Three years had passed since my last big mountain trip when I was invited by John Climaco to the Shaksgam valley on the Chinese side of the Karakoram range. After Alaska I had returned to University and was just finishing my BA degree at the University of Calgary when the invite came in - absolutely beautiful timing. I had previously been to the Pakstani side of the Karakoram, but here was a special and rare opportunity to explore the quiet and very remote Chinese side. John had assembled a very interesting team, fuelled by the funding of the upstart web company quokka.com. The cornerstone of the trip was a Cholatse mini-reunion of John, Chris Breemer and myself. We then brainstormed over many a phone session on who should fill the remaining positions.
John needed to include some celebrity fire-power, and this led to invitations to Kurt Diemberger, Dan Mazur and Greg Child. Carlos Buhler turned the trip down due to his involvement in a Menlungtse expedition. That is another story. This trip was a major undertaking, especially with the web-media involved. We had such complicated and specialized satellite and web gear that we needed a technician to come with us. This position was filled by Quokka employee Mark Dwyer, a very strong and capable Aussie.
Also involved were Paula Quenemoen, a speaker of some Chinese and three Nepalis there to help with potential grunt work in the Shaksgam.After a briefing with most of the team at Quokka headquarters in SanFrancisco, we headed to Beijing. From there we traversed China by vehicle, all the way to Mazar near the Pakistani border, some 5,000 km from Beijing.
After a 100km approach on foot, supported by camel train, and crossing the Aghil pass en route, we established a base camp near the snout of the North Gasherbrun Glacier. The intial goal of the expedition was a scoping of and a faint hope at an attempt on one of the unclimbed East faces of Gasherbrum I or II (both 8000m+ peaks).
I eventually grabbed the picture on the left of these mega faces during the first ascent of a 6250m mountain (on right) made by Dan Mazur and myself, located about 40km up the Shaksgam from our North Gasherbrum Glacier base camp. The team had decided against any attempts on the big peaks, exploration of the area being more to people's liking. Admittedly there were too many different views within the team for us to be able to attempt any climbing objective of major significance.
A team needs to be in solid agreement on the goal and we were not. Therefore we split into three sub-groups: Kurt, Greg, Mark, Paula, Kaji and Phurba went to explore the upper Shaksgam; Chris, John and Krishna set off to explore uncharted passes and peaks; and finally Dan and myself went to the small group of peaks between the Gasherbrums and the Siachen group. The ascent of what we called Lao Ding Shan was certainly the highlight of the trip for me and I think for Dan too. We were able to experience some beautiful and some tough conditions, which made summiting on this mountain so rewarding. For the remainder of the expedition other ambitions were thwarted by bad weather, although Dan and I did manage to scope the East side of Skyang Kangri (7500m) from directly under the impressive and virgin East Ridge. Kurt et al traversed the Singhi Glacier, another great moment of many for him. John and Chris were stumped on their pass, but did make the first ascent of a 5,700m peak along the Urdok Glacier which they named Mt. Desio. In all we managed some moderate successes and in general were pleased. There were certainly some low points on this trip as well, but it must always be remembered how stressful things can be in such isolated and cramped quarters and how much one can overblow things in the heat of the moment. I for one have left my bad feelings behind, and hope that everyone else has too.
View from the top of Lao Ding Shan
The above story and photos have been shamelessly stolen from Andrew Brash.