I was looking through some old slides and found a few that make me laugh. I met this guy as we were coming off the Cobbler after a great days climbing, it was late on a summers night. We would just make a pint if we hurried and I spoke to him he was going to the Himalayas and wanted to be at “one with the mountains”. I wonder what happened to him?
“At one with the Mountains”
In 1993 I was lucky enough to go to Pakistan with the RAF Mountain Rescue 50 the Anniversary Expedition. The bus above was used by us to get to Diran by the wild Karakoram Highway it was one hell of a journey. Diran is a mountain in the Karakoram range in Gilgit – Baltistan Pakistan. This 7,266-metre (23,839 ft) pyramid-shaped mountain lies to the east of Rakaposhi (7,788m). This mountain has a huge Scottish connection with the late Tom Patey and Hamish MacInnes. Rakaposhi was first climbed in 1958 by the late Mike Banks and Tom Patey, members of a British – PakistaniI expedition, via the Southwest Spur/Ridge route. Both of them suffered minor frostbite during the ascent.
It was the RAF MR 50 th Anniversary and we had two teams on the Mountain plus a trekking group led by Danny Daniels who would meet us at the end of the expedition at our Base Camp. We were trying two routes on the mountain with no Sherpa assistance apart from porters to Base camp a three-day walk from the road head. The Hunza Valley is a wonderful place of trees and famous for its apricots and agriculture.
The nearest international airport is Islamabad. PIA flies daily from Islamabad to Gilgit, the biggest town in the Northern Areas. The flights are sometimes cancelled at short notice due to bad weather.
Gilgit can also be reached by bus along the Karakoram Highway from Pir Wadhai bus station in Rawalpindi. Buses leave in the afternoon and arrive around mid morning the next day, but can be delayed if the road is washed out or blocked by landslides. See www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree for a travel forum and the latest on travel on the Karakoram Highway.
From Gilgit get a Hiace van into the Hunza Valley and get off at the Minapin turn off (3 hours drive from Gilgit). Minapin village is the start of the trek to Diran Base Camp. The village is some way up a hill from the turn off. Otherwise get a van to Karimabad (3 hours drive) which is a pleasant place to stay. From here a jeep can be arranged to take you directly to Minapin. Easier still, hire a jeep in Gilgit to go directly to Minapin.
The Karakoram Highway continues north of Karimabad up the Hunza Valley to Passu and over the Kunjerab Pass to Kashgar in the Xingjiang Province of China. However a landslide of 2010 affects travel up the highway beyond Karimabad, but does not affect our approach to Minapin. See below.
Trekking to Base Camp
Porters can be hired in Minapin or Chirah. Pay will be per stage. On trekking routes there are established stages representing a day’s walk, although sometimes more than one stage is walked in a day. Stages tend to be based on the best places to camp. Rates per stage are governed by the Ministry of Tourism, but will vary according to local conditions. If you have a guide he should be useful in negotiations.
North: One day from Minapin village to Tagphari. Day two, cross the Minapin Glacier and walk up to Diran Base Camp. An Advance Base Camp can be made at 4000m on the glacier below the North Face.
From the glacier climb the North Face, picking a route between crevasses and seracs which will vary from year to year. Deep snow could be encountered and the slope is prone to avalanches. Join the West Ridge at 6300m and climb this to the top, which is a large plateau.
We had a great Sirdar “Jabed” a cook boy and a helper at Base, Jabed was a wonderful man, very religious and caring and had been on many trips and K2 several times. He was a fount of knowledge and became a friend, we got on so well. We also had to have a liaison officer who was okay and kept out-of-the-way. My pal Bill Batson had planned and lead the trip and it was a big undertaking. I had just finished with my partner after 6 years together it was a hard time for me and her and plenty of time to think. In a big mountain though you have to clear your head and get on with it, life is hard enough. I was treated by Jabed as the main man though Bill lead the expedition my grey beard gave me kudos and we seemed to get on so well. Bill was busy planning the climbing and trying to keep the group happy (not easy) I was more than happy to let me run the Admin side and get the expedition to Base Camp. It was a hard learning time for me but with Jabeds help it was easy. We had a revolt for one day but the weather was bad and the Porters had little gear so we took an extra day on the walk in. This is typical of a trip to this area at the time. Yet it is such a wonderful place and the area so fertile and full of apricots and precious agriculture land.
According to a local expedition organiser, Raja Abbas, Diran is dubbed as the “killer peak”, as at least 40 mountaineers have died so far attempting to scale it. “The high number of casualties is due to frequent avalanches on Diran,” said Abbas, who has named his hotel in Nagar Valley after the peak.
Diran was first climbed in 1968 by three Austrians: Rainer Goeschl, Rudolph Pischinger and Hanns Schell. Earlier attempts by a German expedition in 1959 and an Australian expedition in 1964 were unsuccessful.
The normal Base Camp is a wonderful place with grass and water after a glacier crossing with a great help from the porters from here we watched the huge North Face, swept daily by Avalanches. The porters left and we were on our own until a small Spanish expedition arrived and we made friends. We moved up the hill and set up Advanced Base Camp below the huge North Face. It was a wild place to be swept by daily Avalanches and serac falls. We spent several days supplying ABC and getting acclimatised. We were awe-struck by the size of the mountain and its poor condition. It was constantly sept by huge avalanches.The mountain had a few ascents since including one by Doug Scott a few years before us we got 3 to the summit in 1994, by the North Face Route and West Ridge we tried two routes on the mountain. The mountain was a lot harder than we thought as we waited for the mountain to settle down. The other group was trying the ridge line but had limited success, due to weather, stonefall and poor conditions.
One avalanche had just missed our Advanced Base Camp all a huge learning for us all. We moved the camp to a safer area and sat and watched the weather, it hardly ever froze even at night and was a scary place to be. It was hard work and in the end we were lucky to get 3 to the summit and down safe. It was a scary time and one of helplessness as we watched the mountain shed its snow every day.
The boys just missed a tragedy when the huge avalanche hit and the Mountain Gods were smiling that day on us. We had a glad to be alive party at Base Camp when they got down that night, all shocked and we thought that was it. But Dan and the boys managed a summit it was a scary 3 days until they all returned safely. Dan hardly speaks about the trip but he said it was a hard few days. The snow was in poor condition and the route threatened all the way up the North Face where they bivied on the col at 6000 metres.
The North Face was huge and not in great condition it was a long way up on soft snow to the high Col at 20000 Feet. Of the five who went for the summit Willie and Damien turned back near the summit they had enough and one was feeling the height, they were just under 24000 feet. Dan,Karl and Mr Guy from the SAS went on to the summit in poor weather it was an extremely hard day and then they had to get down and they did thank God. One of the troops was out of it on the summit and they fell on the way down, held by one of them. Fitness and luck got them through. It was a long hard descent in poor conditions. Another group tried the same route but the weather and conditions got worse and they came down. The boys on the unclimbed ridge got hit by the conditions and terrible weather and rightly pulled the plug, we were glad to be leaving once the Trekkers arrived they had a wild time no porters and big bags in a wild area in heavy snow.
There was also a small Spanish expedition at the Base Camp with us a lovely bunch of guys. After Dan and the boys summitted they headed up the same route they were also on the North Face route got stuck in bad weather on the Col, they never made it down. An awful event.
Diran Tragedy, 1993. On page 262 of AAJ, 1993, reference was made to the death of Spaniards Francesc Xavier Socias and José Carlos Mármol from Mallorca on Diran. The pair were at Camp II on the normal north-face, west-ridge route at 6100 meters on the evening of July 31, 1993 when a severe storm struck with heavy snow and high winds. Gabriel Ordinas and Antoni Pons were at Camp I, hoping to move up the next day. When these finally were able to ascend, they found no trace of Camp II and their companions, who must have either been swept away by an avalanche or buried in the deep new snow. We were powerless to help the mountain was just swept by avalanches all the time. We called in a helicopter but it was to high for it to operate at 20000 feet.
This was a big introduction to high Mountains Dangers. My mate Dan Carrol went on to climb a couple of 8000 metre peaks including Everest in 2001. Diran was in a very dangerous condition for most of the time we were there.
Huge learning for other trips in the future were learned to the Himalayas. Patience is a virtue and can keep you alive.
It was an eventful trip,we learned so much and all came back a lot wiser of the big mountains. We learned so much for the future on the big mountains that helped us in many other trips in the future. We were living the dream but never realised it at the time?
We had a great trip saddened by the loss of the two Spanish pals, we trekked into Spantik at the end what a peak and had several days out near Base Camp on the magic nearby peaks. One of the local villages had a huge outbreak of dysentery which killed several children, we were asked for help as some of the villagers came to the Base Camp. We sent some help with a few of the team assisting and saved many of them with clean water and energy drinks, simple things that we take for granted.
It was a trip I will never forget and a difficult time in my life but the big mountains clear your head. It was a wild wonderful place and showed that we needed to be organised on the mountain and ensure we had everything in place. In the end as Dan said they went light and slow and managed the peak and all came back safe with all our digits and more important as friends. There were great days making bread in a clay oven and waiting for the weather, worrying about the troops, watching the avalanches and being unable to help those in trouble high on the mountain. Lovely people, in the villages who have so little and we have so much and a wild a beautiful land.