// you’re reading...

Essays and Travelogs

Retrospective Travelogue: Concordia and Gondogoro La, 2006

August 1, 2006. Friday

In retrospect, it’s funny that that day turned out to be Friday. I lost all sense of time up there. Life amongst the mountains boils down to the here and now. The only thing on your mind is getting your body safely through the obstacles and difficulties of the day and the terrain, one step at a time. I remember Friday prayers at Khoburtse, but only because the porters were praying. I realized what was happening and what day it was and performed ablutions in the freezing cold stream of Khoburtse where I had been sitting post-trek in the midday sun without my hat, soaking my blistered feet in it, with the massive Baltoro behind my back to the north and before me a mountain wall interspersed with deep ravines widened and ‘maintained’ by wild and craggy black and white glaciers that flowed down some peak too far away down the ravine and too hidden by fog to be clearly visible. Gusts of cold wind would occasionally blow down that deep dangerous looking ravine, signaling either a Karakoram draft within its corridors or more probably, an avalanche on one of the numerous peaks hidden within its cold dark lonely depths. It was after I joined the prayers that I realized I was being led by a Shiite imam. When we were done, I got a few strange looks from the porters and I hoped no one would go berserk in a fit of misplaced religious fervor. Weird customs abound in mountainous areas sometimes. It was all good though and they didn’t say much, except a few whispered conversations amongst themselves. Come to think about it, that was one enjoyable prayer.

But August 1st… August 1st was a Friday and we were at Concordia, the point of convergence of the Baltoro Glacier, the Godwin-Austen glacier coming down south from K2 to meet the Baltoro, and the West-Vigne Glacier going down further south from the Baltoro, which kept going on inexorably east towards India and the Line of Control. It was the first “big day” of the trek.

I woke up after sunrise but still had time to capture this glorious moment. By the photographer creed, I should have been flogged for getting up that late and missing the actual sunrise, but the lovely thing about being surrounded by a host of 8000m+ peaks is, that the sun takes a while climbing up above ’em. Hah!

We had our usual hot chocolate powder milk and wheat biscuit with cheese non-breakfast and pushed our starving forms towards K2’s pyramid. To be honest, I wasn’t tempted to walk all the way to the giant’s base-camp. I was 5 hour walk away from it and I could see it just fine from here. I figured a peak towering 8611 meters above sea level would look as huge, whether you were right underneath it or a 5 hour walk away. I was wrong.

As I trudged on over the boulder strewn Godwin-Austen glacier, for the first time, Broadpeak began to dwindle in size and K2 began to grow and I realized that there was a visible difference in their height that had been imperceptible from Concordia. The halfway mark on the way to the K2 base-camp is the Broadpeak base-camp. Najam and I, walking for the first time after about 7 days without our 14 kg backpacks went a little nuts and I proposed a race – at 5000 meters. We ran without a care in the world over the rocky uneven surface of the glacier, trusting implicitly to our ankle-length boots to protect us from a crippling ankle injury. We must have covered about 25 meters. I won; and I got a headache.

My oxygen starved brain was not amused by my body’s antics and refused to cooperate. I dragged myself a half hour onwards till I came across Wolfgang’s campsite. Now Wolfgang was a 65 year old portly German with a mild heart condition who sold used cars back in Germany. And he was doing the trek till K2 alone with just his guide and porters to keep him company. His wife had backed out of the trek for some reason I was not able to decipher through my broken German and his daughter had chosen to tour Europe with her boyfriend instead. So here he was, at the roof of the world, with a large kitchen and a bevy of porters, feeling all alone. He was a fun guy and we had struck up a conversation around Skam Tsok in the early stages of the trek. I struck up a conversation because I love talking to people from different cultures and because I have found in my experience that elderly Europeans and Americans are more fun to talk to. They seem to be more grounded than the younger generations. But given Wolfgang’s broken English and my broken German, advanced exchanges of ideas were out of the question. Interestingly, our limited common lingual ground was enough for him to let me know he liked the legs on one of the elderly Spanish sisters also trekking with us. He would cackle and pretend to be interested. Once I realized our lingual barrier did not allow for more complex conversations, I settled down for just the company – and the food. We were starving. Had been since the start when we made the critical mistake of not factoring in money and porters for fuel. We had completely discounted fuel our from calculations, a mistake the Edinburgh Expedition of 2008 almost made, but that’s another story. So when it came time to stock our expedition in Skardu and the Porter Sirdar brought it (fuel) up, we realized we would have to hire 2 more porters to carry fuel. Our emergency fund got wiped out hiring an additional porter and buying the fuel. In addition, we had to ditch food to make space for the fuel etc, since if I remember correctly, we could only afford 1 porter and not 2. We essentially came down to a chocolate powder-milk concoction for breakfast, Maggie noodles/soup for lunch and a measly serving of rice and lentils for dinner. For 13 straight days. At 4500 meters plus. With 14 kg backpacks. With 8 hour trekking days.
Not good.

As it turned out, Asjad’s knee injury that he had sustained back in Lahore got worse and he had to return from the trek after Day 2. I wonder what the food situation would have been for us had he stayed on. So anyway….there I was, making friends with a lonely old German with a well stocked kitchen. In my defense I shall say I did not plan it. Not at first anyway. But Wolfgang’s cook was efficient and he would serve pakoras and proper soup and Chinese rice with actual chicken inside it. We just couldn’t say no to his generous treats. Sometimes when I was completely starving, I would go sit by Wolfgang’s table and wait for the cook to serve snacks while I made smalltalk with Wolfgang. No, I didn’t care that I was being bayghairat. I was too hungry. Besides, I have crashed quite a few college dinners/receptions/conferences during LUMS. Heck, I wouldn’t even bother to dress up while I crashed the parties at college. So yes,bayghairat party-crasher sitting right here. Ok, where was I? Oh yes….August 1st.

So there I was, facing north half way down the Godwin Austen Glacier at Broadpeak base-camp, with the hulking mass of Broadpeak to my right, Concordia behind me and K2 another 2.5 hours trek ahead of me, with a splitting headache and nausea, courtesy the 25 meter race at 5000 meters. (Note to self: Try and avoid euphoria next time and contain sudden urges to sprint over dangerous terrain 5 kilometers above sea-level.) And there before me lazing around on his light-weight foldable stool was the impressive bulk of Wolfgang in a blue jersey. I laughed thankfully and sat down with him. He wasn’t feeling too good either so he retired to his tent. I was sitting on the stool, wondering what to do next when his cook came up. God bless that man. He had prepared chicken corn soup minus the corn and since Wolfgang wouldn’t eat it, he would be damned if it went to waste. He insisted I eat 2 bowls and some bread with it. I was too tired and nauseous to get up and hug him at that point or I would have. I ate those 2 bowls and the world stop spinning. I had to admire the general level of generosity around the place. A liter of Pepsi costs about Rs. 1300 (US$ 20) up there once all the portering cost gets added to it. And here were my saviors, offering me soup. Good wholesome soup with real chicken in it and not a hint of Maggie masala! God bless Wolfgang and his guide and cook.

I got up shakily from my meal and was half-heartedly thinking of making the rest of the walk to K2 base-camp when Jamil Jadq, Wolfgang’s expert and talkative guide came along. He took one look at me and guided me to an empty tent. “Sleep. We are all mucking around anyway and no one will use this tent.” So while Najam and Ahsan explored K2 memorial and the K2 base-camp, I slept. I don’t regret it one bit. That race had to be won. And that was one awful headache.

We returned to camp at Concordia an hour before sunset and I managed to catch a fairly decent sunset. There was an awkward moment when I was forced to enter a European mess tent during their dinner to ask a friend (another German!) for spare batteries that he had since mine had suddenly died in the chill Karakoram night that was descending upon us. I steeled myself and kept from staring at the mutton ribs and the peanut butter etc on the dinner, looked my German friend in the eye, apologized for disturbing dinner and got the batteries. He even came out in the middle of his dinner to check out the sunset, which was really quite brilliant. The sunset I mean.

The rest of the goras weren’t too happy with me generally. I can’t imagine why. Well actually I can. Half the Brits on the expedition looked as if they were carrying the shadowy remnants of the British Empire on their shoulders (and all that attitude was just dying to come out at the sight of a bearded native) and I was tempted to mess with them on quite a few occasions. Eventually though, I just backed off and minded my own business but only because I was too tired to bug them. I needed food dammit! I did mess with them on one occasion. The European expedition had been organized by a Pakistani-Brit named Sohail who was pretty cool. We chatted quite a bit along the way. He invited me to come sit with them where I was met with frigid silence and snide remarks from a couple of the group members. If I recall correctly, one of ’em asked me what my ‘claim to fame’ was out of the blue in a fairly nasty tone and I shot back: “Oh I have a beard.” Conversation pretty much froze after that point. I experienced first hand then what Bertie had meant about the cold British reserve. Fortunately, I met Dave back in Karimabad and he dispelled any stereotypes I might have been making. Unfortunately though, there aren’t too many Brits that I have met who are as cool as Dave. Sad I tell you. On the other hand, I haven’t met that many, so I shall withhold judgment till my sample size is larger. But I digress…

That was our last night at Concordia. And we had promised the Pakistani soldiers camped in their synthetic ‘igloo’ and heavy Chinese sleeping bags that we would come visit them one last time before we left the area. The troops had entertained us the day before by playing and cheating outrageously at Ludo, and singing first Punjabi and then amidst some mildly voiced objections, Indian songs. I am actually not sure who entertained whom. They were bored out of their minds up there and they really welcomed these crazy desis who were apparently as nuts as the goras were and for no godly reason, had taken it upon themselves to come visit their forsaken land.

We were all tired and not tempted to go, but they had invited us for dinner. I started cooking up visions of Hob Nob steak in my head and then forced myself to come back to earth. “Veggies. The most you can expect is veggies,” I told myself. We walked the dangerous boulder strewn glacier back west for about 20 minutes in meager torchlight, always afraid we would get lost in the black Karakoram night. We did get lost a few times, but one of us would then climb the nearest rocky mound and scan the area ahead to look for the Pakistani army camp outlined against the minimal light of the moon, under the shadow of the hauntingly lovely Mitre peak. Dinner turned out to be subdued affair. It was dhaal and energile, and I actually found myself wishing I had been back in our tent eating our dhall chawal with the achar. Oh that achar. It’s strange but in retrospect, I thought a lot about food. Something about the basic nature of the mountain. It strips things off you and leaves the man bare. It is very difficult to hold on to culture up there.

One things keeps coming back at you though. The grandeur and sheer mind boggling vastness of the place and, if you are a believing man, His boundless majesty.

We said our goodbyes to the troops under a clouded moon, and made our way back to the tent on the treacherous stone of the Baltoro. We needed to sleep. If all went according to plan, we would soon be staring up at the vertical face of the steep icy wall that is the Gondogoro La, the high altitude pass that was to be the singular most difficult step along our journey.

August 2nd, 2006. Saturday

The Baltoro Glacier, The West-Vigne Glacier

I was lazy that morning; more I think from the upset stomach (Concordia’s lack of sanitation is legendary) than from the ‘race’ from which I had quite recovered after the night’s sleep. Or maybe it was just sleeping at 4900 meters for the first time during a trek that had started off somewhere around 2500 meters. I expected that day like others before it to involve another long lazy zigzagging walk down rock and dirt – pretty much like what we had now become used to, but I was in for a surprise.

I don’t much remember breakfast, which given our meager food reserves is probably a good thing. If I recall correctly, we had pretty much given up on having breakfast and would gulp down tea or hot chocolate for the warmth of it and resort to eating cheese and wheat biscuits – I could not stand the sight of those things for more than a year after the summer of 2006- as we walked. Eating cheese and biscuits as you walked was easier. It kept your mind off the long way ahead and the ache in your body and you figured that as long as you were eating it on the go and not while sitting down, it wasn’t breakfast. Not really. It was just a snack. And soon there would be hot delicious Maggie noodles – yes, it can actually taste great when you are that tired and cold – for ‘lunch’, which was the name we gave to stopping for 30 minutes in the middle of nowhere under the burning hot sun and waiting for our porters to brew Maggie noodles/soup. With Happy Cow cheese in it – naturally. And maybe there would be some delicious snack that we had packed away in our blue drums and forgotten about that would miraculously pop up.
I had dreams.

Ahsan as usual was the first one out of the tent. The combination of Ahsan’s energy and Najam’s bayghairati would make me worm out of my sleeping bag. Najam was almost always the last one out. In fact by the time Najam normally rolled out of his sleeping bag, we were all dressed (i.e I had switched my lone trekking t-shirt for my lone night t-shirt), had finished breakfast, had taken the waterproof outer-layer off the tent and were basically waiting for him to get out so that we could pack up the tent. More often than not, given our slightly short tempers in the mornings courtesy the cold, drowsiness and the hunger, we started telling him he could pack the tent himself if he would take that long waking up. Ahsan would help him pack the tent away anyway, more I think because he couldn’t bear to not be ambulatory than out of any Samaritan motivations. I was fairly Zen about the delay in breaking camp. It was all rock and snow and ice and mountain around us and it would all be rock and snow and ice and mountain when we started moving and it would still be rock and snow and ice and mountain when we ended the day. What was the hurry?

We got done with packing the tent that day without Ahsan hovering over our heads for a change. I think he was off negotiating terms with the porters. Concordia is the biggest campsite on the Baltoro. It is the confluence of 3 glaciers. It’s like a roundabout joining 3 huge highways that you can see from space or in a GoogleEarth map. It is also home to the densest population of 8000m+ peaks in the world. There are 4 of them within a day or twos walk of each other and thus draw mountaineering expeditions from around the world, who pay the government of Pakistan thousands of dollars in permit fees as they arrive, hoping to ‘conquer’ K2, Broadpeak, G1 and G2 or perhaps the slightly ‘smaller’ G3 and G4. Concordia is where the large expedition parties converge and there is always work for the porters. These expeditions and their mules by the way, are also the reason I had a spectacularly upset stomach.

The mules leave droppings in glacial melt that trickles down the Baltoro and as you walk up the glacier a couple of days behind the expeditions, you see this crystal clear mountain stream that looks like purity incarnate and under the burning midday sun, you drink from it, only to realize a few kilometers and a few hours later that the beasts of burdeon have been having a field day upstream. On top of all of that, with mountaineers from around the world coming together and with no proper sanitation, Austrian, American, Spanish, French, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Polish, German, British and Pakistani germs get together and par-tay. Diarrhea is very very common.

But never mind that now. Our primary concern that morning was letting go of as may porters as we could. The porters would hopefully find work with one of the returning expeditions, and carry equipment back to Skardu down the Baltoro the way we had just come. The fewer porters that we took onwards from this point, the cheaper it would be for us since porters got paid by stages, and anyone coming along with us from this point on would have to be with us till the end. Such was the nature of the terrain of the mountain pass. We had started out with 7 porters and a porter-sardar (leader) and I was hoping we could let 4 porters go, and be down to 3 porters and the sardar. It would save money.

And money was very important for us. Not having accounted for fuel in our initial calculations had cost us dearly and we were very short of funds. An additional factor that was complicating our lives was the fact that from here onwards, it was all 5,000 meters plus, and porters refused to carry their initial porter-loads of 25 kgs above 5000m. Each porter would only carry 20 kgs (Yes, that’s still a lot but I was just looking at the impersonal logistics of it at that point). So while we had used up food and fuel in the last 9 days – we ate all the heavier and more delicious food items at Concordia so that porter-loads would be minimal for the attempt at the pass itself and so that we could get rid of as many porters as we could – we would still need quite a few porters given that each would now be carrying less. Ahsan came back from his talks with the porters and told us 2 of them were leaving us. They had found work with one of the expeditions returning back over the Baltoro. We apparently needed the rest of them. I tried to talk to Ahsan about the details of the logistics but he wasn’t in the mood to discuss. He had taken the decision and that was it. His attitude had pissed me off earlier at Payiu as well when he had been negotiating with the local shopkeeper to sell off our excess fuel (in our worried state over not having factored for fuel, we bought more than we needed in Skardu) and had not been open to suggestions/discussions but then I figured, what the heck. I was here to enjoy myself, and if he wanted to handle management and logistics alone, that was one less thing for me to worry about. I would much rather sit back and enjoy the scenery anyway. I suppose at some point, the line between carrying your own weight in a group and carrying your ego gets blurred.

At any rate, we were to move on with 5 porters and a sardar for the attempt at the pass. Honestly speaking, the pass hadn’t even begun worrying me at that point. LAS expeditions before us had made it safely across, albeit with harrowing tales of loose rock, slippery ice and the insanely steep descent, and I assumed we would too. I wasn’t worrying about anything more than the problem right in front of me at that point, which was trying to figure out if we had enough money to pay the porters who were departing as well as the remaining porters who we would need to pay at the end of the trek. Our initial calculations (which Asjad, Ahsan, Faraz and I had done on an excel sheet in the RISEPAK office over the 2 days it had taken the idea of the trek to germinate) did not allow, as far as I remembered, for 5 porters and a sardar carrying on all the way to the end. We had planned to be carrying less overall weight at this point than we actually were. Oh well. Plans shlans. What ever went according to plan anyway? I discussed it with Ahsan and he told me he had some dollars stashed away that we could use. I was much reassured. I was also carrying my debit card on me and hoped there was an ATM handy back in Skardu. Who knew with these mountain towns.

We emptied out our blue drums, gave away all the excess biscuits and cheese etc to the porters who would no longer be with us, and re-divided the food, cutlery, gas stoves and tent amongst the remaining porters. We said goodbye to the 2 porters, hugged them, asked them to forgive us if we had done or said something to offend them and moved on.

Within 20 minutes of the start of the trek, I knew this wasn’t going to be a normal day. We had been used to a certain terrain by this point; lots of loose relatively flat rock covering the glacial ice, over which we often went boulder hopping. The trail would zig-zag across the glacier and at the same time, move up and down. It wasn’t the zig-zagging I minded as much as the climbing and the descending. Every time we walked 2 kilometers, we covered perhaps a third of a kilometer in a straight line; or less. The glacier hadn’t exactly been a highway; till now.

As I crested a rise, I saw stretching out before me an enormous flat stretch of ice. It was as if a monstrous tractor had been taken to the glacier and had left behind small furrows and ridges in its trail; this was the exceedingly lovely West-Vigne Glacier.

I took one more step and slipped badly. I stabilized myself on my climbing stick and looked down. We were not on rock anymore. This was ice. Very very slippery ice; and it was at an angle. I realized I was standing on top of a dome of ice perhaps 60 feet high and I actually had to climb down the steep sides. There was a moment of panic. There was no way I could do this with the way my boots were slipping on this surface. Shouldn’t I have crampons and an ice-axe at this point? I stopped, looked back and waited for someone to catch up with me. Najam was first and he made it across on his sneakers. What the hell?! I was wearing Diggers for God’s sake. This shouldn’t be happening. That’s when I remembered what my Diggers had been through. They had initially belonged to Aamir Alvi, who had done the Batura trek in them back in 2003. I had then done Lupghar Sar in them in 2004, followed by Boisum Pass in 2005 after which I had lent them to someone who had done the very trek I was doing at this point in them. After that, I had done the Haramosh La trek in them. These boots were screwed. The grip on them was at any rate, and I hadn’t realized that because most of my treks had been in Shimshal. Barren scree-filled sand and dirt Shimshal. This was my first time on proper ice and I was going to break a bone at the very least if I kept on trying to navigate this surface with these boots. Uh-oh. Where do you get new shoes in the middle of a glacier? I waited for inspiration and the rest of my team. Bakir, our porter sardar caught up with me and I told him the problem. He nodded, told me not to worry and led me across the ice dome, holding my hand like a baby. And I fell; and fell. This was embarrassing. More than that, it was pissing me off. I cursed under my breath, clamped down on the frustration that was welling up and tried to get through this ice-dome so I could resume normal trekking over (hopefully) normal surface. Bakir realized how bad the grip on my boots was and took out socks and told me to wear them on top of my boots. I looked at him quizzically, shrugged and put them on. What the hell. It couldn’t be worse than my current state. The thick cotton socks on my boots gave them grip; too much grip sometimes. The cotton would stick to the freezing cold ice and give me purchase but if I stopped for too long, as was my wont when out of breath – and I was out of breath a lot at that altitude – the ice would positively grab hold of the socks and not let go. Trying to wrest the cottony ‘soles’ of my boots off the ice was as dangerous as lack of purchase and would disbalance me without fail. I struggled across and somehow made it down to level surface, where I breathed a sigh of relief. Too soon. The entire highway before me turned out to be made of the same stuff. Hard slippery ice. Damn it! Oh well, at least it was relatively flat.

I looked back at the icy dome like surface I had just cleared and realized it was where the terminal moraine of the West-Vigne met the lateral moraine of the Baltoro. The lateral moraine of the glacier is a high ridge that is found on either side of the glacier all along its length. Think of it as the bank of a river. Except these ‘banks’ are highly uneven, littered with loose rock, mounds and boulders and normally rise in height from 50 to a couple of hundred feet (in my experience). The terminal moraine is the end of the glacier, the snout. And it’s one messy place with rocks and boulders and crevices and emerald green moraine lakes filled with glacial melt and salts and minerals that give them their unique green/blue colour. And it’s much higher than the surrounding area which means you have to climb, which tires the heck out of you. Crossing moraines isn’t really a lot of fun. At any rate, I was past the maddened earth where the 2 glaciers met and was on a relatively flat surface. Except it was still ice.

I grew up in Karachi – the city that will see snowfall the day hell freezes over – and had always thought snow and ice to be synonymous. If it was white, it was snow/ice. I wasn’t picky what you called it – till now. Snow is nice and soft and you sink into it and it gives your boots lots of grip. You don’t slip in snow, though if it’s deep and soft and freshly fallen, you can sink all the way to your knees or your waist – or God forbid all the way to your chest which happened to Hasan Karrar once and Hasan is 6 ft 6 inches – which let me tell you, is no fun when you are carrying about 18 kgs on your back. But ice. Ice is more like…slippery rock. I began to wish for crampons; eventually, I gave up trying to walk with my cottony soles and took them off. They weren’t helping, specially since I was having trouble breathing today which made me stop a lot which made my feet stick to the ground. My stomach was churning, I was feeling lightheaded and slightly feverish, each breath was a wheeze and all I wanted to do was to sit down. So I did. For almost half an hour. It was luxury or would have been had it not been for the pain in my stomach. Bakir actually stopped and sat down next to me for all of the 30 minutes for which I was grateful. Knowing you are the tail is a bad feeling. At that point, I thought it was the altitude messing with my head, but in retrospect, I think it must have been the combination of the the upset stomach, the fever and the lack of proper food over the last 10 days. Oh, that and my digestive disorder with which I had been diagnosed a couple of months before the trek courtesy PDC food. Oh well, no help for it. Better get moving.

The walk down the vast expanse of the West-Vigne – I suspect I walked 10 to 12 kilometers in those 6 hours and I did not walk even half the length of it – took me 2 hours more than everyone else. The glacier was at least 2 kilometers wide, probably 3, and was bordered by peaks easily exceeding 5500 meters. Heck I was standing at 5000 meters. The peaks were probably 6000 meters+. No one has been dumb enough to even try and begin naming them. There are hundreds of them. As I stood there, completely out of breath at the tail of the expedition, I turned back and looked up in awe at the massive bulks of Broadpeak and K2, towering above the West-Vigne. There, dwarfed under the breathtaking mass of Broadpeak stood the British Expedition, resting and catching its breath. I just stood there, gawking and gaping at the raw majesty of the scape before me. It was stunning. If the altitude hadn’t already had me wheezing, I am sure the sight would have left me breathless all on its own. For a few moments, I even forgot the churning in my stomach. I snapped a quick shot of the glacier disappearing away into the distant south, barely taking the time to choose the settings on my camera, turned around, brought K2 and Broadpeak into the frame and snapped. Enough with the photos. I needed to walk on, so I could lose myself in the limbo of my mind and forget how much it hurt. I walked on, past green glacial melt that was moving much faster than I would have believed possible on a relatively flat surface. I idly wondered what kept it flowing and then, as my boots slipped again on the ice, I realized falling into that 2 foot deep green stream of glacial melt might actually mean death. The running water had made the channel it flowed in incredibly slick and slippery. If one were to step or fall into that stream, there was no chance at all that they would be able to stand straight; the stream would take you with it the 10 odd kilometers down the glacier where you would probably die of hypothermia or pneumonia or one of those other fun ways to die in the cold. With such cheery thoughts, I moved on, making a mental note to keep my distance from the glacial melt, pretty though it looked.

I stopped to catch my breath and looked back. The British expedition was slowly catching up with me and the sight of their tiny forms dwarfed by the two massive 8 thousand-ers made me laugh at the absurdity of the sight. We were ants. Ants. I took another picture and crawled on.

The glacial melt which had been a small stream soon became a strong angry churning thing. I wondered why the melt was stronger up the glacier, then figured it was probably the doing of the midday sun. Oh well. Who cared. I walked on in my silly slippery boots. A sudden rumbling made me look up. I scanned the horizon. Nothing. I looked around. Sound echoed in this icy vastness; it got trapped between huge mountains and echoed off them. Must have been an avalanche, I told myself and moved on. Soon there was another one. It was Chogo Lisa, the 7665 meter cone shaped peak further to my left which had killed the man who first sumitted Nanga Parbat, the Killer Mountain. There was at least one avalanche an hour throughout the time that we spent on that glacier and we spent about 12 hours on it. It was a crazy crazy place and we later heard of an Italian couple that was waiting at Ali Camp hoping to climb up Chogo Lisa and then ski down it. I laughed in my head at the crazy people the world had when I heard that. Ski down Chogo Lisa indeed. Mad people. Completely nuts I tell you. For some reason, I didn’t place myself in that crazy category. I was just going to attempt a fairly easy pass. Nothing really hard core.

The entire day’s walk had been on ice and I was thinking unpleasant thoughts of how nasty it would be to sleep on ice, when I realized the rest of my party was to the right of the glacier and I was pretty much in the middle where I had been walking along lost in my thoughts; and separating us was a small river that a few kilometers and 2 hours back had been a trickle. Not good. I looked for a place to ford – no jump – over it and found nothing narrow enough. I walked on looking for a narrow spot where I could leap across the green glacial melt but it was easily 7 feet. No way I was doing that with a 14 kg backpack on my shoulders that was killing me with its weight today for some reason, and to top it all off, very slippery shoes that would make a good solid take off impossible. Walk on young man, walk on. As Tintin would say, crumbs!

As I walked south, looking for a narrower spot, I realized I didn’t stink as much today. The familiar smell of dried sweat mixed with the almost pleasant smell of sun-block was missing. Oh yeah, I didn’t apply any sunblock today, and the extra Red LAS jacket I was wearing today on top of my full sleeved t-shirt in deference to my first time at 5000 meters+ on ice was masking the sweat. Now that I come to think about it, the only reason I was able to tolerate that jacket through the heat of the day’s trek was because of the fever I had but didn’t realize. I suspect that is why the backpack seemed heavier.

I finally found a place to jump over the river, walked west and realized gleefully we would be camping on rock and not ice. Awesome. Except there was a really scary looking crevice between me and the campsite. I was still on ice but I was too tired to go around. Screw it. I jumped and made it across thankfully. Almost grinning I walked into camp at around 2 pm and collapsed inside our tent which (thankfully) had already been set up. One good thing about being the last one at the campsite: you never have to set up camp. Muah!

I took my time taking off my boots and getting into the sleeping bag. Ahsan was already asleep in our tent that housed 3. Najam was off with the porters methinks. As I settled down into my sleeping bag and as the exhaustion hit me, Ahsan woke up and told me we were going to attempt the pass tonight. I looked at him in stunned disbelief – I had been vaguely counting on a day and a half of rest – and told him there was no way I was going to be able to do that pass tonight. The churning in my stomach and the almost pleasurable pain of the fever that was wracking my body nodded feverishly in agreement. No pun intended. I saw surprise flicker across Ahsan’s face at my pronouncement and then resolve replaced it. “Well, we have to do it. The weather is bad and they think the clouds could cut the pass off for the entire season soon.” I was about to suggest a day attempt at the pass tomorrow when I remembered Lonely Planet specifically warns of danger of avalanche in the area and attempting it in day light with more melt was definitely not a good idea.

I swore underneath my breath. The clouds had indeed been following us since Payiu. If they caught up with us, we were screwed. If the pass became unnavigable due to bad weather, we would all have to walk back down the West-Vigne and then the Baltoro which would take us about 6 to 7 days as opposed to the 2 days of trekking we would have to do once we were over the pass. Damn damn damn. My fever was getting worse, and my stomach had ditched nodding in favour of growling , screaming and raging. I wasn’t up for a 7 day walk down 2 glaciers and I was certain I couldn’t do the pass in my current condition either. Oh yeah, and we didn’t have food for 7 days. Short of a paralyzing fit, I could imagine nothing else that could give me the excuse I needed to avoid the pass tonight. Damn it.

“Is there lunch?” I asked, raising myself on my elbow inside my sleeping bag.

“Maggie noodles. It’s being prepared.”

I lay back waiting desperately for that one hot bowl of liquid. I was going to make it last as long as I could. But first I would hold it in my hands and feel the warmth. The soup/noodles took its time. I think Najam brought me a bowl after almost an hour – well it felt like an hour anyway – and I held on to the bowl, letting the warmth seep into my palms. And then my stomach growled. Crap. No pun intended.

That afternoon and evening, from about 3 pm to 10 pm, while Ahsan and Najam slept, I made at least 6 trips to the small gorge south of the campsite that had become the camp toilet. Ahsan eventually woke up and suggested I take some meds for the diarrhea. We sorted through our med-kit, and after mutual agreement decided that Flagyl was indeed for an upset stomach. I stared at that med-kit, looking for inspiration and saw a leaf of Panadols. I don’t like taking meds and had taken all of about 5 Panadols in the last 10 years. Oh well..desperate times. I wolfed down 2.

All three of us were tired and hit the sleeping bags again. I think it was about 6 pm. I lay there trying to find sleep that would not come. As the fever took me, I wondered how difficult the pass was going to be. I wondered if there was a realistic chance I could die tonight and clinically put it at 10%. Don’t ask me how. I just pulled the number out of the air and my gut nodded, so I went with that. I wasn’t too worried though. I had a lot of confidence in my ability to handle the terrain and more importantly, in last minute adrenaline rushes, but I figured I would set things right with God just in case. I zipped up my sleeping bag, and in that silence, prayed. I tried to cry because prayer is always better answered if you cry but the tears wouldn’t come. Sometimes, it sucks to be a guy. I tried wallowing in self pity but that didn’t really work either, so I settled for a one-to-one with God. We talked for about 5 minutes or maybe it was 10. I apologized for all my sins and asked Him to forgive me if I died tonight. Thanks a lot.

Once I had made my peace of sorts, I slept for a few hours. I woke up feeling refreshed and with a sense of dead calm over me. I don’t know if it was the sleep, or the Flagyl and the 2 Panadols, or the prayer. Or a combination thereof. All I knew was, I was back in the game. Heck yeah!

I lay there trying to push myself back to sleep because I figured I needed all the rest I could get but sleep continued to evade me. And now that I was feeling better and with this unearthly calm that had come over me, I threw pragmatism to the winds and walked out of the tent. I slipped on my old nearly-had-it Nike sandals and walked over to the Porter shelter. It wasn’t much of a shelter; they had a stone ‘wall’ on 2 sides, a plastic sheet for a floor and had pitched a plastic sheet on top for cover that was held up above their heads at a height of about 4 feet by random climbing poles. I marveled at their ingenuity and their ability to make do with almost nothing and sat down amongst them, ducking under the canopy. Bakir, our talkative porter sardar, was busy with brewing Balti tea – that lovely thing the Baltis make with their special tea-leaves, garam masala (hot spice), salt and yak butter – so fortunately there was no one to disturb my reverie. I wanted to be alone in the crowd. I sat there on that plastic sheet lost in thought, enjoying the warmth of the shelter and the feel of people moving around and whispering softly amongst themselves. It was akin to the proverbial moment before the storm. I closed my eyes and grinned to myself, lost in the moment. Bakir woke me with a touch and offered me some stone bread that one of the porters had made. I gratefully accepted. It was warm, it was real solid food and it was wheat for my crazed stomach. Perfect. I munched on that stone bread and drank hot salty Balti chai under that plastic canopy, craning my neck to look up at the moon shining just above the white sheathed Chogo Lisa in a sky so blue-black and clear, it almost made me want to sing; or cry, or recite poetry. The sky has never ever made me feel that way. It was some night.

Bakir and I talked in whispers and I asked him how much ice there was on the pass. I was worried about my silly slipping boots. Bakir told me to switch boots. I looked at him in shock for a minute, then actually began to consider the idea. “What about you?”

“I can make it. No problem,” he said. I looked at him doubtfully and then around at the other porters, some of whom were walking around in frikkin plastic shoes! Madness. I shook my head at the insanity of it and looked at this superman sitting besides. Well, they did grow up on the mountain. But still…

“Hmm.” I thought some more. It was a selfish thing that I was about to do and I really didn’t want to be looking down at Bakir’s dead body lying in a ditch someplace half way along the pass because he had slipped in my shoes. On the other hand, these guys were walking along in plastic shoes that were made to slip and happily chugging along. I selfishly decided my need was greater than his and his experience and knowledge of the terrain much greater than mine and if they could walk this terrain again and again in those plastic boots, then Bakir would be just fine in mine. I tried on Bakir’s boots and they fit. We completed the exchange and I looked worriedly at Bakir.

“Bakir, are you sure?” The man smiled and shook his head without much worry. Damn, but I felt bad. But only for a moment. My stomach grumbled and a wave of weakness passed through me and I started worrying about being able to make the pass at all, slipping boots or not. The feeling of calm in my head did not go away though and that was reassuring. We walked over to where Ahsan was sitting besides our campfire and there was talk of other parties that had arrived at Ali Camp and were going to be attempting the pass with us. There were going to be about 30 people attempting the pass that night.

“Wow. Poori paltan hai.”

“Hah, yes. Looks like.”

“What about the ropes?” I asked Ahsan and Bakir. Gondogoro La (Gondogoro means pieces of broken rock) is a technical glaciated pass. It’s a 700 meter wall of snow at an angle of maybe 50 or 60 degrees on our side of it (i.e. the northern side) and its an even steeper 700 meters or so of loose rock and ice on the south side. You need rope to go up and you definitely need rope to come down the other side. And there is danger of avalanche, so it is attempted at night when there is no sun. Oh joy. The ropes had already been placed by a rescue team based in Ali Camp, and they charged everyone crossing the pass at different rates, depending on if they were porters, locals or foreigners. We sent Bakir off to negotiate with the team, telling him to bring the price down for us since we had no goras on our team and were all desis. He came back telling us they were going to charge a thousand rupees per person in our party including the porters. I don’t remember the details but I think Bakir and Ahsan brought them down to 500 for each of the porters. I started to worry about the money, and then figured I would just let Ahsan do the worrying.

Around us, expeditions were packing up, voices were shouting, camps were being broken and a ragged queue of trekkers was forming. Apparently, we would be walking to the base of the pass and going up it in single file. I wondered if were going to be roped up but Bakir said no. He also warned me to keep my distance from porters when I was in the queue. I raised my brows quizzically and he told me the altitude did things to porters stomachs and it was a good idea to keep your distance when walking behind them. Ahhh. Ok. I nodded in comprehension and he strode off, hopping across slippery surfaces in my boots like a mountain goat. I shook my head wryly. Nuts.

We were joined by Sohail from the British expedition and a woman from the Italian expedition passed around sweets. I smiled at her, my headlamp blinding her for a second as I looked up at her and accepted the Fox’s kee sweet. When everyone was geared up and ready in the queue, someone started raising what sounded initially like slogans. And they were. Religious cries.

“Allaaaaaaaah hu Akbar!” a porter shouted and his cry was echoed by the entire party except the foreigners who were looking around in bemusement. The answering cry echoed within the rather vast confines of the glacier and the mountains boxing it. I cringed, expecting another massive avalanche on Chogo Lisa across the glacier, or at least rockfall. Nothing happened though and another cry went up into the night. It raised the hair on my arms and neck and I felt my spirits lift. I was just getting into the whole yelling-at-the-roof-of-the-world-in-the-dead-of- night thing when they changed their cry to: “Ya Ali madad!” Sigh. Intercession and all that. Yes of course. Naturally. Ah well… Moving on.

Once the cries had died down, we started moving single file down into a snow filled valley, surrounded on 3 sides by mountains rising up like cliffs. It was an unreal feeling being in that place, (Picture not mine by the way. Since we attempted the pass at night, I did not have the light to snap anything like this) surrounded by tall mountains so close to us. Had we done this part of the trek in daylight, I suspect I would have worried quite a bit about avalanche. As it was, I couldn’t see much of where we were or where we were going and when after an hour we hit soft snow, I was far too busy cursing at its softness to look around at the sheer snow laden walls rising around us. I was sinking all the way up to my knees and it was very annoying.

I plodded on in the darkness and suddenly felt rather than saw the nearness of the white wall that rose up before me. I looked up at the steep wall that we were supposed to climb all of tonight and with a twinge in my stomach that had nothing whatsoever to do with an upset tummy, realized I couldn’t see the top of it.

Uh oh.

August 3rd, 2006, Sunday

12:00 am

The mountain stretched away before and above me into the night. There wasn’t a lot I could make out in the cloudy moonlit night, even with the snow helping reflect light. It was just a big wall of snow in front of me that I and my friends had to climb. Not knowing how much I had to climb actually helped. No thought or energy was wasted on thinking about how difficult the climb would be. There was nothing for it. You saw the white wall of packed snow in front of you, and you climbed. If the headlamps bobbing away above you into the darkness weren’t enough directions, then you could just about close your eyes, grab the really thick rope that was hanging all the way down from the top of the pass – and for which we had paid 500 Rupees each for a one time use – and climb on.

The climb itself wasn’t very grueling. We aren’t talking pitons and hard sheer rock surfaces. It was steep but not that steep. Not at first anyway. And the snow was packed, your boots found purchase, easily enough and very soon you realized some kind soul had actually dug out large steps three times the size of your boot into the snow wall. Easy purchase.

I grabbed the thick rope in my left hand, made sure my feet were placed securely within the steps cut into the mountain, dug my climbing stick into the packed snow with my right and pushed up one more step. This went on the whole night. There really wasn’t much else to remember about that climb, except for the time I heard a scream above me half way up – it must have been 3 am – followed by two whizzing sounds a few feet to my right. Someone above me had lost both climbing sticks. A few more feet to the left and they woulda hit me. I chuckled silently to myself and shook my head as I realized they could have hit me on the head, possibly hard enough to knock me off the wall. I had been climbing half the night so I figured it must be at least a 500 foot drop from where I was on the wall to the bottom. I tried to turn and see how far up I was, but I didn’t trust the steps in the packed snow enough to try gymnastics like that this high on the wall. Besides, my backpack stuck out about 3 feet from my back and prevented me from really turning around. Oh well. Still alive, still climbing.

Towards the latter part of the night, the climbing became slower and the wall steeper. It was more difficult to move, and I found myself out of breath more regularly and at shorter intervals. Altitude. Gondogoro was supposed to be 5940 meters at the top, if Lonely Planet was to be trusted; and if my experience on this trek was anything to go by, it wasn’t. My GPS unit had measured pretty much every campsite over the last 8 days at a few 100 meters less than the figures John Mock and Kimberly O Neil gave in their biblical trekking guide, so I wasn’t really sanguine about hitting ‘almost’ 6000 meters when I got to the top. I had been annoyed with Gondogoro La at the start of the trek for not being 60 meters, and a small part of me still hung on to the hope that for once, Lonely Planet had gotten its altitudes right. I really wanted to reach ‘almost’ 6000. I looked up and in the early light of day, saw the gang hanging on to the rope and moving on upwards, about to crest the pass. It was quite steep.

I summited the pass about 30 minutes before sunrise and gasped and plodded my way to the top, to find Najam sitting there, looking around, smoking a cigarette. “Are you insane! You are at almost 6000 meters!” He didn’t seem to mind though. I was gasping and short of breath, mostly because the weight of the backpack seemed to have increased and I swear I could feel my lungs shrink. Najam was in great spirits though. He wanted me to take out my camera and take pictures. I didn’t give a crap. My fever felt like it was coming back, my stomach was twinging albeit mildly from the prolonged lack of proper food and IBS, and all I wanted was to be left alone so I could sit quietly and regain my breath. Najam stood up with Bakir and told me to take a picture of the 2 of them. Scowling, I finally took out the Powershot and quickly snapped a few shots. That’s when I really looked up and around me. To the north, past Najam’s backpack, climbing stick and the thick rope I had just climbed up on, K2 and Broadpeak were visible cloaked in white, along with pretty much the entire Gasherbrum series. The clouds that had been following us throughout the trek had finally caught up with us. I felt I was at the roof of the world; a white puffy cloudy roof.

I turned to look south – our path for the next 3 days – where Laila’s gorgeous needle soared up before me to its 6050 meter majesty. Someone had strung out bright buddhist prayer flags (and a 1.5 liter 7-Up kee botal) right at the edge of precipice where they fluttered over our heads in ominously beauty in the early morning breeze. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a clear day at the top. The clouds filtered the sunlight from the scape before me and obstructed visibility, but mannnnnnnn. What a view! The Gondogoro valley lay spread out at our feet, the Gondogoro glacier below us to the left, leading up to base of the spectacular Laila and a little to the right, on the western lateral moraine of the Gondogoro Glacier, the green patch that was Xuspang.

I was almost as high up as Laila’s summit! Awesome! I took out my GPS unit and took a reading. 5620 meters. What the hell? That couldn’t be right. Maybe I wasn’t really at the top yet. I walked some more and the figure dropped. Blast. We had barely exceeded five and a half thousand meters. So much for 6000.

At the very top, I figured I was done with the tough part. Descents were tough for people with weak legs and I knew that was one problem I didn’t have. I plodded through the ankle deep snow weighed down by my backpack and looked down at the descent past the toes of my boots and for the first time in my life, felt pure fear try and rise up within me. I have been anxious and angry and afraid and uncomfortable and annoyed and irritated and many other things in my life. But this was definitely and without question the first time I had felt fear. Pure fear. The descent was insane. It seemed to go straight down over flimsy rock outcrops that looked as if they would crumble and fall off if rabbits stepped on them; and at first sight, it looked about 80 degrees in gradient. We had to go down that? The fear rose up in me for all of a fraction of a second and in that second I considered multiple options, all of which involved me not going down that rock wall. Pretend to faint and be carried down? Call a chopper and be airlifted out? Go back down the way you came, and walk up the West-Vigne, and down the Baltoro all over again and end up in the green wheat-fields of Askole? I considered all of these and a few other options that I don’t quite recall but all of which were as crazy. All of this happened in a fraction of a second. Within the same fraction of a second, I also discarded these options. Can’t call a chopper. Costs 6 lakhs and we don’t have a Sat phone anyway. Can’t pretend to faint. That’s just not who I am. Can’t go back the way I came. Need food, fuel and a tent for that and the porters carrying it have already gone on ahead. Once I had firmly and logically cut off all escape routes in my mind, I deliberately clamped down on the fear.Fear just makes you panic. Panic just makes you dead. Old lessons I had learned when trying to swim back to the shore in a quickly receding tide. Oh well. Nothing for it. I think I recited the kalima before I started the descent though. Friends have repeatedly asked me for a picture of that descent. But really people, I kinda had other things on my mind.

The descent was – in two words – harrowing and exhilarating. I had sat at the top letting people who reached the top after me go down before me. I wanted to catch my breath. I think a small part of me also wanted to see if anyone fell to his/her death. But that didn’t seem to happen so I figured it was safe enough, mad though the descent looked. Once I had regained my breath, I forced my legs to get off the edge and down onto a foothold on that crazy wall and realized there were 2 thick ropes that I could hold on to. Excellent.

I grabbed both the ropes in my hands and inched down. The rock underneath my feet broke away more than once. When the rock wasn’t busy breaking away, the layer of ice on it was doing its best to make me slip. Bloody hell. Ice on top of flaky rock and a mad angle of descent? Perfect. Just perfect. I decided the safest way to go down was pretty much lying on my back. That way I had multiple points of contacts with things other than thin air. I could hold on to the 2 ropes with my right hand, sit on the rock wall and drag my behind along it to slow my descent. And I could use the climbing stick in my left hand to further find anchor somewhere amidst the crazy formations of the pass and stabilize myself. The porters above and below me screamed at me not to go down like that but their screams pretty much got lost in the wind and it wasn’t like I gave a crap about what they were saying anyway. I was going down slow and safe and I didn’t care if I had to drag my behind down. This wall was frikkin’ steep! That’s when I dislodged what must have been a 10 kg rock. It seemed to dislodge itself in slow motion and then continued to bounce down in slow motion over what felt like an entire minute. There were screams of warning from above and below and everyone descending along the twin lines of rope froze. The ones at the top stared at the rock going down and the ones below stared up at the rock coming down. I was in the middle, watching its progress, half expecting it to hit someone and kill them. I wondered if there were criminal proceedings you had to go through for accidentally killing a fellow trekker. The rock safely bumped and hopped down without hitting anyone. I cringed, thinking of all the curses the 25 odd people below must have for me. At that point, I figured there might actually be something in what the porters were saying and decided to change my stance on the method of descent. So I stood up – and fell. The rock under my feet broke away; the layer of ice on it had made me slip before it broke anyway. Oh joy. The climbing stick in my left hand flailed about in the air, my feet scrambled to find purchase and my entire weight was supported for a few critical moments by my right arm. I knew I had been right to reserve my right arm for the ropes. When the world stopped spinning, I realized I was lying on my back on the steep face of the mountain.. Well I was actually lying on top of my backpack and my behind. My feet were just minor anchors, and my body was actually held in place by my behind, my backpack, my right hand on the ropes and partially by the climbing stick in my left hand.I raised my head slightly and looked down the length of my body and past my boots at the drop below me and at the valley spreading out before me. Strangely enough, I felt no fear. Just a slight rush of exhilaration and adrenaline. It’s amazing how much your body can put up with when asked to.

I gingerly stood up after a few moments of deep breathing and tentatively thrust out with my climbing stick. The stick found a small opening between two rocks and lodged itself there. I gradually let my weight off the rope and using the stick moved one step forward. And the stick collapsed. It was one of those extendable affairs whose bottom screws on to the top part and apparently, it had become unscrewed. I found myself falling on my behind again with just the upper half of the climbing stick in my hand. Blast. I stabilized myself, looked at the climbing stick in annoyance and mentally shook my head. The lower half had either fallen down or was stuck in some hole a few feet above my head. I really didn’t care where it was. It could stay there for all of eternity for all I cared. I got my breath back, packed up the stick as best and I could and looped it around my wrist, freeing my left hand.

About that time, I got really pissed at being scared. Damn that mountain anyway. Who did it think it was? I was seriously getting tired of my heart trying to pound its way through my chest. The adrenaline rushes from the repeated falls made my blood course through my body. I suddenly felt very very elated, very very confident and very very indestructible. So I got up, my feet on what I think was a 60 degree slope of flaky rock (though it might have been less) and with both gloved hands holding the two ropes I started walking quite confidently down the mountain. I slipped a few times but my arms felt like steel and easily supported the weight of my backpack and I. No problems senor. Bring it on. After 2 minutes of this, I felt so confident, I started sliding down. Just like the scree slopes of Shimshal. It’s all about confidence baby! Hoo yeah! Without waiting for my feet to find real purchase, I would slightly open the palms of both hands and slide down the twin ropes till my hands reached the next big fat knot in the ropes. The knots would stop my arms from sliding down further. If at that point, my feet had purchase, I would remain standing. If they didn’t, my arms would be called upon to keep me attached to the rope while I unceremoniously plonked down on my ass and halted my quickening descent. The backpack really helped. I think I my back woulda been riddled with scratches and cuts had I not had that backpack.

The crazy part of the descent was over in 45 minutes and they were without doubt the most thrilling moments of my life. The high! Once the angle of descent became less steep, I grinned and hopped my way down to almost level ground. This part of the descent reminded me intensely of the crazy part of the climb up Lupghar’s eastern moraine that we navigated back on my first trek in 2004. Back then it had been crazy. Now, it was heaven. I casually walked down that 2 foot ledge, stopping to take a leak (I distinctly remmeber the wind blew at all the wrong times). The wind was blowing, it looked like it might rain and I felt as if I didn’t have a care in the world, so I went to sleep for 30 minutes right on that ledge. Woh kya kehtay hain na, kay neend toa sooli par bhee aa jati hai. I woke up again, reminded myself most accidents happened on descents and that it wasn’t over yet; I walked on. I met up with a heart surgeon from Georgia at the base of the pass. He had just summitted G2 and was sitting down eating dried apricots, abusing his guide in a friendly manner. We talked a bit. He didn’t have water but he had apricots and offered me some.

“Why are you shouting at your guide?”

“That idiot. He tell me..short cut. This.” Points up at Gondogoro La. “This short cut? Mad man. If I had known how dangerous this was, I woulda gone back the same way I came.”

I laughed and then stopped. Wait a second. This guy just frikkin summitted G2. G2 is an Eight frikkin’ thousander!

“This is too dangerous?” I asked

“Yes, look. The rock keeps breaking. Is dangerous. You need helmets. No one has helmets, or harnesses.”

So hold on a second. The guy who just frikkin’ summitted the 13th tallest peak in the world thinks Gondogoro La is so dangerous he would rather have made a 5 day detour? Cool! I knew altitude wasn’t everything, and that G2 is considered one of the easier peaks to climb but still!
Haha! Way cool!

We sat there at what my GPS said was around 4900 meters (I had descended about 720 meters), ate dried apricots and talked. We took a picture and I walked on towards Xuspang. It was a 2 hour walk and I was dying of thirst along the way. Fortunately, I met Rachel from the British expedition and she offered me water. She didn’t have a huge issue letting me drink out of her canteen for which I was quite thankful. I had needed water desperately at an earlier stage of my trek and the Brit trekking with me at that point had had issues with me drinking out of the same bottle and hence I was denied water for a good 3 hours. Not a fun thing, let me tell you. Rachel unfrotunately didn’t have enough water. I walked for another hour, found a stream, dropped to my stomach without taking off my backpack and lapped away for a good 15 minutes. I eventually walked into the completely unreal campsite at Xuspang – a stunning splash of reds and blues and yellows in the midst of that unexpected green – sometime around 1 pm, looked around me and started laughing.


No comments for “Retrospective Travelogue: Concordia and Gondogoro La, 2006”