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Anyway, with (now) 24 of us at base camp most of the time we needed a lot of food and gear. All up we needed 107 porters to carry of this!! We had thought we would have 50 or 60 porters, but 107? We almost fell over with astonishment. This trip was starting to become big and develop a lot of momentum. We certainly started to feel like the privileged class with so many people working for us.
HGP had just purchased a new set of tents. Pakistani-made, their design and weather-proofness has yet to catch up with foreign standards, and they would be completely unable to cope with average New Zealand weather. Our trip's doctor Dave, the sole Aussie in the group, early made his mark as an expert by showing the staff how to erect the large mess tent that was to form the centre of our community life for the next 4.5 weeks. The individual dome tents had toggles to tie back the unzipped doors, and again Western expertise was necessary to show the staff how the toggles worked.
With all this going on we didn't get away till 8am, which turned out to be the latest start on the trip. The day started off as quite a pleasant walk through the village of Askole, but within an hour or two we discovered why late starts aren't such a good idea in this part of the world. It started to get seriously hot - the previous day Alan had measured it as being over 40 degrees in the shade and I well believe it. The heat completely sapped my energy and none of us had enough water with us. To make matters worse we were now at over 3000 metres, which is high enough for any uphill to become a major struggle. Still, it was an interesting day as we traveled up the Braldu River (which heads towards K2). This area is so full of history - the Braldu is the access point for more extreme climbing than anywhere else on earth; and as we walked up the track we thought of all the people who had gone before us, and all the significant achievements and adventures which were in front of them.
By late morning we turned off left and headed up the Biafo, the glacier we were going to be traveling up for the next week. A climb of several hundred feet had us gasping and wondering if anything was going to be happening for lunch. Not only had we all run out of water, but none of us had any snack food with us and we were getting seriously low on energy. Am I making it sound like it was hard work? Well yes, this first day was quite a shock to our systems as we had expected it to be a bit of a cruise.
Well lunch did happen, but not until we dropped down onto one of the roughest bits of moraine I've ever been on. By the time we got to the lunch spot I was completely knackered by the heat, altitude, lack of food and water - you name it, I was knackered from it. In HGP's defense, they had planned to stop at an earlier spot but, due to a very dry winter, the normal water source had dried up. This was to affect many of the stages during the walk in.
After lunch, it was already starting to get late. We obviously weren't
going to be getting to Namla, our intended destination so, after another
hour or two, camped in the middle of the moraine. Needless to say we didn't
have to do anything ...the staff did it all. From clearing camp sites,
to putting up the tents, finding water, cooking dinner for us; we
just sat back and watched it all happen.
Another long hard day as we had to make up for not doing the full distance the previous day and were still quite tired. As with all the days during the walk in, this would have been quite easy if we were well rested, well acclimatised and well. But as it was we were barely going half our normal speed - what would normally be a 6 hour day was taking us 10 hours.
Probably our biggest worry at this stage was how little food Beth had managed to get down the previous night. Either due to being very tired, the altitude or an obvious stomach bug, she managed to eat very little. We later realised that the problem was almost certainly due to the stomach bug, as we were all (in particular me) to suffer from exactly the same thing over the next few weeks. We underestimated the effect this was having on us; at sea level it wouldn't be much more than an inconvenience but at altitude, when your body is already under considerable stress, it's effect is greatly magnified and becomes completely debilitating (actually I should have known this from my previous times at altitude but I guess some people never learn).
We soon ended at the back of the party (which was to become our familiar
place) as we crept up the glacier on a good moraine ridge. Fortunately
the terrain was quite easy for much of the day, with the exception of a
couple of broken and icy sections of the glacier. I was very impressed
with how Beth managed to do a 10-hour day on little more than 4 boiled
sweets (cheap to run). She showed great determination despite feeling ill
and completely devoid of energy.
The day finished with a climb up to a superb moraine terrace on the side of the glacier. These are a real feature of the glaciers in this part of the world, and are wonderful places abundant in vegetation and wild flowers. Such a complete contrast to the harsh and barren terrain on the glaciers. We had a long walk along the terrace, past grazing yaks, to our campsite (Mango). We arrived at 6pm, just as the others were sending out a search party.
Karim was not happy with us remaining at Mango for a day. At first he said it "just wasn't possible". If we have one criticism of HGP, it is that they allowed little flexibility for people needing more time to acclimatise. We'd had a very rushed journey from Islamabad and I felt we hadn't had enough time to recover from the journey and acclimatise properly. If we were done this trip by ourselves we'd had at least one full day at Skardu, and maybe another one higher. However Karim was definitely in charge - he was master-minding the logistics of getting everything to Snow Lake. We were just extra bagagge to be gotten there; particularly awkward baggage as we couldn't be carried and moved very slowly.
When it became apparent that I just wasn't going to move, Karim conceded (but refused to allow Judy to do the same!). So.... the others headed off, leaving us with assistant guide Arif (an excellent guy) and a few others. We had a pleasant sunny day relaxing and even eating a bit. Heart rate went down to 100.