Mike Farris





Archive for August, 2008

A quick update

August 30th, 2008

Aug. 30: Between travelling, electrical outages, and manky computers, getting online has been a challenge the past few days. So here’s just a few words (before the power goes out).

I’m now in Gilgit. I was supposed to fly to Islamabad today, but the fllight was cancelled due to bad weather in Islamabad. I was only going to lay around in my hotel room anyway, as I’ve been fighting some infection the past 2-3 days. Symptoms are fever, headache, and bodyaches; according to the Lonely Planet Guidebook, I have Dengue Fever. More likely just a normal ‘flu’ bug. At least, no GI ‘involvemnt.’

I spent the past 3 days in Hunza, primarily Karimabad. Very nice place, prosperous and green. More details later.

Tomorrow it’s the big city, then wait a couple of days, then fly out. I hope to meet some fellow travellers and hope that I feel better too. The fever seems to be gone, but the headache is lurking in the background.


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Mike arrives in Skardu by ambulance!!

August 25th, 2008

Aug 22: Sorry, I just had to lead with that headline. It’s absolutely true, but very misleading–a perfect web posting. Of course, I’m fine, but here’s the story. I agreed to walk hard on the trek down if we could stop at one of the hot springs on the drive out. We awoke at 5:30, got away by 6:30, and had breakfast in Dasso at about 9:00. Breakfast was definitely the local variety–a plate of greasy lentils and some greasy ‘porter bread,’ and some milk tea.

Our porters and sirdar (Saliman) live in a village on the way to the hot springs, so we agreed to drop them off at their village while Deedar and I went to Chutrun (or Chhootroon) and soaked. We would then return to the sirdar’s house for lunch, then proceed to Skardu.

All was going well, except for our jeep driver. I wasn’t impressed when he had to use a rock to beat on the transfer case shifter to get into low-range, and I wasn’t impressed by his confidence that he could race up to blind corners and deal with anything he found, without going into the river. At this point, if a jeep driver makes me nervous, I make them conform to my driving ideals. This guy was pretty cocky and didn’t take advice easily.

We had a wonderful soak in very hot water. The hot pool was shallow but clean. After 20 minutes or so I began to look like a lobster, so I walked to what I thought was a cold pool. However, it was delightfully warm and provided a good second soak.

We drove back to the sirdar’s house and sat around for the obligatory 90 minutes while lunch was finished. Salad, chicken, rice, lentils–probably a week’s worth of food for that family. Don’t worry, I tipped him quite well!

As we left, the sirdar’s wife and kid climbed in the jeep. We drove them some distance on a different road, then dropped them off. We were on the opposite side of the river from the usual road, and it seemed to take forever to get to Skardu. Finally, the driver’s overuse of the brakes caught up with him and a rear wheel seized up. I started fuming, in large part because my sat phone was dead and nobody’s cell would function. Finally we started again and drove 20 minutes, only to seize up again about 10 km from the K2 Motel. Both rear wheels were frozen, and there was little traffic heading our direction on the road. If we had a functioning phone, a taxi would have arrived quickly.

Finally, a station-wagon-type vehicle pulls up. Being a Westerner meant that Deedar, the sirdar, and I could hitch a ride into town with the new local ambulance. They dropped us off at the ATP office, where we greeted the staff. We went to the K2 Motel and slept in a bed for the first night in nearly 2 months. So that’s how I arrived in Skardu by ambulance :)

8/23: I flew to Islamabad, with a bad weather stop in Peshawar.

8/24: Rested, mostly

8/25: Wrapped up the paperwork and did a bit of shopping.

My schedule for the next few days:

8/26: Fly to Gilgit and meet Deedar.

8/27-29: Visit Hunza region

8/30: Fly back to Islamabad. Try and get out of town ASAP. My booked flight is Sept. 4.


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Week in review part 2

August 24th, 2008

August 18: We awoke refreshed–in part because it was a beautiful day, in part because we only had to walk 4 hours, in part because we didn’t have to sleep on the glacier any more. By now, Deedar and I had a good breakfast routine: He would make me a cheese omelette, I would make some drip coffee (Lavazza expresso) for both of us, then heat up 8-10 slices of bacon for me. Add a chapatti and that’s breakfast. We could see the green patch that lies above Urdokas from Goro 2, but I’d been suckered in by the apparent proximity of that camp before. It’s four solid hours of walking.

Good light meant some photo opportunities, so I used Deedar as a ‘model.’ We rolled into Urdokas right at noon, and just as Roland and his group of 10 trekkers was finishing lunch. I shamelessly mooched off them for three meals, and Deedar was not at all upset–he got the day mostly off. Rols and I caught up, and I chatted with his members, who were a likeable bunch. The skies stayed mostly clear and we actually saw ibex. Well, my camera saw them anyway as the locals kept telling me to look where they weren’t. But I have photographic proof so that’s enough for me.

Aug. 20: Roland’s group planned on leaving at 6am, so I got up at 5:30 to eat breakfast with them (just being sociable, of course). They left for Goro II, and we packed and left under more clear skies. The walk is rather unremarkeable, but you do have to cross a side glacier or two and the trail is easy to lose, so we lost it. We finally left the Baltoro Glacier behind us and the increase in air temperature was immediate. The 45 minute walk from the toe of the glacier to Paiju Camp is hot, dusty, and you cross a big alluvial fan with about 25 stream beds crossing it, each about 8 feet deep. Up, down, up, down, yuck. At Paiju our sirdar had some noodle soup ready (I really didn’t want any, but couldn’t refuse out of politeness). I actually wanted a Coke, but the caretaker wanted 500 rupees (about $7) for 1.5 liters. We’d been buying the same in BC for 300 rupees, so we told him to bugger off. We walked the last stretch to Bardumal in 2.5 hours or so. I’ve never camped there (it’s more of a lunch stop on the way up), and it’s flat, treeless, and dusty. The water that comes out of a pipe there looks more like dirty river water, but by this time I didn’t care. And Deedar and Saliman (the sirdar) were getting me Coke to drink anyway. The winds blew upvalley, then down-valley, and kept switching all night. I had the last swigs from the last booze bottle, then went to bed in warmth for the first time in ages.

August 21: The last stretch. It’s a long day from Bardumal to Askole, the end of the trail. At this point we justed wanted to get it over with. We were at Jhula by about 10:30 and marched to Korophon in a bit over 2 hours from Jhula. As I approached Korophon, a big dust cloud moved in from Jhula. The dust is so fine that you don’t feel it as it goes by.

After Korophon, two more hours or so saw me just outside of Askole. They’ve extended the road past Askole, having built a way through a steep side-gully. I trudged past the rock buttress that hangs out near the trail, walked the final ten minutes, and dropped my pack off outside the ATP compound. Deedar rustled up a snack (sort of a mutton fat gravy and chapatti) and I bought a Sprite. For dinner, we ate at a ‘restaurant’ and had goat chunks, some excellent french fries, rice, chapatti, and finally  some jelly (or Jello to Americans). After the usual dithering with solar panels and chargers, we went to bed.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!

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The week’s highlights, part 1

August 24th, 2008

August 24: I finally have time to record some of the memorable parts of the trek out. I do this as much for myself, as I haven’t kept a formal diary this year (a first for me). If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget! Note that now that I have time/energy/good computer, I’m long-winded. Beware! This will take a few posts to complete!

Aug. 16: The weather the past 3 days has been more than schizophrenic. Every 8 hours we get something different: usually snow after midnight through dawn, then cloudy/foggy weather in the morning, then clearing in the afternoon. Tomorrow is my last chance to retrieve gear from C2. Already in the past couple of days I (and Chuck and Dave and George and Sherpas) went to ABC to climb to C2, then awoke to warm foggy weather–so we bailed. After lunch at BC, the sun came out. Then I decided to leave from BC at 3am the next morning, only to wake up at 3am to warm foggy weather. I got up at 3:30, 4:00, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30, and 6:00 and found the same weather–so I bailed. Of course the sun came out after lunch. So today (8/16) I decided to go to ABC for the night again. If I couldn’t get to C2, I had to clear ABC anyway.

I reached ABC in windy conditions. Our 4-person Eureka Timberline tent, which the team made fun of when we arrived, was still standing. Sort of. I made dinner then went to bed after a few games of iPod solitaire. I awoke in the night and one of the four poles now looked more like an ‘S’ than an ‘I.’ Oh well. I went back to sleep.

Aug. 17: The morning found more snow than I’d seen at ABC the whole trip. So no voyage to C2 was possible. I packed in a light gale and headed down with about 20 kg in the pack and dragged a duffle bag with about 10 kg.

There is only one technical section on the route between ABC and BC, which involved some icefall antics beneath a rotting serac and above a rotting snow bridge. Of course Chuck called on the radio while I was dragging the pig (duffle bag) across the fixed ropes on this section. I dumped the bag about 50 meters below the ropes for Deedar (our cook) to pick up.

For the first time, getting back to ABC was significant work. The snow was about calf deep and the light was completely flat–what looked like a downhill slope turned out to be a steep climb. Anyway, after 90 minutes of floundering, I saw Deedar coming. We met, and he explained that his boots were filled with water. The snow covered the bucket-sized holes found in the glacier near BC, and he’d stepped in them several times. Well, nothing to do except send him back to BC with my pack, and I trudged back up to the duffle bag and carried it back. Nothing like an unexpected 3 hours of exercise! And because I carried Deedar’s pack for the second trip I had no sunscreen. The sun came out, and I’m still healing from the scorching I got.

Of course the afternoon was cold, snowy and windy (because we needed to pack). Our porters arrived and things were generally in a muddled mess. I packed most of my gear and left Deedar to handle the kitchen.

We’d been invited to the ‘American Camp’ (a misnomer because all three camps were American) of Chuck and Dave for dinner, so that Deedar could pack. We had a good farewell dinner, and I certainly enjoyed hanging out with George, Chuck, Dave, and Andy during my last week or so at BC. I think with good weather we had a small but strong team to attempt K2.

Aug. 18: In cold, icy conditions we finished the packing and distribution of porter loads. I had pancakes with Chuck and Dave at 7:30. Finally, about 10am we said our goodbyes to the remaining members and staff and Deedar and I headed for the Gilkey Memorial. We needed to say goodbye to our lost friends, and I didn’t want to do that until I had finished on the mountain. We picked our way up the rocks by the back side and reached the 2 meter mound of rocks that’s festooned with plaques and metal plates. The new additions were prominent. After some private moments there we descended to the glacier and eventually rejoined the trail to Concordia.

Maybe it was the Memorial, maybe the exertion of the previous two days, maybe it was my 15 kg pack, but I had a very bad day. Deedar and I had ‘miscommunicated’ about food, so I got to Concordia at about 2:30 without eating anything since breakfast. I ‘recommunicated’ my opinions about eating and Deedar organized some grub. Another 3.5 hours walking led to Goro II campsite. Once the tents were up and I had a bit more to eat, life seemed much better. We had a good dinner and a generally good time with the porter sirdar and the porter who served as assistant cook to Deedar during the trek down.

Next episode: from Goro II to Islamabad!


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Where am I?

August 23rd, 2008

Aug 23: Believe me, I’ve wondered that myself the last few days. Suffice it to say that at this moment I’m in Islamabad, have eated at McDonald’s, and took a real long hot shower in a fully-Americanized bathroom, and am at a semi-decent computer typing .


I will hopefully have time to catch you up with what’s been happening in the next 24 hours or so. Right now, I want to go watch the Olympics!


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[k2] Urdokas…er…Bardumal..er..Askole

August 21st, 2008

(this is a duplicate of the expedition blog entry) August 19: We’ve trekked for 2 days and have spent a lovely afternoon at Urdokas, my favorite spot on the Baltoro. Unfortunately it is being ruined by horse/donkey grazing; I spoke about that on the way in.
I left a cold and snowy BC yesterday morning. Deedar and I went to the Gilkey Memorial to pay our respects to our friends and fellow climbers who died this year. Maybe it was this visit, maybe it was the snow, maybe it was my boots, but I had an especially hard walk to the Goro II campsite. We left the Memorial at 10:45, I reached Concordia at 3:00, and finally reached Goro II at 6:30. A good meal and good night’s sleep (and a handful of ibuprofen) transformed me into a new man this morning. The walk was 4 hours and in my running shoes was much more comfortable.
My goal was to meet up with Roland Hunter and his trekking group, and they had lunch ready when I arrived. I’ve been catching up with Roland and talking to his trekkers this afternoon.
I should reach Skardu in three days (8/22). It’s ok to send email, though I might not get it until then. We have two long days (or 2.25 shorter days) ahead of us, but the walking gets progressively easier.
August 20: We walked almost 9 hours (with some stops) to Bardumal, which is usually a lunch stop between Jhula and Paiju. Tomorrow we end the trek (another long day). Yesterday I arrived at Urdokas about noon, and Roland’s trekking group was their. I mooched lunch, dinner, and breakfast and chatted with the members. For some reason, I couldn’t send any email so this is going out the next day (today). Confused? I am.
August 21: Computer problems. If you get this they’re fixed. Eight hours, uneventful, to Askole and the end of the trek. Goat and fries for dinner!

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[k2] Trekking out

August 17th, 2008

8/17: I don’t have time to chat, but we’re starting the trek down tomorrow. I plan on meeting Roland Hunter’s trekking group and spending the night with them. I’m leading a trek for Roland in the fall, and he was the one who got this particular K2 trip started.
Weather has been crap. I hope to have a day when I can fill you all in. I’ll also get my schedule posted, as I’m visiting Hunza for a couple of days before heading to Islamabad.

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[k2] Abort, abort

August 15th, 2008

8/15: Well, the planned trip to C2 didn’t happen, because at 5am the weather at ABC was (relatively) warm and foggy, with a few inches of fresh wet snow overnight. Things didn’t improve, so at 7AM I left with a 21 kg (45 lb) load of rope and headed back to BC. The fog and fresh snow made the icefall quite pretty, but I didn’t have anyone to take pictures of.
Our night at ABC was slightly comical. There were six of us–the grizzled vets that made up the current summit team–and between us we had one stove, one cup, and about four sleeping bags. We obviously didn’t take the jaunt to ABC (and then to C2) very seriously. Actually, most of the missing gear was already on the hill.
On the walk back to BC I saw a number of tracks of a very small animal. What it is and what it eats, I have no idea. There’s no vegetation at all on the main glacier.
I surprised Deedar at 9am (he was expecting a day or two with no cooking). He quickly whipped up a cheese omelette, and I made the coffee and cooked my own bacon (remember, Muslims don’t eat pork).
Later this morning, two pleasant surprises: the other guys brought down about 13 kg of gear, saving us one trip to ABC, and I found my radio, which had slid off of the top of the tent the day before. I know, don’t put your radio on the tent…
I’ll hold off on posting anything else until something new happens. We still hope to leave BC on the 18th.

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[k2] Up once more

August 15th, 2008

8/14: After a stunning night (moon, no clouds, no wind), I awoke to the sound of ravens croaking and a strange mammalian cry (actually a couple of dozen cries): not too loud, clearly not a bird. One climber early one (It may have been Gerard) took video of a fox-like creature, and the other American group saw a cat-like skeleton. So it was likely a cat or fox eating our food scraps. Tried to see it, but no luck.
Today, I’m going to ABC with Dave and Chuck (both USA). We’ll send my cook Deedar back with a load, then spend the night. Tomorrow (weather/conditions permitting) we’ll go to Camp 2. This will allow me to retrieve my gear and also allow Chuck and Dave to check out the route in case of improving weather).
It may seem perverse, but I’m excited to get back on the hill, if even for a day or so. Then it’ll be goodbye to K2.
Gotta pack.

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[k2] The last straw

August 13th, 2008

August 12/13 : I awoke early on August 12 with the classic symptoms of food poisoning. Our kitchen has been great all season, so i don’t think that was the source. In any case, the symptoms were relatively mild. I slept much of the day August 12. We had the biggest snowfall of the season at BC–maybe 6-10 inches, much of which melted as the day progressed.
The weather forecast gives no hope of a summit window in the foreseeable future. The food poisoning was the last straw, so I ordered porters this morning (8/13). We hope to leave here on the 18th. This will give me time to get better and get to Camp 2 to pick up my personal gear.
One clarification: I never intended to make a solo summit attempt. I stayed at BC because we had a small but competent group of climbers willing to work together to make an attempt as a team. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on this point.
Also: If you’re sending email to my regular addresses, I haven’t seen them yet. I’ll respond to them when I get home. And to those who have emailed in the past week and haven’t received a response–thanks for the thoughtful comments. I hope to respond to all in the next 24 hours. Yesterday’s stomach bug set me way behind.
Cheers, Mike

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