K2 Expedition 2018
Jake’s K2 Blog #6: life, death and gratuitous nudity
Day 7: Nola to Paiju Camp
NB: this blog contains reference to and an image of the slaughtering of livestock. It is not gratuitous, it is Jake cataloguing a part of life in the region he is in. Please do not read if you may find this disturbing.
Also, slightly less seriously, this blog contains an image of Jake in the nude which is a bit more gratuitous, albeit still safe for family viewing. However you may wish to skip that section if you are of a sensitive disposition (or eating lunch!)
It’s hard to believe that I left the UK only a week ago. Family and home feel a million miles and a lifetime ago. It’s often the case on big expeditions like this, that you get so immersed in your environment that normality seems utterly alien.
Yesterday we trekked from Jola Camp (3200m) to Paiju Camp (3400m). With a 0600 breakfast scheduled, we awoke at 0500 to a snare-drum beat of heavy rainfall on our tents. My two previous treks up to K2 BC had had constant clear skies for the first 3 days, and so the thought of trekking in the rain was rather an unexpected change. Fortunately it eased off by around 0630, and whilst the tents were wet as we packed them away, at least we weren’t walking through a downpour.
Once again, the overcast skies certainly made for nice cool conditions to walk in, and we were thankful for the respite from what would otherwise be a scorching sun. To the south lay the incredible tombstone shaped peak of Bakhor Dass (5800m), it’s summit frosted white with snow and ice.
Our route took us down to the meet the Baiho river (which runs along the extension of the Baltoro Glacier valley), and then follows it east. The terrain was gentle, mostly flat, with occasional crossings of gullies, carved into the deep fluival deposit by tangential mountain streams running off Uli Baiho Peak (6750m) above us.
We stopped at a small camp called Bardumal (3300m), where we had lunch. As with the previous day, a few of us (me, Tomo, Dimitri and Thomaz) had kept up a decent pace with no breaks and arrived after about 3 hours. The rest of the group took it more gently (it’s certainly not a race), and came in between 30 and 90 minutes later. Lunch consisted of chicken noodle soup, cheese and biscuits and canned tuna. Whilst it had certainly warmed up whilst walking, with the breeze, it didn’t take long to cool down rapidly when you stopped.
From Bardumal, it took another 2.5 hours to reach Paiju Camp. At 3400m, it is a beautiful spot – a narrow band of trees and greenery clinging surprisingly to the dusty and rocky mountainside above the wide river valley. Unfortunately for us, the best camping site, situated on terraces shaded from the sun and protected from the wind by tall trees, was already occupied by another large group on their rest day. This meant that we had to make do with the much more open, dusty and desolate area 100m to the west.
The wind blowing eastwards up the valley tore at us, creating choking dust eddies as we struggled to put our tents up. The dust here is incredibly fine – more like talcum powder, and it gets everywhere – you are forever blowing clods of mud out of your nose, and eyes are filmed with a silty deposit.
Whilst we are safely ensconced in our geodesic mountain dome tents, the porters put up with a slightly simpler level of accommodation. In the camps they get into groups of 6-8, and shelter under tarpaulins, strung either over shallow stone walls, or off the sides of large rocks. They drink endless cups of sweet black tea, and cook chapatis and lentils to eat.
The wind died down by the early evening, and looking up the valley, we could see the terminal morraine of the Baltoro Glacier, a great wall of rocks several hundred feet high, seemingly bulldozing its way down the valley.
Even though it’s only 2 days into the trek, Paiju is always considered the location for a rest day. Even at this relatively low altitude, it helps build up our base level of acclimatisation, and allows the body a chance to prepare itself for what is to come. It’s also a point where we will send some porters back, their loads of fuel and food already exhausted. Apparently, at the start, we had 242 porter loads, which amounts to just over 6000kg of ‘stuff’. Of that, around 120 loads are carried by individual porters, and the rest on mules (which can carry 3 loads) or donkeys (2 loads).
Thankfully we woke on our rest day to a beautiful still and clear day. A rest day in the wind and the rain would be rather tedious, essentially being confined to scurrying between the mess tent and our sleeping tents (in which we’d inevitably spend the majority of the time). The fine weather meant that we could don shorts and t-shirts, wash our clothes and even wash ourselves. I braved a dip and a rinse in the river, which was certainly refreshing, with the water fresh from the icy glacier only a couple of kilometres up the valley.
It was also the end of the road for the Zoa (cow) which would provide the meat ration for the porters. I accompanied the poor beast (utterly ignorant of its fate) down to the river with a particularly animated group of porters. I’ll spare you the finer details, but even after attempting to sharpen the rather blunt knife on a stone, the deed was not exactly quick.
Once complete, with the river running deep red with blood, the porters made short work of cleaning and cutting up the carcass and stripping it of every morsel of meat, which were then grouped into hundreds of very uniform portions to be distributed. Interestingly, this is not apportioned per person, but per load. This means that a single person with 3 mules, gets 9 portions of meat, whilst a porter with his 25kg only gets one portion. As strange as this might seem to you or me, it appears to be completely accepted by all involved, and soon all the porters surrounded a large tarp to collect their ration(s).
We have two trekking guides, Mr Baig, a short bespectacled man who first started working (originally as a porter) on the Baltoro in 1978, and Mr Naffice, a taller man with a slightly unfortunately narrow dark slug of a moustache. Both speak pretty good English, and Mr Baig even speaks enough Japanese to be able to converse with Sauori. I had to laugh today when Mr Naffice appeared in a very smart new coat – a Sainsbury’s staff jacket. Completely oblivious to what Sainsbury’s is, he is particularly proud of this jacket… ‘clean up in aisle three anyone?’
I’ve also had a chance to get the drone up in the air (as I did in Jola), in order to get some good aerial photos and video of the camp. I have to be slightly careful, as there is a small Pakistan Army Outpost on the other side of the valley, and I don’t want to alarm them. As you can imagine, the porters are fascinated by the drone, either squinting up into the sky to try and follow it, or crowding round the controller to see the view on the screen. I suppose it’s no difference to our interest in the slaughtering of the cow – both things are relatively new experiences to either side.
Tomorrow we continue our journey – heading not directly to Urdukas (4150m), as I have previously done, but to Khorbutse (3800m). Whilst this slightly lengthens our journey, it makes it easier for the trekking team, and like our rest day here at Paiju, only helps to build our base acclimatisation. It’s certainly not a race to BC, and the important thing is that we are healthy and acclimatised when we arrive.
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