Jake’s K2 Blog #4: “The phrase Insha’Allah – God Willing – seemed made for situations like this…”

June 16, 2016

K2 Climb 2016

Blog #4: “The phrase ‘Insha’Allah’ (God Willing) seemed made for situations like this”

14/06/2016: Day 4 – Islamabad to Skardu

Before I start on what happened today, I must complete the blog from yesterday. As I left off, we’d met the Deputy High Commissioner and a number of other senior heads of Department at the British High Commission. Having mentioned that we were dying to have a final beer before we went cold turkey ‘sans alcohol’ for 2 months, we had been invited to the club at the British residential compound for dinner.

Sam, the press officer for the Embassy, picked us up at 1900 and took us over to the compound, a massive multi-hectare site behind high concrete walls. It reminded me of our Main Operating Base in Lashkar Gar when I was serving in Afghanistan, only with slightly fewer sangars and a bit less barbed wire… but still similarly impregnable! Sam had invited a few of his friends, Drazen who worked for Thompson Reuters and Issam who worked for the AFP (Associated French Press) and his girlfriend Anna.

There was a wonderful familiarity about entering the compound. It was significantly less hot and beige than outside, familiar British road signs, familiar style vehicles, beautifully manicured lawns, a children’s’ playground, tennis courts and trees laden with succulent oranges. It was all very ‘civilised’!

The Team

The Team, with the prize behind

The ‘Brit Club’ could have been a NAAFI in any base in any country in the world: light, spacious, the football being projected on one wall (but thankfully the sound turned down low), and of course a well-stocked bar with full fridges teeming with familiar brands of beers, tonic water and soft drinks.

We were obviously a bit of a novelty (I guess that they don’t get that many British Tourists popping by) as a number of the ‘locals’ came over to join us – buying us drinks and eager to find out all about K2 and our upcoming adventure.

I had the most delicious and huge steak and chips (which came to a wallet busting £3.50), others had fish and chips, burgers, nachos, all washed down with plenty of cold bottled beer, whilst chatting to some really interesting (and interested) Brits – talk about the perfect send off from UK PLC! A huge thank you to Sam for organising it and hosting us, and to Patrick (the Deputy High Commissioner) and his colleagues for allowing us to invade your little slice of Britain!

So on with today’s update. Having hit the pillow with rather heavy eyelids (helped by both the business of the day, and a couple of beers), the alarm at 0330 seemed to go off all too soon. Today, we travel to Skardu, the frontier town in the north of Pakistan (Baltistan). There are two main ways of getting there: either a torturous, 2 day bus ride along the infamous Karakoram Highway (one of the most dangerous roads in the world), or a 60 minute flight through the picturesque mountains.

Having driven the KKH back in 2009, I was in no hurry to repeat that ordeal – to put it into context, a sore bum and travel sickness is nothing in comparison to the dangers of crazy driving on narrow mountain roads with unrestrained drops of 100s of metres on one side (and the regular evidence of vehicles that have gone over the side), as well as the constant threat of attack from bandits or Taliban and other insurgents as you drive through some of Pakistan’s most remote ‘badlands’. Coupled with the fact that both the Foreign office was ‘strongly discouraging’ any travel by road on the KKH, and all of our insurance policies had a clause saying that travel by the KKH would void the cover, it was more than just comfort that was drove our decision to fly!

 

Approaching the plane to Skardu with fingers firmly crossed!

Whilst there is a daily scheduled flight from Islamabad to Skardu, it is regularly cancelled if the weather is bad in the mountains, and also ‘having a ticket reservation’ means very little when the military will just bump you off the flight if they need the seats. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation (and plenty of crossed fingers) that we drove out to the domestic airport, knowing that nothing was certain until our flight actually took off.

In 2009 we all did exactly the same, travelling to the airport, only to be told that of the original 12 seats we had booked, only 2 were now available – so I am no stranger to this disappointment. The phrase ‘Insha’Allah’ (God Willing) seemed made for situations like this – it really did seem to be in the lap of the gods, as there was usually little rhyme of reason to it.

At each step of the way, things were looking positive: We made it to the airport in one piece; the flight was still due to depart at 0615; we checked in okay; they took our hold bags; we made it through security; Dunkin’ Donuts had hot and surprisingly good coffee; the flight before us (to Gilgit) left on time; our flight got called; we trundled out onto the tarmac; there was an actual plane waiting for us with our bags being loaded onto it; we got on board; doors we closed; stewardesses did safety briefings; we got pulled out onto the runway; propellers started turning; the captain confirmed that this was indeed the flight to Scardu; and with only a couple of very ominous clunks, which definitely didn’t sound healthy or natural, we took off!

I was all ready to tip my seat back and close my eyes, but within 5 minutes snow was appearing on the mountains that we flew over. We then spent the majority of the next hour with our nosed pressed to the window gawping at the incredible expanse of the Karakorum mountain range that seemed to stretch in all directions. We flew at about 17,000ft, which means that we were about 10,000ft lower than the incredible Nanga Parbat (8,125m) which we passed almost within spitting distance, the incredible Daimar Face heavily laden with fluted pristine snow – such a contrast to the dust and smog that we’d experienced in ISB.

A man pulls a cart laden with goods in Skardu

A man pulls a cart laden with goods in Skardu

Landing in Skardu we might as well have landed in another country – it was noticeably cooler (almost pleasant!), the hills around us rose dramatically to jagged peaks, and the smell of aviation fuel was almost covered up by the sweetness of the honeysuckle.

We’re staying in the Mashabrum Hotel – a large and pleasant guest house on the Western edge of Skardu. Here we met Mahboob, our local agent (Rashid stayed in ISB), Gulam our guide to Basecamp, and Zulfi our cook. There were a few other groups staying in the hotel too – an American guided team (but with European clients) for Broad Peak, a pair of Canadians who’d be on K2, and another larger German/Swiss trekking Group.

Skardu has the hustle and bustle that you’d expect of a frontier market town. Essentially a single main street, with a few side streets, all teaming with shops selling everything and nothing. Brightly coloured and decorated lorries battled with Toyota Land Cruisers and minibuses, goats and cows wandered seemingly ownerless in the street and ancient men hauled handcarts laden with every product, from watermelons to bags of rice or cement.

Most of the shopkeepers (especially the older ones) had a shotgun proudly displayed on the wall, or a (probably) original 1947 edition AK47 hanging off the back of their chair. Police and Army pickup trucks were a constant sight, and the Army base had two 1940’s era 37mm wheeled anti-tank guns on the front gate. In the UK or US, these relics would be considered sentinels or gate guards (decommissioned weapons connected to the history of the occupying regiment or unit) – here, you couldn’t help but think that they would quite happily be used if required.

The team assess the generator situation

The team assess the generator situation

Peter, Paul and JB went off hunting for more chocolate and dried fruit and nuts to supplement our hill food, whilst Di, the Sherpas and I went to the expedition outfitter (Hushe Tours) office to check the new petrol generator that they’d got us. In basecamp, the plan was to use a small portable generator to provide light at night, and a charging facility for electronics during the day. We also had solar panels as a back-up, but as long as we had fuel, the genny would provide the main source of power (especially at night).

In the end, although the (brand new) genny worked, the Sherpas weren’t convinced it was powerful enough for what we needed (it’s output would inevitably decrease at 5000m), so we sent Mahboob to go and buy a bigger one. At 26kg it was just over the supposed limit for a porter (25kg), but considering we know that many of the porters are happy to take a double load (up to 50kg!) Mahboob wasn’t worried about it.

This afternoon has been very relaxed, mainly catching up on sleep (whilst hot in the sun, it’s a perfect warm temperature in the shade). Our freight isn’t due to arrive till tomorrow lunchtime, at which time we’ll have a busy time of sorting it all out, dividing it into 25kg porter loads and deciding what we want to leave in Skardu (jeans, travel clothes, extra gear etc).

We’re due to depart for Askole on Thursday, and start the trek into basecamp on Friday morning – so fingers crossed that the freight survives the rigors of the KKH and arrives safe and sound tomorrow. Somehow I think that all those chocolate bars we bought in ISB may be a little bit soft by the time they reach us!

Lessons for the Day

  • Always check that you have all vital resources you need to complete a task before you commit, as improvisation on the job tends to be messy and substandard. Especially when this resource is toilet paper and you really need a number 2. Need I say more…?
  • Get friendly with the ‘competition’ as soon as possible – not only is it nice to have other friends in Basecamp, it’s vital that you’ve got friends on the hill in case anything goes wrong. You never know who you might need to make strategic alliances with and inevitably, there is no such thing as competition when you actually go for the summit – everyone is in it together.

Jake Meyer 2016 K2 Expedition fundraising in support of Walking With The Wounded

www.k22016.com @k2climb2016 @jakeclimber Youtube: K2climb2016

Sponsored by:

The Inspirational Development Group, Patron Capital Partners, The Thomson Fraser Group, The Bremont Watch Company, Arqiva, Cotswold Barristers

Supported by:

Snow and Rock, Mountain Hardwear, Wessex RFCA, The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Yeomanry Association

Please note, that Jake’s comments are his alone (as are his spelling and grammar mistakes and poor jokes), and do not represent the views of any of the Sponsors, Expedition affiliates or Expedition Team Members. All praise/complaints to Jake on his safe return.

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