Today, we woke up at 6:00am, packed up our equipment and headed to the jeeps to begin the long 7-hour off-road drive to Skardu. Just as we reached the outskirts of Skardu, we were forced to stop the jeep as a crowd of people were in the street along with a few armed police officers. Babar (our Liaison officer) rolled down his window to speak with the police-man to find out what was going on. Just after this, one of the men in the street lunged for another and a commotion broke out. Suddenly, we heard the crackle of repeated gunfire as more than a dozen shots were fired. We quickly ducked down in the vehicle as our driver sped away. Apparently, we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. A land dispute over a very valuable piece of land had taken a violent turn and just as we arrived, escalated to gunfire. According to Babar, three bystanders were wounded in the gunfire. Thankfully, our group escaped shaken, but unhurt. We arrived to our hotel around 3:00pm and after waiting a bit to be sure that the violence wouldn’t spread as it often can in small towns, Babar, Akbar and I ventured out to the hospital to get checked out. The doctor here prescribed me a number of medications for my cough and charged me an alarmingly small fee of US$1.00 (yes, one dollar… it isn’t a typo). After this, I finally had the opportunity to shower in an actual shower and washed the last of the Baltoro off of me. We reconvened for dinner and then Manzoor, Akbar, and Ibrahim surprised us with a summit cake and another for Carlos’s birthday. We celebrated, then went to sleep, exhausted from the day’s events.
Today, we woke up at 3:00am (to avoid trekking in the heat) and quickly began descending in the pre-dawn hours toward Askole. We knew that today would be long as we had originally intended to arrive to Bardumal rather than to Paiju. In not arriving yesterday, we added 15km/2.5 hours to our already long trekking day. We arrived to Askole destroyed at close to 4:00pm. After spending the better part of the day walking with a heavy pack in the hot sun, my minor cough had turned into a major problem. I arrived with a fever and a productive cough. Thankfully, the heat broke shortly after we arrived to Askole and a torrential downpour began. Badia and Mauricio (Mexico) graciously offered their mess tent as refuge from the storm while we continued to wait for the rest of our equipment to arrive. When it finally did, we quickly unpacked the tents and tipped the porters who were eager to go. We settled into the mess tent for our last dinner together in the mess tent, then went to sleep, hoping that the rain wouldn’t cause any massive landslides that would prevent the jeeps from passing through to Skardu in the morning.
Today, we woke up around 6am, and again packed up our equipment, had a rushed breakfast in the mess tent, then broke camp and headed down toward Paiju. Originally our plan was to continue onto Bardumal, however, due to the scorching hot temperatures, the porters were too tired (as were we) to continue past Paiju. We arrived in the afternoon and after settling in, found out the devastating news that a Spanish climber who’d had dinner with us in Broad Peak base camp, and whom we’d visited in K2 base camp, Miguel Angel Perez Alvarez, had died in his tent in Camp IV after descending from his summit attempt on K2. Exhausted from the trek, and shattered by the news, we went to sleep early.
Today, we woke up at 4:00am, packed up our things, ate a quick breakfast, and then began the trek down from Broad Peak Base Camp to Urdukas. The trek ended up taking us 13.5 hours (we had to wait at each camp to make sure that the porters would make it) and we arrived to Urdukas at 6:30pm. The dry cough I’ve had since summitting turned into something else on the trek down and I found it hard to breathe when I had to go uphill (which happens a lot on this trek down). I’m assuming the cough is the result of damage to the lungs from breathing in the frigid subzero dry air for so many hours at night on summit day. Regardless of its origin, I don’t see it getting any better while we are trekking down close to 20 miles a day in the blazing heat of clear August days. It also doesn’t help things that I decided to trek down with close to 25kg’s on my back. But we only have to bear with two more super long days before we are down in Askole.