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Biafo Hispar and Snowlake

The Raven: Flight Across Snowlake (2000)

Yasir after the shopdeen crossing

The feeling of this particular trek never really sank in. I drifted into and out of it as if I was outside myself, its hard to explain and even harder to believe now, though I remember very clearly when we were in the thickest of those ice walls, boulders and ice rain – it felt very real. Little things remind me of Snowlake. Sometimes I’m awake at night trying to sleep when a memory flickers, of lying in a tent half expecting Muhammad Hussein to open up the zip and shove our food inside; half expecting him to say “Itnee dair kar dee, adha din to yahan he guzar gaya”. Just today they served noodles and chicken on the flight back home. We had noodles minus chicken for twenty-four days. If I sound ungrateful blame it on my writing skills.

Trekking across Snowlake had been Hasan’s dream ever since I got to know him in the trekking sense. He showed me pictures and told me tales of this wilderness. Like all, after seeing the pictures, my impression was to go there. Foolhardy and naive that I was, the realization of what this entailed I could only compare to what I had achieved in trekking back then. Fairy Meadows. Then came Rakaposhi and I thought maybe Snowlake would be a day in the Rakaposhi trek extended over two weeks. Then there was Deosai, and I thought maybe its six days in Deosai doubled and terrain made worse. Nothing, nothing I thought, hypothesized or imagined could have prepared me for this odyssey.
To say that I was unsure of myself would be wrong. I had the single-mindedness of a bachelor but the anticipation of a child. I knew I would make it across come what may, come what may I did not know about. Perhaps none of us did. Those who have trekked before ask me if it was difficult, if it compared to anything that they have done before – my answer is in shades of gray for I know they are going through the same that I was. My answer is usually “it was very tough”, having said that I would add to it what Hasan had said, “At the end of the day, there was no place I would rather be”.

 

Even today when I see pictures from the trek I have a longing to return to the wilderness of Snowlake. Its magic and pull is so strong that I feel it in my bones. I feel my insignificance standing on the lip of that glacial basin looking across to the giants that stand at guard around it. I see the frost and I feel the sun burn. I see those porters far in the horizon; I feel the euphoria of that day we climbed to the top of Hisper pass and the exhilaration of a clear day. It is then I realize I have been there. Sliding doors.
Skardu, the place of a thousand treks. Or so I’ll call it. The whole city rejoices with the humdrum of trekkers, guides porters and everything related to mountaineering and trekking. There were three expeditions going to Biafo, K2 and Trango towers right in the very hotel that we were staying in. At times it was exciting to be among them and at times it was funny. Our rag tag group was perhaps the most determined yet humble group leaving for Biafo-Hisper. The Trango towers group had a bus full of equipment, they had barrels of cooking oil and food and just while they were unloading that, Muhammad Hussein as if in queue walked in with a kilo bottle of cooking oil. Our food for 14 days. It was enough for us, but provided good entertainment when compared to the other group’s gear.

These memories are so clear; I believe I’m actually living them as I write. The day before we were leaving for the trek I was not even sure if I was going. Deosai had left me rather weak and an overdose of oxygen and food had given me indigestion. Rather then put the entire trek in jeopardy I was contemplating a graceful retreat. I postponed the decision till the next morning. I woke up feeling like a different man. My pulse was racing, yet I felt my mind was razor sharp. My gear was packed and I was ready to go. I looked at every face I found and studied their expression. Our Snowlake team was perhaps identical in their expressions. Determined, calm with a sureness of purpose that one rarely sees. The farewell party, concerned; the jeep loaded with our entire gear, porters and us; a total of 12 people including extras were to make an eight-hour journey to Askole village. The ride was supposed to be difficult and had two roadblocks to be climbed on foot. I hardly noticed the eight hours go by, standing in the back of the jeep, eating peaches along the way and taking the view through Shigar valley was enough, more then enough, to entertain me. The roadblocks were not what I had expected. The first one spooked me. I was not prepared for the rock climb and upon reaching the top had to convince myself that this was just a test run for what was to come. Ten minutes of talking to myself had enough punch to convince me to descend. The second roadblock was again not what I had expected. It was easier. The river below the “bridge” was roaring, but the logs that formed the bridge held and as they say, “the trick is not to think about it”, I happily bounced over the log-bridge to the other side. We kidded each other about the two roadblocks and the locals’ nonchalance about them. For the locals, this was a walk in the park. Secretly perhaps we all wondered about the days to come.

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Askole is beautiful. Lush green fields of crop in the middle of granite mountains. It’s a small village when you think about the fact that it leads to some of the most challenging treks in the Karakoram: K2, Trango, and Biafo among others. We camped that night at a local campground. That night was incredible. Tired though we were, MH’s warm chapatis and hot food with good music in the background made for a magical moment. We stayed up for a while, writing, chatting and gazing at the moon. This moon was our companion for we hoped to see the full moon on the night of the Snowlake crossing. I slept well that night, lulled by the distant sound of someone playing the flute and singing a Balti song.
I woke up a bit drunk. Drunk on the idea of starting on a trek that we had dreamed of. Everything was perfect. The people, the weather, the timing and our spirits. Bajwa got stuck in the gate with his obnoxiously wide backpack and our peels of laughter could be heard down to the river. Our ten-strong group trekked through the village being greeted along they way by locals. As per our city regulations we had started late, around 9 am. Porters like to start at the crack of dawn. A three-hour trek landed us at Kaisers polo ground, right at the mouth of the Biafo glacier – a flat, dusty piece of land with a superb view of Bakhor Das and a few mountains in the background. Take a right from here and you’ll end up at Concordia (K2 base camp) in 6 days. Take a left and you’ll begin the odyssey to Lukpe Lawo (Snowlake)
That day we baked ourselves in the sun. Stared idly at Bakhor Das rising above us, perhaps to remember its face in our dreams. Every time I would look at the river flowing near us, a feeling of grandeur would over come me. This very river carried the water from the Baltoro and the Biafo. One was part of the longest glacial system, the other carried from K2. This was a proud river.
Not knowing what to do that day, Hasan, Rizwan and I decided to take a look at what the Biafo was all about. We walked for half an hour and then went up a rock fall, beauty and the beast was perhaps named after the Biafo. Contorted, rocky, mangled and icy, what lay before us was the wrath of Gods. We stood in silence gazing at this beast we were to walk. It was windy and it began to rain a little, we headed back for tea.

Next morning, I felt particularly lazy. Unless driven to extremes, I am a firm believer in the law of conservation of energy. We broke camp early morning and had a grand breakfast consisting of Muhammad Hussein’s special parathas. According to him and the rest, the first two days were good for nothing but trouble. The walk from Kaiser’s to Namla is torture for the uninitiated. Boulders move, rattle and fall all around you. Falling is second nature to walking and walking is not part of the routine. We clawed our way through rocks and crevices for seven hours that day. For some, this was the longest they had ever been on a glacier, and for me, the first time. Reaching Namla I secretly did a moral check. Today had been tough and any loss in moral now was going to spell trouble. Moral down? For the Snowlake team? Never. Not one of us had had any problems – though that was farther from the truth than I was from home.
I shall not go into the explanation that Muhammad Hussein and Ali gave of the first two days. Their description was in sign language and alluded to metaphors found in human ‘basic instincts’ – I’m sure I’ve made the picture clear. If the porters thought this was difficult, we were surely in for some rather nasty surprises. The first of which came in the form of an icefall crossing in the middle of the glacier. Lower down it was highly unlikely that we would run into sheer ice walls. Its perhaps more unlikely that humans would be walking this part of the world, hence their presence is justified or so I comforted myself. It took us two hours to negotiate those ice walls – we climbed 45 degree inclined and 6-inch wide ice walls creviced on both sides. I am not ashamed to admit that I was rather taken aback and frightened at this particular moment in time. I have an aversion to deathly experiences. Then arises the question of ‘why we do this’? If religion centers around the concept of a God, trekking surely circles around the answer to this question. Have I found my answer? I think I did. Later.
Following the ice cliffs the terrain got worse. The glacier at this point was being crushed in a narrow channel and the terrain was churned up. Rock, ice, slippery, dusty and positively the uninviting surrounded us. Then, disaster stuck. I was walking 3rd in line to Khurram and Atif. The next thing that happened I wish I never saw – Atif flying through the air somersaulting and landing on his knees. Our Russian was down, bad. A man down in these areas is reason for trouble, for the nearest place for help is a three-day walk back over the terrain that had injured him. And even then we get to Askole, not a particularly health conscious place. We took Atif’s weight and distributed it amongst ourselves. There were still four more hours to go. In the last 30 minutes of the trek he couldn’t walk any more and had to be carried up with the help of the porters to camp. I was worried about him. But we stuck together. He was put under Intensive Care, fed fruit and commanded to rest. Mango was a nice campsite with an ugly view of the moraine. Behind us was Mango Brakk, a magnificent peak with an ugly looking black glacier flowing down from it. The weather had turned rotten and it was raining whimsically every half hour.
I have reason to believe that porters are very keen students of human psychology. Even in my previous treks, I could not help but notice that these species know how to lead, plod and push people beyond an individual’s capacity of pain, endurance, and suffering, might I add. They take things one-step at a time, slowly and surely pushing the carrot a step further. Baintha, according to MH was heaven. Lush green fields, open skies, plenty of water, the only thing missing in his description were hot springs and a midnight dance by insanely beautiful fairies. And the best of all amenities, he promised an easy route to Baintha that would not be more then six hours long. It took us eight and a half hours with three nervous breakdowns, two lateral moraines and a stroll in the rain to get to Baintha.
The terrain from Mango to Baintha is better than that from the earlier portions, as it has patches of ice where walking is easier then boulder hopping. The moraine on either side, however, is difficult and long. Even after crossing the moraine on the side where Baintha is located, one has to walk for a good two hours to get to camp. It was during this last two hours that most of us went through mental stress. For me, my backpack began to give trouble. It began to rain and we still had an hour left for camp. Most of us were suffering from lack of food and exhaustion – physically perhaps we were all beyond the point of exhaustion but when the mind gives up, its time to set camp. I had been walking alone for the past thirty minutes mostly because I wanted to be alone, the knapsack kept falling off my back and I would have to stop, hammer the harness back in and lug the backpack on. Neither the rain nor my exhaustion helped the situation much. For what seemed the twentieth time, it broke again. Personally I was done for the day. I left my bag, and fell to the ground; supported by a rock I contemplated possible ways to end my agony. Looking for a possible place to jump off, I turned around, and saw what was the most unearthly sight one can imagine. A rainbow so bright, it burnt through the mist behind me, it was still raining and the wind made low lying clouds swirl around the peak near me. For a moment, I was numb but then I yanked out my cameras in the rain and shot more then half a roll of film. I liked what I saw, most definitely. This one moment I will find hard to forget, for I waited till it ebbed away before my eyes. When it had gone, it was time to reach camp.

Baintha was beautiful and we decided to stay put for a day and dry ourselves. We figured that we had crossed rather rough terrain and deserved a day off. We were joined by the Germans the next day who roasted a lamb and offered us none. Hassan and myself spent good time shooting the area around Baintha, but the weather wasn’t particularly conducive to good shots. If nothing else the rest day gave us time to regroup and look forward to Snowlake, glimpses of which we could start to see now. Right down the alley. Bajwa decided to get ill at this point in time. The usual chirps of this particular trek member were no longer heard, instead he took refuge in his tent and had the rest of worried about his mental as well as physical state. Rizwan having perhaps a more human digestive system was not able to wash down the silt we had been drinking so far and was going thru a mutiny within his system. The mutiny turned worse as his condition became serious.
The target was to double stage to Karfogoro, the terrain had become friendlier and it seemed that we could push it. Just as we left Baintha, it began to rain again. At this altitude, it doesn’t rain and it doesn’t pour. It snows. Ice flakes, smaller then snowflakes began to fall from the sky and I felt my beard freezing. A new and tingly sensation that left me thoroughly disgruntled. The walking was easier with occasional crevices to jump over, but perhaps we had not gotten over the stress from the days earlier. We made it half way to Marfogoro in about four hours. It was here that we were expecting the rest of our porters, rather all of our porters except for MH, to be present with welcoming cups of tea. Nothing was in sight. Not even footprints.

I was in the mood for running over to Karfogoro. A selfish and impatient feeling that I had was overruled by the rest in favor of Rizwan’s health, and the approximate distance to Karfogoro, which was nowhere in sight. We had been carrying our tents but the porters had our food. Assuming that the porters would be somewhere around us, MH went looking for them while we moved into the side of the glacier towards Marfogoro. Our tents were up in 30 minutes followed by the last of the dates Khurram kept handy with him. We sat around in one tent, as was the norm before dinner, and chatted about whatever came to mind. Which was one of three things: food, drink and sex.  Having Hasan in a tent is not the easiest thing to do. ‘Make room’ has a new definition all together. The six of us back in the tent, MH came back with good news and bad news. The good news was that the Germans had a doctor (the only thing missing with them was satellite television) and the bad news was that we didn’t have food. The porters were nowhere to be found. We assumed that they had gone to Karfogoro. I was worried about them. They were supposed to meet us here, and more so because even if they did reach Karfogoro, the stove was with us. The dilemma was soon overcome by Rizwan’s newfound hope of living a healthy life once again. The German’s magic tablets locally known as ’emodium’ did wonders to the rebellion inside his gastronomical tract. Soon enough we heard his resounding chirps.
I retreated to my tent after spending an hour inside Khurram and Bajwa’s. I was feeling rather hungry and very uncomfortable with the thought of not having anything to eat. Kami felt the same, and I figured the best way to make it through was to sleep it off. I took one tablet of Actifed, and washed it down with ORS in the hope that it would put me to sleep. It did, but soon after I was woken up by a whiff of what smelled like food. I have never seen a sight so pleasing in my life as that of MH squatting outside our tent silhouetted by a torch light and smoke rising from one inviting plate of daal and two chapatis in the other. I greedily snatched dinner from him, mumbled thanks and ate like a possessed man. The chapati was gone before it could have contemplated its existence and I scraped the last morsels of daal with biscuits. We ate in complete silence. I slept feeling better, all set to tame this trek the next day.

We left Marfogoro a little late. Didn’t have much breakfast except for a cup of tea but we knew the walk from here on was going to be easier. The flat, white glacier seemed inviting and the hope of catching a glimpse of Snowlake made it more so. Crevices were much common on this part of the glacier, contrary to expectations. We had to walk in a zigzag pattern for what seemed like hours, but in the end Karforgoro finally came to. A rock fall on the lip of the Snowlake basin boasts a name for itself known as Karfogoro. The two camping parties were hard pressed to find space here, and most of the tents were pitched on boulders. The best part however was that our porters were safe and had been looking forward to our coming. As soon as we got there the fires were ignited and the evening rituals started. The weather was very overcast, gloomy, and rather cold. We decided this was time for a feast. Soup, nihari, chapatis and coffee were put on the menu. There has probably never been a more satisfying meal on a trek than that particular one, squatting inside a cramped makeshift kitchen with our nose stuck inside cans of nihari. It was splendid. It began to snow as soon as we finished our meals and Hasan’s tent being the only one that did not involve climbing up to it, was ours for the taking. Musing about the weather and if the next day’s Snowlake crossing would be possible, we talked to the German’s guide who advised us that both of our parties could leave together. It would be safer crossing Snowlake that way, but we would have to leave at, 0330 lest the snow becomes soft. We called it a day early, but none of us slept.


I didn’t get much sleep that particular night. Excitement had grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go. I didn’t hear Kami snore much and figured that he too was up. I tried counting snowflakes that kept dropping on the tent occasionally, and I wondered if the clouds were still hovering above us. I never had the courage to open the tent and take a peek. I left that for a 3am rise. I must have dozed out for a few minutes but was woken up by some internal alarm, prodded around for my shoes, and zipped down the tent wall. I was greeted by the sight of a star filled sky. Not a cloud over the horizon or anywhere near it. This was perfect, I thought. I yelled across to Hassan. A few minutes and curses later he stuck his head out and yelled out a battle cry. The crossing would happen today, as planned. Snowlake was ours for the taking.

In an hour, we were assembled right below the rock fall known as Karfoghoro. I could not help but taste the excitement in the air. This was it, I thought. This was what we had toiled for, hoped for and walked all the way for. Like Japanese tourists in a theme park, each one of us took turns photographing each other with one ice axe and Snowlake in the background. I justified my ancestral lineage of Rajputs by posing in a ready to battle stance. Roped up, packed up, we started the walk. The Germans had left a few minutes before us, their porters roped at 5-foot distances on a cord I wouldn’t hang my laundry on. They didn’t seem to mind, for it was only a psychological knot. If a crevasse were to open, it would take them down with it.

The snow was rather soft and we sloshed through it. The sun beat on us in its full glory and not trusting my light meter on the camera I underexposed every shot on the way. A mistake I still regret. Anyhow, a few minutes of kneading through knee-deep snow, I felt the world becoming darker and begin to swim. I couldn’t figure out if it was the altitude, the food or the fact that I was dehydrated. Asking for water, I opened a Pandora’s box. None us was carrying any water. All around, we were surrounded by snow, but nature has its ways of pulling a fast one on you as snow is a poor substitute for water, making you more thirsty as I was to find out after a eating a mouth full. The trek led across the lip of Snowlake, to a wedge from where a steady climb of four hours would take us to Hisper La. The walk to the wedge itself was three hours long.

Every now and then perhaps once in 45 minutes, the lead would indicate a stop. Ants marching on the belly of the snow beast would halt and lay about it in a straight line. A call from the start would indicate movement, in unison we would all rise; it looked so much like a row of little ants that I almost laughed out aloud. Instead, I shot another underexposed photograph. Kami, being the second in our ant line, was sandwiched between Hassan and myself as the lead. Incidentally and with good reason, he is the most photographed personality on Snowlake itself. 🙂

Being roped up is not unlike a marriage. We soon found out the meaning for that when the climb up Hisper started. Each one of us was on a different physical and mental fitness state. Hasan would want to drag on, while Bajwa with his ailments had been weakened, and Khurram needed water. A shout from the back would be retorted with an indignant cry from the front. We all trekked differently. Long walks, long rests, short walks, short rests, and the Russian with his all walks and no rests. The rope brought us all to sense how it wanted to rest. I surprisingly, did not feel a thing with the rope on. I found that I was totally indifferent to the rests and would flop down whenever the rope decided to. Of course, being part of it, I really didn’t have much of a choice.
The walk began to drone on. Hill after hill, we steadily gained altitude and Snowlake became an object we could gaze down on, longingly perhaps as each step took us away from it. The Germans being pulled along by their ruthless lead were tiny dots that would dip in and out of existence. Their apparent position governing our perception of when the climb would end had profound effects on our mood, especially Bajwa, who at the tail was having a tough time battling his weakness from bouts of sickness. Four hours into the climb, Hassan too began to loose a few of his normally very cool wits. I took a few shots, future blackmailing purposes. Five hours since we had begun climbing Hisper, we reached the top. The jubilation of getting there was downright genuine. I couldn’t stop grinning and couldn’t think of anything else to do but jump around. I dove into the snow, aptly followed by Bajwa, Khurram and Kami. The rest of the parties had gone straight to the business of lunch. The 50 or so strong porter teams had promptly eaten and relieved themselves. There were rows upon rows of half eaten and then digested meals around. A comical sight on its own.

Our porters, however, were not in the mood for anything different. The Germans and the rest were moving on. Apparently, no one had planned to stay on Hisper itself. It was normally thought insane to camp on Hisper, where there was nothing but snow and wind to keep you company. Set atop a mound at the intersection of Mr. Hisper and Ms. Biafo, this place was prone to whimsical blizzards and avalanches from the peaks nearby. Hassan looked at me and told me squarely, “I’m not moving from this place, this is what we came for and I’m not just walking from it”. Looking around the place, I could not think of one sensible reason why I should stay, but reason, I had left behind me when I started the trek. “I’m with you man”, I replied. We went around asking the others if they would want to stay. The porters had decided long before we had even had this brilliant idea that they were moving on. Sahibs could go do what they want. However, the sahibs also were not sure of what they wanted. Bajwa and Khurram decided to move on, their health not allowing them to think clearly. Atif followed them for an hour, to see the way down, while Hassan, Kami, and myself were left alone, atop the mound of coveted desire. We setup one tent, thinking it best that the more the merrier and of course warmer in a tent.
Atop Hisper then, there was an army of 4 neurotic individuals sucking on thin air trying to light a cigarette. Around them, a days worth of canned food, rope, shoes and a tent lay to keep them company. Atif came back brining news about a 10-foot raven chasing him all the way. The lighter refused to send out a flame into the air it didn’t like, the matches had gone wet and we didn’t have a stove on us either. The only one we had had gone down with the porters. Thirty minutes later we did manage to light a cigarette and celebrate to the best camping party ever assembled. Magic.
Following the obtuseness of the thoughts in my head, I decided the time was right to take a few photographs now. Kami and Atif being slightly more sensible, decided not to model for me and have the last bits of food instead. Hasan and I plodded around the snow, exchanging light meter readings and shooting at the sun bursting through the sky, cradling our tent in its sunbursts. A sight I will always remember. For the first time in two days, I took correctly exposed photographs.
We retired back into the tent as soon as the sun dropped behind the peaks around us. Strawberries, peaches and spaghetti make for a great meal at 16,000 feet. Conversation was great; being so lonely was having its toll on us for sure. Fitting Hassan into the tent was one of the headlines of our conversations. At 6 ft 7 inches he is no small accessory in a two-person tent crammed with three others. We bumped around, flattening the snow and making little bathtubs for ourselves to sleep in. In between exchanges of humor and laughter, we would think about the day ahead and the night. It could snow, clouds were settling in. That meant the path left by the party ahead would be obliterated, leaving Hassan to guide us through the crevasse field so feared. Worse, if a blizzard happened to drop by, we could be buried in our flimsy backyard tent. But that was all pessimistic thought, the moment called for happier thoughts, like Dough Scott breaking both his legs and crawling down from the Ogre which was framed right outside our tent or Nazir Sabir spending a night out on his K2 ascent. Thin air and thin minds.
We tried to sleep that night, not getting more then a few minutes of borrowed sleep. A foot stomping at my stomach or a toe trying to find its way around my neck would wake me up every now and then. Calling out to the owner of the toe invited a chorus of “Kya hai, bolte band kar (what is it, shaddup you moron)”, from all of us. None of us was actually sleeping. And with good reason.
Somewhere around 3 am, I might have dozed off, when I heard an avalanche crash somewhere in the distance. Then a few minutes later a rumble arose again. The wind was howling outside, throwing spindrifts against the wall of our tent. For a moment I thought about the place around me, decided I couldn’t do much about it, and then settled into what I would have wished a deeper slumber.

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“We’re not buried in snow”, I thought to myself as I decided that it was time I gave up on sleep. It felt as if it was morning – I could feel the haze outside. I called out to the rest and got assuring grunts back. I unzipped the tent wall and in a fit of sensitivity took out my camera to capture my first-sight-from-camp-after-the-night-atop-Hisper – an ice axe posed in my foreground with the persistent haze hiding Snowlake. We nourished ourselves with energile and two mouthfuls of spaghetti each and set out for Khanibasa, the first camp below Hisper.
Atif had spotted the trekking parties go down about an hour towards Hisper. He had mentioned reaching a point where the porters were unsure as where to go, and we ran into the same dilemma as we reached a fork in the path an hour later. One path led us off the edge of the serac we were standing on. The other path seemed to snake into what was an icefall. Either way it didn’t sound too good but a choice had to be made so instead of jumping off, we decided to take the icefall route.

The world for the next 2 hours took on the shape of a frozen, unmerciful beast that heaved and sighed under our feet. A twisted, haphazard and chaotic landscape that threatened to swallow us with a single wrong step. The footsteps of the previous parties had misled us to a route left of center down the pass, and this was a notoriously treacherous area. The descent though not steep, was littered with hidden crevices and seracs. It is impossible to tell when you are standing on what is an unsupported overhang of ice – even the slightest disturbance is enough to make them collapse and taken with them whatever they carry into the depths of the glacier below. It was an uneasy feeling being there, we didn’t exchange many words either. Perhaps we should have put in ice screws and tried a technical descent, but we all assumed that it would not take us much longer to get through it.
What we had imagined would take no more then 30 minutes lasted two hours. It ended with us landing into a frozen glacial pool. The thin crust of ice crunched threateningly under our feet as me and Kami especially slipped over this terrain aggravating Hasan in lead. Technically we should have roped out, however, the psychological advantage of being roped makes up for a hammering heart. Another hour of walking over frozen water thinking I’d be swallowed by this frozen world, we could make out a camp on the moraine. Bajwa seemed to be standing next to that, waving wildly.

We were greeted with hugs and warm cups of tea all around as well as the shocking news of Bajwa’s crevice fall. In the midst of the ice field we have come across a particularly nasty crevice that had certainly been opened recently. There were marks all around that segment of a scuffle, however there were footsteps at both ends of the crevice certifying that it had been crossed and was indeed the way forward. Bajwa had had the misfortune (or honor) of being the one to fall and open this crevice, and sinking up till to his chin. His backpack had held the fall with Khurram diving from the rear and pulling him out. Shaken, we all took a communal sigh of relief for getting through without injury.
The next few days witnessed us zoom over the Hisper moraine. Though this was very much a part of our trek, mentally it felt as if the trek had finished the day we had crossed Hisper. I too felt as if this was the “home run” and it did prove itself to be a “run”. We would start early and walk till the sun set over the horizon. The terrain had gotten somewhat simpler with most of the walk either over moraine or the ablation valley. It took us three days to make it down to Bitenmall where we celebrated the end of this saga.

That night, we lit a fire fueled on cow dung so lovingly gathered by Khurram. In it we added the last of our cooking stove kerosene and the last of our empty cartons of cookies, noodles and eatables. The last can of fruit was opened and shared with our companions and the last batteries were exhausted in our ‘stereo system’. That last night, we danced around a fire singing Balti songs we didn’t understand, beating on an empty drum that would serve us no more. It was a magical night and so filling we slept right beside that fire. I can still sometimes recall that night in its full and those are times I think to myself that Snowlake was indeed very special.
The next day we woke up feeling the tug of Punjab Sindh on us. A restaurant in Karimabad, it had been the epicenter of our thoughts for weeks now and there was nothing more on my mind then sinking my teeth in well cooked meat, washing it down with coke and tapering it off with a fresh cigarette. There was no doubt in my mind that we must reach Hisper today, else we would starve. We started the day with the last of the porridge packets sweetened with the only edible item left; Strawberry jam. Sickly sweet, we mixed it with porridge and added it to our tea. It did taste as bad as it sounded but we had no choice. The walk to Hisper was long, we walked like possessed men. 8 hours later, we were in Hisper village being chased by the village’s entire under-10 population. Karimabad was still 4 hours away by jeep, and we had none waiting for us. I took in the scenery thinking of the remoteness and beauty of this village, I could have been in the middle ages, having arrived through the mountains as a foreigner. I was pulled back by the thought of returning to hot meals and clean showers, which was only possible if we had a jeep.

A jeep would cost no less then three thousand rupees from here if one existed, Adam Smith’s world had come back with a vengeance where money was worth a lot more then the fire starter we were thinking of using it as. All pooled in, we had 2,500 on us yet even that would not bring a jeep. We had almost started walking the next 14 bitter hours of trail towards Karimabad, when out of nowhere a jeep came up the trail. The driver had come up to visit some relatives from the American expedition camped below. I saw no jeep but I saw a royal carriage from heaven, we begged and pleaded the man who agreed to take us all the way in the money we had. The six of us piled into it, the driver plugged in his music and I drunkenly smiled to myself as Jugni Jugni blasted through my ears.

We proudly marched into Hilltops Hotel, Karimabad looked so weather-beaten a local tourist stopped us to take pictures. He couldn’t imagine Pakistani’s could a) look so ugly, and/or b) do something so crazy. But I was proud while he was amazed. Already we were thinking what to do next year and if anything, those ideas promised to amaze a little more.

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