A few days ago we flew into Islamabad at the ungodly hour of 4:00 in the morning. We owe a huge thanks to the ever-hospitable Mohammed Ali of Karakorum Magic Mountain (KMM) for meeting us at the airport with a big smile and a hearty welcome despite the ungodly hour.
KMM is the group that has organized the porters who will accompany us to base camp with all the food, our climbing permit, and all the gear and fuel that will keep us fat and happy for the next two months. "Fat" and "happy" are perhaps not the most precise terms to use considering we’ll be parked up at 5,000 meters on the Baltoro glacier for the next two months, but we’re going to stay positive until one of us pukes. Literally.
Anyway, the crew at KMM are solid guys who provide a great service and we can’t say enough good things about them. If you’re heading towards Pakistan and need Base Camp logistics give them a call and tell ‘em to add it to Fredrik Ericsson’s bill. They love that guy.
We planned our schedule to fly in on a Sunday when we knew everything would be closed so that we’d be able to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Our day of rest would also allow us the chance to do some casual sightseeing before we got stuck into the meetings and last–minute ratting around we had scheduled on Monday.
We swung past Faisal Mosque, which, at 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet) is the largest mosque in Pakistan and the sixth largest in the world. I guess you could call it the Muslim version of the Mormon Tabernacle Church. (I wonder how many readers I just lost with that comparison.)
Anyway, Faisal was indeed the place to be for people of Islamabad on a Sunday. And people went out of their way to be friendly, joke around, and tell us how much they love Americans. Of course, my guess is the ones who don’t like Americans were less inclined to stop by for a chat, but the overwhelming impression I got was that, in Pakistan, if you can move beyond the fear of some serious evil-eye glares you’ll wind up in a conversation with someone with workable English who is genuinely friendly and eager to spread light on the misconceptions about their culture.
The next day we ventured into the 42C heat (107F) to pay a visit to the Alpine Club of Pakistan. This stopover is required of all climbers needing a peak permit. At the ACP headquarters in Islamabad’s sprawling sports complex we met a group of French and Canadian climbers who were on their way to Gasherbrum II.
We also had the great pleasure of meeting Yusuke Sato, one of the Giri Giri Boys who is a double Piolet d’Or nominee. In English, this means Sato is one of the premier climbers on the planet right now. Sato, Fumitaka Ichimura, and Katus Yokoyama are on their way to push a new route up the North Face of Latok, a particularly fearsome peak with no easy routes and very few ascents. Lord have mercy. Sato told me Giri Giri is Japanese for "at the limit" or "on the edge."
When our turn was called, we went in for a meeting with the head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, Wing Commander Javaid Iqbal. Seems the Air Force more or less oversees the ACP as well as the national ski team.
In any case, Commander Iqbal was a serious but pleasant man. He asked us about our previous climbing experience and what we did for work. The whole scenario kind of had the same feeling as that of visiting with your girlfriend’s dad where a certain amount of respect is called for but ultimately you’re both on the same team.
He also told us about the high mountain K2 cleanup project that has been scheduled for this year by the ACP together with the Ev-K2-CNR Committee. Their last initiative, a cleanup of Concordia, was well-needed and greatly appreciated.
After that, we went to exchange some cash. I’m here to report that at this time $1 is worth 85 Pakistani rupees and one euro is worth 98. Clearly, the global economy isn't doing so hot.
--Trey Cook (with Fredrik Ericsson)
For more photos of K2, check out climber Fabrizio Zangrilli's gallery.