The chartered flight from Islamabad to the mountain town of Skardu left at 5:00AM the day after we arrived in the capital. 28 of us and all our gear took the short flight that offered us amazing scenery of the majestic and jagged peaks of the Karakorum Mountains including Nanga Parbat, a mountain that gained international notoriety when a band of Al Qaeda rebels attempted to rob the residence of the base camp. When the climbers refused to part with their money, one of them was shot and a subsequent massacre ensued. In the end, a total of 9 people lay dead.
Our stay in Skardu was short, with only enough time to separate the gear into 25kg loads. These filled 11 Land Cruisers, each carrying about 600kgs of supplies we would need to climb Broad Peak and K2. The 8-hour drive to the small village of Askole began on asphalt, but quickly deteriorated to very dusty narrow jeep track that snaked its way up into the foothills of the Karakorum Range. Askole is the jumping off point for expeditions heading into the Baltoro region that is home to four of the world’s highest mountains; K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II. In addition there are hundreds of peaks between 7000m and 8000m and even more lower than 7000m.
This region has been dubbed the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods because of the sheer number of high mountains.
We began our journey in 9 jeeps just after 7:00AM, and after a short stop in the village of Shigar for lunch, we began up the steeper section of the road. Here we crossed raging rivers on wooden suspension bridges that swayed under the weight of the trucks. As we came around one bend in the road we stopped, as there were a number of jeeps standing idle. We got out to find that a landslide had broken across the road and washed it out. About 40’ of road was gone. We all started throwing rocks into the raging river, trying to fill some of it up so the trucks could get across. All the work was done by hand and in about 30 minutes we had created a way to cross. The jeep owners are very proud of their rigs and it is a status symbol to get across first, so the rush was on.
A truck with mattresses, fuel, boxes, and other odds and ends piled high above the edges was the first up. The driver slowly approached the steep incline before inching his way into the main river. As his jeep swayed from side to side, he continued to inch his way deeper into the river, bouncing over small and big boulders. After a tense couple of minutes, he emerged on the other side. Joyous shouts rang out and the remainder of the trucks started crossing. Within 20 minutes all were safely across the landslide and we piled back in and continued along our way.
The road stopped some distance from Askole, where all the baggage had to be off loaded and walked across a very rickety bridge to trucks waiting on the other side. This process took about an hour and half – and then it stared to rain. Perfect. There was a lot of yelling between the new drivers as they tried to decide who was going to take which loads. In the end, we reached Askole around 4PM, arriving to our camp that was already set up and tea that was ready! As I walked by the kitchen, I saw a familiar face, older but definitely familiar – it was Farman, our cook on the '87/'88 K2 winter expeditions!