home, safe and sound

Thanks everyone who has followed our adventures–we’ve gotten lots of good feedback and it was definitely great to feel the love all the way from across the world!

Since my last post we pretty much had a whirlwind of action–I’m still spinning from it, both head and stomach, but that’s another story that we don’t need to get into.  Our summit bid began after we got our forecast one night, and it had changed a bit from what we originally thought–it was about 10pm when we made the sat-phone call for the weather forecast, and about 12:30am when we started out for camp 1 as it seemed that this was our weather window–RIGHT THEN–didn’t sleep at all that night.  Kip and I arrived at Camp 1 awhile after the others had stopped there to get water and grab some gear and they had all headed up to camp 2.  We hung out through the midday heat and then at around 4 headed up the steep face and the “Banana Ridge” to join them at Camp 2.  It was, for me, the best climbing of the trip–no one on the lines, solitude, cool temps, over an hour of alpenglow, and rhythmic, enjoyable climbing.  The views were stunning, and we felt content when we got to Camp 2 just before dark.  The next day it seemed people were feeling tired so we spent one day at Camp 2, and headed up to Camp 3 early the following morning, arriving in the early afternoon.  

The weather seemed unsettled that evening, with occasional snowfall and some wind, so we decided we had enough food to wait until the following night for our summit bid–I think everyone in our tent at least slept ok that first night at 23,000ft that trip.  The following day we just pretty much hung out–Kip and Hilaree and I were in one tent and we spent a lot of time talking about our favorite places to eat in Seattle (Hil and I both grew up there; Kip is a big Pike Place Market fan), and the foods we would eat if we could–standard tent talk.  That afternoon it began to snow off and on, but we went to “sleep” ready to get up and go.  At about 11:30 that evening it was still snowing a bit, but you could see the moon and we started up, Kip and I a bit behind the others–I had had a rough time that night and hadn’t really slept at all, so it took me a bit to get my poop in a group, as they say.  We had their tracks for a while, but just as it began to snow heavily and the tracks were getting totally covered, we got to the fixed ropes, a lucky break.  We could see the others’ headlamps not too far ahead–they were still moving up–we felt warm and comfortable despite the snow and wind, and we moved slowly upwards.  After a few hours it became apparent that we were in a full blown blizzard; we had each kicked off at least one shallow windslab, and even the tracks 10 feet in front of you were totally blown in by the time you got there.  It was pitch black–if Kip was looking forward I couldn’t even see a light at all outside of my own little headlamp’s circle, and the occasional twinkle from the headlamps of our team up ahead.  It was the kind of storm where your hair and your jacket get frosted white; it combined with the altitude and the steep, rocky climbing to create a very surreal effect.  At around 4:30 am, as much as we would have liked to wait until first light to get an idea what the weather was doing, we decided we had to turn around–this felt like a full blown storm, and we were exactly where you didn’t want to be in a full-blown storm.  

As it turns out, at almost the exact same time, the others were having the same discussion a little ways above us, and they reached the same conclusion–they got back to the tents about a half an hour after we did.  The snow continued all day and all night, keeping us at Camp 3; Kip was getting out of the tent every few hours to dig one side of our tent out as it was getting almost totally buried to the top with blown-in snow.  That night was especially hard–I had a bad cough and couldn’t sleep, Kip had a headache and couldn’t sleep, and I think poor Hilaree probably just couldn’t sleep because of all of our restlessness–either way, we all sat up in a panic at about 2 am and unzipped the tent to get some fresh air and contemplated going down right then and there, but it would have been too dangerous.  I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.  It was a bit scary–but there was nothing we could really do except for relax and hope for good weather in the morning.  

Which we got, thank goodness.  Everyone descended the fixed lines in deep new snow; I wasn’t feeling too energetic and again was slower than the group.  We skied for part of the way, which was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time–I literally would have to stop every two turns or so, and my hands started cramping up at random, making things even more interesting.  I’m telling you, high altitude does weird things to you, I’m still trying to figure it all out!

We stopped briefly at Camp 2, and then skied down a bit more to the top of the “Banana.”  By that point, I was utterly pooped out; totally exhausted.  I knew the situation called for one thing only, and I took our our emergency stash–I chowed an entire Snickers and it never tasted so good.  I may have even licked the melted chocolate off of the wrapper, I can’t totally remember.  Then I steeled my nerves and we started rappeling down the steep ridge, me stopping every so often when my hands or hip flexors would seize up in a wicked cramp.  After the banana we had to descend fairly steep, wide-open slope in mid-afternoon, not the best place to be when you can hardly even take one step downhill.  But Kip kept us moving, and by 4pm we were safe in a tent at Camp 1–the others had gone on to base camp already but there was no way I could have negotiated the Icefall as worn out as I was.  

Our porter friend Ashgar (in a Muslim country, he cruises around wearing a trucker hat that says, “Show your tits!” on it…he gets quite a reaction from all of the Westerners) gave us a few bags of French freeze dried meals (far superior, actually, to American freeze dried meals, quelle surprise), and we actually got some sleep for once, at least in between my coughing fits.  The next morning, totally beat down and stripped of any and all pride that I once had, I paid a porter to carry my skis and one sleeping bag down to base camp for me to lighten my load.  I’m not even ashamed to admit it now, that’s how tired I was at that point–from the coughing, the lack of sleep, probably dehydration, and not enough food.  But we made it to base camp–John Griber, bless his heart, hiked up to meet us and took Kip’s heavy pack and Kip took mine.  He brought us some Tang, which also tasted fantastic.

The next day we packed and tried to rest, and then it was ON–we hiked about 75 miles over three and a half days to get to Askole, hopped in Land Cruisers after lunch (and an entire sleeve of chocolate sandwich cookies, just to myself!), drove to a road closure with the porters, hiked over the landslide where the road was closed (the porters carried our gear this time), to another set of Land Cruisers to take us to Skardu, where we arrived at about 10pm.  We kept passing villages full of apricot trees laden to the ground with ripe apricots, and when we found the perfect one our guide Karim stopped the cars and we stuffed ourselves and our pockets with the most delicious fresh apricots–I couldn’t have asked for anything better at that point.  

Sooner or later we arrived in Islamabad–we ate some fantastic Pakistani BBQ at several meals, and we even had Pizza Hut once–did some shopping….and now I’m in Seattle.  I made it just in time for Kitty and Jeff’s wedding, which was amazing, and now I’m enjoying some time with my parents…and still trying to figure out what it all meant.  I know for sure that Pakistan is a stunning place–wonderful people, the craziest mountains I’ve ever seen, and the experience of a lifetime for me.

thanks for reading!

Ingrid Backstrom


Summit Attempt


Summit Push and Wrap Up

July 23

The night of the 10th we were waiting on a weather call from Jim, the weather guy in Jackson. The reports from the Spanish, from Chamonix, and from the Italians were all varying. So, we were going to make our call based on the final American forecast. Griber talked to him at 10pm, and based on the weather feedback, we made the decision to go.

We left BC two hours later, at midnight, in steady snowfall for a direct push to Camp 2. It was fairly smooth going, and after a very brief pit stop at Camp 1, we arrived at Camp 2 mid-morning. The weather was rough throughout the day with whiteout conditions prevailing on our final approach to Camp 2. We were hoping that by climbing to and through the lower camps in the bad weather that we would get our clear weather window for Camp 3 to the Summit in a couple of days.

As we climbed through the night and the snowfall, once at Camp 2, we were forced with another decision- make the move to Camp 3 or stay one more night at Camp 2 and make the summit push through Camp 3 the next day. The group opted for the former, and a better rest at 21,000ft. It was a long rest day and we were eager to get moving as we hunkered down in the tents and planned for an early am start to Camp 3.

Sunday the 13th we awoke around 4am and headed up to Camp 3. The weather was marginal, and we pushed through the cold and snow once again to our tent at 3. Once there, we again had to redo the original tent platform and then dig out another spot for our other VERY small tent. We squeezed 3 people into each two person tent- warm but very, very tight. We would spend the next 3 nights at Camp 3 during our summit bid process.

Due to heavy snowfall, and the need for able bodies to break trail to the summit, we opted to make an attempt the following night. The 14th turned out to be a beautiful day, with avalanches careening around us, and several other teams making their way to Camp 3. We had committed to leaving the night of the 14th and aimed to summit the next morning with an agreed predetermined turnaround time of 2pm.

As we started assembling our gear, packed in like sardines at 11:30pm that night, the snow and the wind pounded our tents. We had committed to leaving, and with limited fuel and food reserves, our options were limited. By that point, all the other teams had backed out of the plan to move, but we pressed on.

Our two tents set in motion around 11:30 pm, and Griber and I headed out about 12:30am to start breaking trail. As he and I changed up lead on the initial slope, I flicked out the line and a small soft sluff cascaded down upon us- that was to occur several more times ahead. We were looking at a lot of new snowfall above. Kris and Hil followed up behind and we started leap frogging up the mountain. It was a very cold, very windy, and a very snowy effort.

We made our way to about 7400+ meters, regrouped, and made the decision to turn around. The avalanche danger was high and we were breaking trail in extreme conditions. After six hours of some serious work, we returned to Camp 3. On the return, Griber and I got some pretty nice turns on the last pitch back down to the tent, limited but worth it.

As we proceeded to get bombarded by unbelievable weather forces, every two hours or so, we had to dig out the tents, and though we felt safe in location, we were still concerned with wind transported snow crushing our very small tent spaces. It was an intense 24 hours back in camp 3…our plan was to be at BC the next afternoon, with another alpine departure planned for the next morning.

We rose at about 4am on the 15th to a beautiful but cold morning. We had some additional concerns for the snow pack in our descent. Due to some frozen extremities on some folks, we got a later start then planned but headed down the lines safely.

Immediately out of Camp 3, we encountered thigh deep snow and deep trail breaking. Due to the conditions, we opted to ski the last 1/3 of the climb down into Camp 2. The snow was decent but we were wary of crevasses and of slide potential, not only for us, but for those potentially climbing below. Turns out, however, that no one chose to climb up from Camp 2 that morning.

Our packs were about 70lbs plus each coming down, as we cleared each Camp. The heavy loads limited our agility, speed and progress. Arriving to the lowers of Camp 2 and into Camp 1, we encountered severely isothermic snow. The crevasses had opened up significantly, and the farther we moved down from Camp 1, we found ourselves making big leaps across the open gaps. Each step was arduous as we punched through into our knees and deeper, worsened with the added weight. The temperature gradient continued to be extreme as we were below 0 degrees leaving Camp 3, and by the time we hit the lower glacier, it was well into the 90s.

Due to loads, timing, team health etc, we had to time our last push and this journey as we did. Though not summiting was a great disappointment, we all feel good about our efforts, and as climbing as a team. As Kris has mentioned- if we had endeavored only to climb, without the combined climb and ski goal, we may have been able to move quicker on our 1st or 2nd trip up to Camps 2 & 3, but then also lost some members in those bids. By the end of this trip, most of us had spent 4 nights at Camp 3 at 23,500ft, 3 nights at Camp 2 at 21,000ft, 5 at Camp 1, hauled our ski gear to 24,500ft+, and broke trail for most of our big efforts.

We headed out of BC on the 18th. Our departure was preceeded by a garbage bonfire party and a final singing/dance session with the porters. Kris also pulled out a pretty fun fire trick to entertain the masses. The next few days we got our move on- It took us 2 weeks to get to BC from the States, and it took us 4 days to leave. We combined some long days of trekking (25+km) to make flights back from Skardu to Islamabad to home. The atmosphere on this return was much calmer for us, and temps much cooler with overcast skies and rain. We have befriended porters and are no longer such an anomaly for our foreign hosts. As we now sit in Islamabad having our first pizza (and beer in Muslim country) of the trip, we have some fond memories upon which to reflect.

Kim Havell


Great Effort

After great effort at skiing GII and unfortunate timing with the weather, the team is on their way out of the Karakoram Mountains.  They will arrive in Skardu on the 22nd after four days of hiking, drive two days to Islamabad and soon be on their way to their next destination – either home or to another expedition.


Back to base camp

The team returned back to base camp safely on Tuesday after almost a full week on the mountain. Dispatches from base camp to come soon…


Mountain Weather

July 13

The team just called via satellite phone with an update from Camp 3.  The weather window they were hoping for never materialized and due to dangerous snow conditions they had to turn back from their summit attempt at 7400 meters.  They have been waiting out a snow storm for the past couple of days at Camp 3.  Despite wishing they had a bit more food and better weather everyone is healthy and feeling good.  They plan to descend the fixed lines from Camp 3 and return to Base Camp in the next couple of days at which point they will send a full dispatch of the past week on the mountain.


A summit bid

July 9

The team left base camp today, all six members, for a summit and descent attempt.  They are hoping to take advantage of a good weather window that is opening on Saturday and Sunday for their ski descent.  Word of their progress should come early next week.


February 2020
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