Rest Day at Base Camp

July 4th, 2018

Happy Independence Day!

Unfortunately there won't be any fireworks to celebrate with at base camp.  Instead, we spent the day developing a plan for our first and only acclimatization rotation.  Climbing a big peak requires several laps - or acclimatization rotations - from base camp to successively higher camps on the mountain.  During a rotation, climbers will generally spend one or two nights at a higher camp before returning to base.  This routine stresses the body by depriving it of oxygen, and the body responds by building incremental red blood cells which will carry the additional oxygen needed to survive at elevation.  

K2 is dangerous.  There are many objective hazards like rockfall and avalanche that we'd like avoid, and the longer we are on the mountain, the more likely we are to encounter these hazards.  So, we've decided to limit our acclimitization rotations to just one climb to camp 2.  While this isn't ideal in terms of allowing our bodies to develop more red blood cells, it is prudent in terms of avoiding risk.  And I'm all about avoiding risk.  

The general plan is to leave base camp in two or three days, depending on weather, and to spend two nights at camp 1, two nights at camp 2, and then return to BC.   As we talked about the plan, and the idea of climbing to camp 2, I could feel my palms get sweaty and nervousness rise in my stomach.  But I am going to stick to my agreement with myself and only focus on one day at a time.  Today, all that I have to do is relax and eat at base camp.  I'm confident that I can accomplish those two things. 

 Ibrahim at K2 Base Camp  photo:  Muhammad Ibrahim

Ibrahim at K2 Base Camp

photo:  Muhammad Ibrahim

The population of base camp is shrinking slightly.  Now that we are settled and everything is running smoothly, Muhammad Ibrahim, who coordinated our trek and base camp organization is leaving.  We're all going to miss his gregarious smile and spontaneous dancing.  To return home, Ibrahim will trek for three or four days, over the 18,323 foot (5,585 meter) Gondogoro Pass.  Some of my team mates have traveled over the pass before, and were amazed when Ibrahim said that he's do it in running shoes.  The tenacity of the men who support climbers in the Karakoram is astounding.  Ibrahim's eyes lit up and he became more animated when he talked about returning home and seeing his wife and five children for the first time in months.  It is so humbling to me to learn about the people who live and work in the Karakoram, and conversations like the one today with Ibrahim make me want to always be thankful for every moment in my life.  

Advanced Base Camp

July 3, 2018

Time to start climbing!  Kinda.  The route from base camp to advanced base camp is really just a slog across flat snow followed by a small ice fall and then a walk on a rocky ridge.  

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Today's plan was to walk to ABC, spend an hour or so, and then return to BC.  I expected it to be easy, since most of the route is flat but I am slowly learning that nothing is easy on K2.  Despite the mild terrain I felt excruciatingly slow.  And then I began to worry.  Because, I've spent 5 days lounging at base camp hopefully provoking my body to build more red blood cells but my lungs don't feel ready for casual walking with a light pack above 17,000 feet (5,182 meters).  Mental strength is an important component of a successful climb, and today I didn't feel like I had it.  Even a little bit.  Instead, I fabricated scenarios in my head that all ended in me not being acclimatized or strong enough to summit.  These mental games were a total waste of energy, and I know it, but I couldn't break through the negative thoughts.  And then I got mad about that.  Argh!

My attitude toward K2 is notably different than Everest.  On Everest I felt a quiet confidence that I would safely summit.  I don't know where it came from or if it was even real but I carried with me a sense of success.  Now, I find myself doubting whether I should even be here.  I need to eradicate that notion from my mind if I am going to be successful.  So I have two new agreements with myself.  

  1. I will take things one day at a time.  It's very easy to look at the massive peak in front of me and become overwhelmed with the challenges that I know it will present.  I'm not going to do that.  Instead I will just focus on what I need to accomplish each day.
  2. When I become discouraged I will ask myself if this is all that I am capable of.  Today the honest answer to that question was no, so I am going to snuggle into my sleeping bag now, sleep well, and be as prepared as I can possibly be for tomorrow's challenges.   

 

 

Base camp day 3 ... Puja

July 2, 2018

The weather is finally warm and clear and can now see the elusive K2.  It's still big.  And created a perfect backdrop for our Puja ceremony this morning.  We're very fortunate that one of the Sherpa on our team, Mingma is a Lama and could lead the ceremony.  Mingma always looks like his clothes are freshly laundered and pressed. I don’t know how he does it.  When the rest of are unkempt and stinky, his shirt is tucked in, he's wearing a belt, and his hair is perfectly styled. I really need to ask his secret. The Puja is a prayer ceremony for Buddhists and Hindus to present offerings to the mountain and ask for safe passage.  First, every climber places a piece of climbing gear on a stone shrine called a stupa. Carefully we choose our most important gear, like crampons and harnesses and stacked them beside our offerings. Today we offered the mountain soda, butter, cookies, whisky, candy bars, peanuts and cake.  After we're all sitting around the stupa in the sun, Mingma started to pray.  I can't understand anything that he is saying, of course but it is important to me to pay attention none the less, and to use this time to contemplate the task ahead of me.  K2 looks so big and daunting in the distance, it's hard for me to wrap my brain around what it will take for me to safely climb and descend.  I feel completely overwhelmed.  I'm sitting right behind Mingma and his prayers, which sound like peaceful chants to me, are soothing. 

Around me is our whole team - probably 40 people - plus members of other teams, increasing our Puja to about 60 people.  Although Pujas are ceremonies in the Buddhist and Hindu religions, I am happy that the Muslim members of our team have joined.  This feels important to me because we're attempting K2 as one team, regardless of religion or gender or beliefs and I am certain that it will take the support and efforts of everyone if we are to be successful.

After about an hour of praying, Mingma stops, looks across the stupa at Purba, and Purba instinctively reaches for the whisky. The festive part of  the Puja has begun :)  

 

We shared capfulls of whiskey, and danced Buddhist dances and sang Pakistani songs in the sunshine for a long time.  In this moment we seem more alike than different to me.  I imagine that we all have the same fears as we stare up toward the summit of the mighty K2.  And, I am confident that she doesn't care about our backgrounds or religious beliefs. I wish that I knew what would transpire in the coming weeks.  I wish that there was a guarantee that we would all come back safely.  Since there is no way to know, my hope is that the mountain grants us safe passage and that we all learn something important about ourselves.

 

Base camp day 2 ... what did I eat?

July 1, 2018

I was super proud of myself for making it to basecamp without getting sick.  And, then I was laying in my tent around 5pm last night, and started to feel a stomach ache, I debated for a few minutes whether it was just a passing thing or something more.  It was something more.  I drug myself to dinner, and positioned myself close to the door incase I had to make a quick exit.  I could only force down a few spoonfuls of soup before I darted back to my tent.  The rest of the night was very unpleasant and I still can't believe how bad I felt, and how quickly it came on.   I don't know what I ate, but my body violently wants it out of me.

 Photo:  Takayasu Senba

Photo:  Takayasu Senba

On the bright side, we are able to see the mountain for the first time today and as I expected it's daunting and omnipresent. And big.  Really big. 

At this point I can't even imagine climbing, but I need to just take things one day at a time, and do everything that I can to stay healthy and take care of myself.  That's my plan :)

Base camp day 1 ... still snowing

June 30, 2018

Still snowing!  Supposedly you can see K2 from here, but I don't believe it yet.  Occasionally the clouds clear and I can see a wall of rock opposite camp but that's all.  

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We've made some improvements to camp, and I'm excited to move to a better tent as soon as it dries.  To pass the time I'm continuing my pant drying project.   Things actually are drying in my tent, my watch says that it's 80 degrees in here.  I've created a process of hanging things based on their dryness and immediacy of use.  When things get relatively dry, I put them on to dry them the rest of the way, then slide everything on the line down, and add another item to hang.  

It's a very exciting project. 

Base camp!!!!!

June 29, 2018

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Whew!  I really felt the elevation today.  Base camp is at about 16,000 feet (4877 meters).  The route to get here wasn't very steep, just a gradual incline and very, very rocky, with several inches of compact snow on top of them, it was super slippery and tough to get good footing.  Eventually it felt a little like we were on the edge of an icefall, with giant chunks of ice towering over us that we had to maneuver through.  I was curious how close we were to base camp, and since it was still snowing I didn't have any visual reference so I started to pay attention to smells, and the presence of birds which usually hang out opportunistically at camp. Finally I started to see a lot of porters hiking in the opposite direction without loads, and I knew I was getting close. I thanked each of them and shook the hands of many.  Their skin so tough and calloused that it felt like they were wearing leather gloves.

Finally I could see the bright colors of tents and I knew that I was almost at camp :)  Things are still disorganized since it's been snowing for days and there's no sign of it stopping.  In addition to making it difficult to establish camp, the snow has soaked everything.  Most of my clothes are wet as are both sleeping bags, and there's a tiny river flowing from one corner of my tent to the other.  

I dedicated my afternoon to sorting through wet gear, and fixing my tent fly so that the ceiling wouldn't leak.  After the leak was resolved I created piles of clothes based on moisture content.  I usually pack all of my clothes in waterproof, plastic bags, but sometimes they get bulky, so this time I just stuffed my pants into any available space in my duffel.  While that made packing more efficient, the only dry pair of pants that I had was a pair of wool long underwear.  Everything else was wet and cold - some things so wet that I had to ring them out.  Eventually realized that body heat was the only tool I had for drying anything so I pulled on a pair of soggy pants down pants and got inside my semi-damp sleeping bag and shivered for a few hours until they were dry enough to wear.  And now I have dry down pants!!

 

Concordia

June 28, 2018

We woke up at Gore camp to a few inches of snow, Klara and I got up at 5:30 and packed, but then I noticed that the porters weren't as eager as usual to take our packed duffels, and I realized that they were probably not very excited about carrying loads in the snow. 

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It snowed occasionally yesterday and about a quarter of our porters are experiencing some degree of snow blindness.  Very few of them have sunglasses and those that do often don't wear them.  So we ate a leisurely breakfast and waited in the dining tent for the outcome of negotiations with the porter bosses.  We finally left around 9:30, after the porters agreed to trek a shorter distance to Concordia instead of Broad Peak base camp, and only after another team broke trail.  Seemed like a fair compromise, which reinforced that we are a team, completely reliant on one another.

Gore

June 27, 2018

Today was an easier day than yesterday, only four hours on the Baltoro Glacier.  It's not really like walking on a glacier though because the hard ice is covered with rocks of every size and shape.  Every size and shape.  It was a bit tricky walking on the rock covered ice at times, I don't know how the porters do it in tennis shoes and sandals.  Making trekking even more challenging this morning, it seemed like I was always flip-flopping with a group of mules.  They sped up, and I stepped off of the trail to let them pass then either I sped up or they slowed down and I try to navigate around them.   We repeated this process several times.

Mules are key to any team attempting K2 and it is staggering to stop and think about the amount of work and logistics that it takes to get 11 people to the summit of K2.  Ibrahim, who is a short, jovial man with a degree in computer science, oversees everything and was shared the specifics with me.  130 porters started the trip, only about 50 will go all the way to base camp as the others will turn back after their loads are consumed.  38 of the porters are only carrying flour for the porters to make chapati, which is delicious unleavened flatbread cooked over a fire. 

Our moving village also consists of: 

  • 23 drums of kerosene
  • 45 mules
  • 21 chicken - the number decreases after each dinner :(
  • 4 goats - :(
  • 100kg of potatoes
  • 1400 eggs to start, more will come later

Every morning, before 7, everything is torn down, packed up, carried for several hours, and then put back together.