On the first leg of the trip, Mike Horn and his expedition team travel from Islamabad to Skardu, then navigate Pakistan's treacherous, narrow mountain roads to Askole. From Askole onward, the remainder of the journey will be traveled by foot.
June 1, 2010
Arrival in Islamabad, Pakistan
Everyone arrived safely in Islamabad. Mike and the team check the equipment and food sent via cargo. A thorough control of all equipment is essential to expedition success.
The evening brings a press conference held with Nazir Sabir Expeditions. Local press attend and meet our international group of young explorers, who explain the environmental mission of the Pangaea Expedition and their motivations for exploring this beautiful region.
Early tomorrow, the expedition will begin with a short flight to Skardu, which promises to be a spectacular one for the team as they will get their first glimpses of the 8,000-meter (26,000-foot) peaks, namely the Nanga Parbat at 8,125 meters (26,660 feet).
June 2, 2010
Depart for Skardu
After a small breakfast, we depart for the airport at 8:00 a.m. Mike assigns bags of equipment to each team member in order to ensure that everything is properly checked in. Our checked baggage weighs out to 788 kilograms (1,737 pounds). Our flight is scheduled to leave at 10:00 a.m., but as soon as we have finished check-in a 2-and-a-half-hour delay is announced, then another 2-hour delay is tacked on soon after. Erica has brought a map of the Karakoram region, so Mike uses the time to show the Young Explorers our planned route and discuss the challenges that lie ahead.
We board at 2 p.m. Nearing Skardu, we get our first glimpses of the 8,000-meter (26,000-foot) peaks piercing the clouds. Two buses await us at the airport. We load all the equipment on the roof of the buses, then head to a quiet guesthouse. Majestic views of the Indus River and the Himalayas abound. After a good dinner, we return to our rooms to prepare and weigh everything for the porters that will help us tomorrow. Each porter will carry a maximum of 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of equipment, so every bag must be carefully packed and weighed.
Thanks to cooler temperatures in Skardu, we all look forward to a comfortable sleep.
June 3, 2010
Skardu: Final Preparations
After our first night in low altitude—Skardu is located 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) above sea level—we all meet for breakfast at 8 a.m. The morning begins with a new packing strategy.
Skardu is the last village in the valley with an airstrip and our last destination with a hotel. Tomorrow, we will travel by jeep to Askole, the next village where we will start our trek with the porters. Today we confirmed the number of porters we will have with us from Askole, and each will carry a maximum of 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of equipment.
After sorting all of the personal equipment, technical equipment, solar panels, generators, and medical equipment, we end up with 31 loads of 25 kilograms each for the 19 members of our expedition. This means that from Askole, we will need 31 porters dedicated solely to gear, in addition to logistical support for food, base camp tents, etc.
As Mike and the team finish packing, the young explorers meet and play with some local children, who are very welcoming and happy to make new friends. By mid-afternoon all of the luggage is ready and we take the opportunity to go for a tour of Skardu's bazaars and shops. At 8 p.m. we return to a barbecue in the garden of the hotel. It's a delicious meal, and afterwards the owner of the guesthouse has prepared a small surprise to end the evening--a performance by local musicians from Baltistan. Our last evening in civilization ends with lots of dancing and laughing.
June 4, 2010
Skardu to Askole
Departure is scheduled for 8 a.m. After breakfast, everybody is busy loading the 5 jeeps that will drive us to Askole. At 8:00 a.m. we are in the jeeps and ready to depart on the 115-kilometer (71-mile) journey to Askole.
After an easy first 15 kilometers (9 miles), we quickly reach the typically rough and treacherous mountain roads of Pakistan. Four hours in, we stop for lunch aside the Shrigar River, then back to our jeeps to drive through an even wilder region. The terrain becomes very rugged, with scattered oases of vegetation around which are clustered small houses. As the roads become narrower, the cliffs become bigger and steeper. We can definitely appreciate the skill of our experienced drivers on these narrow roads, particularly when we encounter and navigate through a small landslide, common during these months.
Soon after the landslide, our convoy halts at a bridge that has been destroyed by a large rockfall, and the only way to continue is to offload all equipment from our jeeps and cross by foot. Fortunately, due to the great planning of our guides, there is a new convoy of jeeps waiting for us on the other side. After another hour-and-a-half of driving, we reach Askole at 3,144 meters (10,314 feet) above sea level.
The temperature has dropped since we left Skardu, and a gentle rain welcomes us to Askole. Our camp is already set up and we assign tents, with two people per tent--Tiziana with Erica, Hugo with Jye, Daniel with Basil, and Kai with Alexander.
Before dinner, we visit the local museum to learn about the Shrigar Valley, the architecture of the houses, and the way of life of the local people. It's interesting to learn how people face the difficult conditions of this valley. At 7:30 p.m. we all have a good dinner in the mess tent, then finish the day with a briefing about general organization and preparations for tomorrow.
June 5, 2010
Askole to Johla
At 6 a.m. everyone awakens and begins to prepare their backpacks and roll up their tents. At 7 a.m. we are all in the mess tent for breakfast. Next to our camp site, 300 people are waiting, hoping to be chosen as porters for our expedition. Beck, the expedition organizer from Nazir Sabir's organization, is managing the process. Those chosen to be porters pack their loads. Most wear light trousers, long shirts, and a long kind of down jacket. All have light shoes, and some don't even wear socks.
While everyone is busy distributing the equipment, one man brings his sick child to us. Our expedition doctor examines the child and gives the man some medicine for his illness. At 8:00 a.m. we begin the 6-hour hike to Johla, the first camp on the way to the Baltoro Glacier and a good initial hike, as it entails only a slight gain in elevation of 100 meters (300 feet).
The start of the trek is quite easy and the weather is excellent—lots of sunshine without high temperatures. As we leave, the first porters join us on the path. With 25-kilogram (55-pound) loads of our equipment plus their own equipment on their backs, they are still outpacing us. These people are incredibly strong and fit.
After two hours of trekking, the path becomes a bit steeper. Nothing too difficult, but just enough to give us our first taste of effort. We then walk along a cliff alongside the river that we have not left since Skardu. We stop for a short lunch and find a small stream where we fill up our water bottles. Since this water is coming from the upper glaciers, it is very clean, cold, and refreshing.
After another few hours of walking, we can finally see the camp site sitting on the other side of the big river flowing down to Askole. The river this year is quite low and some of us try to cross it by foot, but quickly discover that it's deeper than expected, so we retreat to the bank and walk the remaining two kilometers (one mile) to the bridge.
Once we reach the camp, we set up our Iland Solar Generators and try to take the most of the remaining sunlight to charge our batteries. At 7 p.m., we all meet in the mess tent for dinner, then discuss preparations for tomorrow, when we will first encounter the K2 and Broad Peak.