Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

No one likes doing things that remind them that they are getting older. So it was with mixed feelings that I returned to Masherbrum Base Camp in the Pakistan Karakoram where I spent six weeks in the summer of 1991 leading an expedition to the world's 24th highest peak. The 4130m Base Camp is still a tranquil spot with a large flat area of grass surrounded by spectacular peaks of rock and ice. Very few people visit this site and there is no litter or other signs of human passage. I sat for a few minutes looking up at the 7821m summit and tried to identify the feature around 300m below the summit where my attempt to climb the peak had come to an unsuccessful end. On that day in August 1991 I could never have dreamt that I would be back in the same valley 28 years later. Or that the Masherbrum project would be the first of over 30 expeditions that I would lead to peaks higher than 7000m.

I am sitting writing this in the pleasant garden of Skardu's K2 Motel. At the edge of the grounds the Indus River flows slowly by at the beginning of it's long journey down the entire length of Pakistan to join the Arabian Sea at the port city of Karachi. In the corridors of the hotel fading notice boards contain postcards and pictures recording the many expeditions that have passed through, including a Japanese one from 1989 that reads ' 2 died - Success!' With a tinge of nostalgia I look through my own contributions to the boards running continuously from 1987 to 2009 including Jagged Globe expeditions to Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak, Spantik and Cathedral Peak, plus private trips to Gasherbrum I, Chogolisa and Tirich Mir.

One of the best things about revisiting the Karakoram has been meeting with many of the local staff who worked with me on treks and expeditions for more than two decades. Some look older than when we last met in 2009, some look unchanged. I am sure that I look older, but they are all too polite to tell me. My main local 'fixer' MA Changazi arranges tickets for the Independence Day celebrations in Skardu. I am given front row seats next to all the local dignitaries and, as the only foreigner present, feature prominently in local TV news reports of the events. Guide Ghulam Nabi from Skardu has retired from guiding and is now helping his brother run a small shop in Skardu Bazaar, but he remains keen to help me purchase provisions for future expeditions. Guide M Sharif has kept his Jagged Globe jacket in pristine condition and wears it proudly as we set off into the mountains. He is from a military family with most of his relatives serving in the police or the army. He tells me that it is important that he looks smart and maintains our company reputation should we meet with guides from other operators. Similarly, although there are only two of us trekking my cooks insist on taking 10 cups. Should we meet guides from other companies I must be able to invite them into my kitchen for tea and it would bring shame on my cooks if we did not have sufficient cups. In the village of Hushe I meet dozens of men who have worked with me on expeditions including some who were with me on my first visit in 1987. Haji Hussain, my original cook, no longer works with expeditions but his eldest son, who I remember as an infant, is now headmaster of the village school.

I am not in Pakistan only to remember past expeditions. I am here to assess the state of the security situation in the mountain areas and see how the tourism industry is functioning following the recent election of Imran Khan as Prime Minister. The number of tourists visiting the mountain areas of Pakistan has been growing steadily over the past decade and is now at an all time high. There are many new hotels in both Gilgit and Skardu, the main gateway towns, and flight connections to the rest of the country are now more reliable. Much of the Karakoram range within Pakistan has been designated a National Park (CKNP) and, with assistance from the government of Italy, a management plan has been put in place. Responsibility for issuing climbing and trekking permits has been moved from Islamabad to offices in Gilgit and Skardu. Long time visitors to Pakistan will notice that the whole system of permits and police checkposts has become a a bit more bureaucratic and cumbersome, but Pakistani officials reply that the new requirements and procedures are to improve the security of foreigners. So perhaps we should not complain. Anyway, with a competent local agent and guide to sort out the paperwork most visitors should neither notice any change nor be inconvenienced. The Pakistan government has announced plans to issue tourist visas on arrival at Islamabad airport for members of tour groups organised by recognised tour operators. While this facility is not yet operational I am hopeful that this could be implemented by next summer.

My other task here is to make practical arrangements for Jagged Globe to resume treks and expeditions in the Karakoram in the summer of 2019. I have spent 4 days getting incredibly dirty while cleaning out my equipment store and completing an inventory of all the climbing and camping stuff there. The generator that I acquired from Alan Hinkes many years ago seems to be working well. With new inner tubes my mountain bike is working, although there is now so much traffic on the Skardu roads I doubt that it is safe to ride between my hotel and store like it used to be. The tent inventory reads: 11 x Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1, 5 x North Face VE25, 5 Terra Nova Hyperspace, 11 x Terra Nova Quasar, 1 Terra Nova Cosmos, 4 Chinese Ozark and 10 Pakistani trek tents. There are also various kitchen, dining and toilet tents. So that should be sufficient to run either one large expedition or two medium sized ones at the same time.

When I return to the UK in late September I will prepare detailed itineraries for two 2019 Pakistan projects. I am looking forward to welcoming back some of the hundreds of people who have trekked and climbed with me in Pakistan in the past, as well as introducing many more people to the spectacular and wild mountains at the Western end of the Himalayan Range.

 

David Hamilton, Skardu, Pakistan. 24th August 2018

David Hamilton
High Adventure
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Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

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