Night comes to Urdukas

Kitchens are still the center of activity - even on Baltoro. Photo © Ahsan Iqbal 2010

The hiss of the kerosene stove whistles out of the cook tent where two or three or ten porters are cooks are gathered making chipatie, rice, dal, or whatever other delicacy will be laid on our table tonight. The ‘slap-slap’ of fresh chipatie being made mingles with the sound of running water and clinking kitchen utensils. Ibrahim, sporting his red Masherbrum hat and blue white and red striped jacket – and another helper are washing the dishes on another boulder to the left. A blue tarp is spread out outside of the kitchen tent where the dishes go to dry. Five blue barrels form a hedge around our table where Misha, Anisa, Jeff and Rich are playing cards – Iloobilo or the matching game – no doubt. Ahsan and Iza sit at the opposite end taking photos and reading. Ayub is handing out fresh chipatie – dressed as usual in his red fleece and blue boots – the ones we fixed the sole on earlier this week. He comes to deliver me chipatie and a smile and Ignacio , Adil, Ahsan and the guide for the British group head down to the army outpost to see if they can catch a glimpse of Masherbrum and one of the Gasherbrums.

Night has now descended on our camp. Ibrahim and Asif sit across from me, their card game illuminated by two double A batteries and a small lightbulb. We had dinner outside under the sky looking out over the glacier. Tomorrow is a long day to Goro 2.


Paiyu to Khorbutse : August 16, 2010 : 12,870ft

Travels with a Blue Bandada. ©Ahsan Iqbal

Today as I was walking, I realized that in this moment I am doing everything and nothing that I want to do. Everything because there is something about existing daily in a sense of awe and wonderment – to be surrounded by things that are greater than yourself – and though you traverse their valleys and marvel at the seeming impossibility of it all, you know that it is so much greater than you. You will never be able to understand it. It is a journey and place that is made for endless exploration and its magnificence provides a perspective that didn’t exist before. Suddenly life is simple. Life has a greater meaning – and somehow in this moment, I have become that explorer. The journey demands nothing except open eyes and sensitive heart and apart form the daily physical exertion, it only asks that you soak things up. Again, I am not expressing this well, but today I felt like I came closer to being the explorer that I have always wanted to become.

Jeff gets out tent tightened up a bit. In the back on the left are the Trango Towers and the Lobsang Spires are on the right. Ahsan says you have to see this in the original format. ©Ahsan Iqbal


The Land of Equal Enchantments

Paiyu to Khorbutse : august 16, 2010 : 12,870ft

One of the porters crosses the desert that appeared in the middle of the glacier. ©Ahsan Iqbal

Our first day on the glacier was truly stunning. What looked like mounds of rock was actually moving, transforming, ever-changing ice. The mouth of the glacier = one big black orifice spewing gray water. The side you could see gray striations in the ice. Level upon level of ice, sand and sediment. Trango Towers and Cathedral Peak, Paiyu and Lilligo peaks all enveloped in cloud for most of the morning but now stand towering above glowing browns and grays, leaking vertical strands of black mineral. Glacial pools glow green and year to year the trail moves, flows and is often enveloped by the glacier it sits atop.

The meeting of the Baltoro Glacier and the Braldu River ©Ahsan Iqbal 2010

The mouth of the glacier. The layers are the snowfalls that have been compacted so you can figure out the history of the glacier by the cross section. ©Ahsan Iqbal 2010

You would run into these glacial ponds. Matthew thought there was some copper to make them so green. ©Ahsan Iqbal

I am becoming fast friends with Ayub who stops to point out where the trail was, where mountains are and where are path will go. He throws his arm around my shoulder for a photo and it is at this point that I am certain I will have a forever friend. Murad and I still share mischievious glances, smiles and waves over the glacial lakes and crevasses just to let the other know we’re still there. We started several rounds of contests at lunch – and he – not surprisingly, won most of them.

Ayub was feeling thirsty so he slid down the side to the glacial pool below for a drink of water. Now he is climbing back on to the trail. ©Ahsan Iqbal

Murad decided he was not tired enough and wanted to play human tricks, at which point Ignacio and I were both trying to match him for feat after feat. ©Ahsan Iqbal

I have been shocked that I have enjoyed the past few days on the trail as much as I have. The morning preparation is always – and will continue to be – a constant frustration – but somehow, as soon as my feet hit the trail, my mood goes up and my spirits soar. Why it takes everyone so long to throw on clothes and breakdown tents is beyond my capacity to understand, but it is a reality and so I am learning to be patient and trying to help without sounding or acting like a complete asshole.

Ayub has a whistle that he plays in the evening as it gets dark. It is a beautiful accompaniment  to the milky way stretching across the inky black sky.

The mighty Trango Towers looms over the camp. "Nameless Tower" juts above the rest to a height ot 6289 m or 20,754 ft. ©Ahsan Iqbal

Today was also the first day where I was hit with the altitude. Rarely have I felt the need to not only breathe the air, but drink it into my lungs. I also have never been so tired after blowing up my thermarest. That is where I am now – lying on my thermarest under a sunny blue sky that plays hide and seek with the clouds. The air has been cool all day, which has put a spring in my step. Behind me, Paiyu peak is swaddled in clouds – as if they are protecting it from our prying eyes. It reminds me of an old man robed in a white with a long white beard coming out of the mist – or something equally enchanting.


september 8-9, 2010 11:45pm

No matter how exciting and adventurous it sounds, telling people you are going to Pakistan is no easy task. Friends think you are nuts. Family thinks you have, as they always predicted, completely lost it. Parents ask you not to talk to their college-age children for fear that your “crazy ideas” might rub off on the adventuresome spirits of their already wayward offspring. Grandparents call to tell you they haven’t slept since they heard of your pending travels and the ever-tacit implication is that they probably won’t sleep until you return. Emotional blackmail like this is not un-common. Other friends, once so eager to hear about your other foreign adventures refuse to talk about this one at all – which makes any conversation at all, kind of difficult.

The worst thing, though, about telling people you are going to Pakistan, is “The Look.” Most of the time it flashes across faces in an instant and is immediately masked by words of cautious encouragement or not-so-subtle warnings issued in tentative tones. In that split second before the words though, there is just “The Look”. I hated that look. I feared it. I hated and feared it so much that I would avoid telling people all together that I was going to Pakistan at all. I’d put off seeing “The Look” as long as humanly possible.

“The Look” is a delicate mixture of complete bewilderment and disbelief knotted together with a twinge of sympathy and trepidation. “The Look” is normally accompanied by an uncomfortable pause and their frantic search for a proper response. You can almost see the thoughts buzzing between their ears as they pick at their dinner plate, sip their cocktail or suck down their beer. “Maybe I didn’t hear her correctly” “Where are you going?” “Pakistan.” “Right. That’s what I thought she said. Is this something I am supposed to be excited about? She seems excited about it. Certainly terrorists and bombings and massive flooding and perpetual political corruption aren’t things that warrant too much enthusiasm. Maybe there is something I missed in the news. But maybe not. Maybe I didn’t miss anything. Maybe she is just going. I don’t want to offend her by saying the wrong thing. So maybe… ah, um…”

By this time, a whole half of a second later, you are also frantically lining up the list of stories, justifications, explanations or defenses that you can lay down to ease their worries and calm their apprehensions. Because let’s be honest. That first “Look” doesn’t convey excitement, beg for a map of your route, ask for the link to your twitter feed or address to your blog. It doesn’t wonder about the amazing people you will meet or the incredible things you will see.

It’s not mystified by the great unknown nor does it care to see and explore it. Read more…

Pakistan Generals Push for Government Shake Up

Pakistanis carried boxes of flood aid from an Afghan Army helicopter last month after it landed on a road in Baluchistan Province. - NYT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military, angered by the inept handling of the country’s devastating floods and alarmed by a collapse of the economy, is pushing for a shake-up of the elected government, and in the longer term, even the removal of PresidentAsif Ali Zardari and his top lieutenants.

Read the full story from the New York Times.

A good thought by Grace Murray Hopper

“A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things”

Back and Sorting Things out.

I’ve been back now for over two weeks. School started. Apartment moved and furniture has arrived. I have had little time to process, which is why blog posts are lacking.

Mostly I’ve been asking myself, how to tell and what to tell. I”m not just talking about long wordy explanations or definitions. Sometimes I am just thinking in words or phrases or half-formulated sentences… Because that seems to be all there is right now.. I am having a hard time talking about, writing about, sometimes even thinking about an experience that was so visceral on so many levels.

I feel a real responsibility to talk about Pakistan -what I saw, what I experienced – and I am wondering how to tell this story. Like I said, right now my brain is only processing words. phrases. pictures. memories… and so writing a list that says “Garnet mountain, landcruisers, pickax, blue barrels, Braldu, and gypsies” is more of a mean trick or tease rather than any kind of exploration of my experience. Maybe I start with the stories of people. Of Ayub and Murad, Khalil and Ibrahim. Maybe I tell about the mountain itself, the scree fields and boulders, the landslides in the middle of the night and raging waters. Right now, there are just not words that make sense.