Mathieu Maynadier, mountaineer and Team Petzl member, tells us about his trip to the mountains of Pakistan. Antoine Bletton, Sebastien Ratel, and Pierre Labbre were also part of the team that climbed a new 2000 m high route in alpine style (M5, ED-) up the Southwest face of Latok 2, at 7020m. Full story below.
«Travel to Pakistan…?? What the f… are you going to do over there…?? You’re crazy, there’s a war going on!!»
A good example of what people were saying in the month leading up to our trip to Pakistan.
Friends of mine had already been there, and according to them it was safe and calm in the mountains. Yet only a few days before we leave, all hell breaks loose: riots on the Karakoram highway, fighting between various tribes, multiple killings, closed roads, visas held up… Even the embassy asked us, «What the f??? are you going to do up there?». They clearly don’t know that the world’s most beautiful mountains are in Pakistan! We make a few phone calls to better understand what is going on, since we’d rather not cancel this unbelievable project. Then at the last minute, everything goes through and we’re off! Our visas arrived. Ishaq, the director of the agency in North Pakistan that we are using tells us that we can come on over… What a relief. Just after arriving in Islamabad we leave for 28 hour bus ride with a superhuman driver who apparently doesn’t know what the word “tired” means...
The Karakoram Highway, a “highway” in name only. Even the largest of American pick-ups would be dwarfed here...
The pot-holed ridden road is sometimes paved, sometimes not. It’s quite an experience approaching the mountains of Pakistan! We see checkpoints, military personnel, farmers… each with their very own AK-47. We’re not sure who does what or who to listen to, but everyone seems to want to protect us… Afghanistan is not very far away. Everything goes as planned, we make steady progress and the mountains slowly come into view in the Hunzas region, one of the ranges that surround the Karakoram. The capital city of Hunzas, Karimabad, is a small haven of green in a primarily mineral environment, surrounded by mountains, with views of one spectacular summit after the other: Rakaposhi, Ultar, Diran, and Spantik with its well-known Golden Pillar is not very far away...
A four-star breakfast in Karimabad; Rakaposhi is in the background...
After a quick outing to ski with other riders, I meet up with the rest of the team in Skardu to start our most serious of endeavors. The starting point for almost all expeditions to the Karakoram is the village of Askole. Although the reputation of this world-renowned village in the mountaineering community leaves one to believe that it is a mini Chamonix, the reality is much more surprising: it’s like traveling back to the Middle Ages where people live in truly rudimentary conditions. An Italian traveling through the area a few years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of K2’s first ascent even said, “at least nothing ever changes here…” I’ll leave it to you to imagine what it’s like. With our extremely comfortable living conditions back home, we remark that our group really is just a bunch of little princesses, Yes-siree-Bob!
The approach on the Biafo glacier… Long and flat!!!
And we’re off, with one ton of gear split between 45 porters, for one full month in the mountains. The hiking is difficult along the glacier’s crumbly and unstable moraines. In this region you earn your expedition. We arrive in base camp three days later and head out to get our first good look at the face we will be climbing. The approach is easy, although we have just one teeny tiny little problem: bad weather. At the moment we can’t even see the entire face... So we keep telling ourselves that conditions will get better (it has to after 10 straight days of bad weather, doesn’t it?). We acclimatize on the surrounding peaks. We sit around in the tent, we play cards. Then one day, surprise! A weather text message forecasts a 48 hour window of good weather. We call and receive confirmation from our weatherman that he “feels pretty confident about his forecast”...
It’s noon and we gather around to discuss the situation. Only two “full” days of good weather to climb the route instead of the four days originally planned. We are far from acclimatized, our packs aren’t ready and it’s almost too late to head to the base of the route. But we decide to head out anyway; at least the packs will be ready in no time since we are leaving behind most of our food!
Day.1: 5 a.m., we cross the bergschrund at 5050 m, and after ascending a long slope of snow we reach the base of the first real difficulties.
Crossing the bergschrund
Moderate mixed climbing at first but lots of snow, then a pitch of “calf-burning” ice before finishing with a short but steep gully.
Just like the North Couloir of Les Drus (but there are no rappels in this one!!!)
Mixed climbing at the end of the first day.
8 p.m: it’s snowing, and we dig out a small ledge in the ice, waking up the next morning is going to be a challenge.
Since we can’t sleep, we take pictures.
Day.2: In the end we couldn’t sleep, so at least waking up was much easier than planned!
Good news, the weather is great and the spindrifts that pounded our tent all night have calmed down so that we can continue the ascent. It would be nice to have a short day today in order to recover from the previous day’s efforts and have at least a chance of reaching the summit, which still looms more than 1000m above. We climb pitch after pitch of mixed climbing rather smoothly and reach a fantastic bivouac spot, a flat area at 6200m. We dry out our gear and do little sun bathing, allowing us to recharge our batteries. Tomorrow’s climbing will be strenuous.
Reaching the second bivouac site.
Sunrise above the Ogre.
Day.3: We start at 2 a.m. and our goal is to summit. 800 m of vertical remains, but the climbing seems doable: some steep snow, some mixed climbing, and a laid back finish… How wrong we are! It turns out to be difficult mixed climbing, and the easy finish… isn’t easy at all! Pushing through more than 400m vertical of deep snow at 7000m is hard and scary!!!
6 p.m : Summit... Finally, well 100m below the true summit, but we’ve had enough, and the forecast is for heavy snows tomorrow at 7 a.m. We need to have passed through the last bottleneck at the bottom of the face before then, since it acts as a funnel for everything that slides down from above.
And we’re off for a full night of rappels.
Day.4: At 1 a.m. we reach our last bivouac site. We take a short break to stuff our packs and fill our thermoses. It’s very cold and we’re all starting to reach the point of exhaustion.
We’re hurting and it isn’t even over yet...
The rappels go smoothly, with one person who heads down first to manage the descent and the three others, zombies in their current state, who fall asleep at each anchor...
9 a.m : The last rappel, a 40m pendulum to finish. No strength left to keep my pack from spinning me around in the air, but we’re down, with just one short snow slope to descend to reach our skis on the glacier.
10 a.m: We cross the bergschrund, and we’re officially down! After four days, including 36 hours without sleep, we pick up our skis at the bottom of the face and head to base camp.
1 p.m: We reach base camp exhausted but happy to have been able to take advantage of such an improbable window of good weather.
Phida and Mouzaire cooking up a storm!
VIDEO – Mountaineering on Latok2 - Le Théorème de la peine (Mixed Suffering)
«A tribute to suffering… that’s a depressing title, don’t you think?!» ask the same folks from the beginning...
No, it’s not depressing, no more than Pakistan is dangerous. It’s just paying homage to the people from the Pyrenees that Pierre represents: “We’re definitely in suffer mode,” Pierre matter-of-factly states two-minutes below the summit. We finally decided on “Mixed Suffering”, as a tribute to Greg Child’s book, “Mixed Emotions”. This trip provided us with the opportunity to grow and mature. We are now ready to attempt something a little higher, a little harder…?
Many thanks to the Pakistanis, to Yann, to Phida, and to Mouzaire for having taken such good care of us for one month at base camp.
Many thanks to Petzl, The North Face, Béal, Julbo, and Asolo for helping us to complete such fantastic projects!
-- Mathieu Maynadier