Is this work?

Hello family and friends,

It seems like years since I have wrote and contacted you (although you are probably getting tired of my travel journals). The feeling comes from being so far from home but mostly because we just come back from a 14 day trek in the Himalayas mountains of Pakistan. One begin to think of the comforts of home when you are in the mountains camping without shower, toilet and chairs for 14 days!! So much so that when we got back into the big city of Islamabad, Pakistan we sought out any type of refuge of decent food, entertainment and alcohol even. On Friday night, we set our goal on a rumor that the Australian and US embassies have weekly happy hours. Driving around the embassy district and after a few phone calls, we were able to find a "Caribbean Night" at the UN Club with full buffet and alcohol had with purchased tickets. George, Hope and I were silly feasting on the western foods and downing drinks with music of Bob Marley in the background. 10:00pm we started dancing away to let out some accumulated "mountain sickness" I danced and drank so much I got sick at the end of the night!!!
About the trek...Just getting to the trailhead is no easy task. I first met up with hometown friend George and wife Hope who are also traveling around the world in Gilgit, having traveled through China and down the Karakorum Highway from western china. I took a 16 hour bus ride from Islamabad in a minibus that rocked, bounced and swerved through the mountains as it it was an uncertified rollercoaster ride. Once we got over taking turns on getting sick from heat exhaustion and diarrhea, we finally booked the trek and got one another 6-hour rollercoaster ride to town of Skardu. There we met our guide and gathered various barely usable second-hand treking/camping gear from numerous mom & pop shops. Then it was another 6-hour ride on an open jeep on a what we would typically call a hiking trail then switching jeeps in middle of the journey at a river crossing over a log. Only after all this, we arrived in Ascouli the place to start our trek through the Boltaro Glaciers to Concordia, K2 base camp and over the Gondogora La Pass taking us to 5640m.

Having just finish climbing Mt. Kilimajaro this trek can not be compared in many ways. Mt. Kili was more of a sprintof treks. A non-technical short 6 day trek, it attracts many city dwellers for its challenging but short torture. The Concordia was a whole different experience -- a long marathon. On Kilimajaro, we continually looked to the neighboring Mt. Meru as our view as there was nothing else to see except clouds, sky and the plains below. But in the Himalayas, mountains and peaks surround us constantly and each with it own character and mystic that I ended up taking over 400 pictures on this trek. Snow covered mountains and jagged peaks surrounded us as far as the eye can see. The hot burning rays of the sun in the day and the cold chills of sleeping on the glaciers at night, I often wondered if I will ever be able to trek out of the mountains. It was estimated that we trekked over 200km (120 miles) from point to point on our journey not counting the numerous ups and downs. I joked to myself that it would be tiring to drive that distance, not mentioning hiking it!!! If you think it is all fun and games for me while most of you work, you may have a misconception. Everyday we woke up at between 4 and 5 AM, broke down our tents, packed our bags and trekked for sometimes over 10 hours, only to get into camp to sleep on a glacier and get up and do it again the next day. So some of you may be thankful that you are in the office!

One of the most memorable days is Day 10 which I called Memorial Day. We woke up at Broadpeak base camp at 4:00am to hike to K2 base camp. As we sat in the tarp kitchen tent shivering from the cold having breakfast we compared ghost stories. The previous afternoon we arrived into camp greeted by a guide and a young French boy as they told us how his friend had died four days ago suddenly in his sleep--probably from altitude sickness. And now the body is sitting at the glacier below waiting for an army helicopter to lift him out. Tears filled my eyes, as the surviving French boy of 21 told me how his friend died next to him as they slept together in the tent. I could not imagine how he filled the last few days watching his friend lay on the ice and thinking how he will explain to his friend's parents. The experience felt personal, as they are not much different from us--young and full of energy, seeking the outdoor challenge of treking in one of nature's greatest creations, only to be struck by a freak accident that will haunt him for the rest of his life. That day, we hiked on to K2 base camp and made a point to stop at the memorial at the base of the mountain. Countless camping plates and plaques displayed the names of mountaineers who relentlessly pursued their passions and paid the ultimate price. It was odd, earlier we saw two army helicopters fly in the distance, one to finally carry out the dead French boy and one to rescue a sick mountaineer at Concordia. Later at K2 base camp, a Singaporean vacationing trekker was in a oxygen chamber being treated by doctors. It all seem so risky and scary, I was starting to wonder if I should be on the trek and if I was naive to the risks, and why do people take so little value of their lives to climb mountains and to only come right down. But, as I looked through a sighting telescope at base camp at a mountaineer trying to summit K2 that day, excitement and adrenaline rushed through me. Through the scope, I could see the mountaineer forcing his way up a seemly impossible snow "wall" with all his might, only to stop after few steps to catch his breath. It is through this sight that I gained a great respect for mountaineers and a deep sense of why they do what they do -- an inexplicable drive for personal limits. On this "memorial" day, I paid my deepest respect to all mountaineers and others that give up so much in pursuit of their personal dreams and passions.

A few days later, our personal limits were put to the test on the toughest part of the trek, going over the Gondogora La pass. Anticipation was high, as we heard numerous conflicting stories on how challenging it would be.. Some people died from avalanches, no one ever has died. The slope is over 60 degrees and with much is not a problem. But, we knew something was up as the guide made a comment that he said a prayer for us to make it over safely. Looking at the pass from our camp, we were not convinced it was possible. Our guide made us practice putting on our harnesses, crampons, ascenders the day before so that we would know how to use it in the middle of the night when we ascended. We woke at 11:00pm and started hiking at 12:30 midnight to avoid the avalanches from the sun. The treking experience in pitch dark is surreal---to be surrounded by the grandness of the mountains, yet one can not see anything except the flashlight in the distance from the group behind us. The surrounding was so silent, only the sounds of our own heavy breathing was heard. Again like on Kilimanjaro, the rhythm of our own breathing, and the slow tempo of our steps combined with tired physical bodies were hypnotizing. For 5 hours we trekked straight up the steep snow/ice slope. Many times we stopped to catch our breaths and looked up to the top hoping it was near. Ice pelted our heads and bodies as the porters passed us with 60lbs on their back and rubber boots. How do they do it is still beyond me! We finally made it to the top just in time for sunrise. We were lucky, no wind, no clouds...just a peaceful view of the orange coloured peaks for as far as the eye can see. How odd? A thought came to me...I do not think I ever looked down to see the sun ever except on this trek. Think about it, we are so trained to look UP at the sun, not down at it.

Well, this note is long. I have so much more to say as the experience is so vivid and deep that I can go on for pages and pages. But I like to finish off with one note. Climbing Kilimanjaro and doing this trek, I could not avoid periodically thinking about our porters and others around the world. We, as tourist, enjoy the trek as an adventure. We prepare by buying the best treking gear in the western world...Northface, Patagonia, Gortex and the list goes on. I estimate that I wear and carry over $2,000 of gear with me. I view the pain suffered on the trek as exhilirating as a test of personal limits...only because I know it will end soon and then I can go back to comforts of my own home soon. But the porters get paid about $3/day to carry over 60 lbs each of our gear, equipment and food. I estimate that their own personal gear amount to less than $50 consisting of rubber boots, tarp, one change of everyday clothes and a rug that doubled as a winter jacket and sleeping bag. We, tourists, often pride ourselves on spending unspeakable dollars and having completed an challenging adventure. Where the porters happily cater to our needs along the way and at the end of the trek, they are happy that they have now food for the family and can only wish that they have to chance to earn the next meal..eventhough in their hearts they know they are risking their health if not their lives. I carried my own stuff for 2 days on the easiest part of the trek (1/2 of what the porters typically carry) and I was totally burnt out. So if anyone of you do go on a trek, think of the porters..

OK OK...this note is getting long.. We are now in Peshawar at a town not far from Afganistan. We are taking a taxi tour to tribes and villages close to the border tommorrow. We may even go to a village where all types of guns are made, although we are told that we each have to payoff the police for entering the restriceted zone. So don't be surprised if you see me in a photo shooting off a rocket launcher. Before the week is out, I should be flying to Bangkok where I am planning to go overland north to Laos and into China and Tibet for more treking!! At this rate, how could I miss Everest!!

My best wishes to you all. It has been nice to receive your emails along the way. I least I know that someone still remembers although I am a stranger in a foreign land. Love you all.


Peshawar, Pakistan July 31,2001