June 15th 2010 – Day 15
From Alex & Basil
After the successful attempt of the virgin peak above 6'000m, we were prepared to leave Ali Camp for Concordia. Before departing, we did a clean-up exercise to ensure that the campsite remains as unpolluted as how we have seen it the first time. In addition, we convinced some porters to bring the rubbish back down instead of burning it.
On the way down Baltoro Glacier, more than 70 porters created a massive line, which stood out extremely well in the snow. Staying at such high altitudes for a few days did help in the acclimatization of our bodies, making the trek back to Concordia less strenuous and difficult.
Upon reaching Concordia, we were delighted to see Alexis and Basil again. It was a pity that they could not follow us to Ali Camp. During lunch, we realized that Dmitry was not with us! We were worried that he might have fallen into a crevasse as there was bad weather brewing in Baltoro. After sending a small search party, Dmitry was spotted not too far away. The reason behind his delay? Photos!!!
Some of the young explorers did their interviews with cameraman Moose about the climb. Next, we did the famous step test with the Mayo Clinic. The comparison of the results of the previous step test done at Concordia a few days ago, underlined the fact that most of us were now more acclimatized to the current altitude as we were living on higher grounds for the past few days. This was shown by a higher percentage of our oxygen saturation level in our blood.
During tea, the young explorers came together to discuss the possible names for our mountain. It was a highly heated, but friendly debate. However, after much time, no conclusion has been made. The young explorers decided to spend more time during the return leg to brainstorm new ideas for the name.
The next day, we will trek to the base camps of K2 and Broad Peak where Mike and Kobi will set off for their climb to these summits. In addition, we will have the opportunity to visit the K2 memorial to understand and learn about the dangers behind this unforgiving mountain.
Dear all! If you have not seen me in the recent photos or videos, do not fret! I’m back! Yup, I did not have the chance to reach the physical summit of the mountain. I have been staying in Concordia with Alexis for the past 3 nights. Our friendly host was a group of local environmentalists who are cleaning up Baltoro Region during the trekking season.
Let’s have a flashback to the 12th of June 2010. In the morning, I was feeling really good to trek to Ali Camp, our Base Camp. However, after 40 minutes of trekking, a partially recovered fractured ankle, a severe cough and a breathless me, I was maxed out and started to drift away from the group. Every step I took was taking up much of my energy and it was impossible to travel together with the group. It was then, I realized, I had to turn back. This is the first time I have experienced reaching my personal physical and mental limits. There was no strength left within me to continue. With that realization, I cried, a sign of my emotional inability to acknowledge the fact that I would not be climbing with the team. If I have continued, I might lose my life or endanger the lives of others. It was not wise to jeopardize the success and safety of the climb.
As I reluctantly witnessed the team distanced from me in the snow, I made my way back to Concordia. Upon reaching, I was greeted by a group of friendly Pakistanis who are involved in cleaning Baltoro Glacier. I realized that an excellent opportunity has presented itself! I would be able to focus on the ‘Learn’ & ‘Act’ philosophies of the exploration. The ‘Keep Baltoro Clean’ Group comprises 7 strong individuals who will stay in the mountains for up to 3 months.
A chat with the leader of ‘Keep Baltoro Clean’, Mohammad Raza, helped me understand a few facts. Last year, the group collected a total of 10,300 KG of rubbish from the campsites. This year, they have plans of collecting 12,000 KG of waste. A further enquiry made me realized that they did not have the autonomy to clean up the military campsites which are very much polluted. After a short discussion, I felt extremely fortunate to be able to spend a few days, living the Balti culture in the mountains, carrying out tasks and discussing problems and solutions together with these like-minded locals. As the other members of the expedition were scaling the summit, I was the representative in climbing the environmental ‘summit’ of Baltoro Glacier.
Over the days, while recuperating, I was deeply engaged in serious discussions of waste management, sanitation and the living conditions of the porters on the Baltoro Glacier. One of the discussions was the installations of proper toilets in the camps so that the waste can be transported properly to a location to be converted as fertilizer. Another topic was the provision of adequate shelter for the porters who were currently living in snow caves covered by plastic sheets in the cold and harsh conditions. We discussed about ways to get sustainable shelter for the porters who carry up to 40 KG of load and trek up to 8 hours a day.
In addition, I was involved in some cleaning up around Concordia. It appeared that proper education of waste management was not provided to the guides and porters as they tried to burn the rubbish. Most of the rubbish would not combust in the snow leaving kerosene and partially burnt rubbish all around the campsites. The team aimed to educate the guides and porters to ensure that they bring the rubbish down or risk getting a fine from the environmental enforcers of the Baltoro Glacier.
The strong Balti culture exuded by the team allowed me to adapt to the culture quickly. Simple meals consisting of Chapatti and a single vegetarian dish were tasty, yet nutritious. I ever had the chance to try my hands on making Chapatti! Listening to classical Balti music and watching the squabbles about political parties were part of the never-boring routines. The last night, before the rest of the expedition team met us, ended off with a huge bang with the team singing and celebrating to the voices of a united Balti Culture.
Overall, the days spent in Concordia was extremely, unexpectedly fulfilling. I was able to have close interactions with the locals. The sharing of ideas and discussions were extremely crucial in sustaining the Baltoro Glacier. The cleaning up in Concordia further ensured the success of the Pangaea Expedition in the Himalayas.
News came yesterday that the summit was reached. I was delighted that the attempt to climb the virgin peak was successful. In the meantime, I was attempting the other ‘summit’ for Mother Nature.
I will break off with the team again tomorrow and start an early descent back to Askole as I am expecting myself to take a day more with my ankle still in bad shape. Mike was actually suggesting a helicopter to bring me down! That would have been amazing, breathtaking and extremely costly. I will travel with another porter and may not see the group for a few days! Stay tuned to hear about my extraordinary experience back down!