FIeldwork in the Karakoram


A typical day in the field in the Karakoram Mountains

Home is a tall moraine ridge rising sharply above the 17km long Yukshin Glacier. A small creek of water sourced by a hanging serac provides life to our camp. Dishes are scrubbed with sand, socks are turned inside out to dry. Cosy is lying down on a smooth shelf of rock and watching the sun set in the impossibly clear distance. Each stage of the day sees further shedding, bringing us closer to each other and to ourselves.

A typical day in the field would start with a cold but refreshing bath in the glacial stream, flowing near to our base camp. Next we would salute our Pakistani team and sit down at the kitchen table, eagerly waiting for chef Moscow’s breakfast delicatessen: cereals, powdered milk, eggs with processed cheese, jam and many chapattis. After stuffing our bellies with food, we slowly prepare our packs for another day on the glacier. Today we’re doing the GPS survey up the glacier, some 6km walking from base camp. After setting up the GNSS base station located on the highest point on the moraine we begin our journey through the treacherous terrain. By the time we struggle up the glacier to the equilibrium line altitude, we are sweaty, organised and free. Pack strap adjustments are sorted, weight is redistributed and we have assumed a tribal order. In all directions stretch rows of mountains empty of human traces. A giddy excitement takes hold, the internal vertigo that is the shift towards simplicity.

We find the 6-tagged boulders using a handheld GNSS and carefully measure their position using the Trimble R10 Rover GPS Receiver. We take great care to position and maintain the GPS above the marked sign for 6min – the time it takes for the GNSS to take 360 precise measurements and average them. Conversations stream out behind us, like prayer flags turning gently in the breeze. We walk, rest, walk, and talk. Lunch is a package of processed cheese called “happy cow”, several chapattis and a chocolate bar, paired with crystal clear glacial creek water. Fieldwork is a daily activity, whether geomorphic mapping, GPS survey or a well deserved rest day. Day after day, we watch each footstep and monitor our balance. The relentless focus drills through everything to what really matters: the quiet, the sun, moving with confidence that we did not have yesterday. Yet the people we love in our other lives float amongst us, shimmers in the air or a wave of heat from the valley bottom.