought in Kathmandu. Impressive that he managed to get it on in the confines of the Eureka, especially sharing with Fred who is close to 2m tall.

Beef stroganoff followed by chocolate mousse for dinner and then off to sleep for 12 hours. Chris turned out to be a pretty restless tent mate though, and it snowed most of the night.

Day 21 - Saturday 28 June 2008

Woke up to find it was snowing hard, most groups were abandoning the mountain and heading for base camp. We decided to do the same, even the summit fevered JR and Francois opted to descend, and we set off at 07:45 with Taaki leading the way. Still plenty of hidden crevasses to avoid.

Chris was number two on the rope, not a position that he’s used to I think. He didn’t like being pulled in different directions but it’s unavoidable when everyone is zigzagging left and right, up and down all the time. The worst place of all is to be last on the rope because you are still struggling up the last incline when everyone else is trying to speed off on the downhill sections.

It snowed continuously all the way down but was very hot too. Having had no breakfast I was pretty drained by the time we reached base camp, so was Fred. We were the last to arrive having unroped at the top of the icefall after Chris had eventually had enough of being roped up! Food and Tang when we arrived in camp and then pasta for lunch. Slept several hours in the afternoon to make up for the disturbed night with Chris. The weather continued to be unstable with occasional snow showers and sunny periods. Straight to bed after dinner.

Day 22 - Sunday 29 June 2008

Powder snow pours continuously off the slops of G-IV. [Andy]

Another rest day today. Sun and snow showers. Powder snow avalanches pouring off the peaks all around but we are pretty safe here in the middle of the glacier.

Played a lot of Uno today, before and after lunch. JR, Francois and Surech are planning to head back up tomorrow and Chris is sending Mark up with the HAPs to spend the night at ABC to see how he feels. I would not be surprised to see him back here at base camp tomorrow, I don’t think he has the confidence or experience to push himself to the edge here. Not surprising since he was med-evacced from Cho Oyu with both HAPE and HACE. In general we are all pretty inexperienced to be taking on a mountain like this.

I am not sure how well I will do the trek to camp 1 is long and hard and I am pretty wiped out after each one. I may need a rest day at camp 1 before making a carry up to camp 2. We will see. Chris says we will probably not return to base camp again because it takes too much energy especially in the heat of the day. So next time we head up I will have to take the rest of my gear and more food. At least I have one more rest day before I have to leave. It is snowing again now.

Base camp. [Andy]
Francois updating his journal. [Andy]
The Spanish and Italian base camp. [Andy]
Our mess tent, cook tent and store tent at base camp. [Andy]
Jean-Rene and Clare in the mess tent. [Andy]
Clare with Everest Bag! [Andy]
Day 23 - Monday 30 June 2008

Another rest day. Plenty of snow falling as predicted by our French meteorologist in Chamonix. Generally a day doing very little. Big plans for finding some ice to climb in the icefall but nothing came of it another of Chris’s thinking aloud plans. Played Uno instead. Have had a couple of good night’s sleep now my 20 year old Annapurna sleeping bag is not as warm as it used to be but it’s OK as long as you plug all the places where the heat can escape. Strangely the nights seems to be coldest up until about 2AM and then it gradually starts to feel warmer maybe it’s me?

Snowfall at base camp. [Andy]
Looking down the Abruzzi Glacier from base camp. [Andy]
Snow covered tents at base camp. [Andy]
Eureka tent in the snow. [Andy]
Fred and Surech survey the overnight changes. [Andy]
Snow covered base camp moraine. [Andy]

The sky cleared last night around dinner time and we were treated to the fantastic starscape overhead. With no polluting light sources within 100km of us the view is totally uninhibited, people stuck in the ‘civilised’ parts of the world have absolutely no idea what they are missing. I saw a couple of satellites crossing the sky on perpendicular courses. Surech reckons you can’t see satellites with the naked eye but he’s wrong. The sky is crowded with them, if you have the patience to look for a few minutes you can usually pick one up.

Andy self-portrait at base camp. [Andy]
The 'Blue Box for people no longer at StatoilHydro'. [Andy]
Clare teaching Fida to read English. [Andy]

Base camp lethargy is really starting to take hold now, the longer you go without doing something, the harder it is to get started. It’s the same when you work offshore! Mark was supposed to go up the mountain today but he didn’t go because of the snow. After 2 people died and 2 were seriously injured in an avalanche above camp 2 last year it’s better to take a cautious approach they were part of an Amical group that tried to push up too quickly against local advice.

Rumour is that the French guy who died in a crevasse fall just before we arrived was killed moving around camp 1 will have to be a bit careful while we are up there, there are plenty of hidden crevasses under the surface and the recent snowfall will have made them even more well hidden.

Meanwhile Fida and Ashgar have discovered Clare's talents for teaching English as a foreign language and she's much in demand for English lessons. More...

 
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