Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Scaling K2, the Ultimate Challenge

Not only is it dangerous, climbing Mount Everest is not cheap, either in terms of lives or dollars. And yet, hundreds are drawn each year to climb it. Commercial expeditions can cost climbers $60,000 to $75,000 each. Nepalese government charges fees ranging from $25000 for one member expedition to $70,000 for seven members. The total cost for climbing is steep, according to CNN. An expedition to the world's second highest peak, K2 in Pakistan, runs around $50,000 per climber. A trip to Everest has the steepest price at $65,000. Individual climbers can easily spend $5,000 on equipment. The total Mt. Everest annual revenue runs into tens of millions of dollars and provides employment to several thousand people. 3,681 people have made the summit so far, but thousands more have tried. About 170 climbers have died in their attempts to reach the summit.

While Mount Everest is considered the tallest peak at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet), it is K2, believed to be the second tallest at 8,611 meters (28,251 ft), that is documented as the most dangerous. In fact, there have been rumors circulating in the mountaineering world that new measurements show that K2 is actually taller than Everest. Rumors that it might actually be much, much higher - 12 feet taller than Everest - began in 1987 after a British expedition measured K2 and found it to be 29,041 feet. If confirmed, this new measurement, along with the greater challenge of K2, could hurt significant tourist revenue stream of Nepal and bring it to Pakistan.

In contrast to Mt. Everest summit's total of 3,681 successful climbs, only 280 climbers have reached the K2 summit. "It's enormous, very high, incredibly steep and much further north than Everest which means it attracts notoriously bad weather," says Britain's most celebrated mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington, who lost his colleague Nick Escourt in an avalanche on K2's western side during an expedition in 1978. In 1986 13 climbers were killed in a week when a vicious storm stranded numerous expeditions. It is often said that if you were to summit K2 with a climbing partner, it is best to say your goodbyes well ahead the descent, because the statistics claim that one of the two will not come back alive. 46% of the attempts end in death, most during descent, according to a K2 climbers website. The fatality rate for those who reach the summit at 27% is about three times higher than that for Mount Everest, according to BBC.

The latest news of more fatalities seems to confirm K2's status as the most challenging, if not the tallest. At least eleven climbers including three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis, and French, Serbian, Norwegian and Irish climbers had died on the mountain, according to Pakistani authorities. The climbers include Koreans, Pakistanis, Nepalis, a Dutchman and an Italian, reports say, but exact details remain unclear. As about 25 climbers descended from the peak of K2 in the darkness on Friday, an avalanche swept some climbers away and left others stranded. An Italian member of the group has been reached by Pakistani rescuers and taken to an advance base camp on the mountain. The latest reports indicate Pakistani military helicopters have rescued two Dutch climbers stranded on K2. The survivors are being treated for frostbite at Pakistani military hospitals, according to media reports.

While there have been many inspiring stories of success and survival of climbers after storms and avalanches on K2, the story of Greg Mortenson stands out. In 1993, Mortenson, an American from the state of Montana, went to climb K2 in northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Two local Balti porters took Mortenson to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where he recovered.

To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to found the Central Asia Institute. A non-profit organization, CAI's mission is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hoerni named Mortenson as CAI's first Executive Director. Reviewing Greg Mortenson's book "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time", New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff argues "a lone Montanan (Mortenson) staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration". Kristoff quotes Greg Mortenson, an Army veteran, as saying “Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country".

While some international and Pakistani climbers and tourists may be dissuaded by the extreme dangers of K2 climbing (or rather descending) or the fear of the Taliban, many more would be drawn to it for the very same reason. As the stories of the challenging mountain reach the worldwide audience, I expect much larger numbers to flock to it for the risks and thrills it offers. With relatively modest investments for average tourists and serious climbers facilities such as access roads, hotels, restaurants, guided tours, a climbing history museum, a climbing skills school, mountaineering equipment and clothing stores, Pakistan can develop a strong revenue stream to create jobs, build schools and promote opportunities for the friendly natives in its picturesque northern areas.

Here's an excerpt from a recent Time Magazine article on Pakistan's tourism potential:

The truth is Pakistan could be — should be — an incredible tourist destination. It offers wonderful Mughal ruins, evocative British colonial architecture, world-class hiking and climbing in the Karakoram Mountains, gorgeous rolling green meadows, captivating culture, great food (especially the fruits and kebabs), and some of the best carpet shops in South Asia. Unfortunately, it is also regularly described as the world's most dangerous country — which, while more intriguing than slogans like "Malaysia, Truly Asia" or "I Feel Slovenia," is not exactly an inducement for people to visit.

Here's a video clip of a K2 Canadian Expedition in 2006:


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from "Back to Pakistan" by Leslie Noyes Mass talking about the extensive telecom coverage in remote Northern areas of Pakistan:

"The Eagles Nest is aptly named: it perches on top of a ridge amid rocky scree and jagged peaks. Behind us are 24000-feet snowcapped summits, soaring into the sky. Below, the valley where we have spent the past few days is recognizable by its row of cell phone towers and the Hunza River. I have been astonished that, remote as we are in Hunza, first-class cell phone and Internet connections are available 24/7. We are as close to civilization as the briefest click and as far away the loosest stone on that crumbling highway north or south."


The highway Mass is referring to is the world's highest called Karakoram Highway at an altitude of over 15000 feet. It's currently being repaired and expanded with Chinese help. Talking about it, she writes:

"I wonder what a wide, asphalt highway would do to this area--bring more tourists and trade and change forever the lives of the people in the distant villages hidden among the rocks, I imagine."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Economic Times story on mountain climbing adventures in Pakistan:

Treacherous glaciers, vertical rock faces, steep ice walls and the sheer thrill of climbing...think mountain adventure and you think India? Unfortunately not. In fact, though India has the longest stretch of the Himalayas, we have lost out to neighbours Nepal, Pakistan and China when it comes to the eight-thousanders (8,000-ers) - or the world's 14 tallest independent mountains.

Only Kangchenjunga (8,586 m) is located in India. But that too cannot be climbed from here because it has been declared a sacred peak by the Sikkim government. But it's not only the absence of the star 8,000-ers that is keeping the serious mountaineers and adventure tourists away from India.

There are bureaucratic issues such as permits and the special X visas which are required for mountaineering expeditions to peaks which are not classified as open. In fact, excessive red tape is often a far bigger reason for keeping the global mountaineering community away from India rather than the absence of the challenging terrain.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on multiple foreign expeditions of Pak summits:

Pakistan is in the grip of ‘summit fever’ as three different expeditions — K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum 2 (G2) — all along the Karakoram Range, have taken place this year.

News about the summits — K2, Broad Peak and G2 — started jamming mailboxes and blogs on the morning of July 31, 2012.

According to the Alpine Club Pakistan (ACP), 20 members of the international Seven Summit Treks took the Abruzzi Ridge on K2, standing like a perfect pyramid 8, 611 metres, in the early hours of July 31 to conquer the second highest peak in the world.

Although the ACP has yet to confirm, if it was 20 or 23 members who pushed for the summit. Nonetheless, the mountaineering community was proud to share that this was one of the biggest group to reach the top of K2.

Ten Sherpas from Nepal, three Chinese, Azim Gheychisaz from Iran, Fabrice Imparto from France and Turkish Tunc Findik are said to be among those who reached the summit in a group led by Chhang Dawa Sherpa of the Seven Summit Treks.

ACP said this was an incredible feat on K2 from the Pakistan side, since the last three years. Few more from other teams were also said to have reached the summit but their names were not available putting the total number to 23, ever to have reached K2 in a single day, the ACP elaborated.

According to ACP, the last attempt to conquer K2 was back in 2008, which was marred by a tragedy — 11 people from different nationalities lost their lives in avalanches, exposure to extreme weather and other mysterious circumstances on the deadly
mountain. Several Sherpas lost their lives attempting to rescue the trapped climbers around the elusive ‘bottleneck’ that is famous for ice avalanches high on the Abruzzi Ridge.

Mingma Sherpa was the first Nepalese to have climbed all 14, eight thousand metre peaks in the world. While supporting his elder brother and chasing his own dreams, Chhang Dawa Sherpa also crowned 12 of these peaks. Dawa led this large international team to achieve his last Karakoram peak and reached the top of K2 at around 10:55am, followed by his colleagues.

ACP said that Dawa spoke from the summit and gave the brief details of their success to Nazir Sabir’s expedition office, which was handling the team in Pakistan.

“He was ecstatic about this achievement and informed many of the team members returning to Camp IV, while others were descending,” said an official in ACP.

While most climbers reached the top with oxygen tanks, Polish Adam Bielecki and Persian Azim Ghaychesaz reportedly topped out without O2.

Meanwhile, ACP said that famous Chinese climber Wang Jing and her counterpart Zhang Liang accompanied by two Sherpas also reached Broad Peak also known as K3, 8,051 metres high and the 12th highest mountain in the world, around the same time
as K2.

And climbers from Spain, according to ACP topped out the 13th highest mountain in the world, G2, standing at 8,035 metres.


Riaz Haq said...

A million foreign tourists in Pakistan this year, reports Business Recorder:

Managing Director Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) Mir Shahjahan Khetran on Friday said that one million foreigner tourists visited Pakistan in current year. He said that law and order situation in Pakistan is much better which is attracting international tourists.

He stated this while addressing the Tourism Walk participants at Margalla Trail-5. PTDC organised the walk to create awareness among youth about importance of natural environment and tourism. Shahjahan Khetran said that PTDC is going to construct more trails in capital in co-operation with Capital Development Authority (CDA).

He said PTDC in collaboration with non governmental organisations initiated a number of tourism projects in different areas including Khunjerab, Chitral, Chouperson Valley, Dir Kohistan, Hussaini, Gilgit and Shimshal Valley. He said that PTDC in collaboration with Alpine Club, Adventure Foundation and Sustainable Tourism Foundation organises different programmes for students in Kashmir, Kaghan Valley and Gilgit Balitistan to create awareness about preservation of environment. Students are trained about cleaning of mountain, safety of flora and fauna in these areas, he said.

He appealed the Prime Minister to retain PTDC under federation in order to develop and promote tourism in the country and abroad. Around 150 students from various schools, colleges and families from twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi participated in the event. Certificates and shields were also distributed among participants of walk.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Express Tribune story of first Pak woman on Everest:

ISLAMABAD / GILGIT-BALTISTAN: Two young siblings achieved rare mountaineering glory for themselves on Saturday by becoming the first Pakistani woman and only the third Pakistani man to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal.
Through their feats, 21-year-old Samina Baig and her 29-year-old brother Mirza Ali ensured that their country’s flag fluttered on the world’s highest summit.
An ecstatic Samina informed her family about her successful ascent via satellite phone.

Mirza Ali and Samina can count themselves lucky as they will be remembered as the only Pakistanis to scale Everest on the 60th anniversary of the first conquest by Edmund Hillary on May 19, 1953.
Only two other Pakistani mountaineers, Nazir Sabir and Hassan Sadpara, have ever climbed the highest peak.
“According to initial reports, the two mountaineers and 29 other foreigners reached the summit at 7.30am (local time),” said Pervaizuddin, a resident of Shimshal Valley.
Two twin sisters from India, Tashi and Nugshi, also accompanied Samina and Mirza.
Together, the siblings placed the flags of India and Pakistan side by side on the highest peak on earth – making a statement of peace.
But Samina and Mirza’s effort stood out because the two siblings managed to scale the peak on the 48th day of their expedition, without the use of supplementary oxygen.
Mirza, who has been regularly updating about their expedition on his blog mirzaadventure.blogspot.com, wrote: “We request all our readers and visitors [to] please pray that Samina becomes the first Pakistani woman to reach the summit of Everest. And I hope to be the first young Pakistani without bottled oxygen to unfurl Pakistan’s flag on top of the world together with our Indian friends! Wish us luck! Thank you for sharing and for your support!”
Hailing from Shimshal village in Gojal tehsil of Hunza-Nagar district, Samina has come a long way.
“She is proof that the country has the talent and motivation; unfortunately there is no government support for mountain climbers,” said Colonel Sher Khan, one of the country’s leading mountaineers. “It is a sport without spectators.” Khan counts the people of Shimshal as among the world’s the best climbers.
Samina’s expedition began on April 1. She and her team ascended the mountain via the south face from the Nepalese side.
Mirza and Samina have been mountaineering for leisure for the last 10 years. They have served as mountain guides and expedition leaders for peaks in the Karakoram, the Himalayas and the Hindukush. But Samina has started climbing professionally for the past four years.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Fox New report on booming tourism in Azad Kashmir:

Success stories can be rare in Pakistan, but business is booming in one Kashmir tourist spot as the region rebuilds after a devastating earthquake and shrugs off associations with violence.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani tourists drawn to the lakes and glaciers of the Neelum valley are injecting desperately needed money into one of the poorest parts of the country.
Westerners stopped coming to the Himalayas of Pakistani-Kashmir years ago, put off by its reputation as a training ground for Islamist militant groups and the risk of sporadic conflict with India.
But with a new road built by the Chinese after the 2005 earthquake killed 73,000 people and a ceasefire holding with India, Pakistanis are discovering the snow-capped peaks, glaciers, lakes and lush-green meadows of the Neelum valley.
Known locally as "Paradise on Earth," the valley is 114 kilometres (70 miles) east of the base camp where gunmen shot dead American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Slovakian and Ukranian climbers in June.
It was the worst attack on foreigners in Pakistan for a decade, but in neighbouring Kashmir, few Pakistanis are worried.
"There is a bit of fear there, but overall we are enjoying ourselves and we will stay according to our plan," said Mohammad Amir, a lawyer on holiday with his family from southern Punjab.
Munazza Tariq, a university student from Karachi, agrees.
"This was carried out by enemies of Pakistan. After it happened, we received a lot of calls from our relatives from Karachi, but we are safe and enjoying ourselves," said Munazza.
Local tourism ministry official Shehla Waqar says 600,000 people visited Neelum last year compared to 130,000 in 2010, before the Chinese built a road linking the area to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
"There is an influx of tourists in the area because we have a very beautiful road from Muzaffarabad to the Neelum Valley," she said
The nearby Line of Control slices apart the Indian and Pakistani-held zones of the Himalayan region where a ceasefire has held since November 2003.
"This area is very peaceful and there is no fear of terrorism," said Waqar.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region claimed in full by both sides....


Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan has more #glaciers than almost anywhere on Earth. But they are at risk. #K2 #Himalaya #water http://wpo.st/sver1

With 7,253 known glaciers, including 543 in the Chitral Valley, there is more glacial ice in Pakistan than anywhere on Earth outside the polar regions, according to various studies. Those glaciers feed rivers that account for about 75 percent of the stored-water supply in the country of at least 180 million.

But as in many other parts of the world, researchers say, Pakistan’s glaciers are receding, especially those at lower elevations, including here in the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Among the causes cited by scientists: diminished snowfall, warmer temperatures, heavier summer rainstorms and rampant deforestation.

To many, the 1,000-square-mile Chitral Valley has become a case study of what could await the rest of the world if climate change accelerates, turning life-supporting mountains into new markers of human misery.

“It’s already happening here, and my thinking is, in the coming years it will just go from bad to worse,” said Bashir Ahmed Wani, a Pakistani forestry specialist with the Asian Development Bank.

Over the past six years, the Chitral Valley has also experienced three major floods that many Pakistani scientists attribute to climate change. The floodwaters killed more than 50 people and stranded hundreds of thousands while undercutting a once-vibrant tourist industry still struggling to rebound after Sept. 11, 2001.

Despite such calamities, the valley has come to symbolize the way a poorly educated populace can compound the effects of climate change, creating a cycle of hardship that is difficult to break as the needs of humans compete with the needs of nature. Its glaciers offer a stark example.

As the valley’s population has soared — from 106,000 in 1950 to 600,000 today — most residents get just two to four hours of electricity a day, they say. Without reliable refrigeration, they turn to vendors hawking chunks of the valley’s shrinking snowpack.

Every day, residents say, scores of these entrepreneurs drive five to seven hours to the mountain peaks, where they hack into the glaciers — or scoop up the pre-glacial snow — and load the haul into their jeeps and trucks. Back in the valley, they shovel the snow and ice into shopping bags and sell it for 50 cents a bag.

“There are no fans, no refrigerators working, so I will store this for cooler water and then use it for drinking,” said Ubaid Ureh, 46, as he held two dripping bags. “The doctors say we shouldn’t drink it, but we have no choice.”

Hameed Ahmed Mir, a local biodiversity expert who has worked for the United Nations, said the harvesting of the Chitral Valley’s glaciers saps in one day what otherwise could be several months’ worth of stable water supply.

One cubic yard of ice weighs about a ton — enough to supply four to seven families with drinking water for several days — and one vehicle can carry three to four tons of snow or ice, he said: “Then multiply that by 200 vehicles per day.”

Khalil Ahmed, a former project manager for the U.N.-supported Glacial Lake Outburst Floods Project, said Pakistani law does not make it clear whether the government or the public owns the country’s vast glacial reservoirs.

“We are trying to initiate a dialogue with the local people, but these are poor people,” he said, noting that glaciers in the neighboring territory of Gilgit-Baltistan are also being sold off.