The Karakoram Expedition Diary


PAKISTAN

Detailed Diary Log of the Karakoram Anomaly Project

by Oliver Forster, Expedition Scientific Investigator

Day 1: Flight to Islamabad; Airport transfer to Hotel; rest

The team landed in Islamabad where we met with our expedition guide, Ali Muhammad Saltoro. Ali had a classic Pakistani moustache, and a face weathered by many years of exposure to the elements. He quickly established himself as an authority on all things Karakoram, wowing us with stories of previous expeditions. Trango, G1, Nanga Parbat. The list was long. Stories of Ali’s adventures were a mainstay of our trip, and Ali could always be depended on – to make you laugh in base camp, and to look after you when danger loomed.

We took a taxi to our guesthouse in Islamabad – a somewhat soulless city that misses the chaotic vibrancy of its older counter part Rawalpindi. Our guesthouse was unremarkable, but it was exciting to be all together as a team for the first time.

Day 2 & 3: Welcome Reception; Team Meeting; Planning; logistics; supplies

We had anticipated flying from Islamabad airport to Gilgit, but inclement weather meant that the flight was cancelled. Ali informed us that this happens about 50% of the time, so is worth anticipating.

We used the down time to familiarise ourselves with Pakistani customs, build strong relationships in the team and test our equipment. We also travelled to the UNDP Pakistan GLOF Project and inform them of our intentions.

Day 3: Delayed Departure to Hunza

We left our hotel in Islamabad at 1am in a large van to remain inconspicuous, and avoid Islamabad traffic. Our equipment was tied to the roof and covered with tarpaulin earlier in the night of the journey. The drive north towards Hunza took a grand total of 22 hours – including a long detour around the Karakoram Highway that took us over towards the Indian boarder.

As we approached the Himalaya, crowned in Pakistan by the mighty Nanga Parbat, a landslide blocked our passage. The landslide had apparently come barrelling down the mountain minutes before we reached its location, and we would have been finished had we come a few moments earlier. The military quickly arrived and cleared the road using huge bulldozers.

We arrived at about 3am on day 4 in Karimabad in Hunza. We were absolutely shattered following the 22-hour drive. Ali had checked us into a hotel in advance.

Day 4 & 5: Exploring The Hunza Valley

We awoke the next morning to find ourselves in the spectacular Hunza Valley. We were awed by the snowy peaks around us, which had been hidden by the darkness the night before. Lush greenery lined the valley bottom, and fruit trees sagged under the weight of their apricots, apples and pears.

We had breakfast in a local café. Here we met our Pakistani team; Moscow Ali our cook, Ishuq Hushe our field assistant and Sher Ali assistant cook. Over the next few months these men would become our good friends.

We had a collection of old photographs that we had collected from the Royal Geographical Society Archives in London, many of which had been taken in the Hunza area during the heyday of British India. We spent the next few days driving around Hunza in an attempt to find the original location of these photographs. The idea was that by retaking the photos we could quickly assess how things had changed. To our delight we were able to find many of the photograph locations. Many of them had been taken in the vicinity of Baltit Fort. The Fort is an absolutely spectacular building, dating back to the 4th century and perched high on an old glacial moraine. It commands impressive views of the valley and Rakaposhi, the 19th highest summit in the world.

As well as recreating old photographs we interviewed some local people about the Hunza area, focusing particularly the wide array of hazards that originate from the mountains. The curator of Baltit fort is a particularly knowledgeable and informative individual. He told us about how GLOFs had devastated infrastructure and cattle, particularly when he was a boy in the 60s.

Day 6: Ata Abad Lake Crossing; Drive to Passu Village; Repeat Photography

To head north towards Shimshal we had to cross Ata Abad Lake. The lake was formed in 2001 by a biblical scale landslide that blocked the passage on the Hunza River. The Lake is a beautiful blue colour, but has an eerie quality, surrounded as it by the remnants of lost villages. The crossing took us about 2 hours, but was enjoyed by all. We were incredulous to learn that this was Ishuq’s first ever time on a boat!

Having crossed the lake we started off into the Karakoram proper. As the jagged peaks started to become more pronounced, excitement, mixed with a pinch of fear, took hold in the team.  We spent the night at Ambassadors Lodge in Passu, which is excellent, if a little expensive for our means. 

Day 7: Acclimatisation Trek to Passu Glacier (3500m); Return to Passu Village

After a large breakfast we started out for Passu glacier. Passu, whilst rather more modest than the near by Batura, is still over 40km long and is a perfect environment to acclimatise and sharpen rusty ice climbing skills. We walked all day. By the end of the day Oliver was sick with altitude and dehydration, and we returned to Ambassador Lodge tired and in need of food.

Day 8: Drive to Shimshal Village

We set out for Shimshal Village having loaded two large 4*4 Toyota’s with our equipment. The entrance to Shimshal Gorge is absolutely spectacular. The Shimshal River snakes between vertiginous cliffs, into which a dirt track has been blasted. From afar you would have no idea that there was a valley here at all.

We drove for about an hour before we reached a roadblock. The previous night a landslide had destroyed the road, which was now mostly in the river. We moved quickly to transport our equipment across this dusty earth, which shifted continuously beneath our feet. A fall here would mean a swim in the freezing swirling water below.

After a two-hour wait we clambered aboard a solitary Wallis Jeep, leaving behind all of our equipment and our Pakistani Team. They were to come behind by tractor with our kit. We drove on for about three hours. Eventually we reached a bridge that had been literally obliterated by flooding. We had to ford the river. Remarkably our driver managed to get his Wallis Jeep through the water without much fuss. For our part we stripped down our underwear and ran across clutching our shoes. The water was cold enough to make you draw breath.

Another two hours passed before we arrived in Shimshal Village. Shimshal is a green idyll, an oasis of fields and trees amongst desolate mountains. There is only one road, and the village subsists entirely on its own produce. When we arrived orange evening light was kissing the tops of the wheat, which swayed as if enchanted. From the perspective of an outsider at least, Shimshal in summer is a good approximation of paradise on earth.

Day 9: Exploring Shimshal Village; Taking Interviews with Local People

As we wandered around in the morning the complete splendour of Shimshal was revealed. We interviewed a handful of people on life in Shimshal and began to plan our journey onwards, pouring over maps and talking to local men about the various summits that surround the village.

Day 10: Prepare Expedition to Yukshin Garden Base Camp; Arrange Porters

We continued to plan our expedition, buying extra supplies. Following another acclimatisation trek towards the Yazghil glacier, Ali made us aware that he was having trouble gathering enough porters to carry our equipment. This was in part because many of the Shimshali men were tending to the village’s Yak herd at the Shimshal Pass, a good three days walk away.  Once Ali had managed to source porters, by rousing men young and old from every house in the village, the trouble became how much weight each would take. It turned out that Shimshal had self-imposed a 20kg weight limit on porter loads, and the head of the porters refused to negotiate on this.

This infuriated Ali, and forced us to cut weight from our food supplies in order to keep to budget. We spent the night crouched over barrels of food, trying to sort and redistribute every last bag of rice. Despite our best efforts our tonne of equipment was still predicted to require some 50 porters to carry.

The 20 kg porter limit is well worth anticipating on future expeditions to Shimshal. It stands in contrast to much of Pakistan, including the Baltoro area, where porters happily carry 30 or even 40kgs.

Day 11: Trek towards Khurdopin Glacier

We rose at 6am to find our porters assembled outside. Animals accompanied them – 2 Yaks, 10 Donkeys and a goat. The donkeys and yaks were loaded with our equipment and supplies. We watched the porters and animals set off towards the Yazghil glacier, and after breakfast we followed on.

We caught up with them at the snout of Yazghil glacier. The donkeys were struggling across the ice. (The yaks walked straight over the glaciers without slowing or changing direction!). We helped push/lift the donkeys across the steeper areas. Having crossed Yazghil glacier, the valley widens and becomes both very dry and very hot. It is a long walk across this area, and the crossing should only be attempted with ample water.

Having reached the far end of this part of the valley, where the Khurdopin-Yukshin Gardan system comes down to meet the river, we met a few porters who had remained ahead of us. They were sitting down, and looked as if they had no intention of continuing. Ali soon informed us that the porters wanted to stay here for the night and continue the next morning. We spent the night under a million stars.

Day 12: Trek towards Yukshin Garden (YK) Moraine; Set up Base Camp (BC)

The final leg of our journey required hiking over the snout of Khurdopin glacier and then up the western edge of Yukshin Gardan glacier. It was hard going, the boulders, which cover Khurdopin shift and slide as you walk over them.

We reached the location that was to become our camp for two months just after noon. To reach it we hiked up a beautiful waterfall (this waterfall supplies clean water for drinking and bathing until the beginning of September, when its head waters freeze). Compared to the surrounding areas the base camp area was lush. Gnarled (and mostly dead) trees provided excellent wood for fire, and the base commands excellent views south towards Yukshin Gardan Sar and Kanjut Sar. It also provided good access to our field area, the Khurdopin-Yukshin Gardan system.

Our tents were soon erected, including a spacious mess tent (blue) for eating and socialising and a kitchen tent (red), in which our Pakistani team also slept. Things immediately began to feel homely. Our porter caravan continued to arrive for another few hours.

Once all the porters arrived it came to the issue of payment. A number of issues arose. Although we could not understand, the most pressing seemed to be that Ali was not carrying enough cash to pay all the porters immediately. The negotiations started to become heated. The Shimshalis were arguing about who should receive the money which Ali had, and who should wait for money when Ali returned. Soon there was shouting, and a fracas ensued, complete with punching and wrestling.

Feeling somewhat intimidated, we stayed quiet whilst everyone calmed down. It is worth noting that no one directed aggression towards us in any way during this episode, the fighting was rather between Shimshalis. Eventually the dispute was sorted. It was decided that the younger porters – who had to go off to school in the coming weeks – would be paid first, and the elders who could afford to wait would be paid second. Having been paid the porters left quickly. Ali was angry, calling the villagers stupid and telling us that this would never have happened in Baltoro. Still, we had reached base camp! Our journey was complete and we felt eager to get to work.

Day 13 to 16: Ice Drilling Activities

In order to complete the scientific objectives of the project, we needed to set up a stake array on the Khurdopin-Yukshin Gardan glacier system. These stakes needed to be drilled into the ice, and there position measured using our Trimble GNSS R10 receiver. Our plan was to then wait for about three weeks, before returning to the stakes and measuring their position for a second time in order to deduce glacial movement. (You can read more about this in the Summary of Key Fieldwork Activities, above).

Our first task then, was to place our stake array. This was no mean feat! It required lugging a 20kg auger (or ogre as we called it) around the glacier, climbing up to a high point and then drilling a 40cm hole for about 15 minutes. Despite Ali’s earlier assurances it emerged out that auger was designed for drilling holes in peoples gardens…not through the hard ice of Yukshin Gardan glacier. After 3 hard days we had drilled 45 holes and erected 45 stakes.

Day 17 to 20: GPS Survey Activities

You can imagine our disappointment when we returned on day 17 to find that our holes had melted and many of our stakes had collapsed! We had thoroughly underestimated the melt rate on the glacier surface. Although we were disappointed, the situation was soon rectified. Rather than drilling stakes into the glacier, we resorted to tagging large boulders with spray paint and then marking the exact position of the centre of a cross on their surface.

Recording the exact position of each boulder meant steadying the GPS unit above each using a built in tripod. We then had to wait for six minutes whilst the GPS satellite array took 360 measurements of position. Sometimes, if there were strong winds, the GPS would shift enough to render the position compromised, and we would have to start the measurement all over again. Swear words directed towards ‘the satellite gods’ were a main stay of these few days! But after three days all of the points initial locations were recorded and we returned to camp for a well-deserved rest.

Day 21 and 22: Rest Day

Rest days were vital to our recuperation. On rest days we typically washed our clothes, played a Romanian game with rocks called ‘moara’, ate copious quantities of food, collected fire wood, charged equipment (and ourselves), watched movies, listened to the Chinese equivalent of the BBC World Service on a handheld radio and/or played catch with Ishuq and Sher Ali (who were seriously good cricketers). We even spent some time stalking Ibex – on one occasion Ishuq got within stones throwing distance of one, but it soon leaped to safety up what can only be described as a sheer cliff. Whilst Ishuq may have been ‘the Pakistani machine’, able to climb the most hazardous slopes in worn out old trainers, he was no match for an ibex.

Day 23: Trek to Virjerab Lake Basin; Explore Virjerab Glacier

Reaching Virjerab lake basin was a key aim of the project. The lake basin was the origin of the devastating GLOFs of the early 20th century, and mapping its features was integral to assessing the risks the people of Shimshal face now and in the future.

Reaching the basin required trekking for about five hours across first Yukshin Gardan and then Khurdopin glaciers. The difficult conditions underfoot were compounded by our rucksacks, which had cooking equipment, ropes and food hanging off them – ‘Christmas trees’ Sergiu described them as. We intended to stay a few nights in Virjerab so needed to take enough supplies to keep us going independent of base camp.

Reaching Virjerab was an exhilarating experience. We felt the hairs on the back of our neck stand as we first glimpsed the enormous lake basin. A herd of semi wild yaks wandered through the sands, kicking up dust as they roamed. In the foreground there was a small Wakhi settlement. Above each doorway was a pair of Ibex horns, and yak hides were hanging inside many of the shelters. The whole scene was reminiscent of Mos Eisley in Star Wars, or an Indiana Jones movie.

Maps revealed to us that the Wakhi settlement is called Past Helga. It is only inhabited for short periods when the Shimshali’s herd the Yaks before the winter months. It makes for a fantastic place to camp. There is a natural spring at its northern edge, from which crystal clear (and freezing cold) water eschews. The spring is recognisable from some distance, as bull rushes grow around the pools it creates. The water likely originates from Khurdopin glacier, and travels a short distance underground to form the spring.

Day 24 to 26: Geomorphic Mapping in Khurdopin/Virjerab Basin; Trek back to YK BC

The days we spent in the lake basin allowed us to explore the northern terminus of the Khurdopin/Yukshin Gardan system. We made detailed geomorphic maps of the glaciers snout relative to the valley flank, with a view to assessing how likely the glacier was to block to Shimshal River, which flows between the two.

Skirmishing along the front of the glacier was difficult in places. Where the river channel was confined by the glacier and the valley flank it became a raging, freezing torrent. On occasions we traversed precipitously above the wild waters below for lengths of 100m or more.

Mapping the lake basin itself was a more tranquil experience. The Shimshal River here is calm, and braids into little channels, which flow slowly across the old lake sediments. The old depth of the lake water can be seen on the northern and southern flanks of the valley here approximately 100m up.

On the last day before returning to base camp we mapped a glacial lake trapped between Khurdopin’s large terminal moraine (over 100m tall!) and the glacier. There were signs that a GLOF had originated from here before, as evidenced by a 20 by 20m U-Shaped breach dug into the terminal moraine. When we surveyed it this lake posed little danger, but we figured any increase in its size would begin to change that.

For the trek back to base camp we were once more ‘Christmas tree’d’, but we made the journey in less than 4 hours, now knowing the routes across the glacier well.

Day 27: Acclimatization Trek to 4700m

In anticipation of the high altitudes to be experienced on the Yukshin Gardan Sar summit attempt, we went on an acclimatisation trek up the ridge behind base camp. This involved a lot of scrambling on loose scree, and was certainly hard work. We eventually reached a col at the snowline, and not having our ice climbing equipment we returned to base camp for sundown.

Day 28: Rest Day

Day spent washing clothes and exploring the waterfall above camp.

Day 29 and 30: Trek to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 4100m; Equip ABC with gear & supplies, Establish a Permanent Camp

Before team members Sergiu and Mat attempted to summit Yukshin Gardan Sar, the whole team set up an advanced based camp (ABC) closer to the intimidating north face of the mountain. ABC was about a day walk from base camp proper, and everyone including Ishuq and Sher Ali helped move ropes, food, gas and cameras for the climb. ABC consisted of a three-man north face tent, for sleeping, and a Ferino high altitude tent, which we used for storage.

It was exhilarating to be camped straight on the ice for the first time. We could hear the glaciers vital signs as we slept, a constant shifting and creaking came from within, and it was difficult not to think that the glacier was breathing. The mountain itself grumbled from time to time, as avalanches cascaded down the north face.

From here the team split up, with Mat and Sergiu attempting to establish a camp 1 Yukshin Gardan Sar with support from Oliver and Tim at Base Camp. The diary entries here are written by Oliver. For Sergiu’s version of events please see the mountaineering section, above.  The team are reunited on Day 34.

Day 31: Return to Base Camp/Climb Yukshin Gardan Ice Fall to Camp I; Reached 4700m

Tim and I returned to base camp. We explored the upper reaches of Yukshin Gardan glacier, winding through the labyrinth of paths carved into the ice by melt water. At one point Tim dived into a glacial lake to ‘cool off’…

Day 32 and 33: Rest Day/Climb Yukshin Gardan Ice Fall to Camp I; Reached 5150m; Establish Camp I

Tim and I established radio connection with Sergiu and Matt over a couple of military grade walkie-talkie’s which Ali had acquired. We agreed to check in every day at 9am, 1pm and 7pm. Tim began editing photo’s from the first half of the trip. I spent the time teaching Ishuq and Sher Ali the wonder of Moara, which we all enjoyed. Moara is a Romanian game not dissimilar to drafts and, only requiring rocks, paper and a pen, was well suited to the mountains. Ishuq then taught me ‘wolves and sheep’ a bizarre game that only the sheep ever won. Perhaps it kept shepherds happy on lonely nights…

Day 34: Sergiu and Mat Return to Base Camp

Beautiful sunshine warmed base camp. Tim and I moved our table outside and ate breakfast. Towards lunchtime Sergiu and Mat arrived back, looking tired but otherwise well. They were in good spirits, and told us about the ‘craziest glacier they had ever seen.’

The Yukshin Gardan Ice Fall, it turned out, was even more difficult than it had looked from afar. The ice was contorted so that crevasses cut its surface in every direction. This meant progress was incredibly slow, as the team would advance just a few metres only to find that it was impossible to go on. Sergiu showed us some go-pro footage of him leaping across a crevasse and burying his ice axes into the snow on the other side.

Day 35 Rest Day; Prepare Final GPS Survey and Supplies for Yukshin Garden Ascent

Day 36 to 39: GPS Survey Activities

The time had come to complete our GPS survey of the Yukshin Gardan and Khurdopin glaciers. We prepared ourselves, with some dread it has to be said, to walk for about half a week around the grey and boulder strewn glaciers.

Finding the boulders we had tagged 3 weeks before proved our first challenge. The glaciers had changed – there were new glacial lakes and ice bridges. A flock of ducks had inhabited one of the larger lakes, and we were glad to have the company of some fauna amongst the otherwise baron ice.

To find our survey points we used our Trimble R10 system, which was able to map both the points, which we had previously recorded, and our position. This didn’t make it quite as easy as it sounds (don’t think iPhone + Google Maps!), as moving with the Trimble unsheathed over the slippery glacier seemed like a recipe for disaster, so we normally had to stop and take a rough bearing. Sometimes we had to do this 3 or 4 times between survey points.

Once we found each survey point it was a case of erecting the Trimble and waiting 6 minutes for the GPS to again record the exact position of the glacier. We were happy to find that of the 44 boulders we tagged only 3 were unrecoverable (in all cases our tagged boulder had rolled over).

The most exciting moment of the GPS survey took place on the morning of the 39th day. Sergiu and I were sitting on the ice waiting for a GPS recording. We were in good spirits, and looking back towards our now tiny base camp – a speck of red nestled beneath Yukshin Gardan Sar. Suddenly, a SUV sized boulder broke from its icy incarceration. It fell straight down, seemingly hanging in the air, before causing an explosion of water and ice in a glacial lake below. The whole glacier groaned and heaved. Shock waves, at least a metre high, bounced around the lake. Sergiu and I clung to the rock we were sitting on, swearing loudly! After what seemed like hours the glacier calmed, and peace returned to the valley. It was a Spielberg moment – and a graphic reminder of the danger and violence of mountain environments.

Day 40: Trek to ABC (4100m) and Return to Base Camp

The whole team accompanied Sergiu and Mat once more to base-camp, taking more supplies of food and gas. I spoke extensively with Ishuq, who told me about his life and his village, Hushe. Ishuq had an incredible life story. He was only 19, but had won a long battle with his father to get married to the women (girl) he loved. Remarkably, his marriage had been the first ‘love marriage’ (as opposed to an arranged marriage) ever in Hushe! He described how his wife’s brothers had tried to kill him, how he had had to hide from his father in his mum’s cupboard and how he had eventually won the approval of his family and his community. Ishuq must have a Hollywood film made about him soon; I told him that Brad Pitt would be a good match!

Day 41 to Day 53: The Mountain Rescue

The week after Sergiu and Mat began their ascent was dominated by events towards the end of the week that will remain in my memory forever.

Having established frequent radio contact with the mountain climbing team, Tim and I settled into the rhythm of base camp activity. The days were straight forward, and we lived the simple life depicted as fantasy in urban blogs. The days were bookended by our radio check-ins, once when we woke up, and once before we slept.

From base camp, the summit attempt seemed to be going well. The weather was fine, and Serg and Mat were making good progress. On the evening of day 47 the guys informed us they were going to attempt the summit the next morning. Spirits were riding high.

At radio check-in the next morning we learnt that this summit attempt had failed (due to extreme cold), but that the team would attempt to summit again after a day of rest.

We soon received news that this second summit push had failed, and we waited on news of the duos decent. Over Days 51 and 52 the weather worsened, and thick snow clouds covered our base camp. The quality of our walkie-talkie reception was interrupted, and conversations with Serg and Mat became a frustrating series of R2D2 like beeps and crackles.

On the evening of the second day we managed to obtain signal with Sergiu and Mat for a brief moment. ‘Guys, were in a bit of a pickle. We need you to get the helicopter.’ ‘Can you repeat. Over.’ ‘We haven’t had water for 2 days, get the helicopter.’

At this point I started to get the feeling that your biology reserves for moments when decisions of great consequence have to be made in too little time. A kind of adrenaline mixed with determination. After about 10 minutes deliberation with our Pakistan team, Tim and I decided that I would head to Shimshal to reach Ali and his satellite phone (Ali had gone to get food supplies from the village). Tim would head to ABC, taking food and water with him.

I quickly gathered my things. I knew every minute counted. I started off for Shimshal with Sher Ali. I was suddenly able to march fast. The walk to Shimshal had previously taken at least a day, but Sher Ali and I made the journey in less than 4 hours.

I found Ali and explained to him what happened. A grave expression came over his face. We started making phone calls – to the military, to the embassy, to our insurance, to Tim’s Dad in the UK. All the while our satellite phone credit was running out, which only added to the stress. With a helicopter no closer to arriving, we had 50c credit remaining…

The great problem was that the Pakistani rescue helicopter service requires $10,000 in cash upfront before they launch a rescue. $10,000! This situation must be taken into account by all future expeditions. They really won’t launch the helicopter until you give them $10,000. (You can take out a rescue loan prior to your expedition under a scheme with the Pakistani Mountaineering Assoc. You’ll get the money back if you don’t use it, but you’ll be charged $400 for the privilege).

The time was now 11pm and all hope was dwindling. Ali made one last call. His friend, a man who also ran a mountaineering company answered. He had the money. After I personally guaranteed him that I would pay him back if our insurance failed, he agreed to go to the army base tomorrow with the cash. The helicopter would be sent.

I spent a sleepless night pacing back and forth at our home stay. I was gripped by a feeling of powerless – we had done all we could and now all there was to do was wait. Ali laid out climbing equipment in front of our room. His plan was for the helicopter to set down on the Shimshal cricket pitch. We were then going to board, before directing the helicopter driver towards the icefall. We would complete the rescue by winching Sergiu and Mat up to the helicopter (Ali told me that the helicopter would be a simple military helicopter, not a rescue helicopter, so wouldn’t have ropes on board).

Dawn broke. Little changed except for the lifting of the darkness. We continued to wait. Ali’s friend called to say that he was on route to launch the rescue helicopter.

Then a strange thing happened. Ishuq appeared. He was waving his arms, shouting in Urdu and English. Sweat had soaked through his tattered mountain hardware fleece. ‘Don’t launch’ he shouted, gesticulating wildly.

Sergiu and Mat were safe. They had managed to descend the icefall to ABC after three days without food and water. I would later learn that a break in the weather had allowed them to orient themselves. The sun had melted the snow, revealing the location of the icefalls many crevasses. Tim had met Sergiu and Mat at ABC, nursing them with water and food. Tim radioed Ishuq, who ran from base camp to Shimshal to pass us the message.

And so the helicopter was called off. Ali’s friend told us he was 5 minutes walk from the helipad. 5 minutes from handing over $10,000. It was a lucky escape on our part. But I was past caring about the helicopter. Sergiu and Mat were alive, that was all that mattered.

Day 54: Sergiu and Mat Return

Sergiu and Mat returned to Shimshal the following day. They were worn out. Their ribs were more prominent than before. Mat’s fingers had cracked from the cold. Raw wounds glared from the inside of his knuckles. I felt elated to see them both, but tiredness remained over the whole team. Their return was not quite a jubilant as perhaps it might have been.

Porters carrying the contents of our base camp trickled into Shimshal for the rest of the day. Our home for two months was reduced to a pile a rucksacks and barrels on the floor outside our guesthouse.

Day 55: Rest Day; Prepare Workshop for Local Community

After a few good meals strength began to return to Sergiu and Mat. We started to prepare for our workshop in Shimshal. The purpose of the workshop was to communicate what we had found with the people of Shimshal. We wandered through the wheat fields, which had now been harvested. No longer subtle greens rippling in the wind, but browns and yellows. Winter was coming.

We went to the village shop and bought a hundred or so packets of biscuits, figuring that these might encourage people to come. Word seemed to spread around the village easily. I went to the local school and spoke to someone in the geography department. Ali found us a projector. Everything was in place for the following day.

Day 56: Community Development Workshop

We spent the morning finessing our presentation and arranging the meeting room. By lunchtime people began arriving: a whole class of geography students (both boys and girls), teachers from the local school, representatives of the Shimshal Nature Trust and village elders. They made up over 100 people.

We began by asking everyone to imagine the room as a world map. Where would they like to go if they could go anywhere in the world? We asked that they stand in that location. After initial reluctance, this ‘icebreaker’ worked immensely well – people were laughing and smiling. Now everyone was more relaxed we moved into our presentation proper. We told the Shimshalis that they were not at current risk of a GLOF, but that due to past observations of the surging nature of the glacier, the next five years marked a critical period (see 3.4 Preliminary Results). We also communicated possible solutions to the GLOF problem from elsewhere in the world – Peru, Ladakh, and Kenya.

One of the chief aims of this workshop was to find out the solutions the Shimshalis thought might mitigate the GLOF problem. We thought that the Shimshalis would probably understand the nature of the problem as well as we did, and would be well placed to design solutions. We were to act as a medium, communicating these suggestions with the Pakistan GLOF Project in Islamabad.

Most of the Shimshalis thought weather and GPS stations monitoring the movement of the glacier snout and sensors detecting the presence of a glacial lake were probably the best solution. Both of these are in place in Passu. We later went on to present these ideas to the Pakistan GLOF project.

Day 57: Leave Shimshal; Repeat Photography & Geomorphic Mapping; Cross Ata Abad, Arrive in Hunza

The following morning we loaded our equipment onto the village jeep to leave. Our host Hasil Shah and his family warmly sent us off. As the jeep rolled through the picturesque fields, we marvelled one last time at the village, which tourism missed and the massive landscape which surrounded it.

On the return journey through the Shimshal gorge we managed to take a repeat photographs of the spectacular Malangutti and Momhil glaciers. The former originates from the towering Dastaghil Sar, which at 7,885m is the 19th tallest mountain on earth. We mapped the snout of Malangutti, which could present a GLOF risk equal to that of Khurdopin if it were to grow by 50m or so.

We had lunch at the Ambassadors Lodge once we reached Hunza Valley, before crossing Ata Abad Lake and stopping at about 10pm in Karimabad. It had been a long day, and we slept for many hours.

Day 58 to Day 63: Return Home

The last week in Pakistan was basically a long and rather melancholic trip back to Islamabad and ultimately to our homes in Europe and Australia. It has been a fantastic expedition, which comprised a mountain of experiences that has surely changed us to the core. We were nevertheless excited to return to our friends and families and share the stories from this expedition. We all agreed that the project was a success, however, we should not forget that it was filled with risk and uncertainty in places. A proper adventure! Our return home consisted of a drive back to Islamabad/Rawalpindi. We stayed in a hotel in Rawalpindi and explored the old city. Good food, laughter and relaxation were the key activities of this week. Stage two of the project was ending. What follows next, is stage three of the KAP which consists of processing of results, writing reports, crafting videos and photographic exhibition, attending lectures and seminars. Basically, spreading the word about this project internationally.