We have arrived in Skardu, and I am writing this on the veranda of our guest house, looking out at the most incredible view.
Below, tall trees line a great wide river. The distant roar betrays how it looks from here- serene, crystal clear, but I’m sure up close it is a torrent you wouldn’t want to go for a swim in.
From the river, huge dusty peaks rise and act as a fort, guarding the snow capped peaks beyond. I can just spy what looks like maybe a 4000m peak in the background. It has probably never been climbed.
At just over 2000m, Skardu is a military base and bustling town- the last major outpost of the Karakoram. It’s super friendly here- even though we are getting a lot of stares as we walk down the street.
On the plane from Islamabad, I sat next to two Pakistani Army Officers. They were the perfect gentlemen, doing their best to chat to me in broken English, and apologising for talking too loudly. That kind of sums up Skardu for me- everyone does their best to speak English to us, is really friendly and very polite.
As we landed, a Mirage jet was taking off. “The Swiss army de-commisioned the same jets about 30 years ago” my team mate Michal (from Switzerland) told me. “It’s just a daily show of force for the Indian neighbours.”
In town, I handed out some pencils to local school boys who had stopped on their way home from school to stare at our group as we bartered over umbrellas (it’s super hot here, so we’re going to use them on the trek for shade). At first, the boys were very shy, almost too shy to accept the pencils. But when they realised they had the Union Flag printed on them, one of them said “UK?”. Yes, I nodded. They all smiled and studied the pencils intensely. As they walked off I could see them showing off the pencils to their friends. I hope they get to use them in school tomorrow.
Our team is truly international, with Mexico, France, England, Ireland, Russia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland all represented. Everyone is very experienced, with a few having attempted K2 last year, before being thwarted by a change in the weather.
We’re also here with Garrett Madison’s team, and a few groups of trekkers. It seems like there’s going to be a lot of people on the mountain this year, which could cause a few problems as there is next to no space at camp 2 and 3 for more than a few tents. Everyone is aware, so hopefully we can work together and plan in advance to avoid major problems.
The Sherpas from Nepal have also arrived, and I am still getting to know them. I’m really looking forward to climbing with them on the mountain. We also have Pakistani climbers with us, so there will be a great mix of cultures and people at base camp, all the way (hopefully) to the summit.
We’re now waiting on our bags to arrive from Islamabad, and will spend a few hours packing, then have a meeting this evening, and then tomorrow we will spend all day driving to Askole, which for anyone who knows me, will probably end up with me being car sick at some point.
Anyway, Skardu has been great and I feel very privileged to have met people in this town, a place I would never visit were it not for mountaineering. I feel very blessed to have met people who are culturally very different from me, but actually- as soon as we make eye contact, the differences don’t seem to matter at all.
I’m looking forward now to starting the trek, and I guess I’ll send my next blog when we arrive at base camp in about 8/9 days time.
Thanks for reading.