Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog
K2 Trek-3
Heading up the now clean glacier from Concordia to Ali Camp (5000+m) 
Climbing the Gondogoro La
Still Climbing the Gondogoro La
On the Gondogoro La Summit 5650m
Porters on top of the Gondogoro La
Both have the standard molded rubber shoes with thin socks and one has no gloves.
Real hard men.... 
Difficult descent down the Gondogoro La to Xhushpang 
Sunday 20th July Ali Camp to Xhushpang 4680m via the Gondogoro Pass at 5650m

The big day arrives and we are waken at 1am with tea and cornflakes. The weather is a little overcast which could mean bad news for the pass, for is the weather is bad then porters can refuse to cross.
I'm all dressed in my camouflage Gore-Tex top and bottoms unlike the trendy crew and I receive dirty eyes checking out my look as if they are still doubting my abilities to cross the pass. I have to admit that camouflage Gore-Tex may not be all the rage, but it's the cheapest way to don oneself in good quality waterproofs and if I saw another person strutting their stuff in them then I may too think that that person just might be a bit of a John Rambo.
It's around -5C as we leave camp and make a snails pace across the rocks alongside the glacier. The porters make good time but keep having to wait for us as we have to cross the glacier and the pass together.
We have a three man rescue team with us in case of any problems and they herd us all in a group waiting every twenty minutes or so to . All the guide says to me is `very slow group', of course he's right. We have to cross the pass in the night while it's cold as there is a very high chance of avalanche danger as soon as it gets warm, hence the guides worry about the time. But again group mentality rules and one person stops then the whole group stops, one person takes off their bag and the whole group take off their bag. It never fails to amaze me.
After around 1.5 hours we reach a point where we need to cross the glacier near the head of the Vigne glacier. There's a full moon barely making it through the clouds as we gaze across the glacier at what look like a series of near vertical snow covered climbs, one of which is ours.
The porters simply hold a rope as they cross where as the whities put on their harnesses and clip on to the rope. I'm the only one without a harness and our guide Mohamed fashions me one from some rope and we move onto the glacier some way behind the porters. We are supposed to follow in their footsteps to ensure that we don't fall into any crevasses but the rescue team leader doesn't have a torch and loses the track for a while. Our cook walks along side me across the glacier unaided. It's all quite comical!
At the far side of the glacier we can see for the first time the Gondagoro Pass. The porters are already making their way up in teams of four using the fixed ropes provided by the rescue teams who charge handsomely for their usage.
At this point we put on our crampons and plastic boots etc while watching the porters take the climb in their stride in their $2 shoes.
The first climb is steep but most of our crew don't use the rope, despite the requests of the guides. The first climb leads onto a table at which point the porters struggle with their cumbersome loads using a series of deep snow dug steps.
When I reach the table I'm blown away by the sight of the pass now snaking in the front of me. It's looks like real climbing stuff with thick walls of snow waiting to fall, bottomless crevasses and rows of icicles cascading from any vertical surface. More fixed ropes sweep us around an impressive crevasse to our left while always climbing steeply, the porters now spread out around it on the ropes.
I'm ploughing along with a rescue team member behind who seems to be taking things rather leisurely compared to me and my cavernous breaths and he waits patiently behind me doing his job. At this point I'm well into my stride, sinking my ice axe full depth into the snow with each step ensuring I always have two anchorage points, the other being the fixed rope. Still blown away by the scale of he pass, and taking in the scenery I was expecting much more climbing when the guide tells me the top is only five minutes away and I feel let down as I was expecting a real tough session this morning having the pass built up by all and sundry and the Lonely Planet....never mind.
I set foot on the top of the pass at 5940m with less than 50% oxygen than at sea level in a near white out. At this point I should be treated to a mountain view stretching for miles in every direction but manage only ten metres, but don't feel too disappointed as I really enjoyed the climb.
I wait for the Slovenians on the pass and we hug and shake hands before doing the obligatory photo shoot and head off down the other side.
The snow stops within 200m and is replaced with steep rocks and fixed ropes. I'm taken aback by the severity of what lays ahead but in real terms the porters are motoring their way down so it can't be too difficult. It's just my western way of thinking.
Stanka goes ahead of me holding the rope tight as she slips down many tricky sections. She then stops to do a few photos and I pass by. The ropes are of varying quality with many being the cheap nylon type that is barely good enough to tie hunks of timber on your roof rack and we all put our life in the hands of this rope and it's anchor points.
It's here I make a descender from my ice axe and leash so that I can rappel speedily and if I slip the extra force stops my fall. It's a cool idea that I dreamed up the previous night for a way of ascending and never needed and now I'm using it in reverse. The only problem is with areas of rope swollen with ice that prevent my speedy descent and I spend as much time on my arise sliding as I do my feet.
After around 300m of slippy rock descending the fixed ropes stop and the track disappears into the distance down the valley, with snow starting to fall. The track is scree so I run down at high speed quickly catching the porters and badly punishing my boots as I do so.
My boots are The North Face, lightweight with stainless steel laces and Gore-Tex inserts and are already basically buggered from my previous scree trips and the sole is around 60% of what it should be with the rest hanging on loosely. The laces have both been repaired using a tuna tin off cut, one of the lace tensioners has stopped working so now I can't tighten my left shoe and a fair proportion of the shoe leather is ripped to pieces and all this in one month on a simple trek. Still I shouldn't complain as I did worse to a pair after a week in Nepal last year. soon as I catch the porters I turn around to see the others way way behind so I wait for them. I don't know why I stopped, I guess I thought it was the right thing to do. The snow is falling, almost hail like as I wait for the first group down the mountain, the rest being so far behind it's not true. I can't believe how slow people can move in the mountains, especially those who call it their home. I'm hoping that maybe one of the group has watched and learned something from the porters. Can they stop with their western rules and begin to think freely instead of following rules instilled from the climbing community. Will one of them throw away their trekking poles in favour of speed, and balance that will follow....I don't think so?
Preaching over....we descend the valley that suddenly turns green with the usual selection of colourful flowers and we arrive at our campsite knackered and fall into the mess tent to be brought tea and biscuits.
At this point most of us have the impression that we have done something extraordinary. I look around and I see our tents erected, the mess tent up and the kitchen tent in full flow. The porters have done extraordinary things without Mars Bars and energy gels. We have had it easy. We eat hearty meals three times a day and snacks in-between. We have our tents erected and walk around in warm waterproof clothing and carry medicines for every occasion. I see this as nothing other than a relaxing holiday.
I'm pondering at the Gondogoro just passed. It was easy. Way easy. I just wished that I had the freedom to attack it as an individual and not as a sheep. I wanted at this point to feel exhilaration but to be honest my rest day hike was much more severe than the Gondogoro Pass.
I'm feeling that my trek is over even though I have three more days left. Tonight will be my last night with the Slovenians and tomorrow I think I'm heading of with a porter or two and maybe a guide, no mess tent I guess?
It's been a good trek and I'm thankful that the Slovenians have allowed me in, but I'm eager and ready to move on. Ready to push my myself that little bit further. Back to eight solid hours a day on the road.
I expected this trek to be a honeymoon and it has been. A good warm up for what’s to come. I wonder if I'll ever be able to do another group trek again....I don't think so. I don't like the order and easy life.
We all now stink and I'm really want to wash and do my laundry but there is a steady downpour of rain and I can't be bothered to walk to the shower block to throw cold water over me. So instead I wash my face with water from my drinking bottle and use my ethanol hand cleaner to kill the bacteria on my feet and my, does that warm the cockles!:)
Over dinner a postcard appears showing our campsite with pointy Laila Peak in the background. It looks really impressive but absolutely nothing like the view we have outside with the clouds.

Monday 21st July. Xhushpang to Saisho

After a late start I'm ready to leave with only one assistant cook and no porter. There's a big crowd of porters gathered around the mess tent as four porters are now being sent home and I say a quick farewell to the Slovenians and the guide and give a quick wave of thanks to the cooks and the porters. The porter who has carried my load is hovering around like a bad smell wanting a tip but we've all put in a communal tip to cover the porter’s baksheesh.
With nuts still glowing I head off with Sherali down the valley and up onto the Gondogoro glacier. Again the views should be super but that low cloud is still hovering around. We are motoring along with four porters returning home with no loads trying to navigate the glacier and despite the weather the mountains to the right side are wall to wall glaciers while the mountains to the left side are all bare due to the sun. The valley must really be something else in fine weather.
We soon drop the flagging porters as Sherali steps up the pace and within 1.5Hrs pass Daltsampa camp that would normally constitute a full days trek!
Despite needing to lose over 1200m altitude today there are many, small but tough climbs usually up and over huge land slides to the left of the glacier that turn the glacier black and the waters into a murky soup.
After two hard hours we stop to share my last Mars Bar. I begin to understand why we are going so fast. Simply Sherali has no food for either of us and we have to make it to the camp site at Saisho where there is a restaurant for the both of us.
We arrive at Saisho, at the end of the glacier and a steep drop from the terminal moraine. From the campsite K7 valley can be seen, a climber’s paradise and it looks impressive with the limited views. I'm still surprised at how much remarkable scenery there is in Pakistan. I've spent soooo soooo much time here and yet still I'm treated to new spectacular scenery. This whole place should be wall to wall with adventure seekers and cultural jeep safaris. Maybe one day? in Saisho surrounded by greenery we fill up on chapattis and dal, back to the usual menu, a radio plays Bollywood and the locals play a game of's all back to normal....
Tuesday 22nd July Saisho to Machulu

It's another fast day as we head off to Hushe and reach it in only two hours, again a sign of how slow the normal trek takes. The clouds still haven't lifted and the mountains still aren’t showing their heads. The track gently slopes down following the true left bank of the river, lined by tall brown mountains.
As we approach Hushe it's a joy to see women working in the fields after a few weeks of only Pakistani men. The women are colourful and look as cute as. They may be wearing baggy shalwar kameez but when the wind blows everything becomes tight and I'm happy:)
At Hushe we eat and I watch what seems to be an extraordinary amount of children for a small village play in the dirt and water streams as it's school holidays.
The village is pleasant with houses of whitewashed mud bricks, with flat roofs of logs and mud. There is also a host of construction projects underway when biggest being a large stone mosque right in the middle of the village. There is also a school and an impressive stone hotel being built, right at the entry to the village from the trek from the Gondogoro pass commanding some fine mountain views.
At Hushe we are supposed to spend one night, or maybe two as we are now a day a head of schedule but a Jeep is already waiting with my name on it so we decide to go to both the jeep drivers and Sheralis home town 2Hrs away at Machulu.
On the way down we meet Shujaat who also lives in Machulu and he takes us to the best hotel in town, the Felix Inurrategi.
Felix Inurrategi was a Spanish climber who died while on Gashabrum 2 in 2000. An NGO was set up by his brother Alberto, also a climber and the youngest person to climb all fourteen 8000m peaks, and this hotel was built in his name, which doubles as a climbing school for locals wanting to become guides and porters.
Staying at the hotel is a Spanish guy working for the NGO trying to set up several schemes in the Hushey Valley, including a school, water irrigation systems, and hygienic apricot drying systems, as the whole area is a mass of apricot trees.
I'm always interested in NGO work as at times it's frustrating and very often their aims are not achieved and here is no exception and I chat with Manuel for hours listening to his great stories. Here are but a few.
One man turns up early morning looking bleary eyed when he should be working for the NGO. What’s happened Manuel asks? I've been up all night building a house as the government is coming today to approve a new highway and we built a house on the route so that we can get compensation.
Another guy, a politician,  signs up with the NGO promising the world as he is a local notary and wants to help the community progress and he is given a list of jobs to do which he faithfully promises to carry out, regarding the drying of the apricots. He then disappears and his family pretend they don't know where he is, when he is actually portering to K2 base camp. The apricots are now falling off the trees and two Pakistani women have been brought in to teach how to dry the apricots and nothing is ready.
Also....a new school is being built and the NGO asked all the thirteen teachers in the village if they would like to take free English lessons and all of them agreed and signed up. The NGO sets up a room and on the first night there is only six turn up and the next week only three.
And....the NGO wants funding from the government for irrigation schemes and the government gives funding based on the last senses and it shows that there are no children in the village under the age of two, which is around here is absolutely impossible. Manuel realizes the mistake and goes to find out what happened and tracks down the guy who filled in the village senses forms and his reason that there are no children in the village under two is because his pen ran out. Now, that means that since the last senses was carried out his village has been under funded and it takes the NGO a further month in lost time to do another senses to gain the correct amount of funding.
Unfortunately this problem belongs to both Pakistan and India, saying yes to everything you ask. Maybe some would call it laziness. I mean these people are not just saying yes but actually signing contracts as well. Manuel puts it like this. If he knew a Pakistani man with no legs and said `would you like to run across the road with me'? He would more likely say yes and sign an agreement stating such. But then when asked to run he will say `but how can I run, I have no legs'? And when asked `but why did you sign the contract'? a plethora of excuses will spurt from his mouth. 
Take every villager to one side and ask what he wants in life and they will say something like, education, health systems, clean water and a larger income. Next bring in an NGO who brings much free money to the village for infrastructure but also asks for the villagers assistance and what happens as a community....nothing, or at least very little. Manuel is white and as such everyone thinks he comes bearing free cash for all. He has five local helpers who some villagers believe keep the cash for themselves, when Manuel controls the cash flow. That’s how it is here and that’s how it works. The baksheesh system keeps everybody down and backwards. They are being given everything they ask for but want something first!
I take a walk to a view point above Machulu and it makes for a very impressive sight. Everywhere women are collecting apricots, waving long pieces of bamboo into the trees and each movement brings hundreds to earth.
Walking through the village is peaceful even if there are kids begging for one pen. Again there are heaps of kids and everyone I talk to comes has between six and eight brothers and sisters that will put an incredible strain on the village resources in the coming generations.
I was discussing the amount of kids with Manuel and he told me some strange things.
Firstly he said that some of the expeditions bring porno films with them (probably in Ipods) and show them to the porters. The porters then return to their villagers and the next white person they see is Manuel. They ask him if this is true? Do women really give blow jobs in the west???? He then asks what happens here in Pakistan and it turns out they shag in the dark, often fully clothed and many men have never seen their wife naked....what the hell is that all about....get ya kit off!