Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog
K2 Trek-1
Cargo jeep taking us to Askoli. The start point of the Concordia Trek
Easy life in the mess tent on day 1.
The tent and chairs followed us all the way on our trek, carried by porters.
Even over the Gondogoro La.
Awesome food and constant tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
This trekking stuff is way too hard....
 Porters carrying loads upto Concordia
Climbing high above the Baltoro glacier on a rest day

Horse Grazing with Trango Tower behind.

Porter and Horse at Trango 
hursday 10th July

I met my six Slovenian trekking companions on their hectic arrival after a long minibus journey from Besham to the hotel a few nights ago. First appearances were hard since it was late at night.
The next morning we all sat down and over breakfast sorted out the scedule with the trekking manager, Shujaat. I had basically zero input since I was tagging along with their crew and they were far too organized for me anyway. Why spoil a good thing?
They consist of three men and three women, none of them hitched to each other and looking at them I'm the puppy of the crew. Only one of them, Stanka, has a very god grasp of English and is the spokeswoman for the group when going between the Pakistanis and the group. They all surprisingly make me feel really welcome and get me to sign their group postcards home!
The first day is a five hour jeep drive to our starting point of Askole and there are three jeeps ready and waiting for us in the car park. We down breakfast, jump in the jeeps and leave Skardu.
It's good to be moving at last. I've had the flibbertygibberts since arriving in Skardu wanting to get the trek out of the way so that I can move on to the serious stuff. Saying that the K2 trek is a major part of my fitness program for the rest of the trip.
I'm a little apprehensive still about how I will fit into the group. I'm a solo guy when it comes to treks and all that kind of stuff and I don't fit into crowds to easily these days.
When I trek I wake up, sort my shit and piss off to wherever and don't make camp until I'm ready to drop.
Groups treks are slow....very slow, turning fit people into old dodderers. I suppose the argument is people want to take their time and enjoy it. Well....that’s all well and good but why not go fast, cover twice the distance and have three times the experience?
Anyway....we head from Skardu into the stunning Shigar valley with it's wide with river beds, immaculate sand dunes and the usual stark mountain backdrop.
Soon we stop at the village of Shigar, a lovely village with a peaceful main square that seems to make you want to stay longer even though it has nothing to offer. We are treated to a can of soft drink, shouted by the trekking company. We are all now outside of our jeeps walking around with digital camera in one hand and a can of Pepsi in the other. I wonder what the locals make of the white man? We are decadence on display. Even now three days after this event I'm sat on a rock waiting for the rest of the bunch to catch up on the trek, being surrounded by curious porters watching me type away on my little computer. We are an odd sort!
We motor onwards as the valley narrows and the tarmac is left behind for the bumpy stuff. Our speed drops and the children run out to meet our jeeps as they pass, gleefully waving and shouting one pen!
Again the white man, and I suppose more importantly the little yellow squinty people too have been here in their thousands, handing out sweets and pens and leaving their own undeniable cultural footprint. We have to learn....
We lunch under colourful Chinese umbrellas set up a pleasant orchard in a halfway hotel and feed on chicken, chapattis and veggies. It's all too easy this package tour stuff.
The jeep rocks along until we reach a landslide area, where we hop out, take our personal luggage and trek to the other side of the road block. Meanwhile local porters swamp our trucks to carry our belongings across.
Each year the road slips and it takes a big effort to clear it and looking at the mess here, carve a now road into the rock face. The problem is 4wd's are stranded on both sides of the slip area and the locals rely on the vehicles for their existence. Fortunately this year there are enough vehicles to cope with both local and tourist demand on the Askole side of the slip.
Two jeeps arrive within five minutes of our arrival, one covered and one open back. We all jump in the open back truck wanting adventure, a rawness not allowed in our own countries. We bump around with fat smiles in the jeep for the next hour climbing some impossible switchbacks, needing three goes to round the corner.
On arrival at Askole we are met by a crazy crowd all busying themselves now that the jeeps have arrived. All these curiously looking locals are actually our porters, 39 in all.
We hit our tents that are already erected and get chai and biscuits in the mess tent. I didn't realise that we had a mess tent with tables and chairs that will follow us all the way on our about soft or what!:)

Friday 11th July

Our first day walking. This is what we all came for so spirits are obviously high. We follow a wide valley and a well worn track going against the flow of the river gently flowing to our right.
As we left all but one of the Slovenians had a pair of trekking poles. I grinced inside at this view knowing that trekking poles mean slow pace, even if we are on a fixed itinery trek!
It's impossible to get lost as there is a steady flow of porters streaming into the distance each carrying 25Kg of supplies or tourist luggage and around a further 4Kg of their own food attached to a rectangular timber frame with a protruding bottom piece to sit the load on and two shoulder straps to carry the load. The carrying system is basic but obviously has stood the test of time but would be uncomfortable for us whities without a hip belt.
The porters footwear leaves much to be desired with a choice of two types. The first is open moulded rubber one piece sandals or closed one piece molded rubber trainers, either way sub standard by our standards.
The porters receive standard wages per stage of his trip. A stage is simply a set distance, say half a days hike often set years ago. On top of this he gets standard food rations and clothing allowance, which is often not used for it's intended purpose. They eat almost solely just chai and chapattis and sleep under pieces of plastic at night while we live the high life with veg and fruit daily.
We trek slowly until lunch where we rest at a busy pit stop for refueling trekkers.
Already waiting for us is a fine spread of food on a plastic table cloth laid on the ground. I had no idea of what to expect on this trek but this kind of service wasn't expected.
After lunch to I pick up my pace and push on alone as the way is well marked and take over one hour fifeteen minutes out of the Slovenians in around the same time. It's not that I want to prove myself to them or anyone other than myself but I have to push myself in order to improve on a daily basis.
I turn left up a side valley and see on the other side what appears to be plastic porta loos. Surely it can't be I think. But the trail continues far up the valley before crossing a bridge as the river narrows and  then doubling back on the other side....back to the porta loos.
The plastic cubicles are indeed toilets and there are shit loads of them. It looks totally weird having all these toilets in battleship grey clustered together in such a pristine setting. I was just about to take a pikky of them when a first class sand storm sweeps up the valley and straight into us. We show it our backs and then move on to our again, already erected tents. I dive inside but the fine mica sand is everywhere and everytime the wind blows more mica penetrates the tent.

Saturday 12th July

After breakfast the group set off in ones and twos. The trail is still easy to follow at this stage being well worn and of course thick with porters.
I walk along at the back with Stanka who never stops talking, but people say the same thing about dare they?
The scenery is still the same old steep bare hillsides but now for the first time in the distance impressive peaks can be seen and provide an impressive backdrop and added inspiration.
There is one other thing that happens and that is at every rest stop CokaCola is available and while I'm walking along one guy keeps asking me if I want a Pepsi and looks very disheartened when I say no.

Sunday 13th July

Today is officially a rest day, allowing the trekkers to re-energise and the porters to prepare food for themselves for the coming days. I don't like rest days as you might guess. They are fine but one still needs to do a little workout to keep in good condition. I decide to take a simple stroll up the hill to get some altitude into lungs.
The previous night sleep was a little disturbed due to feeling sick. I don't know what brought it on but I was worried it might turn into something more serious which it didn't but I still woke feeling slightly queasy, hence a short, easy stroll.
I head off up the valley for a few Kms and stop to look left where a perfect stone spire stands. It looks like a damn tough climb so I start on up there.
Initially there is some kind of sheep track which leads in between huge rocks that make up most of the hill. The sheep tracks give very little traction so I begin to climb using the rocks. It's very steep and there is a constant drip of sweat from the brim of my hat. I stop only for four breaths before pushing onwards. The adrenaline has started to flow and so I stop zigzagging up the hill and take the direct route, it's steep but I'm on fire. I'm now climbing like I climbed the Gokyo Peak in Nepal....Nepali style.
Then I'm confronted by a wall of rock and have to decide what to do next. To continue on the direct route means scaling rocks like I have not climbed in my life and traversing the rock means risking slipping to a hefty fall. I decide to go the direct route but on three occasions on different routes I'm forced to beat a retreat. The consequences of a fall are too high and I can't put consequences on anyone else’s table. So I traverse the  until I see a flute in the rock, a steep vee shaped chute with ample foot and hand grips and take it with ease. I continue upwards much the same finding sections of rock with good holds or using the vegetation as hand pulls or foot stops.
Soon I'm at my destination, a ridge overlooking the camp site below, way below. I can barely make out the porta loos.
I'm now as high as a kite and ready to take on anything that comes my way having excelled up to here. I look around at the nearby rock towers and consider their difficulty. I simply can't believe the pace I have set up the mountain and the ease that I have reached this spot.
I treat myself to one of my sacred Mars Bars and a packet of peanut biscuits before starting on my way back down.
Down is always easier on hills like this simply because one can see any tracks below, of which there are none, but I rekkied the hill on the way up ready for the descent. I keep a high pace and a fluid motion over the rocks as this reduces knee stress. A fast pace also allows more ankle, calf and upper leg muscles to be used, again reducing knee stress.
Initially it's as much of a scramble down as it was a scramble up until I hit upon masses of rocky scree all the way down to the bottom and I start to scree surf. Scree is simply small loose rocks which is a nightmare for climbing, the old three steps forward and two steps back. But for descending it's awesome and allows for incredibly rapid altitude loss. Hitting the scree with each foot starts a mini land slide and the foot moves along with it before the scree regains stability. When wanting to stop I simply track sideways a few steps.
After a few initial runs I decide to try something different and take out my camera to do a short video. I mean I want to remember this moment. I shoot a decent video but my speed wasn't up to much, so I do another. It's better but I still want more. I'm nearly at the bottom and below me is a perfect steep section. I start to shoot and hit the hill at nutmeg speed, part of me navigating the rocks and the other part ensuring the camera is pointing at the right place. As the bottom approaches my speed excels and before I know it I'm trying to stop myself with some nifty footwork over 1000 rocks. I've never experienced anything like it before. I play back the video and piss my pants. The speed is indeed truly spectacular and my language at he bottom is perfection....fuck me....fuck in hell, I can hear myself screaming from the cameras microphone. How I did not face plant or break a leg on the rocks at the bottom I cannot explain. I do know that the adrenaline was thick in my veins and my eyes seemed to be working triple speed and thankfully my legs and feet responded with the requisite actions.
I sprint the two Km back to camp where a late lunch is waiting. I'm still way too much pumped up and skoff my dal and chapatti like a Cambodian kid. I want to show my videos to everyone but I'm afraid that it will show a dangerous madman on the loose. These are dangerous mountains, or at least as dangerous as any other hill and need to be treated with respect and my six Slovenian friends are all well seasoned mountain people where such displays are usually frowned upon. One thing I'm certain of and that is what I just did is not madness but a definite show of extreme skill.