If one word can sum up high altitude mountaineering, it might be “flexibility”. The remaining teams trying to reach K2, Broad Peak and other Karakorum base camps were hoping to fly from Islamabad to Skardu but the weather Gods, or more specifically the airlines had other ideas.
Most teams try to fly directly to Skardu via a daily Pakistan International Airline flight, but due to regular bad weather in Skardu, it is canceled 20% of the time and very delayed another 25%. Thus some teams are forced to take the 30 hour, 2 day drive along the very dangerous Karakorum Highway.
The Slow Way
It looks like Madison Mountaineering and Seven Summits Treks joined up to take four buses, with armed escorts, up the Karakorum Highway to the “end of the ‘paved’ road” in Skardu. From there they will take 4-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers on the bone rocking dirt road to the literal end of the road in Askole where the march begins to their base camps.
Phillip Gatta sums it up:
The 28th we left the hotel at 5:30am with military protection, there were 2 jeeps with armed men before and after us plus one man with a Kalashnikov in the bus with us. That said, I didn’t feel insecure like in 2009. The road improved a lot too, many more paved sections and lot’s of work going on (building bridges, paving, etc) but the road is still dangerous because its location at the bottom of big gorges and many sections are exposed to rock fall, side drops, etc. The “road” between Besham and Chilas is the worst.
Joe Ashkar noted:
Along the way we were ed to some cloud covered views of Nanga Parbat the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8,126 metres (26,660 ft) and nicknamed “killer mountain”. Shortly afterwards, we stopped at the confluence of the Indus and Gilgit rivers where the three mightiest Mountain Ranges in the World meet: The Karakoram, the Hindukush and the Himalayas.
I have traveled this route twice, once in 2006 to get to Skardu and last year, returning from Skardu to Islamabad. While it is a long, sometimes hot and boring journey, I found it a rare opportunity to see the countryside from the road and not the air. I found the stops interesting with talking to the locals, looking in their eyes and getting a feel for what makes the world go round.
Personally I never felt threatened but was aware that our position on a road surrounded by high mountains made us sitting targets. It is good that the Pakistan government is providing protection.
Thus after two days of driving, it looks like they are all now at Skardu, where they will rest for a day or two then continue to Askole.
Tough Early Weather
The teams already at the base camps report difficult conditions already with lots of snow, and cold temps. But as always, the weather changes frequently, perhaps too frequently in the Karakorum thus the uncertainty of climbing conditions.
Some climbers will begin to make their first efforts to establish the low camps on their respective mountains as soon as the weather allows.
As I started this post, flexibility is the key concept.
Memories are Everything