The Pangaea Expedition team treks from Payu onto the Baltoro Glacier and beyond—to basecamp at Concordia, where they are rewarded with amazing views of the mighty K2.
June 7, 2010
Rest Day at Payu
Today is a rest day, so we begin with a late breakfast at 8 a.m. After breakfast, the Mayo clinic team conducts some tests with the young explorers and the team. The main goal of these tests is to check the oxygen saturation in the blood as well as the heart rate of subjects while exercising at the current altitude—3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level. The physical exercise is a 9-minute stepping routine. As expected, all of us have decreased oxygen saturation levels due to the high altitude.
We all complete the testing and there does not appear to be much disparity in the results. While some of us are undergoing the physical testing, others make the most of the sunny weather, cleaning some clothes and enjoying fresh showers. Just before lunch, we are invited to join a ritual that involves the sacrifice of two goats and a yak to "Allah". The meat is then divided among the many porters present, while some is used to make mutton curry for our dinner.
After lunch, our mountain guides teach us about how to listen to our body at high altitude. Then we learn how to use a "caisson hyperbar," or hyperbaric bag. The purpose of the bag is to create an environment of increased pressure within in order to mimic a lower altitude for any individual suffering from severe altitude sickness.
We finish the day quietly, packing and preparing our bags in preparation for a long and strenuous trek to Urdukas tomorrow. Following a 9-hour hike, we will reach the Baltoro Glacier, a 62-kilometer (39-mile) long expanse of ice that is one of the longest outside of the polar regions.
June 8, 2010
Payu to Urdukas
Today is going to be a quite long and difficult day. In order to try and gain time, the plan is to hike from Payu at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) directly to Urdukas at 4,150 meters (13,600 feet) without stopping at Kubutze, as is normally the case. This means that a 9-hour hike awaits us.
We awaken at 5:30 a.m. and prepare to leave by 6:30. The beginning of the hike is quite pleasant and we are slowly making our way in the direction of the glacier. After an hour, we reach the tongue of the glacier and begin to climb onto it. Surprisingly, we can't really see the ice. The Baltoro Glacier is mainly covered by stones and large boulders. From time to time, one observes a small cliff of ice or a temporary glacial lake. But most of the time we hike among rocks and stones.
Once we are on the glacier, the difficult part begins. The ice forms a lot of small hills, and the only way to get beyond the glacier is by walking up and down over these hills. The fact that we are between 3,600 and 4,000 meters (11,800 and 13,100 feet) above sea level doesn't make the hike any easier.
Because we can't see the ice most of the time, it is hard to envision that a constantly changing mass lies under our feet. Some passages are quite strategic and it is important not to linger too long on any part of the glacier as the ice underfoot can melt at any time, rendering the path unstable.
During the day, our young explorers cluster into a few distinct groups based on their hiking speed. At the end of the morning, we can see for the first time the Trango Tower—an impressive mountain, very well known in the alpinist world.
We stop for a very quick lunch of soup and some pasta after six hours of hiking in Kubutze. Following the meal, we move ahead quickly to Urdukas for another 3- to 4-hour hike. It is the hardest part of the day, as the Urdukas camp is located above the glacier, requiring a steep uphill climb at the tail end of the hike in order to reach the camp. It is a difficult challenge for all of us.
A good cup of tea is waiting for us in the mess tent when we arrive. At 7:30 p.m. we have dinner and a short briefing to prepare for tomorrow. Our next destination will be Gora II were we will make our first hike through snow.
June 9, 2010
Urdokas to Gora II
The morning begins early with orders coming directly from our French leader Hugo. Even though it is 5 a.m., Hugo keeps everyone in line without breaking a sweat.
After the kitchen staff fills us up with a high calorie breakfast, we bounce off to start our long trek from Urdokas to Gora II. In the first two hours, the team struggles with the unstable debris of the glacier. But as we continue through the day, the landscape begins to look more like a glacier.
The highlight of the trek is seeing and hearing massive ice chunks being carved out by small amounts of glacial melt. The patterns made by the water flow creat great colors of blue and turquoise which stand against the dark debris and powder white snow. Once the glacier melt has dug its way through the rock hard ice of the glacier it creates a point called a Moulin which carries the water to the base of the million year old glacier where it gathers and forms the main stream. This stream lubricates the ground and makes the glacier move forward.
At Gora II we have freezing conditions and everyone just wants to stay in their warm sleeping bags. However, we are drawn out by the fascinating stories of Mike's incredible expeditions. Later, a discussion arises about the goal of the expedition. Everyone in the team offers their motivation for being here. By the end of the discussion we realize that we've become too focused on summiting, and less focused on the Pangaea mission of research and environmental preservation. We all head to bed with a revitalized sense of purpose and motivation for the expedition. We're still focused on the summit, but there will be far more of a balance in protecting and preserving the Pangaea message from here on out.
June 10, 2010
Gora II to Concordia (posted by Mike Horn)
Last night we had an interesting discussion in the mess tent about our purpose during this expedition in Pakistan. I had to put all the cards on the table about the main objective of the Pangaea project with the three main pillars: explore, learn, act. After pushing ourselves so hard to reach Concordia, the young explorers had to be reminded that there was work to be done and not only hiking and climbing.
Leaving Gora II at 7 a.m. in perfect weather, we soon notice the altitude of about 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) by the amount of snow that fell last winter. We are able to hike on a hard crust until about 9 a.m. Soon after that, the sun comes out in force and transforms the snow to slush and we all start breaking through the crust knee- to hip-deep and it slows us down considerably. It's like walking on eggs waiting for them to break.
The terrain is otherwise smooth and we slowly gain altitude to 4,600 meters (15,100 feet) at Concordia. Speaking to the guides and porters that have been coming up here for over 30 years, they all say that they have never seen so much snow at Concordia this time of year.
All is going well with the team and we have adapted to the altitude. Alexis had some problems adapting to the altitude, but after some rest he appears to be doing much better. This is what the research we are doing with the Mayo clinic seeks to learn—what leads to altitude sickness?
Tomorrow will be a well-deserved rest day before we head up to Ali Camp, which will be our base camp for the climb of the unnamed peak.