the mountain had been on my mind for almost all my life, particularly ever
since I did a course in Rock Repelling and trekked some softer mountains
up in the North. But I have never climbed K 2 or Nanga Parbat -- icons of
Pakistani climbing, as identifiable and as famous as the Mount Everest. I
have been pretty close to them, at the distance that seemed nearly close
enough to touch their summits. As a coordinator, I had lived some of my
life in the base camps of these majestic mountains and some others in
Northern Pakistan; with mountaineers, explorers and adventurers from all
over the world. People living in the Northern Areas are some of the best
guides and porters in the world. Though the travel to Pakistan has
declined particularly after September 11 events, but adventure travel has
boomed in last few years. As a result the number of local coordinators,
guides and porters has also increased proportionately. Reasons: Guided
climbers have a better shot at reaching the summit. And most important,
guided climbs dramatically reduce the odds of losing digits or dying.
Which is why mountaineers rely on local guides and porters?
Experienced guides and even porters from Pakistan are believed to be the
best. They know where the crevasses and icefalls are, how to acclimate,
how much food and fuel to haul up the hill, when to push on, when to rest.
Sitting in the base
camps, I have seen determined, committed and sponsored climbers arrive at
base camps; some less savvy teams taking a look around and going back.
Some staying and waiting for the weather breaks that do not come; some
even taking a start only to abort and some conquering the mighty
mountains. Staying in base camps is important for climbers to give their
bodies more time to acclimate to the elevations.
Life at all base camps is almost the same. Mess tents are the best places
in the base camps where every one huddles like a living rooms. It usually
is a hole climbers dig in the snow or rocks and cover it with tarp or it
is a natural cubby hole behind and in between rocks. "You eat and drink
(hot tea, coffee) your way to the top," is a way of life with climbers.
Climbers get up early in the morning because moving early in the morning
is essential for crossing snow bridges that melt in the midday sun.
While in a camp in the foot of K 2, during the night, cold sometime turns
the interior of the tents into a freezer in need of defrosting. Once I sat
up, I brushed against the side of the tent and snow fell down the back of
my jacket. During day it is quiet and beautiful but lonely because most
inhabitants go out.
My longest and unique experience in the base camp has been with an
expedition to Nanga Parbat. Most major expedition going for Nanga Parbat
stay at the Letabo Base Camp, also known as Herligcoffer base camp (named
after a German climber and expedition organizer under the shadow of the
great mountain). A Koreans expedition was already camped alongside the
fresh water stream in Letabo when we arrived there. They greeted us
warmly. We stayed the night at Letabo, decided to set a camp further
ahead, and early morning set off for final leg of trek to our base camp.
This site was suggested by one of the team member who had come here a few
years ago to climb with another expedition. We climbed up through the
narrow gorge, which opens into a relatively flat bowl shaped feature that
is approximately 1000 meters higher then the Letabo Base Camp and much
cooler and windy due to narrow tunnel effect of the valley.
This was the place where I was to spend rest of the period while the
others were to attempt climbing
Nanga Parbat. Gull Khan, a middle aged and very
lively man from Hunza with local anecdote for every occasion, was the
cook. He had told me to suck on lemon while walking long and hard on
hills. "It quenches thrust and gives energy," he had said. I am reminded
of the folk axiom every time I walk on mountains. He quickly established
the kitchen behind a big boulder. Climbers began their work:
reconnaissance, studying weather and establishing advance camps. In the
base, I spent most of my time exploring nearby features and contemplating
matters of life.
One early morning,
when the climbers were going out for reconnaissance, I also got up to see
the famous sunrise in the Valley. I donned my high altitude outfit,
carried necessary gears and sat on a nearby spur looking towards the
resplendent peak. At this time the morning sky is like a jet-black canopy,
pierced randomly by the light of a myriad of stars. In the crisp morning
air and backed by a tone of purest yellow, where you least expect it, the
rosy rays of dawn start colouring the sky. Ahead to the east, nothing
seems to be happening. A deep silence shrouds the Valley. Then suddenly it
is there, the highest slant of the sun breaching the horizon like a
diamond, its light coming from across the sea of cloud like a shining
sword blade. Within seconds, the full orb is in view, splendid and serene,
like a king arriving in dignity to repossess once again his control from
the rule of night. One sees mountains constantly changing colours with the
rising sun. Orange, green, rust, turquoise and blue are only some of the
shades one witnesses while the sun is committed to its journey westwards
and the morning ripens ever so slowly over the sleeping landscape. The
area as a whole is a hymn to the morning. From when the stars begin to
fade long before sunrise to the strong glow of
, the valley is at its best.
Freshness and newness are morning's hallmarks, and at a high altitude,
unpolluted atmosphere such as found in the valley is felt in all its
original purity in a way that cannot easily be matched at lower
elevations. Witnessing transformation of the valley into splendid natural
artefact is a unique experience, still etched in my mind.
The last thing that happens to the non climber people in the base camps is
this: They feel part of the expedition. They are happy on the success and
sad if the team does not make it for any reasons. Also there is lot
cultural fusion takes place in these camps – new friends are made. My
stays in the base camps have been some of the most awe inspiring things in