Expedition Log

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.

Well.

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.

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