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


2 Responses to “home, safe and sound”

  1. 1 cwg789
    July 30, 2008 at 3:59 am

    What a wonderful experience. Glad to learn that all of you made it home safe and sound. Think of the stories you will have to tell your children and grand children.

    Much Love

  2. 2 codytownsend
    September 9, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Nice wrap up Ingrid. It’s really cool to hear the perspectives of something so insane like this from people like you guys. It makes it all the more tangible. Glad you and Kip made it home safe and sound.

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