The Trek In to Base Camp
It would take us 8 days to reach Basecamp which we would arrive at on 20th June moreorless on schedule, clearly a lot can happen in 8 days so you will be happy to know I’m not going to touch on most of it restricting myself to summaries of where to where & a few more significant moments. What I will say is that in terms of terrain & nature this is far from the trekking experience I’ve had in the National Parks of Nepal & Patagonia. The trails are mostly rough & rocky, there are no Teahouses & Hostels, Campsites are rudimentary & Toilet Facilities at these on the dilapidated side. Away from Campsites toilets are behind rocks & provisions are either what you brought in with you or what the chefs have given you as a packed lunch at breakfast time. There are no shops, in essence what I’m saying is this is not trekking to be taken lightly.
13th June – a long day from Jhola to Paiju approximately 20 Kilometres over easy terrain initially but increasingly rough nearer the end requiring a head for heights here & there. We started at 3,000 metres & whilst I didn’t really feel that altitude I did feel that our early pace of the morning was a bit unnecessary for such a long trip. As ever I stopped frequently to take pictures of the surrounding peaks which were sometimes snowclad with the higher ones being circa 5,500 metres or so. Arriving in Paiju (lovely position above the Biaho Lungma river basin) the main topic was Bruce’s boots where the souls were detaching themselves, if the glue he was carrying didn’t work his trip could be over before it began (Bruce is a big chap, size 14 feet, you won’t find anything else that size even in Skardu). Before getting my head down Rui asked me if I was O.K. as he’d heard someone vomiting before I’d entered our tent, I was fine? PS. Bruce’s boots would last the trek in & David organized for a replacement pair to come in with a trekking group from the U.K. several weeks later.
14th June – A shortened day, Bruce had been the projectile vomitor the night before & Luke his tent mate didn’t look too great either. Rui & I moved ahead early on & were going well as we climbed up the headwall of the Baltoro Glacier before stopping at The Trango Towers Viewpoint. From here we were soon on a technical scree scramble which thankfully my La Sportiva Running Shoes (built in Gaiter) felt like a good choice for such dicey terrain. Next was a stop in the midday sun for a long wait for firstly Luke & then eventually David & an exhausted Bruce. The inevitable decision was taken to call a halt for the day shortly afterwards at a rarely used old Campsite at Liligo having covered just 7 Kilometres or thereabouts. It was at least a camp with great views North to the Trango Towers but was sited under some pretty precarious looking cliffs with rockfall looking like a real danger.
15th June – This was allocated a Rest day to help Bruce recover a little against my & in particular Rui’s wishes as we’d wanted to move-on for an hour or two to a safer camp less prone to the heat & rockfall. GPS’s were compared & we agreed we were at 3,700 Metres.
16th June – From Liligo to Urdukas approximately 9Kilometres if Bruce would be up to the 5/6 hour walk which thankfully he was. Having set-off at 6:00 we arrived in camp a little after 11:00am. It would have been a dusty camp at the best of times but an hour or so after arriving it was clear that a storm was approaching from lower in the valley. The fine weather of the last 4 days came to an abrupt end in a dust storm & a few drops of rain. The dust was to play havoc with the shutter of my camera for the rest of the trip, lesson learned don’t expose the camera in such conditions! Rui in particular hated the Urdukas dust, I remember the rather squalid toilets more as my bowels were beginning to become a tad too loose for comfort. Whilst in this camp we were joined by Ken a chap from a U.K. Military Team who had been sent down from the next camp due to suffering a bit from Altitude sickness. Ken would join us as we ascended up to Concordia before carrying on to re-unite with his Team at Broad Peak Base Camp, their expedition would sadly end in tragedy.
17th June – Urdukas to Gore Camp 2 approximately 12 Kilometres, terrain pretty rough having gone further downhill yesterday. About an hour & a half in I realised that my bowels were deteriorating further. To add to this the weather was also going downhill it was turning greyer from behind us & odd flakes of snow began to fall, stark contrast to the heat of Liligo. By the time we reached camp at 11:25 I was feeling pretty drained & would continue to go downhill throughout the afternoon having struggled to eat much for lunch. The evening meal would see a further turn for the worse, got the routine soup down me but the good sounding Pasta duly arrived with a cheesy sauce. The smell caused me to wretch & saw me leave the mess tent at the double, I kept the soup down but yet another bowel movement was followed by a retreat to my tent shivering uncontrollably. Sometime later Sharife came to check on me & literally cuddled me until the shivers subsided to something less severe.
18th June – Gore Camp 2 to Concordia, approximately 9 Kilometres. With the shits now being a fact of Life this was going to be a tough ask & at times I had to repeat the Mantra of ‘if you ran 100 miles in a day back in May you can do this Paul!’ David was considering giving me a rest day but I’d said I’d prefer to move on, well what good would feeling sorry for myself in a cold tent do me? There was now 2″ of snow on the trail completing the contrast with the first 4 days. My final bowel movement before reaching camp was a noxious looking Green Bile concoction so to reach Concordia after a respectful 5 hours felt like a job well done given the circumstances. Once settled into camp managed to get some food inside me & actually commented to Rui that I was feeling better than I had for 36 hours. This later turned out to be a premature dawn. Couldn’t eat the evening meal, 4 bowel movements in less than two hours saw me go to bed back to square one & soon after it got worse. Waking up a little later I realised I needed to get up, just got out to save the tent but not nothing much else, I was lying in the snow totally soiled & having to figure out both how to clear up the mess & what could I wear to protect the sleeping bag I needed to get back into. Thankfully my shorts & waterproof trousers came to hand allowing me to get into the sleeping bag with some peace of mind. As I wrote my journal up early the next day two thoughts were put down onto paper & I quote:-
- Missing Dorina & inability to have Mobile reception despite it being cited as readily available not helping my morale.
- Big respect to Mountaineers to have put up with far more than my discomforts & doubts.
19th June – Rest day as planned. Over breakfast I had informed David that from my 100 miler back in May I knew how strong my body was at recovering & that despite me knowing he felt I should keep eating I knew I had to stop for at least a day. Thankfully David accepted this on the Proviso that he’d issue me with medicine, 6 tablets, 2 each morning for 3 days, I of course agreed only to see the best lunch yet served just a few hours later (Vegetable Samosa’s, 3 each, followed by a very wholesome looking Noodle Soup). Later in the day Sharife again pulled out the stops to pick me up firstly on my return to the Mess tent he put his Insulated jacket around me to warm me up & then handed me David’s mobile phone allowing me to phone Dorina. Despite a time lag & others listening in it was a real tonic to talk to her making it a great afternoon where I’m beginning to feel stronger despite still not trusting my bowels at all. I ended the day noting ‘Despite being hungry I feel my plan is working’.
20th June – This could have been another Rest day if the snow which was now several inches deep continued to fall but with the weather easing it was decided to make the long Trek to Base Camp circa 18 Kilometres with over 700 metres of ascent (actually a lot more with ups & downs of the Moraines but at least the snow cover would make walking a bit easier). For breakfast I had an 800 Calorie army dried food ration which I hoped would boost my energy levels for the day ahead whilst being relatively secure in my bowels followed by half a Chapati with my favoured Apple Jam to flavour it. The team would split with Sharife & the Porters following a day or two later. We would pass a couple of groups of Pakistani soldiers moving between their small summer camp & a larger camp on the Abruzzi Glacier. During a photo shoot at the second of these meetings David & Rui shouted careful Paul you’ve got a gun pointing at your head, don’t think it was intentional & I never really got the shits over it. It was our longest day to date at 10 hours but my bowels held out just long enough & when they finally moved just after reaching Base Camp it all resembled some form of normality. David had struggled physically on the steeper climbs a bit of a worrying sign & as usual Bruce again showed a worrying lack of fitness for what should still have been relatively undemanding compared to what surely lay ahead. As for me, think I’ve turned a corner & some easier days acclimatising in Base Camp can now be looked forward to.
We were now at circa 5,350 metres & about to embrace the climb proper.