Monthly Archives: June 2010

Foul weather forces tough decision at Camp 1

Camp 1 on the Cesen Route.

Camp 1 – 5900m / 19,357 ft

We awoke to the sound of driving wind and blowing snow battering the walls of the tent. It wasn’t the kind of storm that made you start scratching out a will on the side of your water bottle but unzipping the tent door a crack and getting blasted by spindrift did make us second guess our plan to make a move to Camp 2.
We’d left base camp the day before at 6 a.m. on an absolutely splitter day—cold and clear, not a breath of wind. We followed the Koreans’ path across the glacier towards their Advanced Base Camp on the Abruzzi Spur but hung a left after crossing the South Face avy plain and before we reached the ice field. This took us to the base of the south-southeast spur also known as the Cesen Route after Tomo Cesen soloed it in 1986. There are also a handful of climbers who refer to the route as the Basque Route but it’s unclear whether this is because they question the veracity of Cesen’s achievement or because it was a Basque team that was the first to climb the route to the summit. Then again, if you ask Andy Parkin he’ll tell you that his crew climbed it before any of those guys but didn’t claim it because they didn’t reach the summit either. As Andy points out, “You can work a route all y’like but if you don’t reach the top it’s not your route, is it?” All philosophical discussion aside, Frippe calls it the Cesen and I met Tomo in Chamonix a coupla of years ago and he seems like a nice enough guy so for this story let’s call it the Cesen Route, shall we? (comments anyone?)

Trey climbing towards Camp 1 on the Cesen Route.

So the Cesen is a bit more difficult than the Abruzzi, which, on a mountain like K2, is reason enough that the Abruzzi gets 80% of the traffic. But the Cesen is also the only line on the mountain that a skier will look at and envision a complete descent from summit to base. Which, of course, is why we’re here, crouched inside our tent, wondering whether we should roll the dice and continue up or gather our toys and run home in time for dinner.

Many climbers invest thousands of well-spent dollars to procure daily, customized weather forecasts from meteorologists who specialize in weather reports from climbers. Arguably, their services have changed the high-alpine climbing game more than any other technical development in the past 30 years, dramatically reducing death and injury by giving climbers a more accurate picture of when to charge and when to kick back and enjoy the decadent luxuries of a Baltoro base camp.

But we don’t have that kind of budget and are instead using a forecast straight from the heart of the Interweb with an accuracy (on this trip, anyway) of about 50/50, which is about what you’d get from looking at the sky and flipping a coin.

Fredrik descending from Camp 1 on the Cesen Route.

Once we’d battled our way outside and shoveled out the tent the mountain actually looked like it might have a chance of clearing. However, our forecast predicted snow starting up that afternoon and continuing through the next day. Decision time. Since we were only at C1 and it’s still early in the game we decided to pull our chips and head for the door. If our instincts were right we’d be back up the mountain in a couple of days with a weather window that would allow us a shot at Camp 2. There really wasn’t anything to lose.

As we battened down the hatches on C1, the weather gradually worsened and by the time Frippe had locked into his skis, we were engulfed by fog. What he had hoped would be a fun shred down the 40-45 degree slopes back to the base of the route turned out to be a slow, route-finding mission. It was a mission that, in the end, would validate our conservative decision.

/Trey Cook

To learn more of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and about his quest to ski the world’s three highest mountains check out www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Sunset on Broad Peak seen from Camp 1.

The long and winding road to K2 base camp

K2 Base Camp – 5020m/16,470 ft

Small man, big mountain. Fredrik approaching The Savage Mountain.

I’m just about to fall asleep when I hear a sharp crack from the ice directly beneath me. I’m not a huge fan of crevasses and a something like this would normally send me flying from the tent like I was shot from a cannon. But tonight I’m just so happy to be here and so dog tired that I simply wrap my big down bag around me and fall asleep. After all we’ve been through to get here if the Earth wants to open up and swallow me whole then tonight she’s lucky because it’s perhaps the only time she’ll get me without a struggle.

When Fredrik and I finally arrived here at the foot of K2 we dropped our packs and high-fived as if we’d summitted. We may not have a cook tent, medical bag, food, fuel or a stove but we finally made it and we couldn’t be happier.

The whole ordeal started when we left Hushe bound for K2 via Gondogoro-la with a quick side trip to try to climb and ski Laila Peak along the way. Hushe is where the road ends and the trekking begins but we were unable to find enough porters to carry all our climbing and ski gear, food, fuel and other equipment needed for a three-month expedition. So we left most of the food and fuel at Hushe with the plan that it would be brought along on a subsequent carry. Too easy, right?

By the time, we had made our attempt on Laila and were ready to move on to K2 the missing gear still had not shown up although the 19 porters needed to get us and our existing gear to Huspang camp had. Again, we were reassured that our missing gear would follow right along behind us so under a darkening sky we set off for Huspang. Sure enough as soon as we had entered the middle of the glacier the clouds dropped and we found ourselves in a whiteout with a light snow falling, post-holing to our knees with a line of 19 porters behind us wearing standard-issue white plastic sneakers with holes in their socks.

Porters preparing to cross the glacier on the way to Huspang.

Huspang Camp

Needless to say it took us a bit longer than anticipated but we finally arrived at a snow-covered Huspang for what we thought would be a short night before crossing the Gondogoro-la the next day. That was until a big man with green teeth told us that the fixed ropes the porters would require to cross the la had been avalanched. Then the porters demanded a rest day to dry their socks. So we made a plan to join the Gondogoro Safety Team (ol’ Green Teeth as it were) the next day to refix the ropes so that we could leave the following day. Why not.

What was planned for a 5am start turned out to be more like 6am as Green Teeth drank tea and scanned the heavens for any kind of sign that would cancel our mission. As the day dawned ever more clear we reluctantly left Hushpang. What was supposed to have taken 1.5 hours to get to the base of the ropes took us (primarily Fredric and I) three hours of breaking trail through deep snow while Green Teeth guided from behind. By the time we reached the ropes around 9 a.m. the sun was blazing. True to form the Safety Team deemed the avalanche risk too high to continue and called for a retreat. After the difficult approach I was tired, I was hot and after learning that all this was for nothing I was now fuming. Nice days are hard to come by in the Karakorum and if we didn’t fix the route that day we’d be wasting a gorgeous day and pushing our plans back yet another day. At this rate we’d never reach K2. In the end, Fredrik’s cool mountain sense intervened and agreed the avy risk was too high now but that we could return at midnight when conditions were more stable. The porters could follow two hours behind us which would give us time to fix the ropes. To me, this idea sounded like the recipe for junkshow soup but I had no better plan of my own and had to agree.

That afternoon we all sat at Huspang and watched in awe as an endless deluge of avalanches ripped down the faces of the mountains surrounding us. It was absolutely amazing and a strong reminder that progress in the mountains is dictated by the mountains themselves and deadlines and schedules are best left at home.

That night we were up at 11:00, packed up, fed and ready to roll by midnight only to find out that two of our porters, apparently decided the avalanches, the deep snow and the thousand-meter pass (3,281 ft) ahead of them wasn’t worth the 27 dollars a day they were being paid, and snuck off during the night. Go figure. With the Safety Team waiting on us we now had to repack our gear so that we could leave one 20-kilo (44 lbs) bag at Huspang which would be gathered up as our trailing gear caught up with us. Which would, of course, be any day now.

A quick reshuffling of gear placed all non-essential climbing gear—books, extra clothing, meds, shampoo—into the abandoned barrel and the remaining gear into our own packs. By midnight we were on the trail with the Safety Team following us into the cold, clear night.

After crossing six different avalanche debris paths that had crossed our trail since the previous day we made the base of the route in two hours. Actually, Frippe made it in 1.5 hours and the rest of us made it in two.

After a bit of searching we found the fixed lines still intact and it was just a matter of chopping the ropes and kicking steps out of 1000 meters (3,281 ft) of hardened avy debris. As we reached halfway we saw the lights from the porters’ headlamps in the distance. Proving that the Safety Team were far from the ignorant slackers I had pinned them for, the first of the porters reached us just as we reached the top of the la. Ol’ Green Teeth knew exactly what he was doing and had his timing down within minutes.

Gondogoro-la

Porters crossing Gondogoro La with K2 in the background.

If you haven’t already figured it out, la means ‘pass’ in Balti and topping out on the 5500m (18,045 ft) Gondogoro-la is worthy of a post by itself. Trekking from south to north you ascend the la with an amazing view of Masherbrum on your left and as you crest the saddle you are suddenly face-to-face with four 8000-meter peaks—K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II and Gasherbrum I—as well as Gasherbrums III and IV which are just a hair below 8000m (26,247 ft). This area of the Karakorum mountains is the highest concentration of 8000m peaks in the world and seeing them from this altitude is a mind-blowing experience. We took advantage of the splitter morning weather to hang out at the top of the la for several hours taking pictures, eating a bite and generally just basking in the awesomeness of it all.

View of Gasherbrums IV, III, II from the Gondogoro La.

Ali Camp

The descent from the la down the Vigne glacier was straightforward and we arrived at Ali Camp around noon, tired and happy after a magical night and day in the mountains. We were energized by the surroundings and with the thought of being just one day out of K2 base camp.

However, as we met with the porters to discuss the next day’s plan we learned that they weren’t as quite as excited to reach K2 as we were. They informed us that the next day they would only be going as far as Concordia, a relatively easy 3-hour, downhill open glacier walk. I say ‘relatively’ because you have to remember they’re wearing plastic sneakers with holey socks and carrying 30 kilo (66 lbs) loads on a glacier above 4000m (13,123 ft) . However, the trek to Concordia hardly constitutes a full day and it was only another four hours up the Godwin-Austen glacier to base camp. By leaving early we could easily be there before noon leaving them plenty of time to return to ‘porter party central’ at Concordia for the night. But they couldn’t be persuaded. Despite the rest day at Huspang, they told us they were too tired to make it all the way to K2 and that Concordia would be the next day’s final destination.

However, what the porters didn’t realize was that this was not Fredrik Ericsson’s first rodeo. Following his passion to ski 8000m peaks, Ericsson has navigated himself through a porter crisis or two. Like the time on Kangchenjunga when half the porters bailed as soon as they reached the glacier and the other half left when it started snowing. No, Fredrik has had enough experience in the porter game to know how to keep the ball rolling and after all the reasoning he could manage he was finally forced to show his hand.

“We go all the way to K2 or no tips for anyone.”

The tent fell silent and we left them to consider the options.

By the time we left Ali Camp at 2 a.m.—the early start was so that we could catch the snow when it was frozen hard and before the sun softened it into a slushy quagmire—a decision still hadn’t been made. We wouldn’t know the outcome until we reached Concordia. Despite the looming showdown, it was an amazing night, total silence except for the crunch of boots on hard snow and our own heavy breathing as we followed the line of headlamps as they moved down the Vigne glacier, miniscule points beneath a galaxy of stars on a moonless night. Falling stars and flashes of light on the horizon that in west Texas we know of as the miracle of heat lightning. Here, near Kashmir and the disputed border with India, it might simply be the beginning of nuclear holocaust.

Concordia

We arrived at Concordia by 5 a.m. with an icy wind blowing in our faces. The Baltoro Cleanup crew welcomed us into their warm tent and thrust steaming cups of milk tea and fresh chapatis (Pakistani flour tortillas) into our hands—hospitality to strangers is a fundamentals of Islamic culture.

The porters dropped their loads and in no time a cook tent of their own had gone up with a stove fired up inside. It looked as though they were settling in.

The bitter wind shook the tent as we sipped tea and spoke with Raza, the personable leader of the Baltoro cleanup crew, about their efforts to educate both climbers and porters about the horrific pollution of the Baltoro glacier. In the past few weeks the crew had removed 1200 kilos (2,646 lbs)of garbage from the glacier and by the end of the summer he anticipated 22,000 kilos (48,502 lbs) would have to be carried out after a long-needed cleanup of K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum base camps. Learn more about their efforts at ev-k2-cnr.com.

Soon enough Fredrik and I stood to leave, thanked the crew for their hospitality and wished them luck in their valiant endeavor. We’d had time to rest and warm up but if we were going to make it to K2 then it was time to get moving. As Ericsson exited the tent the porters outside rushed into their own cook tent and we could hear an ‘enthusiastic’ discussion inside. Before long, several of the younger porters emerged and began breaking down the cook tent. K2 here we come!

Fredrik leaving Concordia with Mitre Peak in the background.

K2 Base Camp

So here we are at K2 BC gearing up for our first trip up the mountain tomorrow. We’ll try to reach Camp 1 and perhaps spend a few nights there acclimatizing and scoping the route. We still don’t have a base camp cook tent, stove, food or fuel or the bag we left in Huspang but for now our focus is getting up the mountain and we’re hopeful that all those other minor details will work themselves out by the time we get back. Inshallah (God willing).

/Trey Cook

To learn more of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and about his quest to ski the world’s three highest mountains check out www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Ski K2 2010 Video

Goodbye Laila, K2 Here We Come

Fredrik and Trey high up on Laila Peak (photo: Ali Mohammad)

Laila Peak – 5700m/18,700 ft

8:30am. The pit, in and of itself, was inconclusive. When pressured with the kind of force that would represent a skier executing a silky smooth jump turn, a layer did, in fact, release but it wasn’t the kind of sheer that shrinks your cojones and sends you tiptoeing for the nearest safety zone. The summit was literally straight above us, just a few more hard hours and we’d be there. On the other hand, the northwest aspect of Laila is a massive, flat and featureless 45-50˚ tabletop and it was easy to imagine that any kind of fracture would release the entire face. It’s times like these that I find it useful to pause for a moment to reflect on my priorities in life.

After a refreshing alpine start we’d been climbing for five hours, traversing really, once we’d rappelled over the ‘shrund, found a semi-stable snowbridge to cross the crevasse that blocked access to the face, then traversed to the base of the rock band that guards the climber’s right. That’s when we started gunning up the central snowfield for the summit. We were making good time thanks in no small part to the evil-looking cornice that threatened the traverse for a good coupla hours. But the higher we climbed the deeper the snow became until we found ourselves swimming in waist-deep sugar. It felt stable but that much snow at that angle and everything telling us there was more snow above us made those gut instincts kick in. That’s when we dug the pit to check the snow stability.

Instincts go a long way in the mountains and the ability to tune into them is a proven skill for those who have led long and prosperous lives in the mountains. Fredrik Ericsson is a guy with the aforementioned skill. As one of the world’s most experienced and most active high-mountain skiers it’s safe to say that Ericsson relies on, and is more in tune with, those gut instincts much more than your everyday 9-to-5er. Check this resumé:

July 2003 – Peak Somoni aka Pik Communism – skied from summit (7495m/24,590ft) to base camp.

Sept 2004 – Shisha Pangma – skied from central summit (8012m/26,286ft) to green grass.

June 2005 – Laila Peak – turned back 100m from summit when faced with 60˚ blue ice. Skied from 5950m to Gondogoro glacier.

July 2005 – Gasherbrum II – skied from summit (8035m/26,362ft) to the icefall above base camp.

Oct 2007 – Dhaulagiri – along with noted alpinists Dodo Kopold (Slovakia), Kinga Baranovska (Poland), Kim Hong Bin (Korea), Ericsson turned back when faced with deep, unstable snow. Skied from 8000m/26,247ft to base camp.

Oct 2008 – Kangchenjunga – Turned back when confronted by heavy storms (half a meter in one day). Skied from 7000m/22,966ft to base camp.

June 2009 – K2 – Called off expedition after partner’s fatal accident.

When it comes to living the dream, high-alpine skiing can at times be more of a nightmare. But clearly, Ericsson’s track record proves not only his remarkable strength in the mountains but also his ability to listen to his gut and make the toughest call of all: the decision to turn back. But it is precisely that combination of sensing the ethereal, making a calculated decision and pulling the plug that keeps a person alive to climb another day.

Of course, you’re rarely in a position for validation. It’s inevitable that for all but the most zen-tastic climber you’ll inevitably find yourself back at base camp second-guessing your decision. Its bitterness keeps you awake at night, darkens thoughts in otherwise serene moments, makes you dwell on the difference between living life and cheating death and which side of that particular line you’re standing on when you desperately want to continue while something deep inside you is telling you to tuck tail and run.

So yeah, we’re back at base camp, watching it snow, trying not to think too hard about anything other than why the solar panels aren’t charging the batteries. Trying to avoid eye contact with Laila. Ericsson’s clearly smitten with this Balti beauty and after basking in her glow for a day I can totally see why he’s fallen so hard for her. In his eyes, her coy rebuffs have done nothing but made her that much more desirable.

But we’re here on a mission and that mission is to ski K2. Word has filtered through the porter hotline that the Gondogoro-la has just been opened by the aptly named Gondogoro Safety Team. Over on the snow-besieged Baltoro glacier the Swiss have finally persevered within the last few days to reach Broad Peak. A rumored porter conundrum has left the French just short of the normal base camp at Gasherbrum II but close enough to start working their way up. Nobody has yet made it through to K2.

It’s tempting to stay here with Laila. We’re camped on dry ground, the lake is melting and we know that if we could just hang out for another coupla days the sun would shine again and Laila would give us another go. But despite all this there’s a feeling in our guts and it’s not last night’s rice and dahl supreme. It’s K2 calling our names and that’s a gut instinct that’s impossible to ignore. Time to piss on the fire, call in the dogs and head ‘em on up to K2.

-Trey Cook

To see photos and videos of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and learn more about his quest to ski the world’s three highest summits, check out www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Fredrik Climbing on Laila Peak with K2, Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums in the background.

Camp 1 tents on Laila (Bottom left corner).

Laila Peak Camp 1, Fredrik brewing up.

Lovely Laila

Laila Peak Camp 1 – 5140m (16,863 ft)

The courtship has begun. Yesterday we made a reconnaissance mission up the Gondogoro glacier to catch a glimpse of the lovely face of Laila Peak. It was a perfect day—blazing sun, not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky. Frippe and I were the first people to be this far up the glacier this season and there wasn’t another soul in the entire valley, not a footprint, not a sound. Nothing but snow and sky and rock and shadows. Heaven on Earth.

As we moved up the glacier Laila’s stunning northwest face slowly came into view, a steep, snow-covered pyramid descending 1000 meters (4921 ft) at a pitch-perfect 45-50˚ before it cliffs out in a 500-meter (1640 ft) rock band with a narrow escape skier’s left beneath a serac. She’s absolutely breathtaking.

Now, climbers tend to approach mountains in a lot of different ways. Some see them as an opponent or adversary that must be attacked and defeated. I, on the other hand, have always looked upon my relationship with a mountain as more of a courtship. I find a peak desirable and I want to find out what she’s all about, learn what’s beneath her superficial beauty, treat her with the utmost respect, let her reveal her secrets when and as she wants. And so it is with Laila.

We found a big flat rock smack in the middle of the glacier and settled in. We ate some lunch, took some photos, had a little siesta, took some more photos, basked in the beauty of Laila, made a plan.

In regards to both mountains and women, the straightforward approach certainly has its merits. However, with Laila the seracs that, at climber’s right of the rock band, are the equivalent of the don’t-even-think-about-it look from an attractive woman in a bar that’s waiting for someone who is clearly not you. They’d be OK for Frippe to make a couple of quick turns beneath on his ski descent but to make an approach beneath them would be to open yourself to almost certain humiliation and potential bodily harm.

No, our idea was to take a more indirect approach. We’d climb in from the west, set up a camp, descend, then wait for a weather window. It would take a bit more time and effort but Laila is worth it.

So we headed out from base camp around 8:00 in the morning and maneuvered our way through a short, easy rock band to reach a couple of nice snow bowls. The snow was perfect for hiking and by noon we were at 5140m (16,863 ft) on a ridge leading to the west of Laila.

“Hi there. You remember Fredrik from 2005, right? Well, he’s just said so many nice things about you and since we were in the neighborhood we just had to stop by and see you. And yes, all those things he’s said about you are true. Here we are surrounded by all these stunning faces yet you really do stand out. But enough of that, it’s a lovely weekend and the band is rockin’, how about a spin ‘round the dance floor? C’mon, it’ll put a smile on your face and if it doesn’t then just give us the sign and we’ll leave you alone. Promise.” Or maybe not that cheesy but y’know, something like that.

We began to shovel a tent platform. Light clouds skittered in from the south and about the time we got the tent up it started snowing. We ducked into our shelter—a confusion of down, elbows and gear—and kicked back as the rest of the day alternated between snow, sun and those rare magical moments when you are blessed with both. Laila was acting like the girl who surrounds herself with an impenetrable wall of friends but every now and then looks over and smiles right at you. Not a ‘yes’, but not a ‘no’ either. More of an “I might be interested, but you know I’m not that easy. But after all, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

So after a restless night at our first camp over 5000m (16,404 ft) we left the tent and descended back to base camp for a few well-needed rest days. Despite being surrounded by dozens of gorgeous faces glistening in the sun, tempting us with big, open bowls and steep couloirs, our thoughts are only of Laila.

Laila Peak (6069m - 19 911ft).

Trey approaching C1.

Fredrik at Laila C1. The tent is small, not the other way around.

Fredrik skiing down from C1.

Dalsanpa Camp – 4180m (13,714 ft)

Base camp. It seemed as though it took us forever but we’re finally here. Two days ago we followed a line of 23 porters as they left the terraced fields of Hushe behind and headed into the magnificent Karakorum mountains. Smiling children followed us out of town chanting the little English that they knew, “Hello.” “Hello.” “Hello.” It would have been a scene from a movie if it hadn’t been for the big black clouds in front of us.

As we moved steadily upward the clouds ghosted among the peaks keeping us hopeful we would make it to that night’s camp without getting christened. However, about 20 minutes out of camp our luck ran out and we finally got nailed. Thankfully, Shaischo camp has two rock shelters with a covered area between them that enabled us to wait out the rain before setting up our tents.

After a bowl of hot soup (ramen noodles taste so much better when you’re cold and wet), the rain finally ended and the porters began to get restless. It wasn’t long before a campfire was blazing and the entire group had gathered around. Blue expedition barrels were tested for tonality and the best of the lot was handed over to one of the older porters sitting front and center before the fire. He began to beat a rhythm with one hand while tapping with a stick in the other. One of the crew busted out a song with all the others immediately joining in for the chorus. There were clearly plenty of jokes in the lyrics because a few lines would be sung by one man before the others would roll over laughing and join in for the chorus.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before the dancing started and the whole thing—the uproarious laughter, the solo dancing, the rowdy songs—would normally have made you think this group of men gathered around a campfire in the middle of the mountains was completely loaded. Except that we’re in the Baltistan region of Pakistan and these men are Muslim and alcohol is strictly forbidden.

The next morning we once again fell in line behind the porters. As we ascended between the freshly dusted peaks above our guide, Ali Mohammed—whose job it was to get us from Islamabad to base camp—told us that in the fifteen years he’s been guiding this route this is the most snow he’s ever seen. This information had started early in the trip and was now arriving with increased regularity and apprehension. As if on que, snow began to fall.

By the time we arrived at base camp, the porters had dropped their loads and there was a small army of them waiting to be treated for everything from blisters to headaches to splinters. We broke out the First Aid kit and began handing out prescriptions. With their wounds patched and their wages in hand the porters headed back down to Hushe, hopeful that the next expedition would be along soon.

With the porters gone it was time to set up camp, which meant that after two days of trekking to over 4000m (13,123 ft) our work was not yet over. It was time to bust out the shovels and start digging tent platforms. We managed to get enough snow moved to hold us until we could put finishing touches on the next day before we closed shop and sat down for dinner. It was over a nice hot meal that we learned what had been bothering Ali about all the snow. “I don’t think we’ll be able to cross the Gondogoro-la. There’s too much snow.”

What!? If this were true it would change our plans dramatically. It would mean that after skiing Laila Peak we would have to turn back and retrace our steps all the way back to Skardu, take the jeep trail to Askole that had been washed out a few days before, and trek six days days to K2 base camp. This would be huge waste of time and energy. After the end of a long, hard day this was about the only news we could hear that would keep us up that night.

Porters singing around the Camp Fire

Porters heading towards Dalsanpa

Not Askole

Hushe (3122m) – 4 june 2010

In the mountains, flexibility goes a long, long way. I know you were expecting us 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 4×4 trail. It’s a narrow road—steep, rock walls on one side that are 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 8000-meter peaks and more 7000-meter peaks than you can shake a stick at.

But this spring the snow god has been especially kind to 8000-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. Now if you’ve ever seen a photo of Laila Peak (hint, hint: Google it) you’ll know it’s a mountain that’s been 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˚ 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, ohhhhh, about seven seconds. So 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 we’re surprised it wasn’t our original plan in the first place.

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 on their last trek. “Oh, you are climbing K2? Do you know Rheinhold 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.”

Kahpulo Bazaar

Bridge over the Chok River

Loading gear in Skardu

Happy Kids in Hushe

Skardu street vendor