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The Karakorum Diaries: Lunda Sar

July 21. It has been a good couple of days. On the afternoon of the 19th we walked for a couple of hours into the valley below our objective, the southwest face of Peak 113 on our map, the 6,000-metre-plus peak immediately north of "Rasool Sar".

After a short but good sleep we rose at 2 a.m. and were on our way before 3. We wound our way between two piles of serac debris, up an avalanche cone, onto the lower glacier far below the silent summit serac, and finally onto a safe slope below the face proper.

Photo: Ian Welsted 

We soloed happily up firm snowfields and small ice gullies until the terrain steepened enough to make us want to rope up. The climbing that followed surpassed all of our expectations: thin ice runnels, tricky mixed ground, short steep curtains... 

Photo: Eamonn Walsh

It was too good to last of course, and as we approached the summit ridge the terrain turned into loose snow over smooth rock slabs. Scary.

Photo: Ian Welsted

We hit the summit ridge some 100 metres below the top around 6 p.m. With bad weather looking to be on the way and more of the same crap snow up ahead, we decided to call it a modern route and head down.

The ropes snagged on the first rappel from the top, but after that mishap the rest of the descent went smoothly, and we rolled into our small camp around 1 a.m., 22 hours after we left.

The next morning we slept in until 9 a.m. and were just heading down, when we saw Rasool and Ali on their way up to meet us. The two of them had been quite worried after seeing our headlamps high on the mountain the night before, and then us not showing up in basecamp. We headed down together, but not after breakfasting on what they had brought.

Photo: Ian Welsted

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, eating, reading, and of course playing ludu.

July 22. Oh yes, even though we did not summit, we took the liberty of naming the mountain "Lunda Sar", which translates roughly as "Second-Hand Peak".

The Karakorum Diaries: Pumari Chhish Attempt

July 17. Well, we are back in basecamp sooner than expected. All because of me, as I got violently sick last night. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We left basecamp two days ago and walked up to our cache near the toe of the buttress. We repacked, ate some Ramen, and then tried to get some sleep before the 3:30 alarm. By the time the sun rose we were already slogging up the long snow and ice slopes to the right of the ridge.

We traversed left into a long gully of water ice, which took us to the base of the crux headwall.

While Eamonn dug out a bivi platform, Ian belayed me up one more pitch to try to get a headstart on the next day's climbing. Cool drytool unfortunately gave way to scary, detached ice.

 

Photo: Ian Welsted

By the time I fixed the rope and rejoined the boys, the tent was up and dinner was on the way. It had been a good first day.

 

Photo: Eamonn Walsh

 

Photo: Ian Welsted

The bad stuff started when, in spite of the day's exertions, I could not fall asleep. Insomnia gave way to nausea, and I ended up spending a good chunk of the night throwing up dinner, as well as whatever fluids I tried to get down. By morning I felt so miserable that down was the only possible direction. Even that was unpleasant, as every action seemed to demand an excessive effort. The boys did all they could, loading everything I carried into their already heavy packs. But all things come to an end, and by midafternoon I staggered into basecamp and, shortly thereafter, fell into my sleeping bag.

July 18. A bright, sunny morning in basecamp, and I am wondering what might have been. Would we have gotten through the rockband? Would we have found a way onto the serac?

I really hope we manage to get up something good before the end of the trip.

The Karakorum Diaries: Expedition Living

June 29. Yesterday we walked up the northeast fork of the Jutmo Glacier and camped in the shadow of Kanjut Sar (7,760 m) and Jutmo Sar (7,330 m). We only gained some 300 m of elevation in 10 km of walking, so it did not do much for our acclimatization, but it was a spectacular place to be.

In the morning we walked back to basecamp, then in the afternoon scouted out a high col at the head of the east fork of the Jutmo Glacier that looked like an easy way to gain some altitude.

July 1. A quiet day in basecamp. We woke to some snow, which however did melt by the afternoon, allowing for some chilly but decent bouldering.

 

Photo: Ian Welsted 

Other than that the day was spent reading, eating and playing ludu, Pakistan's national game. Not an unpleasant way to pass the time.

 

Photo: Ian Welsted

July 3. Our acclimatization foray to the col south of Khani Basa Sar (6,441 m) did not go quite as planned. We left basecamp yesterday morning, and by afternoon had arrived on the 5,600-m col. The six-hour approach was not overly strenous, though towards the end the altitude and heat did combine to make it feel like a bit of a slog. We ate an early dinner and settled into two tents for three people. Luxury! I felt fine while sitting around, but lying down my head throbbed and my breathing was laboured, neither of which were conducive to good sleep. Then Ian in the neighbouring tent started vomiting. Between that and the steadily falling snow, it was clear that in the morning we would be going nowhere but down.

July 4. We woke to the most snow yet - 10 or 15 cm of the stuff. It snowed on and off through the day, which passed unevenfully with lots of eating, sleeping, reading and playing the ubiquitous ludu. Now the light is fading and Rasool is chanting his evening prayers. Strange how quickly we get used to what is really quite an extraordinary existence.

 

Photo: Ian Welsted

The Karakorum Diaries: Rasool Sar

June 23. Yesterday we hiked up the talus behind basecamp to a bivi at 5,000 m.

 

Photo: Eamonn Walsh

We went to bed well before sunset, all three of us squeezed into the Bibler. Sleep did not want to come. Around 3 in the morning we finally grew tired of the cramped semi-consciousness. After a perfunctory breakfast, we set off for Peak 259 on our map, the sub-6,000 m peak that is so prominent from basecamp. Getting up to the ridgeline involved much wallowing up unconsolidated sugar with a weak sun crust on top. Not my favourite! Unfortunately a couple of routefinding mistakes cost us time and effort, and by the time we got back on track we were all knackered.

 

Photo: Eamonn Walsh

Deciding that the goal of acclimatizing would not be served by getting completely worked, we pulled the plug and headed down. We strode into basecamp around noon, in time for Rasool's fine lunch.

June 26. We left basecamp before 5 in the morning and slogged back up into the glacial cirque below Peak 259. To begin with I felt grumpy and uninspired, but got into it as we started up a steep snow couloir leading up to the summit block of the mountain. We roped up near its top and followed an "interesting" ridge to the summit - or as near to what was the edge of a huge cornice as we dared.

 

Photo: Eamonn Walsh

We got back to basecamp by mid-afternoon, to Rasool's waiting meal. In his honour, we named the peak "Rasool Sar" (ca. 5900 m).

The Karakorum Diaries: The Trek

June 18. Today we got our taste of expeditioneering at its most frustrating (OK, maybe I am exaggerating a bit). We got up at 6, the porters showed up at 7, and after much shouting (which seems to be the norm), we set off at 8.

Leaving the porters behind, we hiked for some two and a half hours before stopping for an early lunch. As we ate, we kept waiting for the porters to arrive but they never did. In the end we retraced our steps to Faolingchish, a sandy meadow. Even though it was only noon, Ali, our guide (but not sirdar!), informed us we would be spending the night here. At this rate we will be lucky to reach basecamp in four days!

June 20. We left Faolingchich yesterday morning, and soon we were lost in the jumble of the decaying Hispar Glacier. We had to walk almost all the way to the opposite bank to bypass the surging Kunyang Glacier. I understood a little better why Ali did not want to begin the crossing at noon, as the porters move at a painfully slow pace: dash for ten minutes, then crash for another ten, repeat.

We made it to Bitanmal, with its pastures and shepherds' huts, in the late afternoon. Unfortunately both Eamonn and I had a bout of puking, and as a result I dragged today (but still managed to make it into camp - which was at Shiqam Barish, halfway between the Pumari and Jutmo Glaciers - before the porters). Things are looking up, though: the evening sun is shining on the tent, I am feeling almost back to normal, and we are set to make it to basecamp tomorrow.

June 22.  We did make it to basecamp yesterday. The porters still did their dash-and-crash thing, but led by Qasim they actually made decent time.

Basecamp is in a wonderful place, on a gravelly terrace high above the Jutmo Glacier. We have a fantastic view of the southern escarpment of Kunyang and, more to the point, of Pumari Chhish. Our objective looks hard, but perhaps not impossibly so. Closer at hand are some beautiful 6000-m peaks, all unclimbed; closer still is some granite cragging and even some bouldering. In spite of basecamp being at 4500 m I am feeling fine, with lots of zip. Maybe too much zip, as last night I had trouble sleeping for the excitement.