Paul’s Blog – Gasherbrum II – Part 4

Base Camp & the Acclimatisation Rotations

Due to a number of factors this part of the trip was more protracted than we ideally wanted & lasted for 26 Days (21st June to 16th July inclusive). This would lead to ever increasing pressure on any potential summit bid so what I’ll cover here is what was Base Camp life like & what caused this pressure to our summit schedule.

Base Camp was pretty basic but a far more hospitable experience than any days spent in the higher Camp 1. Unlike the trek in & indeed any time spent in higher camps we each had the luxury of our own tent in Base Camp (except our first night there when we all slept side by side in the Mess tent). We also had a good mattress several inches thick which helped to both insulate us from the cold as well as smooth out any lumps from the Moraine.

We also had the Mess tent where we could sit & read, socialise as well as be fed 3 meals a day cooked by Essan & his assistant chefs, Abdullah & Abbas.

Our camp was the first to be set up on the Abruzzi Glacier this season, we would gradually be joined by various other Expeditions over the coming days, most of these being based a little further down the Moraine leaving them a bit further away from Gasherbrum II itself. This advantage all part of David’s pre-trip planning & quick exit from Skardu.

During this period I would read most of the time whilst going for walks which were basically repeats of a one way ticket back down the moraines passing the other camps, including the main army camp on the glacier itself. The scenery was stunning & made up for some of the repetitive destination of these wallks.

We spent 4 days in Base Camp regrouping from the Trek in before on the 5th day (25th June) David, Sharife & the 4 High Altitude Porters (Furman, Yeossuf, Zakir & Hassan, the other part of our 10 man climbing team) would set-off at 5:00am to begin the recognisance of our route through the ‘easy’ Icefall which was our gateway to the mountain proper. Returning some 2 hours or so later the feedback was ‘it not as easy as we hoped’, clearly from David’s previous experience of the Icefall several years before things had changed for the worse. Later that morning Hassan would lead us clients further up the Moraine for our maiden view of Gasherbrum II & some view it was with it’s summit standing like a sentinel some 2,700 metres above us.

The next day it would be our turn to experience the Icefall for the first time setting off at 4:30am. Here I should clarify that almost all the climbing we did above Base Camp was done in the dark early morning hours before the heat of the morning sun could both fry us & make the snow & ice conditions more difficult & dangerous. It was my first experience of an Icefall, Rui who had climbed Everest 3 years earlier would comment later in the trip that he felt ‘our’ Icefall was more dangerous than the notorious Khumba Icefall, a justified remark or not you’ll get the point that the Icefall was no place to linger.

This first day saw us turn back after an hour & a half, we had barely touched the surface. It would take us another 2 attempts & 4 days to break out of the Icefall & onto the ‘safety’ of the upper South Gasherbrum Glacier. Taking approximately 4 hours to ascend the Icefall had left me frequently eying up towering blocks of ice (often 25/30′ high) straddling crevassed caverns & generally being excited & frightened in equal measure. The glacier plod from here to our initial Camp 1 (subsequently moved to be nearer the first part of the main climbing activity) took a further 3 hours. This trip of 7 hours which we’d later get down to nearer 6 would need to be done 3 times in all & of course what we go up we must also come down. To add to this the Glacier’s crevasses would open up dramatically as the summer moved on.

We’d spend just the one day & part of a night in Camp 1 before heading down at 2:30am the following morning but it was enough to confirm that frying on a glacier in a small tent was not going to be pleasant. Our next sojourn to the revised Camp 1 would see us spend 3 days there partly to acclimatise (5,950 metres) & partly because the weather turned against us so we had to wait out a storm. Not a pleasant experience restricted in 2 man tents trying to while away time reading & dozing with nothing else to do. At least early on the first morning there Luke & I joined David & Sharife for a trial climb of the fixed ropes above that would lead to Camp 2. We ascended about 100 metres before Luke began his descent only to see one of the two fixed anchors for his abseil immediately come loose, not a good sign, this in itself needs a little explaining.

On our first climb to Camp 1 our 4 High Altitude Porters were returning from the dropped tents & passed us just below the Camp, Furman (the lead Porter with a previous summit of GII under his belt) tapped me on the shoulder to say well done. 2 hours later we would learn that he’d fallen into a Crevasse at the top of the Icefall & broken his shoulder. Whilst they got him down safely & helicoptered out from the Army camp the next day he was out of the climb & we were down to 3 Porters. This led David to do a deal with the Kobler team in BC agreeing as our team had forced the route through the Icefall their team would take responsibility for fixing the fixed ropes higher up the mountain. Our first experience of the consequences of this delegation was not good! This would, together with a turn in the weather, be the major factors that were now turning against a summit bid.

We returned a bit dejected to BC on 6th July, still with plenty of time on our side but had failed to make our hoped for Acclimatisation rotation to Camp 2 (6,400 metres). The weather now took over & whilst never being atrocious left us stuck in BC day after day.

My two most memorable experiences of life in BC were good & bad.

The good one had been a glorious day in between the two excursions to Camp 1 where I set off down the Moraine hoping to get as far as Concordia for a view of K2 which had evaded us on our Trek in due to the snow setting in. Whilst not quite making it to Concordia I did get to the Army’s Summer Camp which gave me photo’s of K2 & where the 4 soldiers there gave me a mug of tea & biscuits as well as commenting ‘you strong man, but you need a drug to get you back to BC’. I was then given something, told to put it in the side of my mouth & suck not chew it. Later David would clarify that it was merely tobacco & I deposited it in the Mess tent bin.

As well as incredible views throughout my 9 hour walk that day two other things stick in the memory. Firstly David had lent me his phone so two hours in once I was in signal range of Concordia I was able to call Dorina, it was a Saturday morning back home & 7:30am so I was able to talk to her before the Cafe opened, these conversations although brief were always a big tonic. Secondly if you are ever saying hello to a Pakistani Porter coming the other way & he asks you ‘Do you have children?’ followed by ‘Are you Married?’ answer ‘Yes 6’ & ‘Yes’ respectively. I mistakenly (albeit truthfully) answered ‘No’ & ‘No’ & he replied by groping my Penis through my trousers before I was able to swat him away & move-on! Yes thIS really did happen! That said full respect to these guys who regularly make the Trek from Concordia to BC fully loaded & then return to Concordia the same day making my own ‘Strongman’ sojourn, with a light bag, look a bit tame to say the least.

The Bad was my only taking a summer sleeping bag with me for BC, every night I spent there I was seriously cold despite wearing 3 layers over almost everything & laying jackets  over my legs. My minus 28 degree quality sleeping bag in the higher camps at least gave some nights of relief from this purgatory. Big mistake to simply save a small surcharge on my flight luggage being too heavy.

Finally after 11 Days in BC from our previous visit to Camp 1 the forecast showed some improvement. The marooned expeditions consulted, we would move up to Camp 1 on 17th July, ropes would be fixed & a summit bid could be on, it was going to be a very tight call. To add to this we had failed to acclimatise at not only Camp 2 but also Camp 3 (6,900 metres) let alone beyond, the consequences of which could only be feared as ours was a non-Oxygen attempt un-like many of the other Expeditions.

The up-side was ‘maybe I won’t be going back to the Cafe with only Camp 1’s 5,950 metres under my belt after all?’ Once again I was excited & frightened in equal measure.

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