A seven part Saga of the 1975 American Karakoram Expedition. Not the 1975 American K2 Expedition, the other American expedition - the one that nobody remembers and there is no reason anyone should. Read it and find out why.
The Karakoram had been closed for about 15 years due to the border conflict in the Kashmir between Pakistan and India. The ban was lifted in 1975 and the entire world of climbers headed for the region that year.
Dennis Hennek approached me with an invitation to join an expedition to climb Nameless Tower off the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram range in Pakistan. The expedition was to be filmed by an independent production company consisting of cinematographers with a support film crew of highly experienced mountaineers. National Geographic was a partial backer of the plan and supplied the group with humungous quantities of film and funding.
The expedition climbing team was composed of Dennis Hennek (leader), Yvon Chouinard, Michael Covington, Don Lauria, George Lowe, Joel Matta (physician), and Douglas Tompkins. Climbers being employed as assistants to the film crew were: Pete Carmen, Dick Dumais, Peter Pilafian, Doug Snively, Ted Wozniak, and Lito Tejada-Flores. Galen Rowell was an original member of the climbing team, but opted out for the more “prestigious” American K2 Expedition.
The climbers insisted that the filming be “cinema-veritie”. There was to be no “let’s shoot that again, we were a little out of focus.” In a cinema-verite film, no one is told what to say or how to act, with no form of direct communication from the filmmaker to his subject.
We applied for permission to climb Nameless Tower, but the British, having a lot more pull in Pakistan, reserved that prize. Just about every country with a climbing team was lined up for most of the major peaks, so we just arbitrarily asked for and received permission for un-reserved Mitre Peak. Our Pakistani military liaison officer was Imtiaz Ahmad.
What follows are some notes taken from my journal that I kept on our adventure in Pakistan.
First … the Far Flight
K2 Far Flight
May 13, 1975, Tuesday, LAX
Dennis Hennek, Joel Matta, and I lifted off at 9:15 AM PDT on time TWA #800 from LA to NY. Took it in the ear on over-weight $131.18. Arrived NY 5:15 PM EDT. Read “Karakoram” the whole leg. George Lowe was waiting to join us at JFK.
Pakistani International Airline (PIA) flight was delayed until 10:20 PM (indicative of things to come). Walked around town – 42nd Street – back to JFK. We three took off at midnight EDT for Paris in PIA DC-10.
May 14, 1975, Wednesday, In the Air
Three stop-overs: Paris for a beer, then Frankfurt, then Cairo (wouldn’t let us off the plane – guns everywhere – welcome to the Middle East).
May 15, 1975, Thursday, Karachi, Rawalpindi
Arrived in Karachi on at 5:30 AM PKT - about 17 hours after leaving NY – literally half way around the world from Los Angeles.
Left Karachi on a Boeing 707 at 7:20 AM and arrived in Rawalpindi at 9 AM. Now comes the fun part … the Pindi Pieces.
K3 Pindi Pieces
(Time Wasted May 15 through May 28, 1975)
We spent the next TWO WEEKS in Rawalpindi trying to get to Skardu – Skardu where the actual “mountain” part of the trip was to begin.
Settled in at Mrs. Davies Private Hotel. We, along with a Japanese climbing team, a Polish women’s climbing team, and a French climbing team – an Olympic village of climbers. The Poles drove a truck all the way from Poland! What a place! Reminds me of an old classic movie set – sort of a combination of Gunga Din and Casablanca. Overhead fans, pull-chain water closets, hot humid weather. And Baba! Baba, “our man”, our concierge, with his white robe, black market beer, $5 hunks of hashish the size of jumbo Hershey bars, and $30 women (offered, but not accepted). Dennis and Joel stayed in Karachi to make arrangements for shipping our crates.
Friday, 5/16/1975: I couldn’t stay awake last night while Dennis, Joel, and George were BS-ing. It was like a dream. Big rain storm with wind, lightning, flickering light bulbs, but I slept sound. Looks like Dennis may be down with giardia this morning. Methinks we all are doomed to eventual abdominal and intestinal rumblings. Dennis and Joel had arrived from Karachi. Most of our equipment and baggage is still in Karachi. We’re trying to get it shipped here.
Saturday, 5/17/1975: Had to go into “downtown” Rawalpindi to exchange dollars for rupees and see the Minister of Tourism – bureaucratic crap. Got a telegram from Joe Brown: STOP Have fully equipped expedition off by lorry to Pakistan to climb Trango Tower STOP Suggest you warm up on something else before climbing Mitre STOP. We answered: STOP Your permission changed to Mitre Peak STOP The Americans have taken the Trangos STOP signed The Ministry of Turds. Tomkins says that’ll shake them up!
To walk through the streets of Pindi is an experience in extremes. Horse-drawn taxis (tongas) with sleek well-groomed steeds exist, but are rare. The usual animal is thin, very thin. Bones protrude in ghastly skeletal arrays. People dressed as well as the middle-class Americans or Europeans, in western clothing, are everywhere mixed among the Pakistanis in Pak garb that varies from very fine to literal rags. Beggars, children, tug at your sleeve or hold your hand, sahib, sahib, they whimper persistently. The smells of Pak food, similar to Mexican in some ways, waft the nostrils to be followed by the stench of excrement – animal and human. Homes of fair western standards stand opposite hovels, discarded ancient army tents, with families squatting a round a small hearth, goats reclining in the doorways. Corner lots, vacant of any construction, are gardens of marijuana with paths worn diagonally through them.
Pakistanis are polite and gentle with westerners except when behind the wheel of an automobile or when they exhibit no knowledge of “lining up” at the post office or anywhere else – it’s “he who hesitates doesn’t have a chance.”
Played baseball with the Japanese.
George is in the coils of the giardia boa. Dennis and I had dinner with Dr. Richard Hopwood of the United States Information Service (U.S.I.S.) or “useless” as he jokingly(?) calls it. He sent a car to pick us up. His home in Islamabad is beautiful. The dinner with him, his wife, and three Yale teachers (two anthropologists and a psychiatrist) was exquisite with wine and lots of drinks – before and after.
Sunday, 5/18/1975: George heaved all night and is in the process of sleeping all day. I woke up with diarrhea and a big headache (8 scotch and waters last night) and a slight fever. Headache lasted all day.
Monday, 5/19/1975: We expect someone to show up today. Went to airport and sure as hell in walks that long-haired hippy freak, Michael Covington. Dennis and Mike went into Islamabad to the Minister of Tourism – more bureaucratic crap.
Tuesday, 5/20/1975: Dennis went to airport to pick up Chouinard and Tompkins. Dennis and our Pak liaison officer, Imtiaz Ahmad, supposedly reserved a C-130 for flight to Skardu for next Tuesday.
Wednesday, 5/21/1975: Still haven’t received equipment from Karachi. Went to market to buy expedition food. Yvon and Doug bought tennis rackets and balls. Then they, along with Lowe, went swimming in Islamabad.
Thursday, 5/22/1975: Went to airport. Still no film crew. Still no equipment from Karachi. Covington is recovering from the curse. Polish team returned from airport. Bad weather, no flight. Yvon and Doug went to play tennis. Matta confirmed through stool samples that he and Dennis, at least, have giardia.
Friday, 5/23/1975: Our equipment has arrived in Pindi, supposed to be delivered here at 2 PM. It’s now 3 PM, no equipment. It finally arrived because Dennis went into town and trucked it himself. We sorted gear. Tomorrow we unload the rest.
Saturday, 5/24/1975: A note on Baba. I noticed him throwing grain to the swallows yesterday. “Feeding the birds, Baba?” “Oh yes, you feed me, I feed the birds, Sahib”. When I suggested that he had a real gift of gab, he responded, “When people don’t learn to read, they become good talkers.”
Yvon and Doug went to Peshawar, thence over Khyber Pass to Kabul. Sightseeing? My aching has abated. Our Pak liaison officer, Imtiaz Ahmad, invited us to attend a Pakistani movie. I, Dennis, Cuv, Matta, and an English gal from the Polish team accepted. It was pretty hard to enjoy and everyone left the theater at intermission except me, the English gal, and Imtiaz.
Sunday, 5/25/1975: Woke up nauseous. Remained so all day. Went to InterContinental Hotel (ICH) for some watermelon. It’s all I could handle. Doug and Yvon returned from Afghanistan. The film crew will arrive tomorrow.
Monday, 5/26/1975: Dennis and I went to the airport. Part of the film crew arrived and we went to the ICH for lunch – not always a good choice, but the only choice if you want “western” food. Fruit plate was disgusting. One of the film crew couldn’t finish his “cheeseburger.” I’m still nauseous. Watermelon and beer is all I can handle.
Tuesday, 5/27/1975: Well, it finally happened. Covington broke down. He hates Pakistan, he’s ready to leave. It wore off. I’m still sick. I know it’s the Flagyl, so I quit the dosage. Everything is in a dither. We expect to leave tomorrow!
Wednesday, 5/28/1975: No plane. We got the word last night. Now we have a promised flight tomorrow. ICH for lunch and dinner. When it’s your only choice, use it.
Thursday, 5/29/1975: We were up early – about 4:30 AM. Loaded our truck and made it to the airport before 5:30 AM. The inevitable wait ensued. The Islamabad International Airport is falling down as fast as they build it. The Paks seem to build walls and then, as an afterthought, they knock holes in selected place for doors and windows.
We sat under the wing of our military C-130 for an hour. We took off at 7:30 AM. The flight from Rawalpindi to Skardu in a windowless C-130 was like flying in a cave cobwebbed with red nylon netting, packed with cargo and people – we anxiously glanced at intervals toward our disguised kerosene container (forbidden on flights, but we needed it).
The pilots called us up to the cockpit to view Nanga Parbat as we cruised by. They gave us cold Pepsi’s and PIA box lunches. Despite their generosity, I envisioned the cockpit door to slamming, an oriental face leering from within - flashback to Ronald Coleman, Lost Horizon, Shangri-La, the whole bit.
We arrived in Skardu about 8:30 AM.
And now the rest of the story – Baltoro Byway (23 Skardu)
K4 - Baltoro Byway (23 Skardu)
Thursday, May 29, 1975
Since arriving spent the day unloading jeeps, paying drivers, sorting loads. We are living in the circuit house next to the U.N. observers’ quarters. We are on a terrace 500 feet above the Indus River. Chouinard has been elected cook, Tompkins is our PR man – what else? I’m the recorder. I keep track of the porters and their wages. Slept outside.
Friday, May 30, 1975
Mulahs start at first light and don’t quit until the sun shines. Packaged sugar, finished most of equipment loads. Signed on about 16 porters. Bought more porter food. Signed on a relatively old porter named Hassan, son of Olam, of Kuru, Baltistan. He drew my attention because he was wearing and ancient pair of German mountain boots that were many sizes too big for him. He had acquired them from a prior expedition 15 or so years ago. Hassan became our favorite porter and stayed with us throughout the entire trip. Because of a resemblance, we nicknamed him Bertrand after Bertrand Russell. You be the judge.
Saturday, May 31, 1975
Slept out in the wind. Morning broke cloudy. Signed on over 50 more porters. Hired 7 jeeps. Shipped all our base camp food, George Lowe, Lito, and two cinematographers to Dasso with 45 porters. Spent rest of day making up porter loads. We’re going to need more porters.
Sunday, June 1, 1975, Skardu (7260 feet) to Dasso (8150 feet) approx. 45 miles
Up early under light sprinkle. Jeeps, tractors, porters started to arrive about 5:30 AM. The jeep ride from Skardu to within 2 miles of Dasso was spectacular. We ended up with about 160 porters encamped at Dasso. Campground was damp, tree-covered, between an irrigated field and the Braldru River. Dennis and I were sent scurrying from seeping water during the night.
Monday, June 2, 1975 Dasso (8150 feet) to Chakpo (8600 feet) 12 miles
Rough day. Started with arduous battle with porters over wages. Dennis and I were in charge of doling out the porter loads and were the last to leave. Hot steep 12 mile hike to Chakpo – not the most picturesque village. Dennis started out, head down and led the two of us into an impasse requiring us to climb straight up 1000 feet scree. I dragged into Chakpo completely drained. Two members of the Polish women’s team were there. Water is very muddy – boiling is a drag.
Tuesday, June 3, 1975 Chakpo (8600 feet) to Chongo (9400 feet) 9.5 miles
Up at 4 AM. Sent porters on their way and we all took off by 7:30 AM. We passed some sulfur baths, climbed a long, long, steep hill and arrived in Chongo about 2:30 PM. Bertrand came in with the first few porters – amazing old guy, no longer wearing his mountain boots. He obviously just used them to impress me and get hired. We think we can see Gasherbrum IV up the valley. Dinner, porter songs, bed.
Wednesday, June 4, 1075 Chongo (9400 feet) to Askole (9750 feet) 5.5 miles
Awoke at 4 AM. Yvon is sick with a cold. Dennis doesn’t feel well either. Nobody stirred until 5 AM. Argued with campground owner over 20 rupee fee. I left last at 9 AM. Miraculous valley. Absolute beauty attributable to the simple people that till, irrigate, and terrace the soil – and, of course, the surrounding mountains. Most all the sahibs (sobs) bathed in a hot spring along the way. Surprisingly short hike – we arrived in Askole a little after noon.
Thursday, June 5, 1975 Askole (9700 feet) to Korophon (10,400 feet) 7.5 miles
Cold morning! Up at 5 AM. Even the porters sleep in when it’s cold. Sent some porters home as our loads lessened. Left Askole at 8:30 AM and had an easy hike up over the snout of the Biaho Glacier. Into campground Korophon about 2:30 PM. Bleak bluff above the river. Porters danced and sang for us. Did a little first aid on a kid porter and a couple of others. Doc Matta was on the golf course.
Friday, June 6, 1975 Korophon (10,400 feet) to Bardumal (10, 750 feet) 7 miles
Cold again. Sent 8 porters home. Got the rest on the trail by 9:30 AM. I was last out of camp. We crossed the river about an hour out. Waded, about waist deep, an ice axe would have been handy (a month later, on our way out, we needed a bridge).
Hennek and I caught up with Chouinard and Carmen after passing all the rest. We had to wait to decide where Bardumal was. Found it. Dusty! Dusty! Sandy! K2 sidar (chief porter) passed us on his way down to Dasso to get fuel. They (K2) have established Camp-II. Wonder how Rowell is doing. Worked until 9:30 PM entering loads into journal. Lowe is sick with fever, headache, and diarrhea.
Saturday, June 7, 1975 Barmudal (10,750 feet) to Payu (11,050 feet) 7.5 miles
Got all porters on the trail. Paid off 12 and sent them home. Dennis and I left last at 8 AM. We hiked non-stop for over 2 hours and caught up with Chouinard, Tompkins, Lowe, and Covington at a fresh stream where we all bathed. First bath since Rawalpindi. Got our first view of the Baltoro Cathedrals. Incredible.
The Poles where encamped at Payu with porter problems. We didn’t want our porters being influenced by the Pole’s porters, so we put on a show. As our porters came into camp we gave them a rousing welcome, cheering, waving, Covington dancing. It worked. All our porters began dancing with us and the show went on for hours. It worked – we had no porter problems that night.
Sunday, June 8, 1975 Payu (10,050 feet) to Liligo (12,190 feet) 6 miles
Dennis is having bowel problems again. George is feeling better, but still carrying very little load. Dennis, Covington, Lowe, and I have been carrying 45-50 pound loads every day. I’m feeling stronger each day, but my feet are suffering in these new Pivettas. Dennis’ and my fingertips are extremely tender from handling the gunny sack porter loads each morning.
Dennis and I left Payu about 8 AM – last as usual. We passed about everyone, as usual, arriving Liligo at 12:15 PM. We ascended the snout of the Baltoro Glacier and had our first glimpse of Nameless Tower. My god, what a peak! Lucky Bonnington.
Yvon, Cuv, and Doug went bouldering above camp. Matta is attending a very sick porter with aid from the Polish lady doctor – a pediatrician. Earlier, Dennis filled a tooth of Polish lady climber. Thank god he didn’t strike a nerve – she was as big and as rough as a bear.
Our porter food problem is becoming critical, but we may scrape by. Dennis went to bed with a severe case of the Bolivian Burps. Slept out.
Monday, June 9, 1975 Liligo (12,190 feet) to Urdukas (13,500 feet) 7 miles
Cold morning, not a cloud in the sky. Dennis is sick, was up most of the night with acute gastritis. Sent out 113 loads by 7:30 AM. Paid off 8 porters. Dennis recovered and we left last as usual about 8:10 AM. The porters are sporting their new socks and glacier glasses we handed out yesterday. The trek along the southern edge of the glacier started out easy, but became steep and rocky after the halfway point. The Poles preceded us from Liligo, but Dennis, Cuv, Tompkins, and I passed most of them and all of our porters. We reached the mouth of the Biale Glacier and Urdukas about 12:15 PM. Urdukas is relatively nice. Grass. Little dust - but the water is yellow.
Our porters are really slow today. The last ones came in about 4:30 PM. We had hoped to go farther today, but it’s too late. So now we are finished with our porters – we’re out of food. We must recon and decide what to climb from here. Our porters damned near burned us out with a grass fire this evening. Dennis and I tented up mainly so we could write by candlelight.
Tuesday, June 10, 1975 Base Camp at Urdukas (13,500 feet)
Frost on the pumpkin this morning. First came the attempt to payoff and rid ourselves of our porters. After 2 hours of haggling and a near riot – truly, we even armed ourselves with ice axes when things were looking bad. We finally settled for 35 rupees more per porter than we considered fair. It was a real relief to see them file out- but some were the faces of friends.
We kept Bertrand Russell on as our cook and official member of the expedition. He’s so proud of the jacket we gave him, he made chupati all day. Covington and Lowe left about 11:30 AM to recon Mustagh Glacier. They were in touch often by walkie talkie (W/T). They had explored the glacier that leads to Mustagh Tower, but it was a long way off. They mentioned some interesting towers on the south side of Mustagh Glacier.
Spent most of the day sorting out food. We figure we have enough for 30 days. Weather has been cloudy and threatening all day, but no precipitation.
An aside: Chupatis are sort of gastronomical geodes. Round stones are heated in the campfire. When still very hot, they are wrapped in an inch-thick pizza-like dough. The stones cook the dough from within the “geode”. When done, the fresh “bread” shell is reverse-hatched from the “egg” center. One of many culinary lessons learned on this trip.
Wednesday, June 11, 1975 Urdukas aka Flatulence Flats Base Camp (13,500 feet)
Snowed last night. Lots of fresh snow on the peaks, a little in camp. Got a 9 AM call from Cuv and Lowe. They still haven’t found a peak worth climbing. The film team, with Bertrand leading, carried loads to establish a cache at the mouth of Mustagh Glacier. The rest of us straightened up base camp. Covington and Lowe returned, burnt and tired with no encouraging info on prospective objectives. Yvon and Doug are getting antsy with no decent objective in sight. Gave Bertrand a sleeping bag today- boy, did he beam - a smile only his mother could love. He gave Dennis his topi (hat).
Thursday, June 12, 1975 Urdukas (13,500 feet) to Lobsang Bransa aka Mustagh Meadows (15,000 feet) 7 miles
Up late at 7 AM. Yvon baked chupati cakes with sherry flavored peach jam melted over them. Everyone, the film crew, Yvon, Doug, Joel, and Bertrand took off for the Mustagh Glacier cache ahead of Dennis and me. We left at 11 AM lugging about 60 pounds each and arrived at 1 PM. After the rest of the group arrived, Dennis and I left at 3 PM and walked up the glacier. We found a beautiful camp at the base of Lobsang Peak across from Lobsang Spire – clean running water, grass, the remains of old rock shelters. Obviously an oft traveled path through the centuries over Mustagh La to China. An ideal spot for our advanced base camp. Tented up.
Friday, June 13, 1975 Mustagh Meadows (15,000 feet)
Up at 5:30 AM. Left some stuff at the campsite and started up the glacier at 8 AM. We stopped at 9 and 11 AM to try getting in touch with Urdukas with the WTs to no avail. At noon soft snow stopped us so we got naked and took an Eskimo air bath. Finally contacted Imtiaz at Urdukas. Everyone had left to establish a higher camp – we assumed it would be at Mustagh Meadows. No one could pass up that camp. It’s very hot and bright here at the base of what I call “Pyramid Peak”. We are waiting for the cool of evening to explore the glacier that takes off to our right.
Dennis and I are both suffering from “the splits” - cracked fingertips. We figure we are the only ones afflicted since we did 80% of the porter gunny-sack handling – sacks that had contained urea in the not too distant past.
We contacted Mustagh Meadows by WT. They had hired 20 porters and hauled 200# of food and all the gear to the new camp at Mutagh Meadows. Tomorrow Lowe and Cuv will haul more loads. We’re bivouacking here on a flat granite slab out of the snow.
Saturday, June 14, 1975 Flat Slab aka Confluence Camp (16,500 feet)
Fitful sleep on hard slab. Had helluva a time getting the Bluet stove lit. Started up the glacier at 6:30 AM. Perfect snow conditions – no crampons, just ice axes and cameras. Reached about 18,000 feet about 9 AM still unable to locate Mustagh Tower. We plunged back down to Confluence Camp in 25 minutes, left a stove and some food, then headed for Mustagh Meadows.
Sunday, June 15, 1975 Mustagh Meadows (15,000 feet)
Everyone began preparing their loads to hump up to Confluence Camp. Matta went down to the Mustagh Glacier cache for some supplies. Tompkins, Yvon, Cuv, and the film crew left about 12:15 PM. Lowe and I left later we all eventually gathered at Confluence Camp. Yvon and Covington were totally unimpressed with what I called “Pyramid Peak”, stating they would scout Biale Peak tomorrow. I was upset, but recovered. Dennis, Lowe, and I still intend to do Pyramid.
George an I returned to Mustagh Meadows to find Dennis cooking great chupatis. Matta had returned from the Mustagh Glacier cache with a lot of our food and butane tins punctured by some mysterious animal. Looked like bullet holes!
Monday, June 16, 1975 Mustagh Meadows (15,000 feet)
Today everything just sorta fell apart. Tempers flared and receded. Dennis was upset with film crew. Tompkins was upset with Dennis. Covington was upset with the entire scene and was threatening to leave for the USA today. It was all Dennis and I could do to talk him out of it. Everyone else headed for Confluence Camp to acclimatize by climbing Karaphogang, a snow peak on the Chinese border.
So here we three are. Home alone. We have agreed to climb Lobsang Peak – the peak that hovers over us.
Tomorrow, Lobsang Lullaby.
K5 Lobsang Lullaby
This account is not very exciting, the climbing was mostly easy, but it sets the stage for bumping in a lot of photos of the region and some more challenging climbs later in this thread.
First Ascent Lobsang Peak, 20,423 feet
June 17, Tuesday, Lobsang Bransa aka Mustagh Meadows, 14,300 feet
Yesterday we talked Michael Covington out of leaving and into climbing the peak we’d been camped under for 5 days. Dennis (Hennek) woke me this morning at about 5:30 AM. We ate, packed everything, the three of us trudged out of Lobsang Bransa (Lauria, Hennek, and Covington) at 7:30 AM.
We started up climbing 3rd class over steep mixed terrain below a huge couloir. At about 11:30 AM the heat slushed up the snow, so we built a bivouac platform at about 16, 500 feet. We stopped early because to avoid climbing a 3000 foot couloir at mid-day. Its surface is covered with avalanche scars, but seems to be inactive. We lunched, had coffee, some hash. It’s 1:30 PM, hotter than hell, we’re just sitting here waiting for the coolness of later afternoon. Boy, are we are we stoned. Shirts off, getting burned. The view from here is like most Karakoram views – incredible.
Not as many avalanches off of Biale Peak this afternoon. The mountains are getting in shape, but clouds are coming in from the west – a definite change. We need a couple of more good days.
It’s 5:30 PM. It’s cooled off. Clouds are gone. We are now in our downies to keep warm. Just had coffee and soup. Now for the chicken and rice. An after dinner Columbo shut down the day.
It’s 7:32 PM, it’s still light enough to write. Each day gets longer until the June 23rd – 4 AM to 8 PM – 16 hour days.
June 18, Wednesday, bivouac platform at 16,500 feet.
We awoke at 4 AM. Some brew, granola, then we continued up the giant couloir at 6 AM. An early start to avoid the mid-day softening and avalanche possibilities.
Hennek, on Lomotil and unroped, got up the couloir by 10:45 AM. Cuv and I got caught in the sun, roped up, and didn’t reach Hennek on the summit until 2:45 PM. It was real work on fairly easy terrain. So much work that I didn’t take many summit pictures.
The summit was surprisingly only about 400 feet higher than the top of the couloir. Such a nice day we decided to stay. Hennek and I carved out a sleeping platform in the snow (a hole or a grave, we didn’t bring a tent) just off the summit.
The entire summit is a snow peak in itself. The view was incredible. The altitude, 20,430 feet, got to Cuv early. I eventually succumbed to Cheyne-Stokes breathing. I just couldn’t stay awake through all of the sunset scene. Mustagh Tower, Pyramid Peak, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum IV, Chogalisa, Nameless Tower, Masherbrum – alpenglow like no one ever sees. Also noted some dark ominous clouds drifting in from the west – not a good sign. Sleeping in the open at this altitude is a beautiful and stimulating thing to do, but it was also important to remember the consequences of getting caught out by a storm. I fell in and out of sleep from 4:30 PM until 8:30 PM. The boys were stoked and stoned and kept waking me to point out the wonderful pictures I was missing. Later those ominous clouds intermittently covered the moon.
About those clouds – so many beautiful days had to come to an end, but why not just one more? If we were really trapped in bad blowing weather our best chance of surviving would be a snow cave. If the storm lasted 1-3 days, we could survive, but when could we descend? The new snow would make progress difficult and make avalanches the order of the day. All this, when we could have descended before dark. To choose to bivouac on the summit of a peak higher than Denali, to have climbed it in one push, just three guys with 25 minutes of forethought, does that make it worth it?
June 19, Thursday, summit of Lobsang Peak, 20,430 feet.
Awoke intermittently as snow began to fall. All of my worst fears now realigned themselves for pass-in-review. At 4 AM, still in our hole and covered with snow, we were in a complete white-out. Our tracks from yesterday obliterated. Which way leads to the couloir? The idea of descending a newly filled gully was not appealing. At 5 AM we finally decided that if we could see, we would make a go for it. No time for cooking. Impossible anyway. We shook the snow out of everything while the new stuff was busy filling it back up. We would get brief moments of visibility and then whiteouts in the extreme. During a break in the mist we found the couloir, roped up for the first 1500 feet of descent, then off with the ropes on easier ground. We raced the impending and certain avalanches that would fill our tracks.
We stumbled into Mustagh Meadows (Lobsang Bransa), the brave conquerors of Lobsang Peak, to an empty camp – whoops, no, Lito (Tejada-Flores) was there, sick, but smiling. Lito was one of the climbers in the film crew that accompanied our trek. Dick Dumais, Peter Pilafian, and Pete Carmen were part of that group. Three of the film crew and our liaison officer are on their way back to the villages.
The rest of the climbing team (Chouinard, Tompkins, Lowe, and the remaining film crew) were off doing Karphogang. It began to snow steadily. Covington, Dennis, and I had dinner with an exceptional dessert – blueberries with cream. Exceptional because of a lumpless dry-milk cream, the culinary triumph of the trip. Two days, two triumphs!
More to come … Aspiring Aspirations.
K6 Aspiring Aspirations
June 20, 1975, Friday, Mustagh Meadows to Urdukas
Up late, about 7 AM. The ground all around was white. Today we return to Uddukas to get equipment for an attempt on Lobsang Spire. We left at noon and went past the old Mustagh cache spot. Our search for prints of the vandal that punctured the fuel bottles yielded bear prints. We tracked them clear to the Biale Glacier, then Dennis had an epiphany – Why are we tracking a bear? What if we find the bear? We made a quick left and headed straight across the Baltoro Glacier to Urdukas. Bertrand was elated to see us. I made spaghetti. To bed.
An aside: If there could be anything that we have an over-abundance of besides feta cheese, it’s insect repellent. Having any is having too much. There are no pesky insects. There are ants, spiders, and huge beautiful bumblebees, none of whom could be classified as pesky. Bear repellent, however, may have done some good at the cache, but if a mouthful of butane with a kerosene chaser didn’t do the job, what could? Really, what could?
June 21, 1975, Saturday, Urdukas
Up at 6:30 AM, all the porters that stayed last night were on their way to Mustagh Meadows. By 8 AM, only Bertrand remained with us (Me, Hennek, and Covington). Organized the food and equipment for the big transfer to the Meadows. We eat a lot on days like this. Made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce and then managed to spill half the noodles while draining them. Damn! Hash after dinner did me in.
June 22, 1975, Sunday, Urdukas
Snowed last night. The weather is still unstable –so’s our motivation. Today we really have the slows. Covington is leaving on his solo trek back to the USA. He cried a little, then a hug for Bertrand, and he left. Dennis wandered off and watched him disappear over the crest, just a moving dot into the west. I watched too, until he was gone.
Hennek and I finally settled down to sacking loads. We’ll need six porters to get everything to Mustagh Meadows. Tomorrow we haul our loads over – porters or no. The weather is still “snow-shine”.
You know the old saying of the traveling man, “The second thing I’m going to do when I get home, is put down my bags.” It’s one of those days. I patched my knickers some more – two orange patches next to the old blue one. Beginning to look a little clownish.
It’s 7 PM and snowing again. Ate strawberries, listened to avalanches, read Kafka until 9PM. To sleep.
June 23, 1975, Monday, Urdukas to Mustagh Meadows
Up at 7:30 AM. Prepared packs for trek across the glacier. Left at 10 AM. Dennis and I crossed on a hellish diagonal route. Arrived at the cache area at little after noon. We both forgot food. Dennis was dragging so he dumped some ballast on me. Then I began to drag. Arrived at the meadows at 3 PM.
Our ensuing conversations regarding the filming with Grossbeck, Chouinard, and Tompkins were volatile, but subsided in relative, if only temporary, agreement. Yvon made curry for dinner. Afterwards, we went to the film crew’s mess hall (the “Starship”, we called it) for some interesting tete-a-tete with Lito – he was up from his sick bed. We retired at 9:45 PM.
An aside: The Starship was built by stringing a tarp 7’ above and in line with two existing 10’ long parallel stone walls. The walls were separated by about 6’ and, when so covered, created a covered hall. A table with a stove was placed at the closed end, the other end being the entrance. Each side had seating formed by the stone walls allowing about 6 people to sit three-by-three facing each other. It became our community center.
June 24, 1975, Tuesday, Mustagh Meadows (14,300 feet) to Lobsang Spire Col (17,000 feet)
Up at 6:30 AM. Yvon, Tompkins, Charles, Snively, Tim, and Dumais went up to recon a film route on the double peak north of the Spire. Lowe and Matta left for Urdukas to bring modified food loads over (Lowe figured we didn’t need all that Dennis and I prepared for carry).
Dennis and I left for a recon of the spire col. Halfway up the couloir, we noticed six porters moving across the glacier toward Mustagh Meadows. Flushed a ptarmigan. We got to the col at 3 PM, sat around photographing K2 until 4:30 PM. Back down the 3000 foot couloir. Back to camp by 6 PM. Everyone was back except Lowe and Matta. The six porters we saw crossing the glacier were dispatched by Bertrand unbeknownst to Lowe and Matta, so now we have all our unmodified food loads here. Lowe and Matta showed about 7 PM.
Received word that the French team climbed Gasherbrum II and are going home, one member of their 2nd summit team died on the descent during a storm – the same one one that hit us on Lobsang Peak. The film crew’s route is a go on the day after tomorrow. Hennek and I will attempt what looks like a nail up route on the SW face of the spire on Thursday. Weather today was slightly cloudy, but warm. Full moon tonight. Tomorrow looks good.
June 25, 1975, Wednesday, Mustagh Meadows
Absolutely cloudless day. Hot – very hot. Avalanches off Biale Peak started at 8 AM.
A loafer’s day – we prepared for the climb. Sunbathed, ate, read, SnoSealed boots, made tie-offs, ate, brushed teeth, and sorted clothing. I prepared a spahgetti feast for the film crew and climbers – ‘twas well received. Film crew lost Pilafian (he’s sick), so Yvon and Doug won’t start tomorrow.
Lowe is going with Dennis and me early tomorrow. We plan to make a camp at the col, put up three pitches, rap with option to bivouac or return to the meadows.
June 26, 1975, Thursday, Mustagh Meadows (14,300 feet) to Lobsang Spire Col (17,000 feet)
It’s 5:30 AM, I’m , Dennis didn’t sleep too well (the return of the Bolivian Burps). He wants to sleep in a little. Surprisingly, George hasn’t stirred yet, either. George is up – it’s 6 AM. He fixed some porridge. Dennis is up. We got our packs ready and left at 8:30 AM. The hike to the col went well. The last 300 feet wasn’t easy. We had to traverse under a cornice and pass it on the left. From the Spire col we traversed down and west to get a better look at the face (3 PM). While Dennis and I got water, George hacked out a platform in the ice at the col.
I am now snugly situated in my bag at about 17,500’ looking between my feet at K2 in the distance. Our route tomorrow will probably be the west ridge. To sleep about 7:30 PM.
June 27, 1975, Friday, Lobsang Spire Col (17,000 feet) to Snow Bivouac (18,000 feet)
Woke at 5 AM to a partially cloudy sky – but threatening stuff coming in from the west. We waited around to see what the weather was going to do. Finally, about 11 AM, we started up. I led off. Then Lowe and Hennek, climbing simultaneously. The climbing went from sun to snow, back and forth. Eight pitches diagonally across the face. We reached a decent spot to bivouac and stomped out a very exposed platform. A comfortable bivouac at about 18,000 feet.
June 28, 1975, Saturday, Snow Bivouac (18,000 feet) to Mustagh Meadows (14,300 feet)
About 3 AM the weather closed in. We got dumped on. Into the bivouac sacks. The new snow made progress dangerous and continued threatening weather made retreat necessary. Eight rappels and a 3500’ butt slide got us back to the meadows at 3:30 PM.
Yvon, Doug, and the film crew were back – they, too, had been foiled by the weather. Chouinard and Tompkins are leaving for Skardu tomorrow (with Pete Carmen) via Masherbrum La. Our last night all together in the Starship : Polish ham, carrots, potatoes au gratin, Dry Sack sherry, and Brandenburg Concertos.
An aside: The cup held between my two hands, thumbs along the rim, created the lower frame of an enclosed, comfortable world. Above this frame flickered the candlelit faces and upper torsos of friends, warmly congregated in their over-sized parkas, side-by-side staring across their cups into the same world. Seated opposite one another in the Starship, like two sides of a subway car with Bach emanating from the tiny cassette player, the group sipped the cherished sherry in otherwise silent contemplation. My thoughts were halfway around the world with my music, my wine, my woman.
June 29, 1975, Sunday, Mustagh Meadows
Awoke to the hub-bub of Yvon and Doug readying to leave for Masherbrum La. They left (Carman, too) with appropriate camera coverage. Later, Matta and Snively left for Urdukas, thence to Skardu.
So here we sit: Lowe, Lauria, Hennek, the climbers; Grosbeck, Pilafian, and Wozniak, the film crew. The weather – ugly.
Cold, gray, snowy all day, but for an hour about 5 PM. Lowe and Hennek went up to Confluence Camp to retrieve some food. We ate shrimp creole for dinner with the film crew. Bed at 8 PM. Finished Kafka’s Trial. Can’t sleep. Cheyne-Stokes!
June 30, 1975, Monday, Mustagh Meadows
Well, it did it! It snowed and snowed and snowed. There’s 4” on the ground and it’s still coming down. We had breakfast in the Starship (six of us). Corn fritters. Weather is socked in and still snowing.
The snow is at 5” at 11 AM. Three porters arrived (including Bertrand). We loaded them up and sent them back to Urdukas where the situation is confused. Dumais is there, but his notes are hard to understand.
The sun came out about 12:20 PM, so we started readying the evacuation - took down tents, burned trash. By 3 PM almost all the snow had melted. So what’s it do? It starts hailing. Pilafian and Worzniak went up to Confluence to clean it out.
Lowe fixed supper. Chili and beans, steak, vanilla custard with strawberries. I’m stuffed. It’s snowing like hell again. I can’t stay awake long enough to take off my clothes. I awake about 10:30 PM, snowing has stopped. I finally get into my bag, read, write, then sleep.
July 1, 1975, Tuesday, Mustagh Meadows
It’s still snowing. Late Breakfast. Hard night – sleep was fitful. Ten porters showed up about 10 AM in the snowstorm. Sent them out with 10 loads after feeding them. They’ll be back tomorrow.
Went for a solo walk to the southern end of the moraine – saw about 8-10 ibex. The snow melts almost totally away, then it snows again in the afternoon. Clearing by dinner time. Hennek and I fixed rice ala feta. Stars are out tonight.
July 2, 1975, Wednesday, Mustagh Meadows
Hallelujah! Not a cloud in the sky. Today we get ready to go back up on Lobsang Spire. We had lots of corn fritters and bacon to celebrate the unveiling of the Starship – we took down it’s tarp. Burned the trash.
The porters arrived very early (10 of them). We packed them up along with the film crew and by 2:30 PM, there were only three of us (Lowe, Hennek, and me). We are now left with only what we can carry out – the rest has been sent down to Urdukas. The weather is doubtful again, but by dinner time the stars were out again. We will arise early tomorrow!
Dennis’ aside: Only enough time for one last try and then home, and we do not have a major climb accomplished as yet. All of our last hopes are now riding on tomorrow and the day after’s weather. It looks promising, but after a month in the Karakoram, we still don’t know for sure. It could be snowing hard again by morning or while on the climb. That elusive “real storm” could finally come in. I told Don today, I’m equally as excited about this climb as I was about the NA wall.
July 3, 1975, Thursday, Mustagh Meadows (14,300 feet) to Snow Bivouac (18,000 feet)
We arose at 3:30 AM, brewed up breakfast and were on our way by 5 AM. The snow at the col was perfect and we made good time until about 8 AM – then the snow began to soften and our pace slowed. Our fixed rope at the cornice was in good shape, but a large chunk of the cornice was missing. When I used the Gibbs ascenders to climb it, I really froze my hands and made myself sick to my stomach. We got to the col at 9:30 AM and dried out all our gear, ate, and rested. I felt very weak after freezing my hands.
We rested at the col until 11 AM, then started across the west face, heading for our bivvy eight pitches up. The face was plastered in snow – this wasn’t going to be as easy as our first trip. My first lead was wet, icy, and hidden by snow. Very frustrating and extremely slow. Dennis smashed his finger badly with his hammer following my 4th pitch. Bled a lot. We were already going slowly, now this. Four more pitches to the bivouac platform. We repeated all our old pitches.
We reached our original bivouac spot after dark at 9:30 PM. We brewed up some soup and chili and settled back to sleep about 11 PM. It was a hard 18 hour day – not nearly as easy as the first time - because of the conditions. My hands ache, all the splits are hurting again. The weather had been great most of the day with only a slight local build up.
Dennis and I both had a bad day – both wishing we were home. It was our hands, I think. We plan to be up early at 3:30 AM and go for the summit.
July 4, 1975, Friday, Snow Bivouac (18,000 feet) to Spire Ridge Bivouac (18,300 feet)
Dawn is cloudless – Masherbrum is directly across from me over my knees upon which is propped a book. Dennis is sleeping on my right, in the middle, George is snoring on the far right. It’s 6:30 AM, very cold. – 7:30 AM everyone’s awake. Dennis complained about my “lip-flapping” Cheynes-Stokes breathing throughout the night. We are late. We apparently have quite a way to go yet. Hopefully, when we reach the ridge and the climbing difficulty will ease up. The ridge may only be 2 pitches above us.
We started late, 11:30 AM, after drying out our bags. It ended up being 2 and ¼ pitches to the ridge. I led and took forever (2.5 hours according to Hennek’s notes.), then Dennis the 10th pitch, a mixed snow/rock, both free and aid (fun pitch at 18,000 feet according to Dennis), then the short aid lead to George. It got us to the ridge – it’s a knife edge all the way, vertical on the north face and 70 degrees on the south. We found a convenient, but very small and highly exposed niche on the ridge. Our route across the face came out at the only low angled spot on the ridge. We’ll be up early, weather permitting and we should be able to traverse the last 700 feet to the summit. Although the last section at the end of the ridge looks like it could be a problem and there’s no place to bivouac. The weather is causing us to worry. Tomorrow the summit?
July 5, 1975, Saturday, Spire Ridge Bivouac (18, 300 feet) to Mustagh Meadows (14,300 feet)
At 1:30 AM it began to snow – shit! A full blown snow storm. BY 6 AM we had lots of snow all over the ridge. Still snowing.
So what can we do? Nothing, that’s what. At 8 AM we began our rappels – nine of them.
By 1:30 PM we were at the col. After eating all our canned goods, we slid down the gully, racing possible avalanches. I discarded my mittens and gaiters on the glacier. We scooped up our stuff from Mustagh Meadows and left for Urdukas at 4:30 PM. An epic hike, we arrived at Urdukas about 8:15 PM. Pilafian, Wozniak, and Grosbeck are still here. They fed us. We tented up and slept in our wet down stuff. It was a long day!
An aside: The last few days have been difficult days for writing – physically as well as mentally. I merely chronicled the events. To reach the ridge, to see the road to the summit, to realize we were going to make it the next day, and then get plastered by the weather again – we seem to be out of sync with the Karakoram.
July 6, 1975, Sunday, Urdukas
It was sprinkling most of the night and this morning. About 10 AM some porters came in from up the Baltoro. We (the climbers) signed on about seven of them for tomorrow. About 1:00 PM, 42 porters from the Mayor of Askole swung into town. So now we are all set to start out early tomorrow. We spent all day making up loads and looking longingly at the peak we should have climbed. The film crew fed us lunch and dinner. We shall reciprocate on the trail. With supreme luck – L.A. July 15th!
We begin the Homeward Hassle.
K7 Homeward Hassle
July 7, 1975, Monday, Urdukas to Payu, 13 miles
We awoke early put tea water on. Got porters organized and moving out by 7:30 AM. Film crew fixed breakfast. We all left at 8:30 AM – the film crew is not carrying any loads – the climbing team is carrying 35 to 40 pounds each. Dennis and I took off. Made it to Liligo by 10 AM, Robutz by 11:30 AM, and Payu by 2:45 AM. We stopped for a total of 45 minutes.
Spotted fresh bear tracks at Robutz. It’s 3:15 PM, I’m sitting against a rock at Payu, we’re still waiting for everyone else to show up. I blew up this evening at the infernal petty bickering between the film crew and the climbers – really screamed.
July 8, 1975, Tuesday, Payu to Laksam Beach and the Vine Cable Bridge, 15.5 miles
We (Dennis and I) were abruptly awakened by George in a panic. Get up! The porters want to leave. We grumbled and grouched through our hurried breakfast. Every one left by 6:30 AM except me and Dennis – we finally got moving about 7:30 AM.
We reached the fresh stream where we bathed last month. The French were encamped nearby. We bathed and I made the mistake of having some hash. I walked by Barmudal about 12:30 PM and didn’t even notice.
We reached the Dumordo River ahead of all the porters. The bridge at Laskam is down. Mountain Travel with, of all people, Al Steck, Jack Turner, and Bob Swanson are across from us on the river. We sent Lowe (he volunteered) across the remaining strand of the bridge Tyrolean style on belay, of course. We set up a Tyrolean traverse and crossed. Got all our loads across and sold our “bridge” to Steck. Had some good time reminiscing with the Mountain Travel group. They mentioned that our escapades are well known from Pindi to Askole – our telegram to Joe Brown among them.
Tomorrow the film crew and hopefully our porters will get hauled over and we are on our way to Askole.
July 9, 1975, Wednesday, Laksam to Korophon. 1.5 hours
George woke us up at 5:30 AM, but we stalled until after six. More loads had to be sent across the Tyroloean as well as all the Mountain Travel people. Meanwhile, a huge group of villagers showed up carrying a brand new bridge. They began the installation while we pulled 40 porters across our rope.
It was 2 PM when we finished and started out for Askole, but the porters’ and our own fatigue convinced us to stop at Korophon. George, Tim, Dennis, and I had dinner with two Japanese trekkers. Tomorrow, Chongo, then Biano, then Basa on the 12th. With supreme luck, L.A. on the 15th!
An aside: It was a beautiful hot day today with puffy clouds – the kind of weather we needed while climbing. We heard from the K2 sidar (head porter) that the K2 expedition is calling it quits because of the weather. Also heard the French on Paiju have been plagued with injuries – they almost lost a couple of guys in a river crossing.
July 10, 1075, Thursday, Korophon to Chongo, 13 miles
Up early – porters out by 6:30 AM, us by & AM. Across the Biaho Glacier behind two fast porters. Arrived in Askole at 10 AM. Traded for “jewelry” and visited home of Askole-walla (the mayor). Haggled with the porters and settled for 265 rupees per man.
Left Askole at 2 PM. Hot! Beautiful man-made landscape. Dennis and I bathed at sulfur springs. I’m dying of thirst. I got to Chongo at 6 PM, solo, rest of crew dragged in at 6:30 PM. Drank gallons of tea. My kingdom for something ice cold and sandless.
Tomorrow we go to Biano, next day to Baha and jeeps to Skardu. Maybe we’ll get to Skardu by the 13th, maybe. Then, L.A. by the 19th!
July 11, 1975, Friday, Chongo to Biano
Up real early, 5 AM. Porters are ready to leave. Our tea that was left out last night was swiped – pot and all. Boy, was Dennis ticked.
Left Chongo about 6:30 AM, arrived in Chakpo at 11 AM. We’d been anticipating the apricot trees in Chakpo, but they weren’t ripe yet. So we ate mulberries and lunch. Left for Biano about 3 PM, arriving at 4:30 PM. Some of our porters got lost – how does that happen?
My feet are starting to hurt – but there’s only one more day of walking. God, it’s going to be great to get home.
July 12, 1975, Saturday, Biano to Dasso to Baha to Shigar
We were out of Biano by 6:30 AM. Over the steep hill by 8:30 AM with Dasso in sight. Dennis, George, Tim, and I ate lunch on the river beach an hour from Dasso. We gorged ourselves with mulberries as we entered.
A short rest then on to Baha. As we approached the bridge our advance runner came into view – JEEPS! We accelerated to Baha. The Swiss expedition was coming in. We took their jeeps, but high water stopped us in Shigar. Tomorrow, SKARDU! AND a flight to Pindi.
July 13, 1975, Sunday, Shigar to Skardu
I awoke feeling a little queasy – too many mulberries and green apples. We broke camp quickly, crossed the river in the amazing jeeps and bumped and jarred our way to Skardu. I felt pretty bad the whole way.
In Skardu it was all I could do to pack some of my stuff, I laid around, slept, groaned a lot.
An aside: My hands in the dirt, on my knees, with an intense gut pain, I felt the oncoming wretch working it’s way toward my throat. It was dark, a ferocious wind at my back blowing sand up my nostrils and into my eyes – I could just make out the slow movement of the Indus River beginning it’s thousand-mile journey to the Indian Ocean. One helluva a place to be throwing up!
No flights on Sunday. Weather looks horrible for tomorrow – heavy winds. Dennis acquired some whiskey from the Japanese team staying here at the circuit house.
An aside: The weather has closed in – no plane today. The way it looks, no plane tomorrow, either. If we get out before Friday, we may be able to connect up with an earlier Pan-Am flight to NY. We may still make LA by July 19th. I can’t decide to shave or not. Maybe I’ll have Dennis take a few photos, then I’ll shave.
July 14, 1975, Monday, Skardu
Well, it’s socked in. No flight confirmed. Spent day packing and selling. Bored stiff, but healthy again. Finished reading “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. Started Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game” (Magister Ludi). Nothing to do now but sit and hope.
July 15, 1975, Tuesday, Skardu
Well, I said it would be supreme luck – it’s the 15th and it’s still socked in. The weather is stable and just plain anti-going-home. It has drizzled and rained all day. The New Zealand U.N. Observer next door said he’s never seen more than three consecutive days of this – that means it should clear today – but it’s now 6:30 PM and it’s raining. Absolutely no sign of any clearing.
I sit, I sleep, I read, I chew the dead skin off my hands. I listen to the sickening twang of the Pakistanis haggling over prices on our surplus goods. “Cannot you show me some concession on this price?” Concession, my ass!
I fixed spaghetti today (on request) and managed to spill at least one serving of noodles while draining them. Déjà vu. Quite an international dish – Japanese noodles (from Ichiban Soup), Danish feta cheese, Pakistani tomato puree, canned Argentine beef, freeze-dried American hamburger, onions, cuminos, pepper, and salt. Heartburn city.
Looking out the window I can only say it looks very unlikely that we will be flying tomorrow.
July 16, 1975, Wednesday, Skardu
Woke up – it’s pouring. Very unusual weather, so say the natives. At 10:30 AM it began to clear.
It’s 9 PM, still looks promising for tomorrow. Good food today – too much. Donuts, empanadas – too much.
Having a little difficulty getting into Magister Ludi, but I’m plugging away.
July 17, 1975, Thursday, Skardu
It’s 4:30 AM, the mullahs are chanting their damn heads off, but the most significant thing is IT’S CLEAR in the west! It looks 99% sure of flying today.
At 8 AM, Imtiaz informed us that the flight would arrive at 1 PM. So at 10:30 AM, having hired 2 jeeps and a tractor, we arrived at Skardu Civil Aerodrome. We waited until 1 PM in the heat of the afternoon only to be notified that the flight had been cancelled. We returned to Circuit House to find some of our food gone –supposedly sold by Imtiaz. Well, tomorrow a flight is supposed to come at 8 AM. The weather looks like it will hold – question is, “Will my sanity?”
An aside: I had visions of winging my way home today. These visions have now been projected into tomorrow.
I’m seated next to a window in the Circuit House. I look out through a door opposite me where my colleagues are busily and noisily preparing dinner. From behind me, through the open window, come the noises of Skardu – trucks full of singing children, cows lowing in the grass, the mullahs, cocks crowing, crunching gravel beneath vehicular wheels, Pakistani babble, gentle cacophony blending with the setting sun.
My window – it has become my window – is the aperture through which Skardu is admitted twelve out of twenty-four hours a day. I sleep next to this window, stretched from a short couch into an easy chair. I acquired this perch as a result of my sickness – I just happened to collapse here when we first took up residence. I sit here when I read and eat during the day. Despite my attachment, you can have my window, give me home.
July 18, 1975, Friday, Skardu to Karachi
Last night, upon retiring, the weather outlook was excellent – not a cloud in the sky. We went to bed confident of good weather on the morrow. However, I was awakened by a howling wind that increased in velocity until it became a hurricane. Clouds rolled past ominously. At 4:30 AM it dawned clear and calm. This may be the day. I write this with just the proper feeling of Skardu humility and a slight amount of trepidation. If it were possible to sacrifice a maiden at this moment, I would do so.
I am happy to report she (the maiden) would not have died in vain. Read on.
We left the Circuit House at 6:30 AM. The C-130 landed in Skardu with a British expedition about 8:30 AM. They unloaded. After some anxious moments when the engine starters wouldn’t work, one of the flight crew took a hammer to one of the engines and we took off at 10:30 AM. What the hell was he hammering?
Arrived in Rawalpindi at 11:30 AM and immediately hit the Karachi counter. “Oh, sorry sir, but the flight is filled.” We stayed with it, however, and with the help of Mountain Travel we acquired three seats (Dennis, George, and me) on PIA flight 720 to Karachi. We had a forty-minute layover in Quetta reading Newsweek and Time finding out what’s happened in the rest of the world since May 30th. The seats were getting hard.
Arrived in Karachi at 5 PM, tried every which way to get out, but all flights were booked. Tried to get a room at the InterContinental Hotel, but ended up (frustrated) at the Metropole. Had dinner at the IC. We are going to put ourselves on every waiting list available and haunt ticket counters until we get out.
An aside: Skip down to my next post for the rest of the report. Somehow it got cut off here.