Dispatch 4 – Islamabad to Dassu via the Karakorum Highway

A group of women in Abbottabad along the Karakorum Highway
A group of women in Abbottabad along the Karakorum Highway
The armed police officer who joined us in Besham
The armed police officer who joined us in Besham

Today, we woke up at 4:45am and went downstairs to meet Lina and Pilar who arrived at 4:00am from Istanbul. We ate breakfast, showered and waited quite some time for the driver and Liaison officer to arrive. We completed some last-minute paperwork, then set out on the Karakorum Highway toward Chilas. The air conditioner in the van was no match for the high temperatures and humidity, and we ended up switching it off and just opening the windows. We stopped briefly in Abbottabad, the city in which Osama Bin Laden was found, and got a few snacks and cold drinks, then continued for endless hours until we reached a police checkpoint in Biari Ayub Khan at which point we were informed that an armed police officer (in full gear, which included a helmet, bullet proof vest, and rifle) would accompany us from that point until Besham. After we arrived to Besham, we were informed that the next police checkpoint would not allow foreigners through after 4pm due to security concerns. Our Liaison officer made a few calls and after some time, we headed out with a new armed police escort to the checkpoint. They let us through and the officer departed. We continued on the road toward Chilas, followed by a police truck, but decided to stop at Dassu, as the driver was tired after close to 14 hours and it was still another three hours to Chilas and at 10:30pm, still 99 degrees F. We will wake up tomorrow at 4:00am and continue the remaining 13 hours to Skardu.

Dispatch 3 – Scorching Day in Islamabad

Nick Rice at Al Faisal Mosque in Islamabad
Nick Rice at Al Faisal Mosque in Islamabad
Al Faisal Mosque in Islamabad
Al Faisal Mosque in Islamabad

Today, we awoke at 5:30am to a phone call from Nabi who was at the airport waiting for Lina and Pilar to arrive. Apparently there was a miscommunication about the date of their arrival and they are in fact due to arrive to Islamabad tomorrow (the 28th) in the early morning. After ensuring that there was not in fact a flight from Istanbul today, Carlos and I went back to sleep. We had breakfast downstairs at the hotel, then decided to venture out into the 100+ degree humid heat to get in some sightseeing. We went to Faisal Mosque, which is the largest mosque in Pakistan. The mosque is situated at the foot of the Margalla Hills (the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas) and was designed to be shaped like a desert Bedouin’s tent. It is the largest mosque in all of South Asia. After burning our feet on the searing tiles of the mosque (you are required to remove shoes and socks before entering), we ventured into the diplomatic enclave and, after passing half a dozen security checkpoints, had a late lunch (and a beer!!) at Café 21, a French restaurant located close to a number of embassies. Shortly after returning to the hotel, we were contacted by Manzoor who informed us that the flight to Skardu failed to depart yet again today. We likely will be forced to brave the two day drive up the Karakorum highway early tomorrow morning as soon as Pilar and Lina arrive. Although we all prefer to fly, we can’t afford to wait in Islamabad for the flight as this costs us valuable days on the mountain.

Dispatch 2 – Briefing with Ministry of Tourism

Nick Rice, Captain Muhammad Badar, Wing Commander Javed Iqbal, Carlos Garranzo, and Nabi Ansari (from left to right) at the briefing
Nick Rice, Captain Muhammad Badar, Wing Commander Javed Iqbal, Carlos Garranzo, and Nabi Ansari (from left to right) at the briefing

Today, Carlos Garranzo arrived from Spain early in the morning. Lina and Pilar are still waiting in Istanbul, Turkey for their flight to Islamabad tomorrow. In the afternoon, I got a call from Nabi letting me know that my luggage had arrived in Islamabad. We ventured out into the blistering heat and retrieved the bags from the airport, which as always was an ordeal. After ensuring everything was now accounted for, we rested a bit and then received a visit from our liaison officer from the Pakistani military, Captain Mohammad Badar. Since I am vice-leader of the expedition, Beni decided that we should try and complete the briefing with the Ministry of Tourism in the evening without Lina present. That way, after Lina and Pilar arrive tomorrow morning at 4:00am, we can try and fly to Skardu on the early morning PIA flight. We dined with our liaison officer, then waited till close to 11:00pm for Wing Commander Javed Iqbal to arrive for the briefing. We spent the next few hours completing paper work and convincing him to allow us to depart without making the US $10,000.00 helicopter rescue deposit that is now required of all expeditions. Afterwards, we received the grim news from Manzoor that our PIA flight to Skardu was not confirmed for tomorrow as the flight has been cancelled for the past few days and therefore has a long list of waiting passengers ahead of us. After the others arrive, we will discuss the plan for the coming days, but we will most likely be forced to travel by road via the notorious Karakorum highway. We can only hope that rumors of armed military personnel entering the vehicles of trekkers and climbers travelling to Skardu by road don’t turn out to be true.

Dispatch 1 – Arrival to Islamabad

My Emirates flight from LAX to Dubai
My Emirates flight from LAX to Dubai

After a 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Dubai on an Emirates A380 and another from Dubai to Islamabad, I finally arrived to Benazir Bhutto International Airport at 1:30am. After clearing immigration, I waited at least another hour and a half only to discover that two of my four bags full of crucial climbing equipment were missing. I filed a report with the airline and headed out to the arrivals area to meet up with my contacts from the logistics agency.  We piled into a van in a torrential downpour and headed into the city to the Grand Regency Hotel.  The city seems quiet which is a relief after watching coverage of the clashes between police and demonstrators that accompanied the return of the Tahirul Qadri to Islamabad just two days ago. Lina and the others should arrive tomorrow morning at 4am and we will hopefully fly to Skardu on the 27th or 28th, weather permitting.  A number of the PIA flights to Skardu have been cancelled including the flight today so we may end up having to travel by road on the Karakorum Highway if our flight is too delayed.  I will post another update in the coming days.

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