The Trek out from BC to Hushe
First I must point out that despite concerns about my own physical & mental state by now I must not over-look that the rest of our team were no doubt having their own battles to play/fight with. The fact that we’d avoided any serious injuries & were still together & talking to each other (no doubt burying a variety of frustrations) must not be overlooked.
We left our dismantled Base Camp at circa 9:00am two days after I’d summitted with Zakir & Hassan. Shariffe, Hassan & Essan would walk out down the Baltoro glacier with porters carrying our non-essential kit whilst our team (David, Rui, Luke, Me, Abdullah, Yeossuf, Zakir & Abbas) would head for the shorter route over the Gondogoro La. Imran (the Liaison Officer) had headed out a few days earlier & would meet us in Skardu.
My pack at circa 15Kg’s felt ominously heavy, never great for an arthritic left shoulder that has history of playing up under heavy packs as Dorina can testify on our walks up the West Highland Way & Tour du Mont Blanc. This said David & Abdullah had organised for additional porters to meet us once we were over the Gondogora La so relief was within thought processes looking for optimism.
We began at a leisurely pace with David & I stopping to renew acquaintances with the Icelanders & Tom Livingstone after an initial 20 minutes or so.
Our route, on a decent day with thankfully a bit of hazy cloud to keep the worse of the sun’s heat away, was down the Abruzzi Glacier for an hour then head North West for an hour down the Moraine of the Baltoro Glacier before beginning a lengthy traverse of this Glacier (still heading North West) over the Glaciers myriad of Ice falls, Moraines & streams heading for the Vigne Glacier & culminated in our overnight accommodation at the Ali Camp.
The terrain went progressively downhill & was far from ankle friendly so at a midday stop for a re-fuel Abdullah gave us a massive tonic by producing a 1.5 Litre bottle of full fat Coke. Rumours of a case of coke being in Base Camp had long been a joke between Luke & Shariffe but here was the real thing. Now I am not a fan of full fat coke in almost any way but I have seen it miraculous benefits in Ultra races & it’d got me over my 100 miles finish line back in May, this was a pick-me up to cry for, well done Abdullah!
As the afternoon wore on we completed the traverse & headed on downwards but sadly the terrain deteriorated further & could only be described as the worse Moraine I have ever encountered. By now I couldn’t give a fig about falling behind the others & David looked to be in almost the same boat. Falls were a constant threat as the pack & the ankle combined to make me seriously unsteady on my feet. Indeed I took several that afternoon the worse of which was once Abdullah had been posted to shadow my progress, I lay crumpled on the ground with my left leg & ankle looking as bent & twisted as they felt. The pack had to come off to get me back up & shortly afterwards I came round a corner to join a resting team to blurt frustratingly to Luke ‘I shouldn’t have been asked to do this’. This was not intentional but David was within earshot & I’m sure took note. Yeossuf then approached me & removed my Down Sleeping bag from the underside of my pack, over 2Kgs gone a kind gesture from the fittest guy amongst us (he also had the heaviest load). Whilst here (now in the even rougher headwall Moraine of the Vigne Glacier) a huge rock slid above us, no harm done but no place to linger either.
Earlier we’d had spectacular views to lighten our mood & here too we were treated to stunning views back to K2, Broad Peak & the Gasherbrum’s IV, V, VI & VII as the sun began to set.
Eventually after an age we reached David’s promised land of ‘once on the Vigne Glacier ice the terrain will ease’. The final 5 Kilometres into camp was no walk in the park but risks were low & I remained more safely on my feet. Yeossuf now moved ahead to pre-warn the camps staff to put the dinner on & later two of their porters came down to see us in over the final kilometre relieving David & I of our loads in the process, what a relief.
We had been ‘trekking’ for almost 11 Hours & were ushered into the Mess tent at a little before 8:00pm. We were soon served with multiple cups of tea (well I at least had pleaded for this) as well as Noodle Soup (very good) & a main course that doesn’t come to mind other than being similarly welcome.
Next we were shown to our rather small tent, again I’d be sharing with Rui, I was very efficient at bedding down & got what felt like a wonderful nights sleep despite being occasionally woken by some overnight rain. David had earlier announced that ‘tomorrow will be a rest day for Paul’, in reality he probably needed it almost as much as me, Rui & Luke did not protest at all.
The rest day was exactly that I even slept again in our new large communal tent where Breakfast had been taken at 7:30am. We ate well again at lunch & again for dinner although Luke calling for Noodle Soup late afternoon in between these did seem a bit excessive even for our waisted bodies.
In order to make up for this impromptu Rest Day we’d agreed that we combine the following two days into one. It would mean a predicted 13 hour day including the 600 metre ascent of the pass but after 6/7 hours the hardest work would be behind us & not long after that we’d be met by our relief porters who would carry our packs for the rest of the day. We set alarms for 10:00pm with the aim of setting off by 11:00, an early start to minimise the risk of stone-fall when we descend the pass’s notorious Southern face.
Two British Military Groups arrived earlier in the day, a climbing one (including Ken from our trek in week’s before), they had tragically lost a team member near the summit of Broad Peak & a Trekking one.
We set off a little later than planned at 11:15 & at a pace up steep rocky ground that was simply stupid, ‘no way of keeping that up, what are we doing?’
After an hour or so we moved onto snow which soon hardened so packs were lightened as we stopped twice to initially put on our 8,000 metre boots & then added crampons to the mix. As the ground steepened fixed ropes appeared albeit most of us stuck to walking poles rather than axes, holding onto the rope for added security on the steeper bits. This section was circa 400 metres of vertical ascent & seemed to go on for far further than 400 metres in Snowdonia with a seemingly endless supply of false summits. Eventually we topped out & took a short rest before crossing to the South side where we removed Crampons but added helmets.
We had passed part of the Military trekking group here & queued ahead of them for the desent which was marshalled at the top by two Pakistani’s who camp up here (5,940 metres) for the short season to make sure people understand the risks & maintain a ‘safe’ distance apart.
The 900 metre descent has fixed ropes for the first 700 metres which means you hold onto it with both hands whilst your feet (remember big & cumbersome 8,000 metre boots) slip & slide on the 50 degree slippery slope (loose rock & lumps of ice & shale at best). After the initial 10 metres I dislodged a large block of ice & had to quickly hook it with my right foot to stop it hitting Rui. Rui was slipping all over the pace I didn’t need this to speed up his descent any further. My thoughts were both ‘that was close’ & ‘shit there’s probably 15 pairs of boots to go past that before I’m out of the firing line’.
I won’t go on but the descent did as ‘surely this should never be a trekking route’ & ‘David what are thinking of’ crossed my mind. Eventually the ropes came to an end, our arms & shoulders could relax & thoughts returned to mere exhaustion & pack weight.
The terrain remained steep, rocky & un-pleasant for a further hour or so with my wayward balance from yesterday returning as I took a further 4 falls the last of which was within 100 metres of the relieving porters & saw me bash the bridge of my nose, another war wound for Dorina to see rather than be told about.
The relieving porters looked about 70 (probably 50) but took our bags with ease (30Kg’s or so per man) after proffering us Tea, Coke & Biscuits. It was a game changing moment, there would be no more falls, walking felt easy again & to justify David’s route choice the rocky landscape changed un-believably quickly into Alpine pastures lushly green & with an abundance of flowers.
An hour later we arrived at the Khuispan camp where we were treated to Breakfast of freshly cooked Bread & my favourite Apricot (beats Apple narrowly) Jam. At this point the UK Military Climbing group came into camp & we would hear that the Leader of the U.K. Military Trekking group had been hit by a rock near the top of the descent, had fallen 20 Metres & would need a helicopter evacuation. There by the grace of god had gone we.
After a good rest of more than an hour we started what would be a glorious trek down the Masherbrum valley. Among the highlights, on all sides, was Layla peak first climbed by Stephen Yates among others a stunning pyramid of snow & ice which Youssef would later that day receive a commission to be a porter on for another climbing team.
Halfway down the valley some 3/4 hours later I consulted with David ‘we’re making good time but I think we are going too quickly’ he agreed saying it wasn’t him setting the pace so we took a bit more control & slowed the others down just a little. The final walk into Camp was a bit never ending despite it’s attractions, we were all glad to arrive in camp at circa 3:30pm. Excluding the stop for Breakfast we had been walking for thirteen & a half hours very close to our previous day’s estimate.
The camp itself was idyllic with it’s gentle streams amongst scattered trees all close to the raging torrent of the Hushe river which we would follow tomorrow.
Despite this idyll there was un-rest in Rui’s, Luke’s & My conversations. The next day we had an easy 3 hour trek to Hushe where jeeps would be waiting to drive us the 6 hours to Skardu. However David had connections in Hushe & the Pakistani’s lived there so we knew a series of banquets & reunions were planned. Looking back we somewhat put our desires ahead of theirs & discussed ‘how can we make sure we are in the Jeeps by 11:00am?’ Looking back not my proudest moment despite my exhausted state of mind & body.
We ate well that evening with some long promised chicken, I slept reasonably well but my pee bottle still showed that I was still seriously dehydrated, orange juice rather than Savignon Blanc in it’s colour.
We struck the tents at 6:00, Breakfasted at 6:30 & were on the move before 7:00 as planned. Our trek to Hushe only took 2 hours finally giving us views of Masherbrum (7,821 Metres) which had been shielded by clouds both the day before & during our time at Concordia. We also renewed acquaintances with some of the other expeditions who’d been at GII, most notably a couple of fit German guys who’d been trail blazers on it as well as the five Estonian’s.
Hushe itself was a lush oasis (no doubt a different story in their harsh winters) with crops tended by the colourfully clad women & fed by numerous irrigation channels on it’s terraces. At a hotel that also doubled as the Tourist Information Centre (basic & a bit confused) we were given a full array of dishes to gorge over. Later to our very pleasant surprise we were on the Jeeps & heading out of town to cheers from excited children lining the streets at moreorless bang on 11:00am.
The Jeep’s driver was a little excitable as the road slowly improved & widened, as other traffic came into play the odd overtaking manoeuvre seemed rather unnecessary but we arrived in Skardu at 4:30pm safely shaken & stirred.
There would still be questions to be answered, would Shariffe arrive with our luggage? Would the flight for Islamabad take off (weather dependant, given Skardu’s surrounding terrain) or was it another 18 Hours by road instead & would Paul be allowed out of Pakistan with no Exit Visa’s. For now though we had arrived in Skardu, our descent from GII & trek out had been full on but the plan & it’s variants had worked so all involved should congratulate themselves at being part of that no matter what issues it had brought with it.
What a last 11 days it had been to get up, down & out from Gasherbrum II!