In the mountains, flexibility goes a long, long way. We expected to be in Askole about now, but, hey, things change, right?
Our original plan was to go from Skardu to the tiny village of Askole via a long and harrowing 4x4 trail. It’s a narrow road--steep rock walls on one side prone to rockfall and a sheer drop down to the river gorge far below on the other--that regularly pitches 4x4s piloted by very experienced drivers into the precipice below. From Askole we would begin the six-day trek up the Baltoro glacier, hang a left at Concordia and follow the Godwin-Austen to K2 base camp. It’s a difficult trek of incredible beauty that leads past Paiju Peak, the Trango Towers, Nameless Tower, Uli Biaho, Mustagh Tower, and Masherbrum. And that’s before you even reach Concordia, the legendary junction of three main glaciers from where you can see two 8,000-meter peaks and more 7,000-meter peaks than you can shake a stick at.
But this spring the snow god has been especially kind to 8,000-meter peak skiers by dumping an extraordinary amount of snow in the Karakorum. According to reports, K2 base camp is completely buried. Which is not exactly what you want to hear if you’re a climber, but sweet, sweet music to the ears of a big-mountain skier.
And as luck would have it, it seems that conditions are also favorable on the other side of the Gondogoro-la (la means "pass") in the Laila Peak area. If you’ve ever seen a photo of Laila Peak, you’ll know it’s tailor made for big-mountain skiers, which is why Fredrik and Jörgen Aamot went to ski it in 2005. The pair climbed to within 100 meters of the summit before the snow turned to 55-feet blue ice and they turned to drop in. Frippe returned to Chamonix with a huge smile on his face and tales of the perfect mountain.
So to weigh out all the options and make a decision took us, oh, about seven seconds. At first light we loaded up the jeeps and lit out for Hushe. The day-long drive took us through dry, dusty valleys flanked by soaring mountains on all sides. Along the way were lush oases, at the center of which were tiny villages bursting at the seams with smiling children.
The new plan is to trek up the Gondogoro glacier to our base camp at Dalsanpa (Dalsanpa means "field of flowers"), climb and ski Laila, then head over to K2 base camp via Gondogoro-la and Concordia. This plan will allow time for the snow to consolidate on K2 and give us the chance to acclimatize on Laila. It’s so perfect, it should have been our original plan.
At the end of the day we arrived at Hushe, the sleepy village at the end of the road. Locals here depend on climbers and hunters for a living, and everyone we met asked us if we knew the climbers who had trekked there previously. “Oh, you are climbing K2? Do you know Reinhold Messner?”
“Yes, we were climbing together last week.”
“Do you know Rick Ridgeway?”
“Of course. He asked me to tell you hello.”
“Do you know Steve House?”
“Yes, of course. He has seven children now. No more climbing for him.”
For more photos of K2, check out climber Fabrizio Zangrilli's gallery.