Friday, June 15, 2012

FTA Broad Peak 2012 - In Askole!

Askole at Last!
Our entire team of some 15 are assembled in one of the last inhabited place en route to K2 and Broad Peak. They pulled into Askole after a 6 hour bone-jarring, roller-coaster hours in 4x4 jeeps passing through the last of the small towns and villages they will see for 7 weeks or more.

Askole © stu remensnyder

Surrounded by tons of climbing gear, personal gear, food, fuel, solar panels, portable power sources, oxygen bottles gear and more they are having their final sleep before heading towards their 8000m objectives.

Porters in Askole awaiting loads © stu remensnyder
Accompanied by an entourage of 100+ porters, our  8 western climbers, 4 Pakistani HAPs, cook staff and BC manager will spend the next week working their way along the roaring silty waters of the Braldu River, onto the Baltoro glacier, to Concordia and finally onto the Godwin-Austen Glacier.

A wonderful and honest sign before you cross the river © stu remensnyder

the crossing of the Biafo Bridge © stu remensnyder
the Biafo Bridge...don't look down! © stu remensnyder
During this part of the journey they will pass by a treasure trove of mountaineering history including Paiju Peak, Masherbrum, the Nameless Tower, The Muztag Tower, Chogalisa, Mitre Peak, Gasherbrum IV, Angel Peak. Turning left at Concordia they will see K2 and Broad Peak soar above them and gain for the first time a true sense of the scale of the endeavor.

Chogalisa from Concordia © stu remensnyder
Tomorrow they will begin the 6-8 hour hike to Jhula and will get a very early start to avoid the heat of the day. The first few days can easily see temperatures in excess of 35°C so its nice to get as much done as possible in the cool morning light.

Hopefully Brad will be able to send us notes each day and here is his latest from tonight!

Brad's update 15th June, Askole

Today was our much-feared jeep drive to Askole. We started the journey half seriously asking the cost of a Russian helicopter. Bracing the worst, we were collectively surprised at the relatively short 6-hour journey.

Yes, the precipices were deadly and there were the expected harrowing views down to the raging river below but, due to our terrified expectations, the journey seemed relatively mild in comparison. In retrospect, the journey was comparatively mild due to the collective skills of our two drivers. Negotiating extreme conditions with consummate skill, they pulled off some extraordinary driving with effortless panache. Our jeep is labeled "Act of Cod" and ode to an ocean going fish? We are not sure.

Jeeps crossing the Braldu on the way to Askole © stu remensnyder
Due to ongoing issues with Arni's Icelandic passport, we departed at 11 AM and reached a small village at approximately 2:30 PM. There we stopped for a delightful one hour lunch with rice and chicken curry before carrying on with the extremely bumpy second half of the journey to Askole. This is a beautiful village surrounded by snow-capped mountains and an amazing rock face which one could spend weeks climbing different routes.

Hamza, Matt, Al, Robbo, Louis, Sultan and Ben in Askole
© Brad Jackson
We are now in the VE-25 tents and the expedition has started in earnest. We have met our kitchen and support staff and we are waking up tomorrow at 4:30 AM. Hopefully Arni will arrive here at 10 PM this evening.

[update from the office - Arni is on the road with permit in hand and expected in Askole by 11pm!]

Thoughts on The Visa & Permit Challenge

That our group is enjoying their first night under the stars has occurred not by chance.  Climbing expeditions in Pakistan are not possible to arrange beginning just a few weeks before leaving as is possible in many places like Nepal, Ecuador, Argentina and so forth. Pakistan, more like India and Tibet, requires a great local ground team, lot of documents, an early start and finally patience.

We began the process of supporting our members efforts to acquire visas more the
an 6 months ago and have been emailing, faxing and calling embassies from Australia and Singapore to Canada, the UK and Oman. Over the years we have come to know the idiosyncrasies of the different consulates and embassies and have gained considerable skill in being able to provide each one just what it needs.

Nonetheless the members themselves have been very determined and some have had to make multiple visits to nudge along the process. Oddly enough for some members it required little more than the application with a nice note from our local staff. In other cases members had to provide letters from employers and banking documents and we have had to provide full permit documentation, a police security clearance - which is often not available until just a few weeks from the trip start. Kudos to Hamza and Matt for having the most faith that it would all work out as they only received their final visas at the end of May...phew!

In an bizarre twist, given that Icelanders do not need an entry visa,  Arni had some challenges after arriving to be allowed to enter the trekking area as it is a restricted military zone. Thanks to some "energetic" conversations (over several days) our local staff had both in Skardu and in Islamabad, Arni's situation was resolved with only a minor delay of a few hours.

We are sorry that the visa and permit process is so challenging as it makes it less possible for companies unable to commit the necessary support for visas to bring more climbers and trekkers to support the local economy. We have many friends in Baltistan whose lives are impacted dramatically by the good work our teams provide. At least a few teams were unable to run the bureaucratic gauntlet this season and have cancelled planned trips which is a loss for everyone involved.  Some day the process will not be so complicated but in the meantime we look forward to taking on the consulates and embassies for many years to come!

We'll be back at it for our team to Spantik this August (spaces still!) and again next summer when we hope to return to Broad Peak, G2, K2, K2 Base Camp, Spantik, Snow Lake and Nanga Parbat. Join us!


JackieK said...

Safe journey & happy adventures Ben, Brad & team on Broad Peak 2012 all your friends & followers in Oz, UK, Canada & Chile/Peru.

Unknown said...

Arni's family :We wish you good luck on your jorney , It is great , that we can read about you on this blog , nice job :) We are lookin forward to read some more, best regards to everyone expecially Árna ;D

Best regards :
Inger María
Vilma Ýr
and Ísar Mar