The Descent from Camp 2 to BC
It took a while to get to sleep that evening being on a cerebral high from all that I’d gone through but sleep I did before the alarm rang at 4:00am. An hour later we were ready for the off but where had I put my ice-axe? Probably I placed it in the snow when entering the camp the evening before whilst waiting to be told which was my tent, whatever the case it was nowhere to be found, ‘oh great start!’
Next with Luke already gone David set-off at a quick pace walking down front first next to the fixed rope un-clipped (this section being less steep than most of what lay ahead). I went to follow with Rui behind but pulled up with my first left step yelling angrily ‘I f……, can’t do this Rui, I’m going to have to abseil it’ losing a fumbled karabiner in my haste to set it up. Several abseils later we came into the lower Camp 2 to re-group before making the 20 metre near vertical ice wall climb to that wonderful airy ridge I enjoyed days earlier. Luke soloed this impressively, Rui less-so whilst David realised I’d need help so he & Yeossuf went up it & then fixed a rope for me to tie onto whilst I tried to solo making little progress as my Left ankle let me down once again. So eventually I was on a rope shouting to Yeossuf ‘another pull please’, it was hard work despite this assistance but became a bit easier once over the initial crux.
No time for photo’s on ‘my ridge’ the next steeper & longer abseils beckoned (still 500 metres or so down to Camp 1), Luke & Rui had moved ahead, David & I would stay together with David leading as Zakir had done the day before. David’s technique is far superior to mine so even early on I’m guessing he was biting his teeth with frustration but my mind was clear ‘you are tired, lacking technique, have an injury, so it’s one careful step/move at a time.’
The first rope would need 3 abseils, the first went O.K. but on the second the rope was too tight giving me a battle to even fix the figure of 8, I fumbled, the figure of 8 skittled down the slope ‘f.., what now?’ David was far below unable to help. Somehow my mind scrambled into ‘I’m sure I’ve read/heard about using Caribiner’s to create friction for an abseil’ Here as ever I am happy to state I’m not a climber & have only rudimentary knowledge of it’s ropes & systems. Despite this I cobbled together a system using 3 carabiner’s ‘I have friction’ & after a quick test set-off to join David who was two abseils below.
Explaining to David the situation he quickly set-off on the next series of abseils. The first of these went well as I reapplied ‘my system’ with unusual dexterity but at the second I came un-stuck forgetting how to set it up whilst also losing another carabiner to yet another fumble. I was now getting seriously pissed-off with both Myself & My situation/condition.
Eventually I came up with a new system & began moving down to re-join David. This was a long abseil with David below to my left so why was he shouting for me to go over to the right. Later I could work out that David had abseiled right to avoid a Bergschrund that I couldn’t see before walking back to the left whilst awaiting me to recover from my latest gaff. I would realise too late, failed to move far enough right & was soon swinging over & then into the Bergschrund, a solid wall of ice that not only hurt but caused my glasses to come off & scuttle 30 metres down the snow-slope below. I could see roughly where they landed but was in no condition to risk retrieving them & when I explained this to David he showed no interest in doing so for me. Ironically it was the only day I wore glasses on any of the trekking & climbing days having made the decision earlier in my tent ‘I’m too tired to fart around putting my contact lenses in for a short day’. This decision not only cost me a further drop in morale but also £430 to replace them, ‘hey f…… ho.’
We were then joined by Yeossuf (also lost his figure of 8) & Zakir for a short but exposed & un-roped (remember no axe) traverse to the final & longest fixed rope of all.
David yielded me his figure of 8 graciously at last but with a probably correct caustic comment ‘I know you’ll lose it’ (I didn’t), before setting off on what was clearly a very tight rope from the off-set. After what seemed an age Yeossef & Zakir confirmed O.K. it’s slack go for it Pau’l. Fixing the figure of 8 went O.K. but then it went tight before I barely got over the lip. Several shouts to David ‘it’s too tight’ went un-heard before after some length of time with little downward progress I figured out a climber was coming up causing me my problems. A fair bit of shouting went on before he got of the rope allowing me to pass him as he muttered in a more humorous way ‘see I climb without the rope’ (he will remain anonymous but was a climber in his 50’s with an international reputation as well as ego (apparently)). My descent from here was still tight but better despite Mr. ego re-tightening things at one point ‘really how? if you climb without rope’ I thought.
At last I reached the end of the fixed rope & faced a final 50 metres of steepish ground before arriving safely on the glacier where 400 flat metres lay between me & Camp 1. Time for a quick rest & then a slow 15 minute trod into Camp to join David.
The basic discussion was along the lines of get into the tent & rest, Luke & Rui have carried on towards BC, we’ll get up at 2:00am tomorrow & go down then, I surmised this would lead to a rest day in BC as we wouldn’t arrive there until 9:00 or 10:00am.
However as I rested (it’d been circa 9:00am & already hot when we reached Camp 1) I soon heard talking to two members of Tom Livingstone’s Gasherbrum III’s Expedition telling David they planned an earlier 9:00pm descent. David & I discussed this & agreed it seemed a good idea to bring our descent forward to this too, this would I believe give me a fuller rest day in BC before our trek out began, ‘that’d be a result’ I wrongly thought.
A hot day, no sleep but a fair bit of food & plenty of fluids did help to restore some strength. Dusk led to an hour or so of sleep before the alarm pinged (at 8:00pm) & another ridiculously early start beckoned. We were on our way just before 9:00pm to be followed a few minutes later by two other groups of two.
It was too early in the night for the snow covering the glacier to have fully frozen so the uneven surface was not kind on my ankle particularly on the steeper sections leading to all too frequent searing pains & the occasionally audible yelp. The glacier had clearly deteriorated significantly since we’d last crossed it. On a number of occasions one of my legs would break through & dangle into a crevasse below but thankfully these never became a full on fall. Even though we were roped up & adhering to tight rope management rules a fall into a crevasse would have been the last thing either of our bodies & morale’s needed right now.
After a little over 3 hours the three teams came together to navigate a new way over the newly exposed crevasses onto the Ice-fall, 50% done, 50% to go ‘almost there Paul’.
From here David was pretty masterful I have to say despite shouting at me when I failed to give him the additional length of rope he’d called for, I bit back ‘If I can’t hear you, I can’t do it can I’. We calmed down & David showed all his skill (despite having an inferior headtorch) to navigate us through the treacherous descent. Occasionally the two Icelanders (from Tom’s expedition) would use their GPS to back-up David’s route finding whilst the two American’s & I simply trusted them to it most of the time keeping our mouths mostly shut. The Icelandic guy was even good enough to belay me on the short crux climb & his wife seemed to watch me like an Angel (no need to get jealous Angel) after my tired legs stumbled on the lower safer ground.
The lights of BC now came into view (David had instructed Sharife to put them on at 1:00am) but for an age they seemed to come no nearer. Then all of a sudden we crested another annoyingly steep hill & there we were, we had arrived at Base Camp, it was 3:30am, our descent had been a very respectable six & a half hours. We said a slow & thankful farewell to our fellow descenders, David would say ‘we’ll say hello to you on our way out later today’ & I would think why say ‘today’ when it will be ‘tomorrow’?
To give some idea of how well David got us through the Ice fall bare in mind we did it in the dark, a lot of the wands we’d placed in our earlier ascents were on the ground having melted out of their sockets & our time was circa three & a bit hours. Whereas Luke’s & Rui’s descent through the icefall in the daylight had taken them eight hours, one could & probably should ask why were they allowed to go through it alone & was it their decision/wish that forced this situation?
David & I then retired to the Kitchen tent (Mess tent already struck) to be welcomed by Sharife & all the Pakistani team, pats on the back, biscuits, my first cup of tea with milk since I was a teenager even went down without a retch followed by several more cups without Milk, you can only take so much!
Next came David’s clarified we’d be having Breakfast at 7:00am. In my traumatised state of confusion I simply surmised this early start was simply that we needed to sort luggage out for the horses who would be taking our non-urgent kit out via the Baltoro glacier & needed an extra day for this compared to our own route over the Gondogoro La pass. This would mean I’d be setting the alarm for 6:30 so that I could re-arrange my luggage before breakfast, ‘ahh well still a rest day to follow, plenty of time to sleep later’.
David left the Kitchen tent realising the urgent need for sleep whilst I dallied half an hour for more tea & biscuits & some photo shoots with the Pakistani team.
I hit my tent at 4:30am sleeping the better part of 2 hours before the alarm once again pinged. As I rummaged through the kit Rui called out ‘what time are we leaving’, I called back ‘I think not until tomorrow’, it would not be long before the penny dropped, we would be leaving in less than two hours.
I was left thinking ‘how could our descent from Camp 1 be brought forward by 5 hours lead to me not understanding that it would allow a full days trekking the very next day culminating in another worryingly low 3 hours sleep over a 40 hour period. My reality was (& no one seemed to understand this) less than 10 hours sleep out of 88 hours, weight falling off me like a stone, pretty seriously dehydrated no matter how I tried to correct it, injured, you name it I either had it or felt it.
Of course I knew the flights were the issue & had signed up to the schedule albeit not fully comprehending the no BC rest day bit because this hadn’t been seen as the reality. But & it felt like a bit BUT I had signed up to it as part a team (now feeling a tad alone in my experience) & had even qualified to the guy who bit my head off in Camp 1 days earlier ‘look subject to no injuries I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I do my part in making sure we will be on our flights’. Yes two of the High Altitude Porters were doing what I was being asked to do & had carried heavier loads apart from on summit day itself (they averaged being more than a quarter century younger than me & not having the ankle issue). In truth most of these thoughts came later in the day as I began to go further downhill. At Breakfast I moreorless resigned myself to it, ‘it will be what it will be, so be it’.
At this point I was deliberately refraining from asking David for use of his Satelite phone to call Dorina. I knew that David had posted an update of Summit day on Jagged Globe’s blog so felt she definitely did not need to hear about the falls or indeed hear the weakness in my voice & anyway why lead her to think I’m safe when I knew full well that the Gondogoro La was anything but safe (that turned into an under-statement to say the least).
Don’t let the negativity of my words herein mislead you too much. Even at the time I understood the enormity (for me at my level & age) of what I was in the middle of so I was also taking pride at what that meant. Yes I was frustrated at my mistakes but as I would subsequently read in Hamish McInnes’ posthumous Biography, even the best made some pretty basic mistakes at times, a bit of luck & pluck are needed from time to time & I was calling in my fair share of both.
So apart from a short post covering my final few days in Skardu & Islamabad & my longed for re-union with Dorina at Heathrow only one blog remains covering our 4 day trek out. This mainly consisted of two very big days which had highs & lows in equal measure. Thankfully the high’s became prominent over the last day & a half soon my woes would be behind me.
PS. Apart from those dreaded Airports of course!