Pakistani Karakoram 2013 — Magical Mystery Tour

Karakoram - Pakistan - Choktoi area

Karakoram 2013

(Pakistan, Choktoi glacier area; June-July 2013)

by Anton Karnoup


Антон Карнуп

Извините, что почти всё по-английски, да ещё с французскими вкраплениями (я в процессе изучения фр. языка, и лезет он теперь у меня везде…)  Я давно живу в США, и мне по-английски сейчас проще и быстрее… Я м.б. переведу нижеследующее на русский со временем.

We prepared for this expedition for about a year, since approximately June of 2012. Initially, Bruce Normand planned a trip to the Chinese side of the Karakoram range, to climb an unclimbed big wall in the Shaksgam valley area. And that was still the plan as of late May 2013. However, in the last moment, due to a fluctuation in the political situation in NW China’s Xinjiang province (another Uighur rebellion), the Chinese government created problems with the access to the mountains there, and Chinese mountaineering association (CXMA) abused the situation and tried to extort more money for the climbing permit. So, 2 weeks before our scheduled departure to China, we were faced with the fact that we can’t go there (Jesse already got his Chinese visa; I almost bought a plane ticket to Urumqi – the purchase didn’t go through, luckily, because my credit card bank stopped the transaction due to “possible credit card fraud”). So, Bruce quickly re-thought the plans, and contacted tour operators in Pakistan, with whom he worked before. In a rush, we applied to Pakistani consulate for visas, and bought our tickets to Islamabad 1 week before departure. At that point, we had no idea where in Pakistan we’d go. Bruce tried to piggy-back onto someone else’s existing climbing permit, but it didn’t work… When we arrived in Skardu, Pakistan, we were still trying to figure out the situation with the permits and climbing plans 1-2 days before actually launching into the mountains. Finally, we got a “trekking” permit, which allowed us to climb anything below 6500 m (and in case we ended up climbing something above that, we could pay a peak fee afterwards). With that, a day before departing Skardu, we chose the exact area to be the Latoks-Ogres group area accessed from Choktoi glacier. In that scenario, we could do forays to the nearby Nobande-Sobande glacier and the Skamri group for acclimatization climbs, and then try an Ogre or a Latok for our main objective. In the process of all this, Bruce called our expedition a “Magical Mystery Tour”, because till the last day, literally, expedition plans and objectives remained a mystery, “thanks” to the governments and mountaineering associations officials of China and Pakistan.

We ended up climbing the following new routes:

(1) East ridge/face of Baintha Kabata peak to the summit (ca. 6200 m, steep snow, AI3; climbed as a group of 4),

(2) West ridge of Bobisghir peak (ca. 6400 m, steep snow, AI3+/ M3; climbed as a group of 4),

(3) West face/ couloir of an unnamed peak immediately to the east of Baintha Kabata (“Fake Ogre”, ca. 6500 m, steep snow, AI3/ M3; soloed by Bruce Normand).

We attempted to establish a route on the formidable north face of the Ogre-I (Baintha Brakk), but bailed off the face in lieu of avalanche danger and unfavorable weather forecast. Our high point on the Ogre-I north face was 5720 m.

Jesse and myself also climbed 9 long pitches (approximately 1/2 way up, high point at 5330 m; 5.11a, finger/hand crack and face climbing) on the east face/pillar of Biacherahi Central Tower (ca. 5750 m); the route has seen previous ascents as evidenced by some belay bolts/pins and remains of fixed rope on the lower pitches (probably from Spanish or Italian attempts).

Expedition members: Bruce Normand (Scotland, currently lives in Beijing, China; leader), Jesse Mease (USA), Anton Karnoup (USA/Russia), Olov Issakson (Sweden, currently lives in Switzerland).

View of the mountains (Latoks-Ogres-Biacherahi) from Choktoi glacier, looking west


The following is my expedition diary. Everything is in chronological order. As it is written, it may be a bit boring, I admit. But hopefully, it contains some interesting and useful information to someone intending to go to those parts of the world for trekking or climbing.

June 14, 2013

18:00 — On the plane to Chicago from Detroit DTW. “Aches” of the heart… mixed feelings. The unknown ahead. Exciting. I guess, I should be thinking of the technicalities of the expedition that’s about to start, but the heart matters overwhelm everything at the moment.

June 15, 2013

Abu Dhabi (UAE) airport: very clean, free baby strollers everywhere, toilets are combined with prayer rooms (muslim, of course); after you exit a toilet cabin, a man (worker) enters the cabin and cleans it up. Weird. My “climber girl” figurine (given to me for good luck by a friend) is already giving me warmth and mental stability (“proxy” mental effect). Sleepy. Frank Zappa’s song “Broken Hearts are For Assholes” comes to mind: “… so whatcha gonna do-ooo? – Cause you’re an asshole!” ;-)


June 16, 2013

2:30 am — Arrived to Islamabad (ISB). Типичная Средняя Азия.

4:30 am — I met Olov, then we picked up Jesse from an hotel where he stayed for the last couple of days (he arrived earlier).

6:00 am — Started driving towards Skardu on the Karakoram Highway (KKH). “Highway” is a huge overstatement, as applied to KKH. Dirty, dusty, narrow; driving with “flexible rules”, on the left… Soon, we passed Abbotabad, and Ibrar (our arent) pointed somewhere to the right and said that Osama bin Laden’s compound was located nearby… Abbotabad is a visibly heavily militarized town.  At ~ 1500 m of altitude, country starts to look nice for a while; then the road goes down from there again…

Our tour operator company is called ATP (Adventure Travel Pakistan). Our agent on this leg of the trip is Ibrar Hussein (from Hunza valley, now lives in ISB/Rawalpindi), and our driver is a guy named Tanwir.

13:00 — Lunch in Besham (Continental hotel), 755 m. Note: all hotels are dirty and dusty and shabby by western standards; no exceptions, even for a few western chain hotels in ISB.

19:00 —  Totally dark. Radiator overheat… Driver used water from a spring for cooling; we also filled all empty plastic bottles in case we need to do this again… A motorcycle rider came by, headlamp of his bike out, holding a flashlight in his mouth ;-)

We spent the night in Shangri-La hotel, on a bank of Indus river, right on KKH: a comparatively nice and clean place, surrounded by barbed wire. Many westerners and richer Pakistanis stay here. Massive hanging locks on doors in every room. But no hot water. We were now in Chilas, a “bad” area, reportedly full of Taliban (only a few days later, there will be a terrible murder of alpinists, committed by Terik-e-Taliban gang, in Nanga Parbat base camp, not too far from here; but we’d learn about it much later).

from Islamabad to Skardu

from Islamabad to Skardu

Other notes:

* Jesse: the cost of their 2012 trip to Charakusa valley, facilitated by Blue Sky Tours was $3000/ person ($2200 + extra) for everything (transport, meals, etc).

** Local chai is great.


June 17, 2013

Driving up Indus river to Skardu. We changed drivers: our new driver is now Safraz; Tanwir went back to ISB. Now, we moved from the Diamir side over to the Rupal side of Nanga Parbat. Rakaposhi, with its tooth-like summit is now visible. For a while, we drove on a well-paved Chineese-built stretch of the highway, which was a nice change.

Nanga Parbat

16:30 pm — Arrived to Skardu. ATP put us in Concordia Motel, one of the nicer hotels in Skardu, where many alpine expeditions stop before launching to the mountains. We went to the ATP office/ base, which is almost just across the street, to discuss porters, transport, permits… then went back to hotel to sort our gear.


June 18, 2013

It rained at night. Bruce and myself had to jump out of our beds and move our stuff, because water was gushing from ceiling to the floor. Another reason I had to get up periodically was diarrhea that kept me up later at night and in the morning…

Day: shopping (some food – garlic, honey…, meds (Flagyl), hand creme, lighters, etc)/ sorting/ packing. We needed to pack all our gear in bags, 25 kg in each, for porters.

* Money exchange:  97 Pakistani rupees = $1 (US). We exchanged dollars at Hussain General store (on the main drag in town). Banks don’t exchange currency!!


June 19, 2013

9:00 am — ATP picked up our bags for porters (10 x 25 kg).

But:  we still had no clearance/ permit. ATP kept telling us that we’d get it any minute, adding “inshallah” (“god willing”) to every promise. At 13:00 pm we supposedly were granted our “trekking” permit (which allowed us to go anywhere and climb any peak below 6500 m without paying a special climbing fee, and without the need for a liaison officer). But, due to power outage in Islamabad, they couldn’t fax the permit paperwork to ATP in Skardu, so ATP arranged for a guy to ride a bike to another area in ISB to send the fax. So, we waited till ~15:00 pm for that, then for ATP jeep.

16:30 pm — We loaded into jeep, finally.

Driving west into Shigar valley, via town of Shigar (road here is relatively smooth and nice). In Shigar, we saw a writing on a wall, in huge letters: “We Hate America“…

Drove approximately 7 hours, including a tea break, to Askoli (Askole – spelling varies). Half of the driving was at night, in the dark. Our driver (Maher?) exhibited great precision and skill while driving on the very steep and rocky/ rough road. A 4×4 jeep is absolutely required for this kind of driving.

When we arrived to the compound in Askole (“Summit Karakoram hotel” – a concrete building, with a yard, behind a stone fence, which tour operators rent from a local owner), at midnight, ATP put us in a tent that was set in the yard. Trek will start tomorrow, at 7:30 am, after breakfast.

Altitude in Askole = 3100 m (approx.)


June 20, 2013

7:00 am — Breakfast, served by ATP.

8:30 am — Start hiking. We carry only our light packs (sleeping bag and pad, personal items and clothing, some light food, water; ~ 10 kg total). The rest of gear is being carried by porters and their pack animals. ATP sent 26 porters (all locals from Askole) with us to carry stuff to the base camp; plus 2 cooks – Karim and Shahzad (both from Hunza valley; Karim was also “officially” our guide).

Hiking east up the valley towards Baltoro, then turned left (north) into Panmah valley, staying on the left bank, when facing upstream, of Dumordo (Panmah) river. We followed the good trail as far as the hanging foot bridge, then continued, still on the left bank of Dumordo, along a much less beaten trail.

15:00 pm — We  arrived at camp spot, in the shade of low trees, below a tall pressed mud wall (in my mind, not the safest place to stay; but they always stay here). Porters are still not here. We could have hiked further, but we need to move at the same pace as the porters and their animals. So, we relaxed here. Altitude = 3200 m according to my pressure-based altimeter (Suunto Core), which I calibrated in Askole. Trail was mostly flat and well-beaten from Askole to the bridge, then less so. Weather is sunny and great, but hot on the sun, no wind. There is a beautiful group of high peaks to the south. I rested a bit, then did an acclimatization hike up a drainage channel, then up steep slope to the left (west), to altitude ~ 3500 m. I felt the altitude — good = acclimatization process started; I sat there, near the vertical wall and waterfall for about 20 min, then descended back to 3200 m camp. From my high point at 3500 m, there was an impressive group of spires visible to the north-east (on the other side of river, upstream and in the direction of Skinmang glacier).

Unicorns are real!! (Bruce Normand)


June 21, 2013

6:30 am — Breakfast. Then walk up Panmah glacial moraine.

13:00 pm — Me and Jesse got lost in the maze of the moraine, because we followed some cairns into the glacial rubble (we should have stayed on the very left side of it, but we were tricked by these cairns and wandered fairly deep into it). We cut left towards the side of the glacier, and at 14:00, after some exhausting ups and downs got back on the real trail near the spot designated as our campsite for today. After some rest, I took another acclimatization hike up a nearby slope to 4200 m, in scorching heat, looking for some shade near boulders here and there. I got a little tired from heat, altitude and hunger. Thanks to Karim, we had a big dinner tonight.


June 22, 2013

7:30 am — Start up (north) Panmah glacier again (mostly left side). Difficult route-finding through moraine; we followed porters, who know their way around very well.

11:30 am — We arrived to the camp site (at 3900 m). It’s early and we could have continued, but this was the last grassy and comfortable area on our route, at the junction point between Panmah and Choktoi glaciers, and again, we had to comply with the porters’ convenience: they needed grass and water for their horses. Slept below a boulder till 16:00 pm, as it was very hot in the sun. Then Bruce and myself did another acclimatization hike up a gentle-sloping ridge to 4550 m (felt fine today). We stopped on a saddle, just above a sizeable tooth-like rock and sat there for 20 min or so. After descending about 100 m, I realized that I forgot my good water bottle (1L, wide-mouthed, and equipped with a clip-point) up at 4550 m. Dumb. I was tired and didn’t want to go back up; plus, I wasn’t sure exactly where I left the bottle; plus, we were already a bit late for dinner… I’ll have to do the whole trip with some other make-shift bottle (we had some bottles in camp).

* Some words in Urdu that I learned from porters:

“Gaa-hale?” = how are you?  —   “Tik-tok” = fine.

“Parmi” = water.

“Moor-ri” = chicken [we carried one chicken].

“Baake-ri” = goat [we also brought a goat, who we called Billy-Jean, although she didn’t really have a name].

our goat, Billy-Jean


June 23, 2013

6:30 am — Start towards Latok BC (base camp). At this point, we branched off to the left (north-west) onto Choktoi glacier, thereby leaving Panmah glacier (which continues to the right = north-east). Lots of running melt-water on the glacier, including pretty sizeable “rivers”. Bruce and myself went in cold water knee-deep a few times (Bruce was swearing a lot). Jesse fell into a “river” waist-deep. There were some biggish crevasses covered with soft snow near BC. We’ll need snow-shoes around here. Mountains around us are breath-taking! Altitude at BC is 4564 m (according to the Leomann map).

In BC, I helped one porter, named Rasul, with a pretty bad wound on his finger: washed it with soap, applied antibiotic ointment, and covered wound with band-aids and tape. Rasul was happy: he experienced a miracle of “western medicine”. Bruce tipped the porters, and they left. Karim (cook and “guide”) and Shahzad (assistant cook) will stay with us at BC for the whole month. Karim and Shahzad immediately got busy: set up the their tent plus our mess-tent, killed Billy-Jean the goat, de-skinned her and put the meat in the snow for storage. We set up out BC tents, sorted out mountain food and gear, and organized somewhat. Weather is gorgeous; clear skies, no wind.



June 24, 2013

In the night, the news came (from Emily, Bruce’s wife; via satellite phone) that Pakistani Taliban showed up in Nanga Parbat base camp a couple of days ago and shot dead 9 climbers (Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, other) [later, it turned out that it was 11 people – 10 climbers and 1 Pakistani shia cook – and there were no Russians among them; but at that time information about this event was very fragmented and unclear –AK].

4:00 am — Woke up, had quick breakfast, and went on an acclimatization hike up a pass at 5360 m (altitude measured with our altimeters; this pass is labeled 5010 m on the Leomann map, although we were on the right side of the pass, and the lowest point seemed to be located to the left of us). This pass is located around the corner/ridge from BC, to the right, towards Nobande-Sobande glacier. From the pass, we peeked onto Nobande-Sobande glacier and got a view of Bobisghir peak, one of our objectives. On the way down, we hiked in the direction of the Ogre-1 (turned right (west) when we descended back onto Choktoi glacier again) — we’ll go that way tomorrow. We definitely needed snow-shoes on glacier snow, even early in the morning, and roped up on the glacier. Today, I used Bruce’s Tubbs snow-shoes that he brought for Olov (Olov stayed in BC to get more rest today). I haven’t tried Lebedev-design crampon-attached shoes yet, but will soon.

Tired, some headache, and some cough. Otherwise fine. Karim and Shahzad erected a “shower”/wash tent. I took a “shower” – feels great. However, I started feeling sick: more headache (I attributed it to today’s voyage to 5000+ m at first), sore throat and cough (felt in the chest, like in bronchitis). Symptoms got worse by dinner-time. Measured heart rate (HR) at rest = 80 bpm.

Called dad and Dean on sat phone, back in the USA, to say that we’re OK, and were not victims of the Taliban attack.


June 25, 2013

The group woke up before 4:00 am and set off west/NW towards Sim La pass (5300 m) in order to investigate approach to Ogre-1 north face (NF), and also get some acclimatization. But I decided to play it safe and take a rest day to recover. I slept till 7:00 am, got up to have coffee and eggs (thanks, Karim!). Headache is there, as if I have a hungover. Sore throat and cough are there as well. I do feel sick. Moving around causes shortness of breath and exhaustion. Stuffy nose. HR (rest) = 70 bpm (not bad). There is a chance that I got a bug from Olov, who was sick with similar stuff for a few days during our trek in, and got better yesterday, with the help of Amoxicillin (850 mg/ 2x per day) that I gave him. Part of it may be altitude sickness as well. Therefore, I’ll try the following: rest/sleep all day, take Amoxicillin (1000 mg x 2 per day), take Diamox (250 mg x 1 per day) to minimize altitude effects, drink lots of water. No diarrhea… Found a package in BC: с надписью “Цикорий” – следы былой Российской экспедиции…

Karim and Shahzad invited me for breakfast at 9:00 am, and we sat in their tent, had breakfast and talked a little. They are both from Hunza valley, and are also neighbors there. Their native language, spoken in Hunza, is Burushaski, a unique language with no clear connections to any other language in the world. In Burushaski, “thank you” = “ju-gor” (“джу-гор”).


June 26, 2013

3:00 am — Wake up/ quick breakfast, pack gear/stuff.

4:00 am — Hike west towards Island peak, turn right onto the ramp (Island peak is to the left) and towards Sim La pass, but then turn sharp right (at 5000 m) towards the right part of the ice-fall, and climb the left side of that relatively uncluttered section. Climbing in the ice-fall was mostly steep consolidated snow, and some hard ice sections (required 1 ice-screw for pro in a AI3+ ish short section). The ice fall led to a crevassed upper glacier with north-south orientation and lots of snow. Altitude here is 5500 m. At 9:30 am the sun lit the cirque, and it became unbearably hot. No wind at all. We set up camp and laid in the tents, resting, till 16:00 pm. Then made dinner (freeze-dried Mountainhouse, and rice noodles for Bruce (he can’t eat gluten due to Celiac disease)), and went to sleep. Feeling altitude and having head-aches. Took 1000 mg Amoxicillin and 250 mg Diamox before going to sleep.

My camera stopped working while in the ice-fall this morning, and didn’t recover (there is some hardware error that wouldn’t go away, and camera doesn’t take pictures anymore) — Merde!!


Baintha Kabata from the South; we climbed on the right side

June 27, 2013

2:00 am — Started climbing east-facing side of the peak that’s located on the north side of Sim La pass (Baintha Kabata, as we found out later). Climbing was mostly steep and precarious snow slope, with some short sections of AI3-ish ice. Snow was fairly firm at night and early morning, but turned into horrible mushy mess by the afternoon, on our descent. We climbed mostly unroped, and roped up for much steeper and icier pitches in the upper part of the face. We summited at 9:30 am; back down to camp at 15:00 pm. Summit was a sharp rocky/ blocky pinnacle. Measured altitude was 6250 m. Four of us took 4 different lines (roped/ belayed climbing here) up the summit block (Bruce – around the ridge on the left, Olov – slightly different line also on the left, I went straight up after struggling a lot in sugary snow just above bergschrund, and Jesse went way on the right). We rappelled from the summit block, then did 4 full 60-m rappels off V-threads down the upper icy slope, then downclimbed very bad (steep, yet very soft/ deep and unstable) snow, and finally made another 60-m rappel off of a rock outcrop onto flatter section of the glacier, then postholed a few hundred meters to our tents. This, apparently, was an FA (first ascent). I was slow and afflicted by altitude all day. Hopefully, this outing was a good acclimatization. We are sleeping tonight at 5440 m camp, and will descend back to BC tomorrow.

Baintha Kabata (left) and "Fake Ogre" (right)


June 28, 2013

It was snowing and raining all night and morning. At our 5440 m camp, about 10-15 cm of snow accumulated.

5:00 am — Woke up and started boiling water for breakfast.

6:00 am — Got out of the tents, roped up and headed down the upper glacier and ice-fall at 6:30 am. We unroped after getting down the ice-fall and onto the upper flats, put on the snow-shoes, and continued down. I used Lebedev-design crampon-attached snow shoes, and the going was easy (i.e. they worked well in fairly dry snow).

11:15 am — Arrived to BC. Watched a few big avalanches come down from the Latoks’ NFs.

In the evening, the weather changed to worse again (snow, rain)… We (me and Jesse) will attempt to go rock-climbing tomorrow – weather permitting, inshallah – although right now it seems unlikely.

This morning in high camp, my HR was 88-100 bpm at rest; back in BC – 64 bpm. This is great. Cough almost disappeared in BC, so it seems altitude-related. Nevertheless, I am still continuing on Amoxicillin. My camera seems to be completely non-functional. Luckily, the pictures on the memory card are still there. Bruce kindly offered me to use his spare (older, but good) Cannon camera, in which I put the memory card that I’d found on the trail in Askole during the first trekking day (weird: a little SD card in a little plastic case was just laying on the trail. We all hoped it’d be full of porn, but, alas, it was empty – but in perfectly working condition ;-) ).


June 29, 2013

I felt like writing in Russian today… English translation follows.

Ночью шёл дождь, переходящий в снег. Утром – снег. Карим сказал, что ему пришлось счищать снег с палатки, иначе она бы сломалась под тяжестью мокрого снега. “Сортир” (навес над оным) тоже почти сломался (я его утром почистил). Нашу палатку тоже пришлось откапывать пару раз. Тепло, и снег мокрый и тяжёлый. Вобщем, никакого лазания сегодня не вышло. Целый день убиваем время в BC. Брюс дозвонился до Эмили: прогноз погоды такой-же (плохой) на ближайшие 3-4 дня (i.e. 0-видимость, снег, дождь, туман). Будем ждать “окна” в погоде. С 2-х пополудни пошли лавины с Латока, по ту сторону ледника (впрочем, они оттуда всё время валятся; но сейчас с бОльшим усердием)…

It was raining and snowing at night. Snowing in the morning. Karim said that he had to clean the snow from the tents (cooking and mess tents) to prevent the tents from crashing under the weight of the wet snow. The “John” (les chiottes) tent also almost broke (I cleaned off the heavy snow in the morning). We also had to remove heavy snow from our tent a couple of times during the night. It’s warm, and the snow is very wet and heavy. Well, needless to say, no climbing happened today. We kill time all day at BC (endless tea, cards, reading, bullshitting, etc). Bruce called Emily on the sat phone and got the weather forecast: same crap for the next 3-4 days — no visibility, rain, snow, fog. So, we’ll wait for the next weather window. Starting 14:00, the avalanches started falling with intensity off of Latok’s NF, on the other side of the glacier (i.e., they fall all the time pretty much, but now the intensity and frequency increased).


June 30, 2013 (Dimanche)

Un autre jour de rien a faire, au lieu de mal temps. Mange, lu, rien foutu. Очередной день ничего-неделания. Погода, вроде, улучшится ко вторнику (?).


July 1, 2013

Morning: snow, wind, no visibility.

Noon: weather improved, sun showed up, but above 5000 m – still very cloudy. Weather improved more, it became even hot, and all of us, taking turns, went to have a “shower” and wash some clothes. However, at 15:30 pm snow started again, and the weather got bad again.

While we were having lunch in the mess-tent, Bruce went up the ridge just above BC, and looked at the glacier that leads to the 5250 m pass (that we visited on June 24), that leads to the base of Bobisghir peak (our next target): all was covered with lots of snow, and the pass and nearby couloirs are likely to be avalanche-prone. So, even if the weather clears up tomorrow morning, we still may have to wait a day for avalanches to come down the slopes.


July 2, 2013

Jesse and I packed the rack for rock-climbing last night… but today it’s just as shitty as the previous few days (fog, snow, no visibility, wet), so we had to scrap the climbing plan. According to Emily (via sat phone), tomorrow the weather should start clearing, and we should get 2-3 day window of decent conditions. So, the plan now is to get ready, and set off towards Bobisghir peak tomorrow at 2:00 am… Insh’allah…


July 3, 2013

Much better weather today. Improvement started at about 2-4 am. Woke up and had breakfast. At ~ 10:00 am, Jesse and myself headed out towards the rock spire that is located about half-way up to the pass that we visited earlier [Biacherahi Tower Central (we called it Cat’s Ear Spire), as we found out later — AK].

12:00 noon — We got to the snow gully leading to the base of the spire.

After we observed 2 sizeable snow avalanches coming off the col between the tower and the peak to the south of it, one of which we had to dodge, and not possibly having enough time to climb the spire, we headed back to BC (at ~ 13:00 pm). Measured altitude at the base of the snow gully was 4850 m. At BC, we had lunch, and prepared for the Bobisghir peak outing planned for tomorrow. While walking to the spire today, Jesse lost one of his trekking poles in a crevasse.

Jesse under the Biacherahi Towers


July 4, 2013

1:00 am — Woke up, had quick breakfast/ coffee.

2:00 am — Started towards the 5250 m pass. Conditions were good for walking at night and early morning.

7:00 – 7:30 am — Went on the other side of the pass; steep ~80o snow wall (belayed downclimbing, with 1 intermediate snow-picket). At 7:30 am, snow started to get soft and mushy. We needed snow-shoes to move across Nobande-Sobande glacier towards Bobisghir peak. At 8:00 am – very hot, no wind. We found a good spot for camping; then Bruce and myself went on additional recon hike across the glacier (back south and east) to better see a possible route up Bobisghir. We returned to tents at ~10:00 am. I was nearly in a coma, and needed a lot of rest. HR (at rest) = 96 bpm… and I thought I was better acclimatized by now… HR (at rest) = 88 bpm at 16:30 pm. Ate, melted snow for water… had a freeze-dried German dessert that Olov brought from Switzerland (those are awesome!). We’ll start up on Bobisghir peak via left-side gully at 1:00 am.


North Biacherahi Tower as seen from Nobande-Sobande glacier

July 5, 2013

12:00 midnight — Get up, get ready.

1:20 am — Start off towards Bobisghir (to the base of gully on the left). Went up the avalanche gully that ended up on a 5600 m narrow pass: climbing was mostly firm snow, which we climbed unroped, but at the end there was a ~ 60+ m technical ice/mixed section (for which we roped up; thin M3 and alpine ice; positive angle, but strenuous thin ice crust on rocks; 2 ice screws), followed with ~AI3+ alpine ice finish (7-10 m); Jesse led all of this section. It may have felt sketchy, but we were fine as we climbed in the dark and didn’t see much around us. As we “summited” the pass, the sun came up. This couloir was about 500 m from the glacier to the pass (5100 – 5600 m). Then we crossed an internal glacier (down and across, then up to the notch that led to Bobisghir proper. At the start of the upper glacier crossing, there was a decent size snow avalanche that occurred  few minutes before we passed through (it went off of a steep slope on our left; there was a cornice on top on the summit/ridge above, that probably avalanched as soon as the sun rays hit it). We got to the notch between Bobisghir and a satellite small summit, and went up the West/SW ridge of Bobisghir. The climbing was mostly steep snow (50-70 degrees) and sometimes rock-hard alpine ice. It was windy and cold, and I regretted leaving my warm (800 g – “saved on weight” – duh!) jacket in camp. We summited at approx. 9:00 am (about 8+ hours after leaving camp). Spent some time at the summit (~ 6400 m), and started down at 9:40 am. Back to the pass leading to the avalanche gully at ~14:00 pm. Spent some time at the pass (brewed up tea) watching possible snow slides, and then rappelled down to the icy section off of 2 snow-pickets to make a V-thread anchor below (2-screw station + V-thread for rappel). The last one down (Bruce) down-climbed on belay to the station. We rappelled off of the V-thread, full 60 m, to the steep snowy slope below in the gully. We then downclimbed the left (shady) side of the gully (deep precarious steep snow).

16:00 pm — Back to camp on Nobande-Sobande. I was bugged by rough chest cough all day (and the previous day), that was worse with altitude. So, just in case, I again started/ continued on Amoxicillin (2x 850 mg tonight, then 2x 850 mg / day) and may try Dexamethasone when back in BC to remove possible inflammation in the lungs [didn’t – AK]. Ate, rested… Early start tomorrow… Bobisghir West ridge was another FA. HR (rest at camp) = 100 bpm.

While cooking dinner at camp after the climb, I managed to set myself on fire and burn a hole in my Primaloft layer: I tried to be “efficient” while melting snow in the JetBoil, and having melted a pot-full (0.75 L), I left the burner on “low”, while taking the pot off the stove and leaning over to the outside to pour the water in the 1.5 L bottle and refill the pot with fresh snow… And, duh, my jacket came in contact with the open flame of the JetBoil… It only took a couple of seconds to burn a 12-15 cm hole on my right chest. Olov yelled at me, and I looked down on my chest – fuck! – and quickly put the fire away with my left hand, getting only a small burn on my left pinky finger. Nice job, dummy! While performing all these maneuvers, I knocked the [open] water bottle off, and spilled all the water that I melted… Real dum-dum… I put some duct-tape over the hole in the jacket, and we finished our camp chores before going to sleep.

me, on Bobisghir summit


K2 as seen from Bobisghir peak


Bruce Normand on top of Bobisghir peak

Jesse, downclimbing from the summit of Bobisghir peak


our camp on Nobande-Sobande glacier

July 6, 2013

4:00 am — Woke up. Packed all stuff and took down tents… While removing one of my trekking poles (BD Z-pole) from the [consolidated/ frozen] snow, which held a guy-line of our tent, I ripped off the internal cord inside the pole. Merde! Well, I continued with just 1 pole today. We quickly climbed the steep snow wall of the pass , and descended to our BC on Choktoi glacier by ~9:00 am. Karim and Shahzad brought us cookies and tea – how nice! I am worried about my lungs trouble, so I’ll continue on Amoxicillin for the next 6 days or maybe longer. Some thick rose phlegm comes out occasionally from my throat, which may indicate serious bronchitis, or even beginnings of pneumonia… And the lungs trouble is definitely easing with lowering altitude. I’ll hold off on Dexamethasone for now, but will take it with me on our next high-altitude voyage. Back in BC, I fixed my burnt jacket with athletic tape and stitches; looks pretty good — jacket is back in business. Jesse told us earlier that he was sitting in in a few technical meetings at BD, where they discussed the design of the BD Z-poles, and that he anticipated a problem like I had this morning, ripping the pole apart. So, he took it as a personal challenge to try and fix the pole. It took him almost 2 hours to do, but he fixed it, by replacing part of the internal cord with a nylon utility cord and chopping some parts off the internal joints. He’ll try to get me replacement poles from BD, when we are back home. Next, I fixed a torn-off buckle on Bruce’s CiloGear pack’s lid. Olov patched some holes in his Mammut mountaineering boots. This turned out to be a morning of repairs… Seems like the weather will hold tomorrow (original forecast from Emily was that the weather would turn stormy tonight), so we (Jesse and myself) will try to climb the spire that we inspected on July 3. Tonight at BC, my HR (rest) = 74 bpm — not too bad.

that was stupid


Jesse fixing the pole. Professional...


July 7, 2013

No rock climbing happened today: Starting midnight and until 5:00 am (I set the alarm for 4 am) it was snowing with intensity. Then at 5:00 am snow turned to rain, also very intense. At 6:00 am the rain became a drizzle, and finally died out by ~6:20 am. I peeked out of the tent at about 6:30 am: fog, clouds, everything wet. At 7:00 am visibility improved, and even some sun showed up once in a while. At 7:40 am, drizzle/ rain started again. All the while, Latok’s NF and nearby faces were avalanching, and we heard rock-falls from nearby cliffs. More snow was added to gullies and seracs, wetter and heavier snow, leading to more avalanches and rock-falls. I am having runny nose, still coughing from chest, but it is now softer. Continue on Amoxicillin. HR (rest at BC) = 80 bpm. At 8-9 am, drizzle and rain continue, and weather turns to worse. At 10-11 am rain intensifies again. Lots of clouds; cloudveil all over Latoks. HR (rest) = 68 bpm. Sitting in the tent, listening to avalanches and rain… trying to read “Le Petit Prince”. C’est que j’ame beacoup: “J’ai ainsi eu, au cours de ma vie, des tas de contacts avec de tas de gens serieux. J’ai beacoup vecu chez les grandes personnes. Je les ai vues de tres pres. Ca n’a pas trop ameliore mon opinion… J’ai ainsi vecu seul, sans personne avec qui parler veritablement…” — Tellement vrai! – Et il pleut tout le jour avec fierte. Mal temps ont revenues… Merde!

At about 13:00 pm, the sun showed up again, and I asked Karim and Shahzad to heat up water for bath. Took bath, and Olov did the same after me. Feel refreshed. Not enough kerosene to heat water for washing clothes… oh well, it’s OK. The Latoks’ walls are plastered with white, as if someone spilled a few giant buckets of white paint over them: a lot more white than yesterday — so it snowed up there a lot last night and good part of today. We’ve seen many huge avalanches (mostly from central ceracs on Latok-I north face) sweeping huge parts of faces and gullies — spectacular show.


July 8, 2013

Another day at BC, resting, talking about possibly setting off tomorrow for the NF of the Ogre-I (7285 m). Preparing gear/ stuff. My chest is much better with Amoxicillin… I should be OK there now. HR (rest) = 64 bpm.


July 9, 2013

Snow/ rain/ stormy/ zero visibility this morning. Lots of precipitation. Not going anywhere today most likely. Sitting in our mess tent, drinking coffee. Bruce is playing solitaire (cards)… We are listening to Incubus on Jesse’s iPod… Karim is consistently calling me “Anto” – which I kinda like ;-)


July 10, 2013

Woke up in BC to lots of snow falling. By 9 am it lightened a bit. Snowed lightly all day. We prepared to leave tomorrow early morning to the Ogre-I NF.


July 11, 2013

Snow (heavy/ intense) all night. Karim and Shahzad were shoveling snow and clearing roofs of cooking/theirs and mess tents all night long. At 3:30 am – snow. Bruce came to our tent to ask what we should do… We said: let’s wait a couple of hours… Decided to wait till 6:30 am. At 6:30 am — blizzard and even heavier snow. Waited till 8:30 am- still snowing (although lighter a bit). Called dear friends on the phone, for no reason… chatted about nothing… Called my father, left a message on his answering machine… Still snowing, and no visibility. We had breakfast, played cards… At about 10:30 am, the snow stopped, and it started to clear a bit. I built a snow man, and equipped him with a Petzl helmet, my sunglasses, a ProBar for nose, gave him an ice axe and a shovel… Everybody took pictures with him – something to do… At 11 am the sun finally showed up and now, hopefully, there is a promise of weather improving (no guarantees). It’s too late to go anywhere today though. Even if the weather really starts improving now, we still need time to wait for the [biggest] avalanches to crash down… All the faces are plastered with lots of snow. We are watching avalanches on the NF of the Latoks. Ogre must be doing the same right now. Today is Aga Khan’s birthday – a big celebration for Hunza people (Aga Khan is the religious and spiritual leader of the Nizari Ismailis – a “progressive” faction of Islam – and as such, of the Hunza people, to which both of our cooks belong). Karim and Shahzad celebrate Aga Khan’s birthday, very quietly, in their tent. I think they got a kick of the snow-man today (they smiled a lot and looked happy). About dinner-time, Bruce, Jesse and Olov presented them with some chocolate and marzipan for their celebration. However, at dinner we found that they put at least some of the marzipan in the desert that they made for us… They are really nice people, Karim and Shahzad… It still is snowing and it doesn’t stop. We went to bed with a tentative plan to get up at 4:30 am and march to the Ogre.

The Choktoi Snowman


July 12, 2013

4:30 am — Peeked out of the tent: still cloudy, but not snowing. I was kinda expecting Bruce to pass by and say something, but he didn’t… I and Jesse fell back to sleep and woke up at ~7:30 am. Got out of the tent and into the mess tent…

8:00 am — Sunny, no precipitation, but the summits of the Latoks are in a heavy cloudveil, and there are tons of snow on the north faces (and any other faces for that matter) = a lot of avalanche danger. So, we are sitting in the mess tent now, still not sure what to do. Nobody right now, except Bruce, is excited about the NF of the Ogre-I though… Jesse called his boss at BD for a forecast: according to what he told him, we should have good weather on July 13-18 (forecast for 23K feet = 7000 m), so everyone got re-energized again, and we’ll be getting ready to leave BC tomorrow morning.

Read more of the “Le Petit Prince”… Liked this: “Si tu ames une fleur qui se trouve dans une etoile, c’est doux, la nuit, de regarder le ciel.” – C’est vrai…


July 13, 2013

2:00 am — Off from BC. Nice hike up the pass (towards the first FA peak that we climbed – Baintha Kabata)… Then the sun came out and started baking glacier and the peaks: snow quickly turned to mush at ~8-9 am, and the steep slope up Sim La pass (5400 m) was so hard, that it took all of my energy. From the pass, where the South Ridge of Baintha Kabata starts (S. ridge was first-ascended by M. Turgeon and C. Haley in 2008), it was ~ 2 km down a gentle slope (still in deep mushy snow) to the base of the Ogre-I (Baintha Brakk) NF.

11:30 am – 12:00 noon — Arrived at the spot near the start of our intended route up Baintha Brakk’s NF. Measured altitude = 5200 m. Put up the tents and rested. It’s hot, the sun is frying us alive. While cooking and eating outside, we watched some big avalanches, which occurred mainly to the left of our intended line of ascent. Bruce went towards the base of the face, and when he [almost] returned to the tents, at about 1:00 pm, a big slide came down and covered a large area at the base, burying Bruce’s tracks. No avalanches were observed on our intended line of ascent (except for the very bottom of it).

16:00 pm — Went to bed, awkwardly, in our single BD FirstLight tent (3 people in a small 2-person tent). We set the alarm for 23:30 pm tonight, so we could start climbing and be done with the very avalanche-prone lower slopes during the coldest time of the night, when avalanche danger is minimal.

an avalanche rolling off of the Ogre-I NF

Ogre-I (Baintha Brakk) North face

July 14, 2013

Technically, still July 13, 23:30 pm. Woke up (didn’t get much sleep, actually), brewed up. I managed to spill 0.2L of water inside the tent onto Jesse’s place in the middle (turned out that his water-bottle also leaked in his sleeping bag, and his one of his jackets was already wet).

2:00 am — Started hiking towards the NF.

2:20 am — Started up the snow slope. Lots of snow climbing; initially at ~50 degrees, then steep – up to ~70 degrees. Snow quality varied from hard to very powdery, including on very steep sections. We navigated successfully in the dark, to the left of the lower seracs, and when the sun came up at 4:30 am, we found ourselves below the lower rock band , at which point we traversed almost horizontally to the right, to the start of our gully (our intended next big part of the ascent). We climbed through sections of alpine ice (in difficulty ~ AI2+-ish), still unroped. Unfortunately, due to a combination uncertain weather forecast (high chance of a big storm and the possibility of us being stuck in it high on the route) and unstable snow conditions that we already encountered, we opted to abandon the route.  Our top measured altitude was 5720 m.

view to the east from the Ogre-I NF

another avalanche on the Ogre-I NF

that's where we got hit by avalanche; Ogre-I NF

8:00 am — Back to our tents on the glacier. We rested a bit, then walked back to the 5400 m Sim La pass, which was exhausting in the hot sun. At the top of the pass Bruce asked if either me of Jesse wanted to climb the snow/ice gully to the summit of “Fake Ogre” (to the right of Baintha Kabata, from the same upper glacier that we visited earlier to climb the east-facing side of Baintha Kabata. “Fake Ogre” was still unclimbed, as far as we know). Both of us said “no”: we both were so exhausted by snow gullies by now, and our expedition time was running out, and we were looking forward to climb rock routes at this point, not another snow gully. Bruce then decided to leave a tent and gear at the pass, at the flats at 5000 m, below the ice fall, and return for the “Fake Ogre” either with Olov or alone. Bruce was not interested in climbing the rock spire, focused on “Fake Ogre” instead.

13:00 pm — Returned to BC, exhausted. Olov decided to not go with Bruce to “Fake Ogre”, which wasn’t an easy decision for him. Jesse and myself decided to climb the “Cat’s Ear Spire” (Central Biacherahi Tower’s E/SE face), which we approached earlier, and which we thought was unclimbed.

Bruce, on top of Sim La pass (looking to the east), after our adventure on the Ogre-I north face


July 15, 2013 (Monday)

Rest day at BC. I’ve seen a “small” avalanche that came down off of the upper snow-field on “the line of the next generation” on Latok-I NF (from just below the “final” long rock ramp). – Something to keep in mind for the future. For lunch, we cooked Backpacker’s Pantry “biscuits and gravy” + freeze-dryed/rehydrated meat – it was a complicated process, but the result was delicious.

At this point we are undecided about our plans: “Fake Ogre” snow/ice gully vs “Cat’s Ear Spire”? – We’ll decide depending on weather and how much time we’ll have left. We may be heading to “Fake Ogre” ‘s couloir tonight, climb it at night and early morning, and come down to BC, in which case we may still have the time for the spire.

Hot day today… lots of flies are bothering us (most of which were probably bred in our full chiottes).

19:30 pm — Bruce decided to not go up the “Fake Ogre” tonight (not sure of the weather and snow conditions), and me and Jesse racked up for the rock spire, with the intention to leave towards the spire at ~6:00 am tomorrow. Weather looks OK now: clouds over Latoks’ summits, but clear-ish in all directions, except south, with some clouds slowly moving in from south-west (from behind Latoks-Ogres). Our cooks “made” us a soup based on a Mountain House freeze-dried meal from a packet, but apparently they didn’t know (or we forgot to tell them) about the little “Do Not Eat” packet with ferrous oxide that needed to be removed prior to cooking… so we found black ash-like residue in our soup. We should inform them, politely, next time ;-)   They cooked goat’s brain stew for themselves tonight, and offered us to try. We tried a little bit: not bad.

north face of Latok-I in good weather


* Note: Jesse suggested that I try DP450 (glue/ polymer compound from Home Depot) to fix the wobbling head of my CAMP Awax ice tool.


July 16, 2013

Very bad (no) sleep tonight… I don’t know why. Thought about things back home too much, I guess. Went to pee at ~23:00 pm: the sky is still clear, and a lot of bright stars and the Milky Way were visible. However, at ~23:30 pm it started raining with varied intensity.

8:30 am — Still raining, and everything around us is cloudy; only the nearby little peaks are visible. Climbing rock in the rain is out of the question. And Bruce as well made a good call on not going up, even thought he had a tent and supplies up there. So, unfortunately, we are stuck in BC again today. Hoping for improvement in the remaining 2 days before we leave, so we could accomplish some climbing.

Bruce didn’t go anywhere today either (he planned to go up a “Capucin”-looking peak just east and across the little glacier near BC). He is upset, possibly because he is frustrated about our “failure” on the Ogre-I NF, and now because of the uncertainty of climbing “Fake Ogre” due to weather and time running short.

12:00 noon — Dry, sunny, and calm again. Hopefully, it stays like that tomorrow, so we can climb the “Cat’s Ear Spire”.

16:40 pm — HR (rest) = 70 bpm in BC. It seems like the weather will hold for tomorrow, and (a) Bruce will go and solo the couloir to summit “Fake Ogre” from the west (he will start from BC at about 20:00 pm),  (b) Jesse and myself will attempt the “Cat’s Ear Spire” (Central Biacherahi Tower) tomorrow morning. Olov will provide support to Bruce via radio, and walk up towards “Fake Ogre” in case of emergency. We wished Bruce luck before he left BC around 8 pm; he was in good spirits and focused.


July 17, 2013

4:00 am — Woke up. Bruce is well on his way to “Fake Ogre” by now. Jesse and myself had a quick breakfast of oats, bars, and coffee.

4:45 am — Picked up our packs and headed towards “Cat’s Ear Spire”. Glacier was well-frozen, and we didn’t have to put on our snow shoes (still carried them). We roped up for the last bit of glacier and bergschrund just before the spire. We stopped and left our packs, mountain boots, and other glacier-travel gear, in the lower part of the passage leading to the col between Biacherahi South and Central towers. We took Jesse’s small pack, in which we put 2nd rope, jackets, energy bars and chews. We climbed with a 60-m single rope.

Biacherahi Towers: left to right -- South, Central ("Cat's Ear Spire"), North ("Shark's Fin")

7:30 am — Jesse started climbing. Start altitude was ~ 5000 m. It was obvious right away that this route won’t be a first ascent: there was an already rusted piton hammered in about 3 m up in a crack, and there was a wad of old white static line visible up above. Oh, well… The 1st pitch was approximately 30 m, and about 5.10b-ish. We cut as much as we could of that “Italian” (Jesse’s theory) old rope and threw it down (it still landed on a ledge below; hopefully, the snow will move it to the glacier later). At the belay stance, there was a bolt and a pin. I felt like I was in Yosemite or RMNP. We climbed a total of 9 pitches, 50 m per pitch on average (some were longer, some shorter), and there were 2 full 60-m pitches, and one 70-m pitch (pitch 6 or 7) where I had to disassemble the station and walk (on a ledge) 10 m closer, so Jesse could get to a belay stance above. We ended up at a huge block, fairly close to the “notch” from which climbing to the summit should be fairly easy. From that spot, we couldn’t find a passable/ protectable way up. It seems that the way to the “notch” (probably ~ 2 pitches up) needs a traverse to the right over blank slabs (probably climbable, not necessarily easy, at positive angle), which would need to be protected with bolts or pins. Also it seems that whoever climbed this route, and placed bolts and pins below us, did not get any higher either: there were no traces of this style of ascent, no bolts and pins, up above or anywhere in the vicinity. Our high point was ~ 5330 m.

a view from Biacherahi Central towards Bobisghir peak (after an avalanche/ rock-fall to our right -- you can see the remaining snow-drift)

Jesse leading one of our upper pitches (5.11-ish) on BTC


16:30 pm — After trying different ways to make upward progress from the block, we rappelled down. For 1st rap, we put a cord around a large flake, then used the existing bolts, and again used loops + carabiners over flakes (rap #1, 4, and 6), and nuts + cord + biners on rappels #5 and 7. It took us a total of 7 rappels, in a more direct line, relative to our ascent line.

Jesse... Shortly before our descent from BTC


19:15 pm — Back to the snow and our stuff. It was still light, but getting dark quickly. Perfect timing.

The weather was quite good all day: sunny and clear in the morning, then a bit overcast and chilly, with a few snowflakes, towards the evening, and no wind. About noon-time, a big avalanche thundered to our right, in the couloir in the east side of the tower, carrying large rocks with it; but we were pretty far from being in any danger from that.

20:30 pm — We were back to BC, in the dark.

We did not use our snowshoes on the glacier at all today: a lot of top snow has melted by now, exposing hard snow and ice below, and revealing the crevasses. In BC, we had some crackers with cheese, sausage and tea, and went to bed. Bruce was already asleep after his exhausting adventure on the “Fake Ogre”: according to his account, he summited, in OK weather (cloudy though, and some views were obscured by clouds), via ~50 degree snow/ice couloir, venturing left at the end of the couloir to get to the summit block (in order to avoid cornices up above); climbing at the top was M3-ish, Bruce said.


July 18, 2013

Slept till 7:30 am. Breakfast. Packing gear and stuff for porters (done by noon). It’s a sunny and warm day today — and we aren’t climbing! Because we had to pack.


July 19, 2013

7:00 am — Karim, Shahzad, and the other 2 porters that came yesterday (Mahmoud = sirdar, and Ali) took down the cooking and mess tents after breakfast, and we took down our tents and packed our packs.

8:00 am — Porters are late: they were supposed to be here at 7 am… It’s 8 am now, and we still don’t see anyone coming, even at a distance.

9:30 am — Porters finally arrived. Six people, including Mahmoud (sirdar). They brought 3 mules with them.

10:50 am — Packing took a while, and we are starting down the glacier just now. I left a message at BC, for the supposedly arriving Russian team: “Привет !” (“Hello!”) made of small stones and an old rusty Grivel crampon front-point. Beautiful sunny and windless day, no clouds in the sky… and we are leaving… The porters navigated skillfully though the maze of the glacier moraine (we walked mostly on the right side, as one faces down/ East). The mules were tired though… one was bleeding from her knee.

15:00 pm — The porters decided (with Bruce’s consent) to stop and camp at our “last green site”, just off the glacier, at 4100 m. We only walked for about 4 hours today. One of the porters, Musa [Moo-saa], is a hunter. He shot an ibex the day before and stored the meat in the area (another reason for the porters to stop here tonight). So, we all had a good helping of ibex meat for dinner, with our Mountainhouse-based meal.

Musa, the hunter, with his Chineese rifle

Porters are trying to get stuff off us: one porter (young guy in charge of the mules) “borrowed” one of my trekking poles, the one that Jesse fixed (I kept the good one). Musa borrowed 1 of my sleeping mats – I will get it back, I hope. Another porter (Haji Ali, the old guy) asked me if he could have my gaiters… I gave Musa a AAA battery pack… he kept asking if I could give him my headlamp (I said “no”), and tried to get my monocular (although he himself had a much better Bushnell binoculars). Each of us has to watch our stuff carefully with these guys around… They are good guys, but they have this conception that we are super-rich Westerners and we have tons of gear that we can easily part with…

20:00 pm — Went to bed, in Bruce’s tent. Early start tomorrow…

I learned another useful Balti word today: “Shos” [шос] = go… allez…


Haji Ali's axe (a rifle shell used as a wedge in it)


Haji Ali


July 20, 2013

4:00 am — Woke up.

4:30 am — Breakfast.

5:50 am — Started walking down.

8:00 am — It got really hot. We went through glacial moraine (on Panmah glacier) for a short time, getting back on a better trail without much problem this time (of course, we tried to follow porters as closely as we could). One of them – the old man (Karim says he’s probably 54-ish years old, but he looks 70) – has a striking appearance. I kept photographing him a lot. His name is Haji Ali. The prefix “Haji” means that he made the “haj”, i.e. went on a holy voyage to Mecca. He is obviously very religious, and is praying regularly, at least 5 times a day. He seems a very nice person. He doesn’t speak much English…

12:00 noon — Porters stopped in an oasis (water, trees, shade) for lunch/ tea. Me and Jesse were there with them at the moment, and they invited us for the Balti tea. Balti tea has an appearance of a soup, and is pink in color. Besides green tea, there is also salt, baking soda, and sugar in the mix. It has a very interesting taste, and is surprisingly refreshing, like an energy drink. They also offered us some of their rough chapati, as dry and grey as cement. Friendly people! We spent close to an hour with them. Musa tried on Jesse’s climbing helmet – he looked like an Italian gangster in it. I’ll give him my North Face jacket tomorrow – hopefully he’ll appreciate it. I gave him my sleeping pad again for the night. Balti tea gave us a boost of energy, and we ran down like the Energizer bunnies for a while.

There were a few river crossings today that required wading, jumping, and for the porters and their mules – roped crossings. As a result, we didn’t move very fast today, which was actually good.

16:30 pm — We arrived to camping spot (our 1st one on the way up a month ago). The measured altitude here is 3310 m. Tired. We had dinner: mostly Mountainhouse freeze-dried meal supplemented with the remaining ibex meat, plus some snacks.

19:45 pm — Going to bed now. Tomorrow, it should be an about 5-hour trek to Askole.


view of a peak from the upper trail to Askole


July 21, 2013

4:00 am — Woke up.

4:30 am — Breakfast (mostly porridge). I gave my NF warm layer (with the hole in it, that I fixed) to Musa, but asked for my sleeping pad back. He apparently expected that I’d give him my sleeping pad as well, and was a bit upset (later, on the trek to Askole, he asked all of us if we had “more shoes” to give him (the answer was “no”))… Past the junction of Dumordo (Panmah) and Biaho Lungma rivers (where Braldu river starts), I saw (first heard) two black military helicopters flying toward Baltoro glacier. As it turned out the next day, there was an accident on Broad peak, involving the Iranian group (that we met in Concordia motel in Skardu on our arrival a month ago). Apparently, 3 Iranian guys went missing at ~ 7500 m for 5 days… There is little to no chance now, especially after a few days of stormy weather up there, that any of them are alive, but they still went searching, probably because the Iranian government insisted on it. Apparently, they flew in some German climber, who was already acclimatized, as a “rescue specialist”. Bad news…

my lucky amulet


12:30 pm — When I arrived to ATP compound (“Summit Karakoram”), Bruce and Olov were already there, sitting in a shade under a tree. The trek was long and tiring due to hot weather. Apparently, I missed the Russian group who were trekking into the mountains, and for whom I left the message in Choktoi… Oh, well. On the trail near Askole, the trash laying on the trail was really offensive to my eye, so I started collecting wrappers and plastic packaging, focusing on “metallic”-lined plastic. Some Pakistani guys who saw me do that were looking at me as if I was crazy. I just said “salam aleikum” to them as I passed by, even though I was irritated at them for not getting this simple idea of not littering…

Porters arrived, and after counting and checking our bags, Bruce tipped the porters (500 rupies per load = 1000 rupies ($10) to each guy). I gave my gaiters to Haji Ali, as he asked. He is a really good and humble man, and if he asked for the gaiters, he must really need them (unlike Musa, who just asked for everything left and right). I also gave my spare cheap sunglasses to another young guy — He was happy.

Then it turned out that there was a road block (road was washed and not passable at one spot, a few km from village), and Karim arranged for 2 jeeps to meet us on the other side of the road block. To get to the spot, we took a tractor with a big cart attached to it for our and ATP’s gear and bags. What a fun ride it was! Me and Jesse got bits of it on video. This was followed by a 6-hour ride in the jeeps to Skardu. Jesse and myself rode in the open back of the jeep the whole time, with a few Pakistanis hitching a ride with us. Bruce and Olov initially did the same, but they went inside after a while. Some of the electric wires hung so low above the road, that we had to duck periodically, and at one point Bruce “caught” one with his neck (no blood or injury, luckily). We had to duck several times to dodge the wires and tree branches… The ride was very bumpy, but fun. There were 2 Pakistani guys with us in the back, and one of them kept throwing up overboard the whole time because of his motion sickness. Then we had to stop again because of another road block – a big mud slide that covered a few hundred meters of the road. There was a jeep (bound for Askole) stuck in the mud on the other side from us. I thought it’d take us a lot of time to get through this mess, but luckily it only took us 30 minutes or so. A bunch of Pakistani guys very quickly moved the bigger stones around – manually, knee-deep in cold water – so it became more-or-less driveable (for a jeep or tractor), and we passed. The jeep in which Bruce and Olov rode also pulled the stuck vehicle out in the process. Riding in a jeep, especially in the open back, on a Pakistani mountain road, isn’t a passive experience: our biceps, triceps, other muscles, and butts all hurt when we arrived to Skardu (21:30 pm).

Back to Askole: Jesse, Bruce, Shahzad, Karim, and our porters

22:00 pm — Dinner at Concordia motel. Shahzad brought 1.5 litres of “Hunza water” (moonshine, самогон) made of mulberries. It was good! – We all got buzzed, except Bruce (he doesn’t drink alcohol). At dinner, Bruce gave Karim and Shahzad $100 each – they absolutely deserved it. It also turned out that Bruce got his passport back without the visa extension (he left it with ATP officials before heading to the mountains)…


July 22, 2013

8:00 am — Breakfast at Concordia hotel. Bruce loaded in an ATP vehicle, and left at ~9:00 am. – Hopefully, he’ll get across the border into China without problems…

10:00 am — Karim showed up, and we went into town for some shopping and to have our hair cut and faces shaved. He brought us to a shop of his Hunza friend, and we bought some souvenirs there, probably overpaying a bit (but it’s OK).

ATP said that they’ll put us on a flight to Islamabad (ISB) at 11:00 am (pick up from hotel at 10 am)… Inshallah… They took most of our luggage in a jeep to ISB at 17:00 pm tonight, to arrive there by the evening tomorrow. We hope it all goes without problems, and that they’ll handle hotel in ISB and possibly change of flight (to leave earlier than July 26). Jesse is also leaving Pakistan now, with us, because he couldn’t confirm any partners – nobody could or would get to Pakistan now due to visa problems and in lieu of the recent Taliban incident in Nanga Parbat base camp.

In Concordia hotel, we met Thomas Lammle (a German guide) over dinner. He was there and we invited him to join us. He was that “rescue expert” in one of those black Eurocopters that we saw yesterday morning on the way to Askole. Thomas told us the following:

(1) Three Iranian alpinists, after climbing what is now the new “Iranian route” on Broad peak (BP), got lost on the descent, in bad weather, 5 days ago now. Apparently, they took a turn too early on their way off the “Rocky summit” (satellite summit of BP) and ended up on a ridge leading to a steep cliff, instead of descending to the glacier that leads to Camp 3. The last message from their Thuraya satellite phone was registered on that wrong ridge. The theory is that 2 of the guys fell off the cliff and the 3rd guy tried to call for help before getting lost himself. Anyway, after that it started snowing heavily, and now the chances for both their being alive and for finding their bodies are very slim at best. Attempts to locate the people/ bodies from high-altitude Eurocopters failed.   (2) Four Spanish alpinists also got lost – on Gasherbrum-I (G1), and they are most likely also dead. Attempts to locate them also failed, and the weather turned really bad.


July 23, 2013 (Tuesday)

8:00 am — Woke up. I did not sleep well.

9:00 am — Breakfast.

9:30 am — ATP guys and Karim showed up, picked us all up and drove to Pakistani Tourism Agency in Skardu for a pretty useless debriefing. We signed some forms, shook hands, and got out of the door… 10 min later we were in Skardu airport.

11:40 am — Miracle happened, and our plane left for ISB. Wow!

13:00 pm — We landed in ISB.

Turns out that this was one of the very rare chances to fly (as opposed to driving). Thomas, for example, was in the Pakistani Karakoram 6 times, and could never fly neither in nor out of Skardu. When we arrived in ISB, the flight info showed that the ISB-Skardu and all other flights in that area were cancelled. Jesse’s bag that the security in Skardu forced him to check-in, was left in Skardu, and maybe – inshallah! – will arrive in ISB tomorrow.

Ibrar (same ATP guy who handled us on the way in, in June) met us in the ISB airport, and drove to hotel – Continental Hotel, an apparently old British building, in the “Blue Zone” of Islamabad. We asked Ibrar 3 things: (1) bring our luggage that was sent from Skardu to ISB by jeep yesterday – hopefully by midnight tonight,  (2) change our flights for earlier date, if possible,  (3) get us beer.

Getting beer and other alcohol is a semi-legal operation around here. Consumption of alcohol by the muslim majority is against the law in Pakistan… Alcohol is OK to consume for non-muslim minorities though, and that’s why it is still produced and sold in Pakistan, although it is heavily regulated (and, like in other countries that experienced “prohibition”, a black market exists for alcohol as well). We drove to 2 different hotel-associated “bars”. The 1st one (in the back of crumbling Best Western Hotel) was essentially a hole in between concrete walls with barbed wire in the midst of a dirty backyard, overgrown with wild cannabis (that smelled very strongly). The armed man behind the barbed wire rudely said: “Bar is closed.”  We turned around, and Ibrar drove us to another place (appeared to be a back side of Marriott Hotel, also pretty run down); this was a heavily guarded compound, where we went through a metal detector, and into a black door, above which there was a sign reading “Laundry Shop”. We had to go in there alone, because Ibrar, being a muslim, could have been arrested if he went there too. Inside, there was a hole in the wall, through which we were given ten 500-mL beer cans in a double black plastic bag. Wow! We paid 200 rupees ($2) per can. There was only 1 sort of beer available: Muree’s, a locally-brewed brand. … While driving around Islamabad, we noticed lots of wild cannabis growing everywhere (sides of the roads, parks, dumps, in the middle of divided highways…), and the smell of it filled the air.

Jesse got a stomach bug (diarrhea, pain, shivers, etc)… We got him drugs (Flagyl, Cipro, and activated charcoal) in a corner pharmacy near our hotel, and he is sleeping now. Olov and myself watched an American movie “RED” (with Bruce Willis), which was shown on the in-hotel TV, and drank some beer… Olov ordered in-room food, and I got just the desert – “caramel cream”, which looked like a cheese-cake…

Diarrhea and abdominal pain started a couple of hours later. – Must be the food or water that was used in food prep.

Islamabad is a real shit-hole: dirt, pathogens, stink, no hot water in hotel, periodic electricity blackouts… I don’t remember anything like this in the Soviet Central Asia… I took 1 Flagyl, then charcoal, then 1 Cipro (locally produced), and tried to sleep.

Yes, it is


July 24, 2013

One more Cipro in the morning… Feel better, but not quite well. Jesse looks really sick in his bed. I should fast today. I only ate 2 pieces of dry “Danish” cake and had a coffee in the morning. Nothing else.

8:30 am — Ibrar came to hotel, and we drove to check with Etihad Air if it was possible to change flight for earlier. To move it 1 day early would cost me $230 – Not worth it, especially that nobody who I wanted to see was really wanting to meet me back home in the US… So, I’d hang out here for 1 more day, and leave in the morning of July 26, as planned.

Afternoon:  One more trip to the “Laundry Shop” to get more beer; Mustafa drove us to and from the place. He was the same driver who drove us yesterday, together with Ibrar.


July 25, 2013

Breakfast that they serve downstairs in the hotel absolutely sucks. Juice is diluted with the pathogenic tap water. All food that’s not factory-packaged seems dangerous to me… and it seems that beer actually helps our stomachs by sanitizing them (exactly the reason people in the middle ages preferred beer and ales to water)…  I only had coffee and a piece of dry cake.

Romanian group that climbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat stays in the same hotel as us. They came for breakfast downstairs, and we talked a bit with on of the Romanian guys – Bruno (according to news on the internet, Bruno is the only one of the group who didn’t summit because of altitude sickness). They were lucky to be on the other side of the mountain and avoided contact with the Taliban…

Another boring/ wasted day here in Islamabad… Ibrar should get us to the airport at about 1 am”tomorrow”. I am now really looking forward to leaving this place. Meanwhile, surviving on a diet of Cipro and alcohol…


July 26, 2013

Late at night/ morning, we said good-bye to Jesse, who was still looking tired and sick with the stomach bug. Ibrar then escorted Olov and myself to the ISB airport. I was half-hallucinating (still sick and lacking quality sleep), and Olov probably felt the same way. My flight was first, and I left for boarding, leaving Olov to wait for his flight for a couple of more hours…

ISB -Abu Dhabi-Chicago-Detroit… “Sleep”-wine-food on the airplanes and in airports… Dead-tired when I arrived to Detroit.   Dean M. met me at the DTW airport and drove me to his place – what a great guy! It felt good to be back home, after a good adventure… And here one can eat food without fear!!

On this expedition, we had some success, we “failed” a little… Not really failed: we survived, and we’ll be back again to the wonderful and majestic Karakoram mountains.

my personal altitude profile for this trip

About Anton Karnoup

climber/ alpinist, protein biochemist, Russian

One Response to Pakistani Karakoram 2013 — Magical Mystery Tour

  1. Потрясающие фотографии! Историю еще не прочел, но прочту.