It was just before dawn as I pulled the ropes to climb to the top while taking deep breaths. The summit was a only a few feet away. I paused for a while, caught my breath and looked behind. The sky was a palette of orange and blue hues as spectacular mountains were silhouetted in the foreground.
The weather was bright and clear, I was at the top of one of the highest mountain passes on earth — “Gondogoro la Pass” at an altitude of 5,940 meters above sea level, was viewing some of the highest peaks on earth including Four of Eight-Thousander peaks K2 (Choghori), Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II.
I’d been advised to spend no more than 10 minutes on the summit and then descend to the other side.
Those 10 minutes very easily became the most beautiful moments of my life where I saw the first beam of sunlight hitting K2 — the second highest mountain in the world.
My journey to the top started at 10:00 am in the morning on July 10, 2012 when a team of 27 trekkers left for Ali camp from Concordia. It took us all about six to eight hours to reach to the camp. We crossed through hard rocks and the Vigne Glacier. In many places, the snow came up to our waist and it didn’t take long before our shoes and socks were drenched.
After reaching Ali camp in the evening, we tried to dry our shoes on the stove in the kitchen tent, but with little success. The trek to the summit was in just a few hours and we were back on our way, in the dark, without much rest.
We’d been told to reach the summit before dawn. Gondogoro Pass can only be crossed during the night; it involves steep climbs and abrupt descents. Without the sun, temperatures fall below freezing causing the snow to harden, hence lessening the chances of slipping or getting caught in an avalanche.
Time is a commodity in this environment and even minutes wasted can prove deadly.
While at the Ali Camp, we had our meal and then prepared ourselves for the treacherous pass. Taking a limited supply of food packs and water, we started our hike at 22:00 hours towards the pass in complete darkness aided by a little moonlight and our head torches.
The initial trek was difficult to navigate, with the snow being so hard, but eventually our path evened out to a more manageable climb. It took us an hour and half to reach to the base of the Gondogoro pass.
The enormous snow walls were illuminated by the moon light, as I watched a few head torches at a distance going to the top. A few of them were my trek mates, while the man ahead belonged to the rescue team for the Pass who was trying to make the route easy for those following.
Ropes were fixed on the steepest slopes and I had to fix the carabinar into it to prevent a fall. It was hard to climb, especially as the air thinned with altitude and breathing became more laborious.
It took me almost six hours to reach the summit. Even though there was a fear of avalanches, I had come too far to turn back. Reaching the top would be a seminal achievement in my life and a memory that would last me forever. After spending the allowed 10 minutes on the summit I began my descent.
To my surprise, the descent was steeper and harder than the ascent. We had to do it in daylight. I managed to descend down with the help of ropes while snow started to get soft. It took me two hours to climb down. Then I started my hike towards the beautiful lush green camp site of Khuspang, again crossing through soft snow and rocky patches for what seemed like hours.
The grand Gondogoro Pass quest ended at 1300 hours, the next day at Khuspang . Upon reaching the camp site, I joined my trekking mates for a meal.
As I lay in my sleeping bag, I thought back on the events of the day and realised how memorable the entire experience was. Despite the ropes and gear that we had, it had been an arduous and dangerous climb. I wondered how difficult it must have been for those before us who didn’t have the facilities that I had been provided with.
It was not just another adventure or exploration, for 10 minutes of my life I was literally on top of the world, and any number of words is not enough to define that.
The article was originally published in Dawn Blogs dated 21st August, 2012