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brad’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 28 Jul 2007

Location: Rush Phari, Pakistan

Map4.30am: Condensation during the night has formed a thin layer of ice inside my tent. Each exhalation I give turns to mist and the water in my drinking bottle is a slush of ice. For a while longer I delay the inevitable call from a full bladder, marveling in the warmth of goose down and recalling the nights vivid, whacked out dreams - a consequence of altitude. How bizarre and creative the mind can be, such fantastic things lie hidden in the depths of consciousness. The bladder can wait no longer and so I drag myself out from the warmth. It's still dark and a full sky of stars is within arms reach, soon to be replaced with the vibrant blue of a new day. Camera in hand I head for the lakes opposite side, climbing to the top of a rise and welcoming the new day. Glorious Pakistan! The mountains impressive beyond words. For the next hour or so I wander, taking photos, absorbing warmth from the sun and filling my lungs with the purity of alpine air. By 6.30am there’s movement at camp and I return to find 2 haggard faces. I must look no better.
The literal crescendo of our journey, Rush Peak reaches 5100m, while the sky remains clear we'll make the return trip before breakfast and witness one of the most beautiful panoramas in this country. The last 100m ascent is tough. With oxygen starved lungs and altitude fatigue it’s a punishing climb over boulders and loose rock. Like a geriatric in a nursing home trying to make his way to the T.V. room I set a pace of 20 steps forward then 5 breaths rest. Hamid’s well ahead and when I finally reach him at the summit I see he’s tired and cold, ill-equipped for such altitude but still tough enough to be first at the top. The morning is cloudless, clear beyond all our hopes. The view extends all the way to K2 at the Chinese border, by all estimates about 80kms away.

Descending is considerably more taxing than ascending. It always feels like the same amount of work is required, but over a shorter period in time and done predominately by the thigh muscles. From Rush Peak we descend 1700m over 5km, returning to the ablation valley and make camp about 1km above Bericho Kor. My thighs are a quivering mess and consequently I dread what could be a slow and painful ascent down valley tomorrow.
Our camp is in a clearing where herders graze their cattle, an area Hamid says was “Long time ago small forest but many years cutting trees go”. He makes a fire to cook his dinner, fueled by fallen branches from the remaining vegetation. “Now no cutting allowed, firewood no. must buy in the bazaar”. With his dinner left to cook in its own heat he stands up, requesting to borrow my knife then heads for a group of trees 10 minutes up-valley. Returning sometime later he wields a rough-cut walking stick and hands me my knife. “China, no good” he says with a shake of the head. I examine the knife, its blade bent and edges broken, blunt beyond salvation. “No shit it’s no good, not any more Hamid” I say, “this is a kitchen knife, you know…. vegetable cutting”. I think to myself there’s one paradoxical vegetable I would like to cut right now, we know the way back, drop his body in a crevice, no one will ever know. All things in perspective my knife was only 25 rupees and what Hamid lacks in intellect he makes up for in kindness. For now he lives, unless of course we run out of food.

To find a campsite without cattle would be too much to ask. Every patch of grass in this country appears to be precious grazing ground. A curious cow wanders from the herd and comes by our camp, discovering Hamid’s bar of soap left on a rock by the creek. After a brief inspection it’s in his mouth, followed by chewing and foaming; my belief authenticated - cows are more stomach than brains. Now if it were the same cow that ate Pete’s sock then I would understand.