Video and Trip Report

Posted in Willy on September 26, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Here is the trip report that I submitted to the AAC.

“When I have reached the coldest and most awesome summit…

Posted in Willy on August 10, 2011 by charakusa 2011

…my heart closes like a nocturnal flower.”

-Pablo Neruda


Ben leading the first pitch

Posted in Willy on August 8, 2011 by charakusa 2011


Expedition Log

Posted in Jake on August 4, 2011 by charakusa 2011

June 24th

We made the first carry up to the base of Nafis’ Cap. I had a feeling of incredible awe and gratitude when I popped out through the first few fins and cracks at the base of the glacier and had the first unobstructed view of the tower. I sat there a while and looked at it. Willy came up. He looked. There is something sublime about first coming into view of a goal held for so long. The size impressed us. The scale of the work ahead of us impressed us too.

Nafis' Cap - the route we attempted is on the left hand skyline of the prominent pillar that drops from the summit

June 26th

moving gear around... when do we get to climb?

Willy and I carried some more loads up to the base of Nafis. Ben and Josh were feeling much more fit so they took a large portion of the rack and a couple of ropes ande went up to tackle the first few pitches of the route; see what’s in store for us. It took them five hours to get up through the icefall to the start of the climbing. We hoped we could cut that time down as time went on…. we cut the time down, but the approach never got funner. They got a pitch up before ice started falling from above – golf balls, footballs. They hung the rope and went down. The pitch they climbed was the first pitch of an uncompleted German line. In the end, we decided on a route that went farther to the left.

Meanwhile….. Willy and I made like donkeys and carried a bunch of garbellion up to the gear dump we’d made two days before. We dropped our loads there and went up to explore a route through the icefall.

in the icefall

The partial route that we found was somewhat direct, and kind of steep. In one spot we fixed a rope to aide the huffing and puffing. We found a good staging area mid-way up and made two carries to there. Hopefully we’d return for our stuff before a serac fell on it.

As we were on our way down we encountered Ben and Josh, who’d found a good route through to the base of the wall. We all walked back to camp together.

June 27th

By this time our heads weren’t feeling so headachy and our appetites were getting pretty healthy. And we’d had several good days of activity so we decided to take a rest day. Read: eating day.

working out a topo

We had two goats between our expedition and Matt McCormick’s crew, so Zahid, Fita and Abas butchered up some fresh meat. Josh and Ben worked on drawing up a topo which we would never use in the end; Willy helped Zahid cut up meat. We talked itinerary for the wall. Strategized. Made a list of food to carry up. Decided what more gear we’d need up there. Talked about how we’d dispose of human waste. Ate rice and Goat Boy curry for dinner.

This is about when the weather began to really deteriorate. The clear blue skies we’d had while we hiked in and carried loads went the way of all flesh. We were packed and ready to go with the last carry up to Nafis, but we waited a few days before departing:

July 1st

I woke up 4:45 and 5:00 but I didn’t crawl out of my sleeping bag. Little droplets of the past night’s rain were frozen in place on the fabric of my tent. It was overcast but the clouds were at least high. K6, Kapura, Badal, Beatrice – all covered in a robe of white. Vanilla ice. Bling. Gangster rappers dressed up for the Grammys. They emanated austerity. Cold. Unwelcoming. Beautiful. I sat up in the doorway of my tent and looked out to behold the country. Tent zippers ripped the still air to my left and a second later Ben and Willy walked over. We had a truncated conversation about the weather. The upshot was to wait a while and see what the weather did – see if the walls would have a chance to shed some of their white coating. That didn’t turn out to be the case.

July 2nd

I'm a little butterfly...

We decided to hike up to Nafis’ Cap for Good. The hike up was much the same except with lighter packs. It started snowing about the time we arrived at the base. Figures. We stood straining our eyes up into the snowflakes. We talked about switching to a different crack system to the left of the German line we had had in mind. We settled on a beautiful curving corner system that carried the whole height of the wall. To look up at it is stunning.

For a while, we dickered around in the snow. There wasn’t much water to be had. Ben chopped two stills out of the icicles in the bergschrund and set the jetboil pots under the drips. Clearly we would have to come up with something better.

Josh went up the rope they’d fixed the other day to clean in and I busied myself with hauling up the portaledges and tents. The German team had placed a few bolts at the base of the rock, just above the bergschrund in a spot that made a decent ledge camp, but was a little exposed to ice falling from above. We hung our ledges from those bolts. I was hauling off of one of the bolts that were there, just to pull our gear across the ‘schrund and up the easy snow pitch to the rock.

the bergschrund at the base of our route. a good place to drop some things, but not your tent.

The ‘schrund itself was about 10 meters wide at the spot where the load ledges and tents flopped across and banged into the lip on the uphill side. I hauled away and they dug into the overhung lip and the rope cut it’s way into the snow and Josh and I simul hauled for all we were worth (dumb) and the rope cut still deeper and the load beneath the lip dug and crushed itself into the snow until one of the tents ripped free and dropped into the silent blue-black bergschrund and disappeared into the abyss.


There were a few minutes where we were all kind of quiet. So much for forcing things. Ben climbed down in there after the runaway tent, as Josh and I carefully finished bringing up the ledges and began to set them up. Every now and then we’d get an update from below: “I can’t see ’em” “There’s two different channels where it could have fallen into” “Ah, I see it” “I can’t reach it” etc. Willy belayed him from above. I fooled around with a ledge, applying my sluggish mind to untangling the mess of poles and straps which are a dismantled portaledge. The snow never stopped falling. Ben eventually did fish the tent out of the crack, and we were all psyched. He didn’t have any kind of a sense of humor about it though. I know because I asked him if he was ready to go down there after a ledge. He didn’t laugh.

I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet that we found out when we arrived in base camp that the flies we’d brought didn’t fit the new model BD ledges. Due to the confusing nature of how we all arrived in Pakistan, Ben had been sent the flies and Josh the ledges, and they’d never been set up together. So when we hung one from a boulder on our first day in base camp we found out the good news: THEY’RE NOT COMPATIBLE!! Luckily the little tents that Rab had send us were. So that’s what we used.

Josh and Ben teamed up in one ledge and Willy and I took the other – unintentionally spooning. We had a jetboil for both ledges so the setup was that J + B would fix food, W + J fixed drinks and we passed back and forth – snow sifting inside as we did so.

Hmmm...feels a little cramped in here.

Another anecdote: when you want to set a tent up on a portaledge, you have to remove the outside middle suspension strap. Take it out of the equation. If any of you hardcore wall dudes are reading this you’re probably thinking “Well…yeah. Duh.”. But somehow this wasn’t super intuitive to us as first, and we spent the first night or two dealing with a sagging dilapidation of nylon and twisted poles. We were up around 5000m at that point. This of course was the highest we’d slept and we all had splitting headaches. So between the the headache, and the wet sagging body of the tent hanging in my face and being crammed up next to willy with his legs on top of me and vice versa… I didn’t sleep much and I’m sure none of the others did either. Not allocating a piss bottle for the 2am call was a sad oversight as well. All night I listened to Willy fight for air – 3 or 5 shallow breaths then a tremendous gasping, like Chain-Stokes Syndrome.

Views from the wall

Posted in Willy on August 2, 2011 by charakusa 2011

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Naysa Brakk

Posted in Jake on August 1, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Naysa Brakk - the north ridge is the right hand skyline

Naysa Brakk means arrowhead tower. It’s a fitting name because that’s what the peak appears like. Or a pyramid; a symmetrical, three-dimensional triangle. Willy and I climbed the north ridge on the 25thof June. We left camp at first light, just after 4am. It took us 4 ½ hours to huff and puff our way up the gully to the notch where the route starts.

Willy making his way up to the base of Naysa Brakk

We wasted about an hour when Willy took my suggestion to find a detour around a spot where the gully bottlenecked and steepened to form a small waterfall. I had climbed up it; icy water running down my sleeves and soaking my pants took my breath away. I tried to climb quick as I could but it was trickier than it seemed from below. There was ice on the rocks and everything was slippery. I got to the

top and yelled down to willy to go around. But he couldn’t hear me too well and I was too winded to holler down any details. When he yelled back up to ask: “WHAAAT???” I just made some vaugh circular gesture with my arm and went to find a place to sit for a second. Willy disappeared…. for a while. He had angled to climbers’ right, up a low angled corner. But he got dead ended by a muddy chimney. I waited for some minutes – 20 maybe. Then I started to yell to figure where he’d gotten to. When I finally heard him reply, I realized he was in the next gully system over, and I climbed up to the top of the arrete that separated us. He was down there drying to creep his way up a sandy slab that would take him around and above the chimney that stood in his way. I was carrying the tag line, and eventually I threw that down to him and gave him a hip belay up to me. That little adventure probably cost us an hour.

Jake seconding the first pitch

We started climbing around 9am. A sharper ridge I’ve never seen. There were one or two face traverses that were exciting since the gear was a little tricky. Maybe the hardest moves were 5.10a – that’s what the Alpine Journal calls it. But there wasn’t much of that. Most of the route is really cool ridge climbing. The final 150m or so, on average, are not far off of horizontal. But the crest of the ridge itself is so sharp, that you just hand traverse the ridge with lots of air beneath you on both sides. I heard it compared to Mathers’ Crest, but I haven’t climbed Mathers’ Crest so I wouldn’t know. I just know that if the north ridge of Naysa Brakk were to be in the Alps or the Sierras, there would be a queue on it all summer long.

We were on top around 2pm. Sweet views of K7, K6 and out to Mashabrum II.

Willy coming down the upper ridge

We simul down-climbed the upper section of the ridge, then made 4 or 5 30m rappels and one 70m rappel back to the notch.

It only took us an hour and forty minutes to descend the gully. It wasn’t long before we were back in camp sipping tea. That would be our only Karakorum summit.

The World of Hajji Zahid

Posted in Jake, Uncategorized on August 1, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Hajji Zahid...

The evening we arrived in Hushe, we had dinner with Zahid in the house of his second wife. In the guest room the walls are lined with memorabilia from past expeditions… Peter Croft’s backpack, Jimmy Chin’s headlamp, etc. We sipped chai as we sat on the floor, and he pulled out an old binder that contained all the recommendations of climbers he has worked with. He held it out with obvious pride and we read through them; a had written note from Steph Davis, formal type written letters from famous Japanese climbers, some scraps of paper torn from anything handy with a few lines of praise scribbled on them. Zahid’s logbook.

The house is small. Livestock are kept in the cellar. The front door opens to a small dirt floored courtyard as it were, open to the sky, with a ladder going up to the roof where firewood is kept. Small rooms branch off to the left and right. The guest room floor is covered with blankets, and foam sleeping mats from expeditions. Zahid’s brother is the porter sardar – the boss. He’s in charge of hiring the porters – sending word to people’s houses saying: “you’re strong…. we want you.” He collects their ID cards and brings them to Zahid’s house where we are visiting. Zahid scrutinizes them. Gives his OK.

Zahid has six daughters, one son, two wives. In Pakistan – as he explained to us – the custom is for the daughters to go to the household of the husband’s family, and sons stay with their parents to look after them as they grow older. It is not common for polygamous relationships to exist in Pakistan, but it is acceptable in special cases; the burning cultural need for sons constitutes a special case. Zahid took a lot of pressure from his extended family, after his first wife bore him four daughters. So reluctantly he took a second, who gave him a fifth daughter, then a son, and finally a sixth daughter. His sixth daughter was born with cystic fibrosis. If a child in Chicago has this condition, this is reason enough for sadness. But Hushe is far from Chicago and within the context of life in Hushe, this little girl’s struggle for life is heartbreaking. Zahid poured his heart and soul and energy into finding a way to heal her; to make her stronger. The many trips to visit doctors in Skardu sucked away his savings, made his hair go white, broke his heart. Zahid says that now, in a way, he doesn’t care about his long awaited son, the five other daughters. Only for his one broken child. A climber from Czech Republic, or Poland (I don’t remember) who Zahid worked with on an expedition, arranged for a doctor to travel from Europe to Hushe to examine her. He sent an exercise machine for therapy. It doesn’t help much.

Zahid’s son is first in his class at school. He brought home a small trophy for that. This makes Zahid very proud. His other daughters tend to the cows and Dzos up in the high pastures on the way to the Charakusa Valley. The dry, rocky soil strains itself to support the needs of Hushe, and each year the crops and milk and butter that some households produce are not excessive enough to sell any. It becomes harder to find pasture land to rotate the livestock to and from, and this, interestingly is the second edge of the tourism sword. Because travel to high valleys to climb or trek, and base camps are often located in the same places where people from Hushe have been bringing their livestock for years. It’s impossible for the daughters who traditionally tend the livestock up there, to coexist with expeditions full of foreign men and porters. Once upon a time, Zahid spent months with his mother at Galen Rowell camp on the way in to K7 base camp. The grazing there is good. But no one takes their cows there any more. At the same time, Hushe is inhabited by porters – men who do little or nothing else to make a living. Many of them worry that they and their families would starve if climbers and trekkers cease coming.

In 1992 Zahid traveled to British Columbia to act as an extra for the movie “K2” which was filmed on Mount Waddington. The producers paid for a certain number of Balti porters to be flown over from Pakistan, then made up the difference for their movie porters by hiring a bunch of Native Americans. What North American would know the difference? Now this little episode was a stroke of luck for Zahid because he came in to some cash. So, he went back to Baltistan and took his aging father and mother to Mecca – something very unusual for a Muslim from Hushe to be able to do. They stayed in Mecca for 40 days. Every morning they would arise at 3am and begin to pray. They would pray all day until 9pm at the Mosque, with only a short break at noon for lunch. So Zahid has the title Hajji,and when he speaks of Mecca, it’s with great reverence.

On our way to Hushe

Posted in Jake on July 29, 2011 by charakusa 2011

standing by for visas to be sorted out

Leaving Skardu turned out to be complicated.  Because of a colossal oversight, and falling short of  basic competency and commons sense, the Pakistani Consulate in New York failed to issue them enough time on their visas.  So we found ourselves on the day of our departure to the village of Hushe (I forget, but maybe it was June 19th or 20th) with the Jeep loaded to the gills and sitting there in the parking lot of the Concordia Hotel while our little team sought to deal with our own personal crisis of jumping through the Ministry of Tourism’s unapologetically inconvenient hoops.  Another way to say this is that we – or really Ben and Josh – had a good buggering by the Pakistani Government.  The concerned members will probably be a better source of truth about this little episode; however, I, being little more than an observer and bystander, could afford to see probably a little more humor in the situation than they could.  justifiably so.  This all took place more or less in the lobby of the Concordia Hotel, with little forays to the office of the Deputy Commissioner (I didn’t go, but I’m told he was a regular swine), or to the passport agency, and many many trips to the copier place on the corner to repeatedly make copies of our passports and visas.

the big boys working their contacts

Normally, in the past, visa extensions could be issued in Skardu within 15 minutes by the Deputy Commissioner.  But now, thanks to Raymond Davis and SEAL Team 6, this is no longer the case.  In any case, as I heard it, the Deputy Commissioner said he needed a letter, requesting a letter, requesting permission to extend their visas, which would be sent to Islamabad and dealt with there.  Well.  So, somehow, and this is beyond my comprehension, we had to wait for some form to faxed to us from Islamabad, which Ben and Josh needed to fill out for the Ministry of Tourism (we’ll just call them the MOT).  Well, naturally the ink quality was too poor to read, and it had questions on it like: What’s your Father’s husband name?  Weird.  We didn’t know what to make of it.  So a long journey was made down the road to print out the same form, and we didn’t know why that couldn’t have been done in the first place.  And again, naturally, one copy of the form was printed, and brought back….

“so we’re good to go.  let’s get it filled out”

“we need to go to the copy place.  we need two copies… one for you and one for you”


So like the Keystone Kops, the little entourage moves off to the copy place for the third or fourth time, and again we weren’t sure why there hadn’t been two copies printed out in the first place.


Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  At last, some sort of complicated deal was worked out where Mr. Sultan Kahn of Nazir Sabir Expeditions would try to get their documents taken care of while we would be in the mountains… but we all needed our passports to get through police checkpoints on the way to Hushe.


At this point, you may well guess that you have not hear the last of this issue.  You would be right to guess that, but we’ll move on for now.

The drive to Hushe is incredible beautiful.  We saved some cash by hiring only one jeep – instead of having one for luggage and one for passengers.  So we four were tangled up in the back of the Land Cruiser atop a pile of food and gear.  Zahid rode in the front, and we could hear trippy eastern music floating out of the cab through the canvas roof.  We suspected they were having fun in there.  Once you get through Kaphlu, the road turns to dirt and gets pretty rough.  But as you head down the road towards Hushe, there sits Mashabrum squared up on the center of the track, and towering over everything in all of it’s rugged

Mashabrum in all it's splendor(!)

spendor.  That makes up for the added discomfort of having your spine smashed over and over on the steel bars that enclose the bed of the jeep, and the occasional low branches that try to rip your eyes from your face (and they will if you’re not paying attention).

There was a bridge out.  One that spanned a turbulent drainage.  Zahid had told us about this; said that we might not be able to get the jeep across and would potentially need to ferry all of our crap about 100 meters to the road on the far side; said that then we’d need to send for a jeep to come Hushe to get us.  One word: pain-in-the-ass.  But, he also said that he’d tell the driver that we would give him a healthy tip if this didn’t have to happen.  It occurred to me, and probably also my compadres, that this little monetary nudge might not be quite the right incentive if the creek turned out to be truly dangerous.  But we decided to wait and see what would happen.

When we pulled up to the near side of the drainage in question, Matt McCormick and company had already arrived.  Our driver got out and joined the drivers of the two other jeeps in the flow to scope it out.  We got out and sort of winced at the look of the water.  The jeep drivers had their pants rolled up to their thighs, and were wading around sticking their arms into the water up to their shoulders to reposition large rocks on the bottom.  There were all kinds of people out there yelling and gesticulating; the water boiled and roared.  twenty or thirty people from a nearby village had come out hoping to make some money helping to ferry gear.  Zahid was standing out there on a rock with his hands on his hips, supervising.  He had this little smirk on his face when he turns to us and says:

“He say he give it a try!”

the Supervisor

“Yeeah…. what if the jeep flips?”

“He say he have good jeep.  He ask to me he try.  He good driver… have big heart!”

How can you argue with that?

We went back to the jeep and pulled our money and passports out.  Just in case.  And he rolled right on through the torrent.  The water was up to the running boards – maybe a little higher – and moving fast.  He had to execute sort of a sharp left hand juke around a boulder, which was more cruxy since it looked like there was a hole there, right at the key spot.  Then at the instant the tires were at the deepest, the hood of the jeep cleared the eddy and took the full force of the water on the far side of the rock.  He lugged the engine a bit, then down shifted and a thick cloud of black smoke puffed out of the exhaust pipe.  He kept right on trucking… made the road on the far side, lit a cigarette, and walked back to spot and shout directions to the two other drivers who came after him.  It was a proud thing to see.

the crossing

We made Hushe that afternoon, maybe around 4:30 or 5:00.  Zahid brought over his son in law, and said that this was the only person who could be trusted to carry out the task of bringing the passports of Ben and Josh back to Skardu so that they could be mailed to Islamabad.  The son in law was bummed because he had been hoping to make a little baksheesh by working as a porter for us.  Se la vie.  Josh dug out his passport and handed it over.  “Good luck”.  And that was that, for now.

More photos

Posted in Willy on July 26, 2011 by charakusa 2011

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A few words from George Mallory:

“We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in [humans] which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”


Posted in Willy on July 23, 2011 by charakusa 2011

We are all healthy and happy back in Skardu.  We did not summit Nafees’ Cap but put in a good effort — first a nine-day attempt, and then a three-day attempt.  There are many stories and images yet to come, but these will have to suffice for now: