Archive for the 'K2' Category


A visit to Greg Mortenson’s school in Korphe

Published at the Express Tribune. Featured in the Central Asia Institute’s newsletter, Alima

The allegations of fraud against Greg Mortenson were troubling to thousands of firm supporters of his mission to educate children, especially girls, in the isolated regions of Pakistan. When my summer trek to K2 basecamp started near the spot where Mortenson’s first school was constructed, I couldn’t resist stopping by the Korphe Central Asia Institute (CAI) to get some firsthand answers.

The first thing our guide pointed on during the short hike from Askole to Korphe was a newly constructed vehicle bridge. Two unfettered concrete supports still stood next to the new structure, marking the spot where Greg was forced to build a footbridge across the Indus to complete the promised school.

After crossing the river between Askole and Korphe, my group and I hiked for half hour up a steep set of switchbacks to reach town. We could hear the singing voices of kids before we even spotted the elementary school. When our climb ended, a neat building greeted us with honey colored walls and bright red borders; it stood out prominently from the neighboring mud huts.

There were 80 or so young boys in their blue and white uniforms reciting poetry in unison to their instructors as we entered the Haji Ali Memorial School. We begged them to continue and asked permission to take a few quick photos. In the girls classroom, timid faces looked up as I entered the room. They had been singing with full force but were too shy to carry on in front of new acquaintances.

Mohammad Hussain, a CAI employed teacher, gave us a tour of the 5 room building. Lessons scribbled on the chalkboards varied between English, science and basic arithmetic problems such as the total cost of groceries given the price of each item.

Hussain later showed us to his desk and called for tea. This gave us a perfect opportunity to get answers to the questions which were gnawing at the back of our minds. Hussain explained that he is now the only teacher at this school who is paid by CAI, but there are four others out of whom 2 are funded by NGO’s and 2 by the Pakistan Government. All uniforms, books and pencils are provided to the children free of cost by CAI.

Our tea came while Hussain and a couple other residents in the room jokingly reminisced about Mortenson stumbling into the village with torn clothes, hungry and completely exhausted. Only now can they laugh about it since Mortenson was disorientated and lost when he reached Korphe. As described in the book, Three Cups of Tea, the Korphe locals nursed Moretenson back to health and he promised to return and build a school.

Mortenson came back after 3 years and did fulfill his promise. The school was first built in 1995 but had to be brought down due to its poorly constructed foundation. It was then rebuilt with a stronger foundation and reinforced concrete. Currently the school has classes from Nursery up to 8th Grade. Plans for expansion of the school building are in the works and Mortenson is set to return in October of this year to oversee the addition of grades 9 and 10 to the program. Students who excel at this school are awarded full scholarships to attend colleges/universities in the capital, Islamabad. Hussain proudly told us that his own daughter is attending college under the scholarship program.

In the end I asked the Korphe locals if they had heard about the allegations against Greg Mortenson. They had and replied that the lack of media presence in the region has prevented them from telling their side of the story. The people of Korphe, Askole and other locals that I came across during my trek had nothing but immense appreciation for Greg Mortenson and his work. It is important to understand that the CAI is making efforts to provide education in distant corners of Pakistan where there is little to no presence of public schools. Throughout my trip in the northern areas of Pakistan I came across numerous blue CAI boards marking their institutions. I won’t attest to confirming the 250 or so institutions that the Central Asia claims to support, but this one was in fine shape. I know that the kids at this 1 school now have opportunities that were otherwise beyond their reach before the charity began and the locals backed up every aspect of 3 Cups of Tea that I could remember.


I see K2

Some photos published at Express Tribune

After talking about it, planning, and looking forward to the trek for years – our group finally set out on the 2 week adventure to Concordia. As with everyone else’s experience our flight was cancelled and we drove to Skardu from Islamabad. Our jeeps came to a halt in Askole after a few hard days of driving and we decided to spend 2 nights there in order to acclimatize before setting out. In hindsight 2 days in Askole is not essential but it proved beneficial for us since we did not go through a tour company and had not arranged for porters ahead of time.

Remnants of religious extremism in Chilas on the way to Skardu

Our “guide” came highly recommended but he turned out to be dead weight – he hadn’t been to the area for over 10 years and had no idea about anything. Hence, he earned the nickname of “anti-guide”. It is certainly possible to arrange this trip by oneself, but hiring a sensible guide will definitely have its advantages.

Finally after weighing our goods and determining the number of porters necessary to haul everything, we set out for Concordia. This part of the trek started out flat in the beginning and then turned into a trail of dust and cobble. The weather was hot and sunny but we all had our CamelBaks filled with water to ensure we stay hydrated.

We took over the planning responsibilities from our guide and decided to hike to the camp at Paiju on our second day because we felt we should make up ground lost during yesterday’s easy 3 hr trek. Day 2 turned out to be a total of 32 km and took us around 13 hours including breaks. The terrain varied between narrow dirt trails by the river and sandy flat lands with rocks. Increased glacier melt has caused the rivers to be too dangerous to cross thus adding more time to this already long segment. It took an extra hour and a half to hike up the valley to a suspension bridge and back to where people used to cross the river on foot.


Happy to have made up for the first day – on the third day we followed the trekking guide on our K2 maps and trekked to Liligo camp. After Paiju, the Baltoro glacier begins and the scenery is beautiful when the Trango Towers are visible. Baltoro didn’t match what I had imagined a glacier would look like. Most of the ice and snow is covered with dirt and loose rocks. However, there were slippery spots in between where the ice had started to melt. The weather was cool and it drizzled on us throughout the day. Liligo sits at roughly 12,200 ft and is situated off the glacier on the side under huge rocks. According to porter lore, the camp derives its name from a girl named Lily who disappeared at this spot after wondering off for a walk and so it came to be known as Lily go. Our porters sacrificed the goat in the evening and celebrated by singing songs and playing their drums.

The next day we headed out at 5:30am sharp for Urdokus, this 10km stretch is the most strenuous according to our K2 maps. The first half of the trek was pretty easy but the second half consisted of hiking up and down the glacier covered with loose rocks. The trail was so narrow at certain spots there was barely room for the width of my small foot to catch hold. Hearing rocks and chunks of ice falling down into glacial pools was common too. We reached our destination in about 6.5 hours (including breaks) only to be faced by one final 500ft vertical climb of switchbacks to get to our campsite! As soon as we made it to the top the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain.

Snow storm at Goro

On the 6th day we made our way to Goro campsite. This was the day when the elevation started to affect most of us and we were all struck with headaches after a little physical exertion. However, short frequent breaks provided enough relief to push on. The following morning we
were engulfed in a snow storm. Our tents were covered with snow and our porters recommended we wait for the weather to clear up before heading out to Concordia. At 10 am there was a break in the weather and we were on our way. About a quarter way through we got caught in another blizzard and it showed no signs of letting up. According to our maps the trek from Goro to Concordia takes about 3 hours and is only 8 km but our porters got lost due to poor visibility and we walked in knee deep snow for 6 hours (13km) before reaching Concordia. K2 was nicely tucked away behind a dark grey wall of clouds when we made camp.

Luckily in the weather cleared up entirely in the evening and there stood K2, immaculate and proud. I’ve heard some people have waited for over a week to get a clear shot of K2 and we were lucky enough to see it the first night! Three Frenchmen came over to greet us from a nearby camp. They had been in the area for a month and were preparing to climb Gasherbrum 4.

After an early dinner we went to bed all excited to be sleeping at 15,000ft and so close to K2. The next morning, however, another snow storm was in full effect. We waited in our mess tent all day hoping to catch another glimpse of the savage mountain but K2 didn’t make an appearance at all. In the evening we went to chat with the neighbouring Canadian camp and learnt that they had climbed Mt Everest last year!

We woke up at 4am to begin our journey home. Most of K2 was visible and we managed a few parting shots before the clouds came rolling in and covered it up again. We left camp at 5:30 am and it lightly snowed on us all day. We reached Askole in 4 days and never strained ourselves too much since we were dropping elevation and our bodies had become accustomed to walking 8 to 10 hours per day on average.

After living in the wild for nearly 2 weeks I realized there are many things I took for granted like hot showers, clean dry clothes, food free of sand, and warm weather! However, getting away from civilization has its own thrills. K2 was stunning and the entire trek was an experience of a lifetime. I would definitely recommend it to those with an appetite for adventure.


Concordia Dreamin’

We’ve been talking about it for years and finally a group of us are going to trek to K2 base camp, Concordia this summer. After going through various blogs and reading about other trekkers’ experience, the planning and training is in full gear!


For starters I begin the day with a quick walk with our yellow lab, Cali (short for California). Following which I indulge in a healthy breakfast of a whole wheat English muffin paired with an assortment of fresh strawberries, blue berries and bananas. After which I put on my hiking boots and backpack loaded with books and onto my 2 miles (3.2 km) walk to Starbucks for a caffeine treat. Sometimes I manage to fit in a weight training workout before lunch but I haven’t been able to reach my goal of 2 workouts per day as yet – nonetheless the closer we get to our departure I will ensure 2 visits to the gym per day – weight training in the morning and cardio conditioning with interval training in the evening.

with love from Starbucks

I’ve been strict about my evening workouts which consist of leg work and interval training. Not much can be done about elevation sickness but interval training helps so I run fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow…followed by running on steep slopes. Interval training aids the heart beat in recovering faster and that’s the secret to overcoming altitude sickness. Going through blogs I’ve learnt that people of all ages and at various fitness levels have completed this trek from the traveling backpackers all the way from England to a group of senior citizens from California – so as long as a person is in good shape this trek is doable. However, I don’t want to take a chance and be turned around after the second day only thus, I am trying to get in the best physical condition possible.

So far I’ve managed 2 to 3 morning workouts per week on top of the daily evening workout. My morning workout encompasses lunges, squats and 5 to 10 lbs weights. Instead of focusing on cardio I tend to concentrate on muscle toning so that the trek will not leave my body sore.



Evening workouts are followed by another walk with Cali so that she’s calm during the rest of the day. In total, I walk around 6 miles (9.6km) per day but it’s all on a flat service. To compare we’ll be walking roughly 8 miles (13km) per day in mountainous terrain for nearly 2 weeks.

Going back to healthy meals, lunch is usually light and high protein such as daal (lentils). Dinner is heavier but consists mainly of whole grain pasta, chicken or beef and a leafy green salad packed with walnuts and fruit such as currants, cranberries, watermelon or sliced granny smith apples. The weekends are another matter though and don’t include a visit to the gym. Greasy food like Pizza is also devoured on Saturday or Sundays.

On to gear, since the first part of the trek is usually warm during the day, trekkers have to carry breathable light clothes for the heat and heavy waterproof gear for the snow later on. Snow jackets, trekking poles and warm sleeping bags are required. We will also be carrying crampons though most trekkers have completed the hike without using crampons but some blogs strongly recommend their use – better safe than sorry!

There will be 6 of us in our group and about 30 porters including a guide and a cook who will accompany us on this expedition. Stay tuned for more and advice from previous Concordia conquerors is welcome.

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