Friday, August 28, 2015

Getting to Hushe

In the July and August of 2015 I led and expedition to the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan to attempt two major unclimbed peaks.  They included Changi Tower, a 6500 meter (21,325 feet) granite tower; and K6 Central, a 7100 meter (23,293 feet) snow and ice massif.  I returned to Skardu recently, the closest city in Northern Pakistan with even slow internet, and over the next week or so I will make several blog posts telling the story of our expedition.  To make it fun I will post lots of pictures and enough text to give you a sense of what exploratory climbing is like in one of the most remote, rugged, and politically challenging mountain ranges in the world.

Our expedition included Scott Bennett (30), Graham Zimmerman (29), and myself (61) as the leader.  Over the past 35 years I've led or participated in 15 expeditions to the Karakoram.  For Scott and Graham this was their first trip.  Mark Richey who is much closer to my age was originally part of the team, but for business reasons he was not able to attend so I became the senior member of our team, albeit with a lot of experience that was the only thing that gave me a fighting chance to try and keep up with my much younger partners.

This trip was made possible for Scott and Graham, the two aspiring Himalayan climbers in our expedition, by the generous support of the American Alpine Club's Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award, The Mugs Stump Award, the New Zealand Alpine Club's Expedition Fund and the Mount Everest Foundation.  I believe these grants should be used to help young talented climbers like Scott and Graham have these kinds of opportunities and that old farts like me should pay for their own trips (which I did).
This trip could also not have been possible without the help of Nazir Sabir Expeditions (NSE) who ran the in-country logistics, the teams amazing cook Rasool and assistant cook Nadeem who kept the team healthy and psyched throughout the trip, Jim Woodmency ( who's spot on forecasts allowed the team to send with confidence, and our Liason Officer Major Abbas.

Big thanks also goes to the team members sponsors Arc'teryx, Outdoor Research, Rab, Petzl/Alta Group, Camp, Scarpa, Exped, Thermarest, MSR, Edelweiss, Julbo, Iridium Telecommunications, CW-X, Trail Butter, Redd Bar, and Goal Zero.


The three of us flew out of Seattle on July 2nd and after a brief stop in Dubai arrived in Islamabad in the fourth of July.   NSE staff had our itinerary well organized and other than performing a couple of errands like changing money and buying foods at the Western Store (grocery store for expats), we headed to the airport the next day to fly to Skardu.

Graham our treasurer changing a stack of Ben Franklin's for Pak Rupees

Shopping for goodies at the Western Store in Islamabad

We had promised our friends and family that we would fly from Islamabad to Skardu because in recent years the security situation for foreigners to travel by road along the Karakoram Highway (KKH) has deteriorated.  Violence from the war in Afghanistan has spilled over in the tribal areas along the border with Pakistan which are close to the KKH in places.  We intended to avoid the road.
The problem is the Pakistan International Airlines flights to Skardu are weather dependent and therefore irregular. 
Flying past Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world, on our way to Skardu

We were fortunate that PIA started flying large jets on the weekends so there was plenty of space and the weather was nice the day we left Islamabad.  The flight over part of the Himalayas to Skardu is spectacular. 
Graham is psyched after landing in Skardu one day after reaching Islamabad
 Skardu is the launching place for most expeditions to the Karakoram and is the capital of Baltistan.  Once in Baltistan we didn't have to be that concerned about security because the people here are Shia Muslims.  The perpetrators of all the violence along the border with Afghanistan are Pashtuns, an ethnic group of Sunni Muslims who do not live in Baltistan.  Once we reached Skardu we were surrounded by friendly and peaceful people who have gone out of their way to make every one of my trips to the mountains here an absolute pleasure.  Although we felt it was unnecessary, the Pakistan Government in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan assigned a police officer to each expedition to let us know they were doing everything they could to ensure our protection. 
Nawaz, the police officer assigned to us in Skardu.  He was a very nice man looking serious here for the photo 
From Skardu we drove to Hushe, the village near to where we started our trek.  There had been a lot of rain so the road was washed out in several places.  We were glad that we had very skilled jeep drivers! 
Approaching one of the many washouts on our drive to Hushe
Backhoe repairing a damaged road section
The Karakoram mountains also provide a natural barrier between Pakistan, India, and China whose borders come together here.  The borders between several of these countries are heavily disputed and militarized.  To ensure we had all the necessary permits to travel into these high security restricted areas, we had to show we had the necessary permits and sign in at several checkpoints along the way.
Graham signing in at a check post
Getting through road damage from a rain swollen creek.
 Stay tuned for my next post about my friend Rasool who has been accompanying me for 28 years as a cook on expeditions to the Karakoram in Pakistan.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Alpine Mentors Pacific Northwest - Canadian Rockies

Alpine Mentors Pacific Northwest had its second and third sessions in the Canadian Rockies this winter.  The first session was primarily waterfall ice climbing with some mixed routes thrown in and the second session was mostly alpine climbing up at the Columbia Icefields with a few frozen waterfalls thrown in.  Overall the group was able to do routes like; The Sorcerer, Hydrophobia, Professor Falls, Louise Falls, Coire Dubh Integrale, Murchison Falls, My Daddy's a Psycho, Polar Circus, North Face of Athabasca, and the Issac route on Athabasca.

North Face of Athabasca
On the North Face

Alex Ford leading the rock band


Laurel Fan in the finishing ice gully

Laurel Fan descending the summit ridge

On the descent


Laurel Fan beneath the Pencil on Polar Circus

Laurel Fan leading on Polar Circus

Alex Ford leading on Polar Circus

Andy Dahlen leading My Daddy's a Psycho

L to R AlexFord, Laurel Fan, Ryan Cupp, Jim Elzinga, and Andy Dahlen assessing conditions

Laurel Fan leading Issac route on Athabasca
Many thanks to the Mentors who helped out.
  • Seth Timpano
  • Rob Smith
  • Raphael Slawinski
  • Jim Elzinga
  • Robert Rogoz
  • Wayne Wallace

Friday, November 21, 2014

Climbing at Yangshuo

After leaving Wenzhou and the International Outdoor Film Festival in Nanzi River.  Our hosts flew Rufus, Andy, and I to Guilin for three days of climbing at Yangshuo. This region is characterized by Karst towers formed over geologic time from the dissolution of limestone by the rain.  This area would be considered a mature karst landscape because a large amount of bedrock has been removed by this process leaving behind the large towers that are great for climbing.

Karst pinnacles in Yangshuo
Yangshuo is about an hours drive from the airport in Guilin and seems to be the center for climbing on the karst towers. 

Rufus Lusk walking to the "Egg"
Rufus and I arrived at Yangshuo a day before Andy and our host Amanda (her English name).  I was recovering from a hand injury sustained while crack climbing a few weeks previous so I was limited in what I could do.

Rufus leading with Cindi (English name) while Andy Parkin belays me
There was a vibrant Chinese climbing community here with gear shops and guides who took newcomers to their favorite crags.

Chinese climbers cragging scene
It seems like even small towns in China are full of lots of people and Yangshuo was no exception.  It was a busy place with a thriving tourist economy.  But you didn't have to go far outside of town to encounter farming communities whose growing techniques looked like they had not changed in a very long time.

Downtown Yangshuo
I remained surprised that I didn't see any abject poverty anywhere on this trip similar to other developing or emerging economies.  I never saw a panhandler or beggar.  I don't know if poor people were removed from tourist areas or if things were managed so there was enough to go around.  People seemed well dressed and there was a lot of new construction.

Not everyone drives a car - - yet
Our last evening in Yangshou we went to the shop where they have fish in tanks that eat the dead skin off of your feet.  It felt weird and ticklish at first but then I sat there for about an hour and the fish removed only a fraction of the dead skin on my feet.  I think I would need a special 24 hour rate to get most of it removed.

Amanda advising Andy on dead skin eating fish
I'd like to thank all our Chinese hosts, especially Amanda Lu.  We had a great time at a great event and that was mostly due to the superb organization of it all.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Walk for Love, Adventure Race, and Floating the Nanzi River

This is a continuation of my recent post on the mountain film festival in China.  Part of the International Outdoor Film Festival in Nanzi River was a charity event called The Walk for Love.  I understood the money was raised to somehow improve water quality.  They certainly need it as many of the waterways I observed were choked with algae.

My son Jed and me at the start for the Walk of Love
There were about 3000 participants in the Walk for Love, which by Chinese standards is small.  But the level of enthusiasm was high.

The walkers would be protected from the forces of evil
I was impressed by the level of affluence exhibited by the participants.  The last time I was in a major Chinese urban area was 1990.  Back then everyone seemed poor and they were all wearing Mao suits.

Henry Iddon from the Kendal festival in the UK and his friends

The Walk for Love started at a campground and I was impressed by the expensive equipment displayed by these Chinese car campers.

The event was well organized with several aid stations and lots of volunteers.

A young helper at an aid station
The locals were pretty excited about having foreign guests and everyone wanted to have their picture taken with us.

Jed and some of the Walkers for Love
In addition to The Walk for Love, the event had an Adventure Race. It was a 24 hour event that started with a run, then cycling, and finishing with a float down the Nanzi river.

Start of the Adventure Race

Our hosts took us on a float trip on the Nanzi River on the last day and we had a chance to see some of the adventure racers in their home made rafts.

Adventure racers with collapsing raft
Before boarding our raft the sign said people with mental disease, heart disease, hypertension, dementia, and drunk tourists couldn't participate.

Sign before boarding bamboo raft
I've always been amazed at the different types of bathroom facilities around the world.  One of the common differences between what we use in the US and much of the rest of the world is the prevalence of squat toilets.  At the bathroom before we boarded our bamboo rafts, there were universal language signs on the stalls indicating if it was a sit toilet or a squat toilet.

Sign on bathroom stall for a squat toilet
The raft we boarded was pretty rickety and once underway with everyone on board the deck was submerged about six inches.  It didn't matter if it fell apart.  We were wearing life jackets, the river was relatively flat, and the shore was never far away.

Boarding the raft
The drivers float the river by poling through the shallow sections.  When it gets deeper they lower a prop attached to a shaft from a small engine and motor along.  After we were dropped off downstream the drivers motor and pull their rafts back upstream to the starting point.

Our driver

On the river
The food in China is quite different from a lot of other countries I've visited and what we have in Chinese restaurants in the US is very Americanized.  At different times we were served bowls of fish heads, chicken heads, chicken feet, small snails where you suck the insides out, pork fat, and small crabs with the guts included.  But for the most part we were served some very excellent food.

Jed contemplating what he was about to eat


Monday, November 10, 2014

Kendal Film Festival in China

In early October, the climbing and post production teams for the film The Old Breed were invited to Wenzhou China for the International Outdoor Film Festival in Nanzi River. Mark Richey and Freddie Wilkinson could not attend, but Rufus Lusk and I decided to go.  My son Jed also came along with me.

The film festival was on October 24th and we received a rock star reception. We walked up the stairs into the theatre on a gold carpet bordered by red velvet banisters as dozens of Chinese took pictures of us.  It's the closest I'll ever come to being chased by paparazzi.

File Festival Theatre
Inside the theatre we were welcomed by a myriad of festival staff, volunteers, and attendees.

Film Festival ticket collectors
  Jed was pleased that they were handing out free beer.

After the film festival, we got a quick tour of parts of the town as we rode back to our hotel in bicycle rickshaws.

Being an avid golfer, Jed wanted to play a round somewhere on his trip to China so our driver took us up to the Wenzhou Orient Golf and Country Club.

Jed golfing at an exclusive country in Wenzhou
It was a very nice course, but no one was playing when we were there.  They charged us about $220 USD to play (it cost me $60 to just ride around in the cart).  I don't think this was a special rate for foreigners.  It was an exclusive club and there are a lot of very wealthy Chinese who can afford this kind of recreation.  With a population of 1.36 billion, the top 1% of their earners amounts to 13.6 million people.

Jed and his caddy
They assigned a Chinese caddy/cart driver to us whose English name was Kevin. 

Hazards in the rough
Kevin was impressed with Jed's game and asked if he would teach him to golf.

Driving across the ravine
On the next day, Saturday, the festival continued with the Walk for Love, the subject of my next post.