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Essays and Travelogs

Ali Akrams Log from 2002 trek up to the base of Skam-La

Group Composition
Sinan Pasha
Hassan Karrar
Yasir S. Khokhar
Nabil Kirmani (Yogi)
Hammad Qazi
Mohammad Ali (M. Ali)
Ali Akram (me)

Monday, 15 July 2002
It is about 7:50 pm and still quite light. Today was our first day of walking — Askole to Korophone.

The walk was tedious. I have done it before (Concordia, 2001). And I found it a bit tedious – like last year – generally level, desert terrain. After crossing the Biafo Footbridge there is a long flat desert table after which comes the terminal moraine of the Biafo glacier. Both Hassan and I reckoned that the path on the terminal moraine is a bit different this year – I reckon we arced around it a lot more (see diagram).

The walk took from 9:15 am to 1:30 pm for Qazi and myself (4 hrs 15 mins). Korophone is green and pleasant – a bit cool. Tomorrow we head to Jhola or maybe a bit beyond.

There are two other groups here at the moment – a bunch of lahoris (8 – 9 of them) and a group from Peshawer Medical College (PMC). The PMC people are dong a trek to Concordia – and are doing so in quite a bit of style – 16 members and 60 porters. It’s funny to compare them to us – 6 people with only 4 porters!

Nabil is feeling a bit ill but seems better now – he reached camp last and dropped off in my tent immediately.

Tomorrow’s walk is also quite tedious and uninteresting – Jhola (or slightly beyond).

We have four porters. One of them Zaman Ali probably reckons he is quite something – doing up his hair a while back to impress the PMC girls!

Sinan has the amazing ability to talk a lot. It truly is staggering how much he can talk! But very interesting/entertaining on the whole

The porter sardar of the PMC group has serious doubts about whether they’ll get to Concordia. Although it must be said that they are going about it in a big way – mess tents, porters, cook – the works. They also have sponsors – Panadol, Alpine Club of Pakistan from what we can guess.


Tuesday, July 16 2002

It’s been a long day today. It is 8:50 pm at the moment and we woke up at 6:00 am in the morning – so its’ been 15 hours.

Anyhow, we started walking at about 8:15 am – went to Jhola and then on to Bulla where we currently are. Last night we slept outside. Tonight we haven’t even bothered setting up the tents – so we are sleeping out again. But the sky is clear so all is well.

Anyhow the walk – long, hot and tedious. I did not enjoy the walk today. The walk to Jhola was ok but after that it became uphill. An uphill desert walk – very unpleasant. We were concerned about Yogi but he did really well – good show!

After the Jhola Bridge, maybe 25 minutes walk we came to a spot where there were some mini trees growing – so we rested there for a bit and ate lunch. Then around 1:40 pm we left and walked all the way to Bulla. This is a gorgeous campsite – greenery and a clear stream flowing through it.

The walk to Bulla from Jhola was exhausting – even Hassan was complaining. An hour into that leg of the walk M. Ali and I caught up with the porters – who were resting under a big boulder. So I asked them to wait in order that the other 4 catch up and we figure out how far we want to go. We waited and waited. Eventually the porters and M. Ali left and I volunteered to wait – it was a long wait and I sort of dozed off for a bit. Anyhow Hassan showed up – so we left. The portersardar assured me that Bulla was a mere half hour away. It was actually more like one and a quarter hour away – intense walk, heat etc

Well we’ve all got here – so that is good. Nabil’s shoe might give some trouble. Qazi’s had a fair bit of trouble – I think dehydration – he talked of having hallucinated. Sinan of course is chirpy as ever.

We might double stage tomorrow as well – but maybe not given how lazy we feel and our loads.



Wednesday, 17 July 2002
It is currently 9:15 pm. We started our day as usual at about 6:00 am (that’s when we woke up) and got going by around 9:15 am – we got to Panmah (the place, not the glacier) at around 5:40 pm.

Last night was odd. I was quite uncomfortable for most of the night – very hot. So was awake at a lot of points in the night. Although that was rewarding in that there was a beautiful night sky.

Anyhow I was not so well slept and breakfast was a bit of a struggle – I only ate half a paratha.

We got going and it was promised that we’d reach Panmah (the place, not the glacier) by 1:00 or 2:00 pm. But of course that was not to be!

My walk started awfully. I had not patched up my heels that well and that meant pain. I am certain in my first hour of walking I undid a few days of healing. Apart from that I was sweating profusely – it is hot and I have a fairly heavy weight on my back.

After an hour of walking we came to this boulder field – which was a mound – so it was a climb. Anyhow, M. Ali and Hassan had raced ahead and the remaining four (myself included) were left on the “starting end” of the boulder field. Nabil and I had been following Hassan but he advised us to go to the side of the boulder field and see if we could find some route from there – he went ahead to see if he could pick something out himself. M. Ali was long gone by this point. So Nabil and I went to the side of the field and found that it ended as a cliff – at the bottom of which were standing looking rather dejected Qazi and Sinan. The two of us joined them down there. By that point I was pooped and feeling hungry and it was only 11:40 am. Apart from which we really hadn’t got anywhere. So after some really pathetic bursts of half hearted walking we eventually got across the boulder field via the top and ended up in Tsok. Tsok is beautiful and big but no one was to be found there. So, much dejected, the four of us moved on and eventually caught up with the rest of the group. I was dead tired by that point and we were informed that camp was still a way away.

Panmah was a few more hours of walking. Not to unpleasant as by that point the intensity of the sun starts waning. At Panmah I found Sinan lounging around a few yards from the camp. I thought it odd as camp was just a short distance from where he was – maybe 10 yards or so. Later it turned out that he had been sitting there for quite sometime and whistling in order that he may be guided to camp but no body had responded. Panmah is beautiful. Trees cover the campsite – so our tents have been set up under trees.

Hassan was quite p-ed off today and by evening he was threatening to stick things up the behinds of the porters for forcing us to double stage again. Although I suppose it has to be done – we only have so much food and time.

This was a long day – really sapped me. I hope to get a good night’s rest as tomorrow we get onto the Panmah (the glacier, not the place!).

Friday, 19 July 2002
I missed yesterday’s journal entry – will give that in a bit. First, today.

Today has been a bad day. It started out great. I was feeling good and walking well as my heels weren’t troubling me. Today we crossed the Panmah and have arrived at the other side – up till this point we had been travelling on the left side of this valley, now we have switched to the right. We are about 4000 metres above sea level. It is fairly cold here where we are camped – probably because we are next to a stream. This stream goes a little further than our camp and drops down to feed a large and growing glacial pool. Anyhow, as I said the day started out well. Within an hour we were at the point in the ridge from where we were to cross.

Nabil was having trouble from the beginning and when we started the glacier crossing his condition deteriorated.

I quite like the new terrain – I am walking better and actually enjoying it. My load has also been considerably lightened.

Nabil’s conditioned deteriorated – bad to worse. Eventually Hassan and I were escorting him. He was unable to keep anything down – vomited everything out. So he was weak. Every time we would stop for a break, he would find it hard to get going again.

I could see it was hard for him but it was important for him to keep going.

Eventually only I was escorting Nabil. Ali Zamin came and took his bag from him – that made going a bit easier.

After a bit more of walking we got off the glacier and got onto the moraine – it was already 4:30 pm or so by this point. Once on the moraine there was a near vertical scramble up a crumbling wall. Both of us got down to ascending it. It was tough going and as I was further up I managed to dislodge quite a few rocks that headed Nabil’s way. I felt awful about that. Anyhow, I got to the top first. Nabil was stuck some way down. So I uncoiled the rope, anchored it to a boulder and passed one end to him after which he managed to pull himself up.

Right now he is sleeping in M. Ali’s down sleeping bag. We tried to give him some Energile but he threw that up as well. He will definitely need to go back.

Our campsite is a bit odd. Our tents are on one side of the stream while the porters and the food is on the other side. We have to do a little hopping-dancing-balancing act to get across.


Saturday, July 20 2002
Today three of the porters and I went to Skinmang (Skinmang means a place with numerous markhor) to make a food and equipment dump.

It is 7:40 pm at the moment and Qazi, Sinan and I are sitting on a large boulder – nicknamed “philosopher’s rock” (!?). Talking, messing about. Hassan has just joined us.

I woke up at 7:00 am and by 7:15 am was out of the camp. M. Ali, three of the porters and I left for Skinmang. I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. M. Ali turned back after a bit – the porters were moving at an astonishingly fast pace. For the first 2 hours I was able to keep up with them but then I got tired. Got to Skinmang in 3 hours 10 minutes. After resting just 10 minutes at Skinmang we turned back. It took me forever. The porters returned in about the same time as going. But it took me from 10:45 am to 2:45 pm – 4 hours. I was drained.

The porters are quite a clever lot – sort of scheming. Ali Zamin asked me to allocate cooking pots to him and asked me not to tell the others. Farman Ali asked me to get some sort of letter of recommendation sent to David Hamilton and not for the others. Anyway…

Nabil managed to keep down the noodles we cooked. Tomorrow we push for Skinmang.

Our creativity and our desire for good food have reached new heights – the phrase “veni, cooki, vici” was coined today


Monday, 22 July 2002
Again I missed an entry yesterday. But yesterday (Sunday 23rd July) was a nothing day – we walked 40 minutes and got to Shinshah Biaho (or name to that extent): Nabil just couldn’t walk more. So we decided to camp there. About 4:00 pm Yasir Khokhar showed up – quite an event. We were immediately treated to biscuits and cheese and koftas. Our party was low on food as all our food was in Skinmang. So Yasir’s joining us was a treat. Yasir had started a few days after us and had finally caught up with us today – I must say that my ego was much hurt by the fact that what took us about four days to do he did in a mere three!

Today (Monday 22nd July) we set out for Skinmang and indeed are here. It is about 9:00 pm right now and really cold. The walk wasn’t too bad – one of the shorter days we’ve had so far: 3 hours 20 minutes. Anyhow upon reaching Skinmang it started to rain. It was quite cold and miserable and setting up tents was interesting because for the first hour or so the altitude made me a bit sluggish. We are at 4300 metres.

We have enormous amounts of food. Tomorrow we will divide as much of it as we can and leave a small cache here in case we are unable to cross Skam La. But there is a tonne of food. Today we ate like kings – cheese, biscuits and hunter beef for lunch and excellent daal, roti and pudding (good idea Nabil!) for dinner.

Today was also a day of much change. Paying of the Yasir’s porters and Ali Hassan has officially made us bankrupt. We parted company with Nabil – he heads down with Ali Hassan. We have called Maheen to send some money to Skardu so that Nabil can get back from Skardu.

Money wise we are also in some trouble – but we will be able to manage once in Hunza.

The sun did come out for a bit – had some great views.

The injuries in my heels are just as bad as always – even though I figured with a rest day yesterday they might improve.

The stream next to our camp is dry – so in order to get water you have to go down to the glacier – quite painful.

Pudding is fantastic!

July 23, 2002

11:30 am: it is an absolutely miserable day today. Woke up at 7:30 am and it was snowing/sleeting. It has been raining and snowing/sleeting on and off since. Ever since we have done not a lot. Been lazing about in my tent. Yasir has performed a massive operation on his walkman to try and get it to work on AA as opposed to AAA batteries. It works – we have music! Intentions for the day include sorting out the food. And we need to scope out a route onto the Nobande Sobande. Visibility isn’t too good.

2:50 pm: Have sorted out the food – about 40 kg of food. I reckon there is another 25 kg of equipment.

Listening to U2 on Yasir’s “equilibrium machine” (the revamped walkman) and the rain pattering on the tent. Yasir’s equilibrium machine uses Sinan’s patented “joining wires by using matches” technology.

And now for the “What profound thing will you say at this juncture in space and time?” contest!

Hassan: “It’s raining outside” Qazi: “Of all the things we have lost along the way, including Yogi, I truly miss my mind the most–and PMC!”

Sinan: “I miss my mum and the car”

Yasir: (shakes his head knowingly)

M. Ali: “I’d like to open my legs” (eh?)


Friday, 26 July 2002
Today has been an eventful day. We had to pack up the camp at Skinmang.

Oh, it is about 9:00 pm right now and we are listening to U2’s “Angel of Harlem” on Yasir’s equilibrium machine.

Well, we left Skinmang at 11:30 am or there about. It was slow getting going. We have had a beautiful and clear day. I suppose that made us sluggish – warm sun and all. Today I carried close to 34 kg. But all the time I was carrying it I figured I had an exceptionally light pack.

Anyhow we followed a path along the moraine of the glacier. Eventually we hit a lake. The whole lake area was beautiful – glaciers, high peaks and smack in the middle of it all a lake. Because of our late start we reached the lake at about 2:30 pm. Had our usual canned hunter beef lunch. Everyone was really sluggish then – including myself. It really was such a beautiful spot and there were suggestions that we camp there. I was having none of that. We had been moving so slowly anyway, I figured we ought to go as far as we could today. Anyway, I threw a mini tantrum and feel lousy about having done that. Hassan was not having a good day and my attitude probably put him off a bit. In fact it probably put a few people off.

Once on the glacier the walking got substantially easier. However having walked hardly 30 minutes on the glacier, Yasir, Qazi and Hassan who were ahead of the rest of us scattered. Then I heard a crack travel to my left. Everyone shot to the left of the glacier. In fact that is where we are camped. That was awful. I just shudder to think what would have happened had a crevice opened up under those three.


Saturday, 27 July 2002
Today we set out from HBC and have headed up the glacier further. This place is truly out of this world. I really can’t explain how spectacular this place is. Yasir and Hassan are good photographers, so I really hope their pictures do this place justice.

Anyhow, we headed up from HBC and are a significant portion of the way to Skam La. Tonight we will pack up and head toward Skam La and cross – all assuming the weather is good.

Oh, yeah, that was quite an issue till this morning: weather. So far so good and I hope it holds.

The portion of the glacier we covered today was snow covered. This made walking significantly harder than before. We had enjoyed a nice pavement-like, crisp, icy glacier to walk on until this morning. We walked about an hour or so when the glacier started becoming snow covered. Then we all roped up – got quite a load of our backs: tools, axes, tents. However, walking became significantly more difficult. It was tough but I think I have had harder. Walking was difficult for all of us. Yasir kept getting the rope stuck in his feet while M. Ali kept complaining that Sinan, who was ahead of him on the rope, was walking too fast. Eventually we switched Qazi and him, so now M. Ali was directly behind me. By the end I was pretty exhausted and found that dragging my feet was a whole lot easier.

I wonder what will happen tonight.

I am tired. At roughly 5000m that isn’t made easier. I must admit that I am not doing as badly as I thought I would – head rushes are actually kind of fun! (although I was disturbed to find out from Sinan that head rushes are actually killing our brain cells – eeek: better save what I have left!) The group as a whole is doing well. Everyone’s spirits are high – especially Sinan!

We are camped bang in the centre of the glacier and are looking directly at the ogre. What an awful looking mountain.

It was pretty cold today. My feet are cold but hopefully not wet. My boots are wet but I think they don’t let moisture in.


Sunday, 28 July 2002
Well, we didn’t get to attempt Skam La. The members in the other tent shouted us awake at about 12 midnight – but no one bothered to actually check the weather. Then at 12:45 am I looked out of our tent and saw the bad news – a near white out. I suppose in my half sleepy state it didn’t strike me as the end of the world. It was so ironic this turn in affairs: the weather had been perfect up to this point and at the time we want to cross it goes bad. We’d been lured here and now the weather turned against us. I checked again at 2:05 am: still bad. I fell asleep after that but I didn’t get much sleep.

Anyway, we woke up at 8:00 am roughly – attempted to make tea but both times the pot fell over. So we gave up, packed and left. The going was really hard for me. We were roped up for the snowy section. So we had to follow Hassan’s pace and he wanted to get off the glacier as quickly as possible.

The weather today has been awful. On the glacier it boiling hot at one point – sun piercing through the clouds, snow falling and yet it was steaming. After that the weather just hasn’t let up – rain, cold, wind.

Anyhow, we covered a fair distance today – we are almost at the campsite of the 24th of July. Tomorrow we want to push to Panmah or at least somewhere to the right side of the glacier (now we are facing the opposite, so what is the right side now was the left side while coming up).

My heels are giving me a fair amount of trouble. Hassan’s right heel is also giving some trouble.

My sleeping bag is mildly wet – a bit damp.

Wednesday, 7 August 2002
Back at home. A lot happened in those last few days and what follows is based on recollection.

The next day, Monday the 29th of July, was a nothing day. We stayed camped where we were. There was a near whiteout and we figured it was probably a better idea to stay where we were. The day was spent fantasising about what we would do next year. The fantasising got really out of hand – 50 people to Spantik, 200 porters, different cuisine every night depending on the theme that night – which ranged from an Italian night with dress suits and pasta to a South Indian night. Sounded interesting but very impossible! Of course there was the usual fantasising about food: Chapli Kebab!

The next day, Tuesday the 30th of July, we ambitiously planned to get to Panmah. However that was not to be. We walked really hard that day but surprisingly only got as far as Camp Yogi – a little beyond Shinshah Biaho. That was a disappointment – we’d fallen well short of out target. But I suppose we shouldn’t have been disappointed – it was a big distance that we had covered. We had wanted to avoid getting on to the moraine that allows access to Skinmang, Shinshah Biaho etc. and head directly to Panmah. But at 4:00 pm or so in the evening we were no closer to crossing over to Panmah. By 4:00 pm we were pretty close to Shinshah Biaho – pushing for Panmah would have taken us into the night. So we decided to cross the moraine and go to Shinshah Biaho and on to Camp Yogi. Once off the moraine there was a tremendous sense of relief. That night we camped off the glacier – it was great to be off the glacier: no cold, no damp. We were camped on a nice sandy spot so it was incredibly comfortable (incredible of course being a relative term).

Upon getting to camp I sat down and started to sulk. One, we had not got to Panmah which meant that there would be some really hard catching up to do. Two, my heels were hurting in a bad way. I took off my shoes and socks and discovered that a very large area of my heels had been damaged- the skin had come off at a few points.

But later on, my mood lightened with Maggi Noodles and chicken (excellent combo Yasir!) and a series of Sardar Ji and elephant jokes.

Our spirits were high that evening. On the following day, we planned to get to Bulla.

The next day, Wednesday the 31st of July, started on an interesting note. Sinan was cooking breakfast – or at least he tried! He burnt the porridge – how do you manage to do that? But he redeemed himself by making some more porridge and some strong tea.

Yasir helped me out by bandaging my feet. That really helped.

Anyhow, by 9:30 am or so, we were on our way. The glacier crossing proved quite tough. It took us about 4 – 4.5 hours to cross. I found the crossing quite frustrating – although my feet were for a change, not doing too badly; the bandages were helping. After crossing the glacier we sat at the edge and had lunch – our last can of hunter beef.

I was a bit irritated knowing that we still had to cross the Domultr glacier. That was an interesting event. Once on the glacier we came to a a point where we would either have to retrace our steps and avoid going near the river that starts in the Domultr glacier and exits into the Panmah (literally) – or we would have to find some way to cross the river of the Domultr. M. Ali volunteered to find a route over the river. There was a long descent down to the river and most people weren’t to optimistic about there existing some crossing – but M. Ali insisted on going down to try. After a long wait, in which we unashamedly placed bets on whether he would actually find a route across, M. Ali eventually signalled for us to follow – he had found a route across the river.

After this final glacier crossing I remember having a very pleasant walk for the remainder of the day – up to Panmah, where we camped for the night. In terms of our targets we were a day behind. We were out of food and that meant that the next day would be long and hungry. We didn’t bother setting up the tents – but it didn’t look like it would rain. We cooked the last of our Maggi Noodles and soup. It was a good feeling to have finally left the glacier behind.

Next morning, Thursday the 1st of August, we woke up (incredibly!) at 4:00 am. Hassan prepared some tea and we had the second last packet of biscuits and some of our remaining peanut butter.We set off by 5:15 am at a brisk pace, singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

By about 10:30 am we were in Bulla – making good time. The weather was good – overcast, so it stayed cool. After Bulla things got slow. The sun came out, and the Bulla to Jhola stretch is a particularly desert like stretch. The going got slow and tedious. I got thoroughly deprerssed during this stretch. At one point I got well ahead of everyone but soon after found a largish rock and just sat down. Eventually the others showed up – they had stopped to bum cigarettes off the porters of some Italian Group. We started off again and Sinan started talking in a very odd fashion to me (we were walking together for a bit). He was confessing to have misbehaved with M. Ali – for some reason I figured that Sinan had lost it and I started to talk to him in a very calming tone in case he decided to do something to me! of course he wasn’t – but it indicates the state we were in.

The Bulla to Jhola distance is long – very long. It took forever to get to Jhola. After Jhola I felt a bit energised and Qazi and I shot off to Korophone. About an hour short of Korophone, I magically discovered some chocolate in my bag and shared it with Qazi.

At Korophone we met the LOs and quides of a Spanish team that had attempted to summit K2. One of the LOs, Captain Shahid, was kind enough to bring us some tea and biscuits, dried fruit, sardines and cheese. He also arranged for a returning mule convoy to take our loads.

The refreshments and the load off our backs felt good – a good end to the trek. But Askole was some distance away and what started off as a great walk from Korophone to Askole became a pretty rough experience. We reached Korophone pretty late, thus we set out for Askole at close to 6:00 pm. By my estimate we would reach Askole at 10:00 pm at the very least. Others were more optimistic.

Getting closer to Askole, no one seemed to remember/recognise the route or the terrain. By the time we got to Askole village it got dark – only Yasir had his lamp handy at that time. A frustrating and slow walk through the village began. I would stumble every few steps – I was getting quite angry. Hassan could hardly see anything (his eyesight being a bit weak) – Yasir took to guiding him. M. Ali eventually got his lamp out. The walk through the village of Askole was long, slow and more than frustrating. M. Ali, Sinan and Qazi’s calm really impressed me – they stayed really calm. I, on the other hand, was ready to break things – and at the same time ready to break down. Eventually we got to the final descent from Askole. This was another frustrating experience, as most of us didn’t have lamps.

Anyhow, we got down and collapsed near the army re-supply contractor’s hut. They took pity on us and took us in – fed us fresh food and gave us some tea.

We had walked 17.5 hours. Quite traumatising!

My heels were in surprisingly good condition.

Next day, Friday the 2nd of August, we raced back Skardu. Burnt and haggard we walked into the Indus Motel and ordered lots of food.

Something interesting happened on the following morning, Saturday the 3rd of August. We were to leave by air for Islamabad. At 8:00 am we were having breakfast. On the opposite table sat an American dressed as a Balti and some sort of Pakistani guide with him. They discussed carriage, weights, food, ammunition, etc: How does the Army get weapons and supplies to Siachen? How much does a shell weigh? How many soldiers are up there? And many other very “tourist” questions! CIA for sure. He did not look one bit like a tourist. Looked more like a bureaucrat. His companion did too – constantly scribbling down notes, goaties, plump from not doing much apart from sitting behind their desks. Anyway, we then left for the airport and flew back


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