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Topic: Throne room of the mountain gods (July 2013), Karakorams< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 01 2013, 9:05 am  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

July, 2013: Throne room of the mountain gods
Concordia, Central Karakorams, Pakistan


K2 and Broad Peak from Concordia

Part I: Beginnings

Some dreams are so precious that you nurture them in secret. You dare not think about them directly, before the time is right, lest they evaporate, causing you massive disappointment. So, I kept my childhood dream of gazing upon K2 - the world's second highest peak - from Concordia locked up securely.

This past winter, while planning my big trip for the coming summer, I decided that it was finally time to realize my childhood dream and began to do my homework. In February, after my first set of plans fell through, I signed up with a Pakistani adventure tourism company called Vertical Explorers, who had a stellar reputation. The added advantage was that they were a based in Skardu, which is the portal town to the Karakoram peaks; I figured that this gave them a much better handle on local customs, compared to other companies.

All spring and early summer was spent building up my fitness and toughening my feet on long grueling training hikes. Two weeks before my departure for Pakistan, and just when I was feeling good about the trip, the unthinkable happened: eleven climbers and support staff were senselessly murdered at one of Nanga Parbat's basecamps. After a lot of soul searching and discussions with my wife, as well as with Vertical Explorers, I decided to go ahead with the trip. One major factor was that the Concordia trek is in the Karakorams, a much safer location than the Himalayan Nanga Parbat (even though the spots are somewhat close). This safety is mainly due to heavy presence of the Pakistan Army, with Army helicopters regularly flying the Baltoro Glacier corridor, which is what I was going to use to access Concordia. The only trouble spot would be on the drive from Islamabad to Skardu, when I'd have to pass through Nanga Parbat's foothills.

July 6-11: Arrival and Taliban counter-measures

A long set of flights from Pittsburgh to Islamabad deposited my jet-lagged carcass in Pakistan on a stormy monsoon morning. Thankfully, the Karakorams are in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, so somewhat sheltered from the brunt of the monsoons. Since I was supposed to leave on my trip on the 10th, I had a couple of days to recuperate. These were spent meeting family and old friends.

Early morning on the 10th, I met with the rest of my trekking group: 7 Chinese and 1 German. We all packed ourselves into a minibus and were on the road by 5:20am. Our destination was the northern town of Chilas, which also happened to be smack dab in the middle of the most dangerous section of the drive!

The drive, initially on good roads, took us through vibrant green countryside. As we passed through the infamous town of Abbotabad (Bin Laden's final hideout) there were a few grins around the bus. The hills surrounding us were wreathed in mist, all quite beautiful and serene. (Not a helicopter gunship to be seen!) Terraced fields kept us company as we proceeded northwards, steadily making our way towards the famous KKH (Karakoram Highway), carved out of the crumbly mountainside at great cost of human life, both Pakistani and Chinese.

Just shy of the KKH I got my first surprise of the trip. From this point on, until we were past the danger zone, we would get a police escort, either as a separate vehicle or an armed policeman who would join us in our crowded minibus. Periodically, the personnel would be replaced as we passed from one jurisdiction to the next. I had mixed feelings about this: on the one hand I felt safer, while on the other I felt even more apprehensive, since it made the danger from Taliban that much more real. This was no game.

We stayed the night in Besham, well short of our target destination of Chilas, due to delays caused by having to frequently change our guards. By now we were all tired, because the road surface had deteriorated alarmingly and our vehicle was none too comfortable. The next day would be even harder.

By now the KKH was awful. Large tracts of it were in a constant state of repair, due to frequent landslides. As we soldiered on the gentle scenery of the day before was replaced by much more rugged terrain. We were paralleling the river Indus, which cuts through the length of Pakistan from north to south. At this stage of its life cycle it was a slate grey snake, slithering through a narrow gorge. 1000-4000ft tall cliffs loomed claustrophobically overhead, in concentric shelves, stacked like dominos. It was easy to imagine them standing at the ready to collapse, begging for a chance to bury us alive.

Just before (finally) crossing Chilas the valley opened up. A little after Chilas was the viewpoint for Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest peak. Disappointedly, clouds obscured almost all the mountain, including the summit.

The last handful of hours of our drive, for which we no longer needed our police escort anymore, was an exercise in patience. 15 tiring hours since starting, at the advanced hour of 11:00pm, we finally rolled into Skardu (elevation 8,000ft) and our hotel, where we slept the sleep of the dead.

July 12: End of the road

Day 3 of the drive was one I was looking forward to. The minibus had been ditched and replaced by two jeeps. It took a while for us to get going though, since we had to go through a registration/briefing process with the Pakistan government first.

The jeep drive took us north through the beautiful Shigar valley. We passed one pretty village after the other, little islands of lush greenery, glittering like jewels in the bleak landscape. Despite the hardships of living in this land of extremes the villagers have carved out little pieces of paradise for themselves.


Shigar




Desert flora


Island of greenery

Halfway through our drive we left the Shigar valley, now travelling eastward alongside the Braldu river. The Braldu river was a seething torrent, chock full of rapids and 50ft tall fountains of spray. Its origin was the Baltoro Glacier, atop which we were to spend a major part of our trek. By now the jeep ride had become quite scary. Near vertical cliffs on one side, and the monstrous Braldu on the other. The 'road' wasn't much wider than the width of the jeep.



Near the town of Apiligon we saw an incredible sight: the entire Braldu river was somehow being squeezed through a narrow chasm, only a few yards across. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to hike down to the constriction for a better view.


Constriction

Finally, around 7:00pm, we reached the lovely, lovely town of Askole (elevation 10,000ft) and the end of the road. From now on we'd be sleeping in tents and hiking.


Nearing Askole


Askole

Parts II-V to follow...


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 01 2013, 10:39 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Part II: Hiking in

July 13: Askole to Jola

Excitement! The long drives were over and I was chomping at the bit to get started with the hiking. Since I've been a solo hiker for a long time there were some nerves on my part, regarding how my fitness level and hiking speed would compare to the others in my party, all strangers to me.

The day began with a 6:00am breakfast. As we ate, our tents were packed up by the support staff of porters and cooks, numbering more than 20! Each of us had been assigned a personal porter, who would carry most of our gear, leaving us free to hike with only a daypack. Of course, mine was loaded with camera gear.

It was 6:30am when we started. The trail paralleled the north bank of the Braldu river and was mostly flat. Just when you became comfortable though a steep vertiginous path would appear to get us over headlands, with the roaring Braldu an uncomfortable presence below. Quite rapidly, we all spread out and I was soon hiking by myself, just the way I like it!

The mostly flat trail made for easy going, so that the starting elevation of 10,000ft was no problem. Bakhor Das Peak was a jagged spear to my right, on the far side of the Braldu, but other than this there was no hint of the big mountains to come. As the sun rose higher it began to become quite hot, but my pace did not flag.

Askole: Towards the rising sun

After a crossing of a side stream on a swaying rope bridge I jogged left, away from the Braldu river and towards the mouth of the Biafo glacier. Magnificent treks lead up this valley, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon and full of wondrous peaks, but these were not part of my itinerary. I continued to follow the main trail as it skirted the mouth of the Biafo glacier. This was a jumble of rocks and dirt, but I could see no sign of ice, except in the distance, further up the valley.

Askole-Jola: Rope bridge

Askole-Jola: Huts

Once done with the Biafo moraine crossing, the trail again sidled up to the Biafo river and began to traverse some steep cliffs, to get to the Dumordo river side-valley. The Dumordo river, in early season, can be waded, but this is impossible in mid-summer, when the Panmah glacier fills it full of water. The solution is a one mile detour up the Durmodo river valley, where I was expecting to find a pulley bridge. I have used such bridges before, and wasn't really worried, but was still pleasantly surprised to find a 'proper' rope bridge in place of the precarious pulley bridge. (Upon asking, I found that the new bridge had only been set up 2yrs ago.)

Askole-Jola: Dumordo river crossing

Just on the other side of the bridge, 15min away, was the campsite of Jola, our home for the night. It had only taken me 5hrs to get here, but I'd soon realize that such short days would be the norm, in order to give us enough time to get acclimatized. The rest of the day was spent lounging and watching shadows march up the mountains that were ringing us, as the sun went down.

July 14: Jola to Paiyu

I rose early to watch the sunrise, before joining the others for breakfast. We were all on the trail by 6:15am, hiking in the shadows of the new day. Similar to the day before, we soon spread out and I was once again hiking by myself. It was fun watching the shadows lift tantalizingly from the valley floor, like watching a particularly artistic striptease act. Too soon however, I hit the sun and it immediately started to get hot. I think that day the temperature exceeded 90F...just energy sapping heat. In compensation, the scenery was quite magnificent.

Bakhor Das Peak: Dumordo river

Bakhor Das Peak: Gilt edged

Jola to Paiyu: Skylined

Once again the going was relatively easy. 'Lunch' was taken at 9:30am (!), at the Bardumal campsite, where we were hosted by two genial caretakers. A rudimentary stone hut, with three rooms, allowed us to take shelter from the heat during lunch, but then it was back out into the blazing sun.

Bardumal: Mohammad Yasin

Bardumal: Waiting

Bardumal: In conversation

Bardumal: Lunchtime

The post-Bardumal section was harder going. The route took me down to the river bank where sandy sections made for difficult going. Periodically, I'd have to scramble on the rocks lining the river bank to stay above water. The final section before Paiyu was a cruel up-down-up sequence, which was just brutal in the heat.

Jola to Paiyu: Glacial melt

Paiyu: Hot climb

Paiyu was one of the more established campsites on our trek. It was situated at the base of 21,883ft Paiyu Peak; unfortunately, this was not visible from the campsite. Trees lent welcome shade and soothing greenery to our surroundings. Best of all though were the awesome views of the Cathedral group and Lobsang Spire. Finally, we were getting into the thick of it! The next day, we would make our way onto the Baltoro glacier and walk amongst the big peaks.

Paiyu: Evening light on the Braldu

Paiyu: Paiyu Peak shadows

Paiyu: Cathedral and Lobsang Peak
Cathedral and Lobsang Spire


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 03 2013, 9:57 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Part III: On the Baltoro

July 15: Paiyu to Kho-Burse

The problem with the trek to Concordia is that it takes days before you get to see the really big peaks; an exercise in patience and perseverance. Thankfully, after the first two days, when you only get tantalizing glimpses of some of the lesser Karakoram luminaries, on day-3 all is rectified, as you climb atop the Baltoro glacier and reach rock climbers' nirvana.

This was the day I got to hike on the Baltoro glacier, so it was with a real sense of anticipation that I got ready. We took off from Paiyu at 6:30am and motored along the flat trail. An hour and a half later was the end of all flatness for the next week as we hit the towering wall that was the face of the Baltoro glacier.

The Braldu river gushed out of a mud encrusted fissure in the ice; not that we could see much white! The entire glacier was covered with rocks. As we started to work our way up the steep route that led to the top of the glacier, it was mostly just hiking on a really rocky trail, with the occasional talus scramble/rock-hop. We had been told that this day we should stick close to our porters, since the route can be dangerous, especially if you get off track. However, it was a simple matter to stick to one's own pace, since there was almost always a porter in sight ahead of you.

Paiyu Peak: Spires

Baltoro: Wall

As I crested the face of the glacier I got greeted with a fantastic view of the entire Trango Towers group. For me, seeing and photographing Trango Towers was one of my major goals, second only to seeing K2. The granite spires were just magnificent, more than worth the price of admission. Even the intriguingly alien surface of the Baltoro was forgotten in my excitement.

Trango Towers: Play of sunshine

Trango Towers: Nameless Tower

Eventually, I calmed down and headed off in the direction of the last group of porters I had spotted. Various towers and spires rose up around me on all sides, so that it felt like traversing the maw of a shark with excellent dental work. The route took me from the northern edge of the glacier to its southern end. The going most mostly straight forward, except of one section of exposed ice: a knifelike ridge, only a hand's width wide, with steep drops to god knows where, on either side. The ridge angled downwards, but traction was good (little pieces of gravel were embedded in the ice). I was thankful to make it down safely, under the watchful eye of a couple of our porters.

The rest of the traverse to the far end of the glacier went off without a hitch. At this point we actually left the glacier and picked up a trail on the hillside. More efficient travel took us to the campsite of Liligo, where we had our customary 9:30am 'lunch'. At this time I was able to take in the Baltoro glacier. God, that thing was monstrous! It stretched off eastwards as far as the eye could see, a seething tempest of ice and rocks. Nothing was flat: rounded hills and fissures raised and lowered the deck, giving the impression of a troubled sea, frozen in time. Walking that thing was going to be exhausting.

After lunch a short 90min walk along the hillside deposited me at the established campsite of Kho-Burse (12,300ft). It was all straightforward, until the very end. With the campsite in view a pesky maze of a side glacier had to be navigated. We all hurried through this section – as much as we could – since there was much exposed ice, some glacial streams (water flowing in ice channels) and a few crevasses.

Baltoro: Sandy path

Baltoro: Glacial pool

Baltoro: Layered

Kho-Burse was an island of greenery in the otherwise desolate landscape. Waterfalls and streams shimmered down the hillside. The views were magnificent in almost every direction. The only fly in the ointment were the numerous flies that crawled over everything. I have never encountered such disgusting flies – e.g. they were not satisfied to just sit on my head, they crawled on my scalp, through my hair! Ugh. Eventually, I gave up and dug out my sleeping bag's mesh storage cover, and wore it over my head.

Baltoro: Guide
Hasan, our guide

Uli Biaho: Tower

Lobsang Spire: Twin peaks

July 16: Kho-Burse to Urdukas

A short but extremely tough day for me. I woke up with chills and knew that the cold I'd been taking a strong line with the past two days had finally got the better of me. Drugged up, I packed my gear, stuffed something down my throat, hoping it would stay there, and started to put one foot in front of the other.

I know I walked mostly along the crest of a lateral moraine, I know that I crossed three difficult side glaciers and I know that somehow three hours elapsed. Then I was at Urdukas (13,300ft), where I could rest...but not sleep.

Baltoro: Hot pink

Cathedral Peak: Massif

Due to the short day, we all kind of lounged around. Some people seemed to be feeling the effects of altitude (a telltale lack of appetite) but I was too sick to know if I was being affected or not. Around this time I met up with two captains from the Pakistan army, who were also headed to Concordia. One of them was the liaison officer of a climbing group headed for Gasherbrum II, while the other was headed to K2 basecamp, where he would be posted for the next month. Both of them dragged me over to their permanent army camp nearby, where I was made to consult a doctor. Antibiotics were prescribed.

Urdukas: Pointy bits

July 17: Urdukas to Goro Two

Hopped up on antibiotics and brimming with bravado, camp chores out of the way, I headed off into the Baltoro, a lifeless desert of ice and rock, ebbing and flowing in ice-dune after dune. From now on we would remain on the glacier until our return to Urdukas.

Biale Peak: Photographer

Biale Peak: Spotlit

Trango Towers: Facing the sun

Uli Biaho: Spire

Urdukas: Breaking camp

The start was difficult. There were a few crevasses to hurdle and some glacial streams to cross. We relied on our porters to get us through this section. As we got nearer the middle of the Baltoro and things got easier I was comfortable walking my own pace. There was a bit more exposed ice now, but little bits of gravel embedded in the surface made for easy traction.

Baltoro: Crossing

The views were superb. Now that I was out in the middle of the glacier Urdukas peak stood out in all its glory. Dead ahead, and still a long way away, was Gasherbrum IV, the world's 17th tallest peak at 26,013ft. The most gorgeous of the peaks though, and becoming ever more prominent the further east I hiked, was 25,660ft tall Masherbrum, the world's 24th highest peak.

Urdukas Peak: Standing tall
Urdukas Peak

Our lunch spot at Goro One was the best viewpoint we'd had so far. It was located right across from Masherbrum and the Yermanendu glacier. The intersection of the Yermanendu and Baltoro glaciers had resulted in snowy white house-sized seracs. It was incredibly cool walking amongst them as we finished off the day a little further up the Baltoro, at Goro Two (elevation 13,950ft).

Masherbrum: Ice blocks

Baltoro: Porters amongst the seracs

Baltoro: Serac

Masherbrum: Porters on the Baltoro

Baltoro: Sea of peaks

Baltoro: Relaxed stroll

Gasherbrum IV: Alpenglow

Concordia was now within touching distance, so close I could taste it.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 06 2013, 8:32 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

A slight follow-up to the previous part, regarding acclimatization (for those who don't know this): I mentioned above that after a short day at Urdukas I rested but did not go to sleep. At higher altitudes it takes time for the body to adjust, hence our leisurely approach. Furthermore, when you sleep, if you are not acclimatized, your body reverts to the same state it was in at which you were last acclimatized. HAPE and HACE usually strike at night, when you are asleep.The recommendation I got was to wait 6hrs after activity before going to sleep. You can go up fast but you can't stay there overnight.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 06 2013, 8:46 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Part IV: Throne room of the mountain gods
Concordia and K2 base-camp

July 18: Goro Two to Concordia

Three days of bone-jarring roads and five days of sublime hiking had led to this. Galen Rowel, the great photographer and mountaineer, had called Concordia the "throne room of the mountain gods". This was the day I would enter this room, featuring some of the best mountain scenery in the world. The excitement level which had been building the past couple of days was now almost uncontainable.

That morning I had a poor night's sleep, due to being too amped up and the temperature being below freezing. Once I got going I deliberately slowed everything down, determined to eke out every bit of enjoyment from the day.

Masherbrum: Dawn's blush

Trango Towers: Shadowed

A half hour's hiking got me to the mouth of the valley, at the head of which stood 23,871ft tall Mustagh Tower. Earlier this year I had read the excellent book "Summit Fever", which chronicled the third ascent of Mustagh Tower. So, I was really looking forward to photographing it. Mustagh Tower had originally been made famous by a misleading photo taken edge on from the upper Baltoro, which depicted it as an impregnable tower. Even though I did not get to see the famous 'unclimbable' view the mountain was quite striking, so I spent a good hour wandering up and down the Baltoro trying out different compositions.

Mustagh Tower
Mustagh Tower

Concordia, elevation 15,500ft, forms a T-junction. The Godwin Austin glacier flows southwards from K2, while the Upper Baltoro glacier flows northwards. The two glaciers collide at Concordia and then flow west as the Baltoro glacier, which is what we had used for our approach. As I hiked on, heading east towards Concordia and the wall of Gasherbrum IV, marking the end of the T-junction, it seemed that I was making no progress. The scale of the mountains was so huge that what had seemed a stone's throw away turned out to be wishful thinking. Anyway, there were lots of wonders to see: Broad Peak, at 26,414ft the world's twelfth tallest peak, was now in view, to the left of Gasherbrum IV, while Gasherbrum II, at 26,362ft the world's thirteenth highest peak, could be seen peeping out from behind the right shoulder. Disappointingly, Gasherbrum I, at 26,509ft the world's eleventh highest peak, lived up to its second name of Hidden Peak by remaining hidden behind Gasherbrums V and VI.

Baltoro: Skylined

Hiking past glacial pools, contouring tediously around ice-dune after endless dune and jumping the odd crevasse I finally caught sight of a cluster of tents. Concordia - a giant amphitheater, ringed by mountains that soared straight up, on all sides. The relief was tremendous. Mitre Peak to my right and Marble Peak to my left acted as a giant gateway to the throne room. As I passed through, I immediately looked left, up the Godwin Austin glacier, and there stood the pyramid shape of K2! I couldn't help but lift my arms up high and whoop in exultation.

Baltoro: Heading towards Concordia

Baltoro: Glacial pool and spires

The rest of the day was spent drinking in the magnificence of K2. I'd periodically drag my eyes away to take in Broad Peak, Gasherbrum IV, Baltoro Kangri (23,990ft) and the lesser peaks, but inexorably my eyes would be dragged back to K2. A thick band of clouds hung stubbornly across the peak, though not the summit, but I wasn't too worried, since we still had two nights at Concordia.

K2: Stubborn clouds
K2 with stubborn clouds

Broad Peak: Dragon's back
Broad Peak detail

Broad Peak: Summit cloud
Broad Peak near sunset

Gasherbrum IV: Tents
Evening light on Gasherbrum IV

July 19: K2 base camp

This was to be a big day, the climax of our trip. The plan was to hike to K2 base camp (elevation 16,500ft) and back, a round trip of 14mi on difficult terrain. This would be our longest day on the trek, estimated to span at least 10hrs. Keeping this in mind, for the first time on the trek I ditched the extra photography gear, only keeping the camera.

At my insistence we had a 5:00am start, half an hour earlier than normal. The party included three of our porters, but without their normal heavy loads, to act as additional guides in case anyone had to turn back.

It was cold and inhospitable in the shadows of the mountains as we set off. Almost immediately we faced the first obstacle. As you transition from the Baltoro to the Godwin Austin there is a maze of crevasses and swiftly flowing glacial streams. Knowing the way through can shave off hours…which isn't to say that the quickest way is also the easiest! We began by walking the crest of an ice dune. This early in the morning the ice was rock hard and traction was not good. Slipping off the crest was a no-no. Next up, we had to climb down, off the dune, in a semi-controlled fall. Immediately after this, another ice-dune crossing with a rope to down-climb...then, a series of jumps over crevasses and glacial streams, and a couple of sections of tip-toeing on knife-edged ridges. Abruptly, it all flattened out and the going became easy. We were now on the Godwin Austin glacier.

With the dangerous start out of the way, we all relaxed and spread out. Two of us (plus porter) took the lead, which we'd hold for the rest of the day. We motored on, towards the magnificent pyramid of K2, initially in the shadow of Broad Peak and then in sunshine. Looking back, Chogolisa (elevation 25,148ft) or Bride Peak, was a gorgeous snowy sight. The great climber Herman Buhl, who has first ascents of two of the world's fourteen 8000m peaks, lost his life on Chogolisa, when he fell through a cornice.

K2: Clear blue sky
In Broad Peak's shadow

Chogolisa: Reflection pool
Chogolisa

Soon, we reached our halfway point, Broad Peak's base camp, where we decided to wait for the rest of our group to catch up. As we waited we could hear rescue operations being organized for three climbers who had been stuck on Broad Peak's summit, above 8000m, for two nights now. The prognosis wasn't good. (We would hear a day later that they had been given up for dead, bring the deaths on Broad Peak to four for the year. May they rest in peace.)

K2: Broad Peak base camp

The section from Broad Peak base camp to K2 base camp was a maze of crevasses, glacial streams and pools. We stuck to our guide since it would have been easy to get off track. Most of the elevation gain also took place on this section. Since I still hadn't completely recovered from the cold that had struck me so badly a few days back – I was perpetually coughing – it was all I could do to keep up. Curiously, the closer we got to the base camp the less impressive K2 became. From a photographer's point of view, the bright conditions and unaesthetic angles on K2 weren't very appealing. Thankfully, I was wearing my hiker's hat this day so I got my money's worth.

K2: Glacial melt stream

K2: Nearing base camp

K2's base camp was a busy place, even more so than Concordia. Multicolored tents sprouted like a virulent rash on the glacier. Taking to a Balti high altitude porter (who had summited Gasherbrum II twice as well as Broad Peak, and now hoped to summit K2) while sipping some welcoming tea, I learnt that no one had yet tackled K2. The high altitude porters were still establishing camps - they were up to camp-2, but with the presently gorgeous weather hoped to have the final two camps set up in the next day or two - while the climbers were still acclimatizing. Summit day was tentatively scheduled to be July 27.

The way back was reasonably straight forward, until the final bit, when we had to transition from the Godwin Austin glacier back onto the Baltoro. Once again, we had to exercise great care in our footing. Tired, happy and relieved, we reached Concordia exactly 11hrs after starting. Just in time for me to indulge in some evening photography!

Mitre Peak: Pea soup

Concordia: Astride a crevasse

Broad Peak: Hummocks
Broad Peak

K2: Sunset
Last light on K2

Concordia: Moonrise over Concordia
Moonrise over Concordia

Concordia: Dawn on K2
First light on K2

Gasherbrum IV: Sunrise
Sunrise from behind Gasherbrum IV


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 07 2013, 10:55 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Part V: Oxygen
Return from Concordia

All good things must end. With the K2 base camp round trip successfully completed, it was as if a mental switch got turned off. Thoughts of a warm shower and sleeping in a bed began to crowd my head, as well as wanting to talk to my wife. I had been out of contact for days and knew she'd be worried. Unfortunately, accomplishing this was still a number of days off.

July 20: Concordia to Goro One

The thin air wasn't behaving too well with some in our party, plus all of us were anxious to get back anyway. We had long ago decided to shave off one day on the return, since we didn't have to worry about maintaining a slow acclimatizing pace anymore.

For the first day of the return, we scampered past Goro Two, where we'd camped on our approach, and continued further to Goro One. I had been really keen on staying the night at Goro One, even on the approach, since I considered it second only to Concordia as the top viewpoint on the trek. All my photographic fantasies were realized that evening as a magnificent sunset developed over gorgeous Masherbrum.

Masherbrum: Snow bridge

Masherbrum: Channel

Masherbrum: Glacial stream

Masherbrum: Serac

Masherbrum: Alpenglow

Masherbrum: A blaze of glory

July 21: Goro One to Kho-Burse

We skipped the campsite of Urdukas, continuing on to Kho-Burse, the land of the clingy flies. It was a surprisingly difficult day for me: I was still coughing continuously and by now had resigned myself to the fact that I would do so till the end of the trek. I was also footsore and completely de-motivated to walk.

Baltoro: Ascending a knife-edged ice ridge
Typical knife-edged ridge to navigate

Paiyu Camp: Aisa Khan, my personal porter
Aisa Khan, my personal porter

July 22: Kho-Burse to Bardumal

With oxygen fizzing in our blood, and thoughts of civilization crowding our minds, we decided to shave off another day from the return. Rather than staying at Paiyu, we continued to Bardumal camp, where I was afforded a touching welcome by the caretaker, who I had photographed on our approach.

Bardumal: Golden light

July 23: Bardumal to Askole

In the homestretch now, off the Baltoro glacier, we fairly flew down the trail, like greyhounds chasing a particularly juicy rabbit. As I entered the little streets of the village of Askole, where I proceeded to promptly get lost, the lush green surroundings were indescribably beautiful. After so many days in ruggedly austere surroundings, this rudimentary slice of civilization seemed like the fanciest place on Earth. That night we gorged on fresh meat, one of the best meals I've had.

Shigar Valley: Ripe wheat
Wheat fields...civilization!

July 24-26: Askole – Skardu – Chilas - Islamabad

Once again the drive was exhausting, but for some reason, much less so than on the approach.

Conclusion

The Karakorams have the finest mountain scenery on the planet. Dramatic spires, rock faces and snowy peaks tower all around you. From both a hiker's and photographer's perspective I've never had so much fun anywhere else, or seen any other place that even comes close. This was the trip to end all trips. My bucket list still has numerous places that I want to see before I hang up my boots, but even if I get to visit none of them, I think I'll be fine. I got to see K2.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 07 2013, 1:20 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Since you're done with the report, I wanna be the first to post directly in this thread. :D

BRAVO!

I knew second-hand the mountains were magnificent there, but had little actual idea until your trip report.  You've opened up my mind to an area of the world I had little knowledge of before.  Thank you, GaliWalker. :)


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 07 2013, 1:24 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

All I can say is...THANK YOU!!!

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 07 2013, 4:49 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

It was a pleasure.

Thanks for hanging in there with me as I put up all the parts. I've spent so much time working on these, that now that I'm finished I don't know what to do! :D


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 07 2013, 7:39 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Wow Wow wow doesn't begin to touch this TR. Your pictures were breath taking.  I know from my own pictures of Colorado (one of my favorite places) that pics don't do it justice. It must have been magnificent to see this.  Your writing was also excellent. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your great trip with us.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 07 2013, 7:41 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The sunset pic, the last of the group, from July 20th is extraordinary, even for you, which saying a lot!
Thank you for the time it took to put this mini series out there for all to see!  It was a a great story, with incredible pics!
Some of the rawest/newest landforms on the planet.  Think I want to get there someday......
So how do you motivate yourself to hike in PA after that?  :)
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(GlenG @ Aug. 07 2013, 7:41 pm)
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So how do you motivate yourself to hike in PA after that?  :)

Right about now, I can do with some greenery, some waterfall action, but most of all something easy! :;):

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 11:21 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(GaliWalker @ Aug. 07 2013, 7:51 pm)
QUOTE

(GlenG @ Aug. 07 2013, 7:41 pm)
QUOTE
So how do you motivate yourself to hike in PA after that?  :)

Right about now, I can do with some greenery, some waterfall action, but most of all something easy! :;):

I can relate to that.  When I got back from Greenland, which was extraordinarily beautiful (I'll not directly muck-up your thread with other pictures, but here's an example)... I couldn't wait to see trees again.

Spring melt was in full swing in CO when I got home, and simply walking along the creek behind my place felt like a rain forest (I've spent plenty of time in rain forests and this wasn't one, but it sure felt the part).  I can relate to enjoying "home" with a fresh new perspective after being away.  :)  And it was great to walk to the restroom in bare feet without needing to avoid frostbite.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 12:37 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Damn. Incredible. Breath taking.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 1:15 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

AMAZING!! Good for you and thanks for sharing..

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 3:49 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Absolutely incredible photos and story - thanks so much for sharing!!
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Reliving your experiencing through the images and story will make many want to experience that incredible valley too though very few will ever do so.  More rewarding than the considerably greater numbers of mountaineers that dream of an Everest expedition.   Ought to have enough images to process to keep busy all winter.   A couple of Galen Rowell's books on my bookshelf collecting dust, Mountain Light and High and Wild, showed me that incredible world of the Karakorum.  Was impressed by all varicolored rock in many of your images like this.

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5349/9454319957_46322e0c7e_z.jpg

If someone provides me with a PhaseOne IQ180, I'll sign up for the next expedition.  (:


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 6:54 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The title threw me off (thought it was about a HBO show).  Great pictures and fantastic experience.  Thanks for sharing.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 7:32 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Stunning  photography, great write-up.  Thanks for sharing.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 8:36 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Loved seeing your photos and reading about the trip, thanks for sharing!!

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 8:42 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks guys!

(Dave Senesac @ Aug. 08 2013, 4:16 pm)
QUOTE
Reliving your experiencing through the images and story will make many want to experience that incredible valley too though very few will ever do so.  More rewarding than the considerably greater numbers of mountaineers that dream of an Everest expedition.

Most, if not all, of the rest of my team members had been to Everest base-camp (not me though). All seemed to be favorably impressed by the Concordia trek. It does take a lot of effort though.

QUOTE
Ought to have enough images to process to keep busy all winter.

You are right. I was quite ruthless in my initial cull, so that I could get the trip report up. I'll probably spend a number of happy hours over the winter going through the remaining unprocessed shots. :)

QUOTE
A couple of Galen Rowell's books on my bookshelf collecting dust, Mountain Light and High and Wild, showed me that incredible world of the Karakorum.

Galen Rowell is one of my favorites. As I mention above, and as you must have guessed, his fantastic book In the throne room of the mountain gods was the inspiration for my trip report title.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 08 2013, 10:15 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Amazing!! Thank you for sharing that wonderful trip.
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If the readers haven't you're obligated to watch a slideshow of the higher-res photos by clicking on them. Stunning.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 10 2013, 6:31 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Wow, thank you!!  This is one of the best (if not THE best) trip report I've read.  Amazing photos, fantastic writing -- thank you!

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 10 2013, 10:26 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks a lot guys. :)

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 11 2013, 12:28 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Great photos documenting an amazing trip.  what a life experience.  Glad you go to go.  Thanks for sharing.

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Wow, I'm sure glad you hauled that pack full of camera gear!  The photos are of course just stunning, and your narrative is just as engrossing as the photos.  Thanks so much for taking the time to post your adventure, and congrats on achieving your dream trip!

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 12 2013, 3:29 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Okay.



































































Wow!!!!! Stellar!!


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 12 2013, 12:47 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Wow. Wow and more wow . . .

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 12 2013, 1:03 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

I'm speechless...
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