Passu Expedition: Part II
Once at the lake, all the supplies and luggage had to be carried down a steep slope to the boats at the edge of the water. It took 2 hours to get to Ghulkin where we were to take a jeep to Borith Lake, the starting point of the trek. Here was another hidden paradise with a lake and the first view of the Passu glacier.
The next day we started our 2 day trek to base camp. We followed a solid and well-constructed water channel built by the local people access water from the glacier. We walked along the ridge with the Passu on our right till we came to a quiet pasture settlement and stopped for lunch before descending on to the glacier. The settlement was deserted although we had seen a group of women leading their herd back to their village along the water channel. On the way I met a twelve-year-old girl who was helping her mother and grandmother herd their livestock back home. The child approached me with a confident smile, greeted me in English and asked where I was from. Her mother and grandmother could not even speak Urdu. Everything about these women from their mannerisms, clothes and conversation spoke of the drastic changes that swept through parts of Gilgit-Baltistan over the last 3 decades.
I met Wazir Aman on the second day of the trek. We were slowly trudging our way up a steep and relentless 700+m ascent to Patundas - a vast meadow that lay at the top of a wall of mountains. It had taken me a day to settle in with my pace and get the rhythm needed for the long haul. We had crossed the breadth of the glacier the previous day, climbed the moraine on the other side and camped along a few shepherd’s huts on the mountain. The ascent on our second day was the final push to Patundas meadows. But the climb to this long awaited landscape was steep, the path was hot and dusty and the late morning sun burned our skin a blazing red. Aman was struggling under the burden of his load. As he walked a few paces in front I noticed all the weight he carried was mounted and tied to a metal frame that was strapped with the entire load falling on his shoulders. Proper mountaineering backpacks are specifically designed to hold the weight around the waist and avoid any burden on the shoulders or back. I could see the strain on Aman’s face as he kept stopping to put down his load and take a breather. He was not used to such physical exertion but he needed the money and Rs 5000 for 4 days sounded like a lucrative option.
Aman dropped out of NCA where he studied art till he felt he didn’t have enough talent and decided to move back to Gojal. He began researching the qualities of the seabuckthorn plant, a thorny and resilient shrub found in places where most plants cannot survive. Most of the seabuckthorn in the world is grown in China and has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries. Aman invested in the simple machinery required to extract juice from berries of the plant and set up Mountain Seabuckthorn Products, his personal business with an office in Rawalpindi as well.
The porters were going to carry our supplies to base camp and return while the expedition team continued ahead. Aman left the same day and said we would meet at Ghulkin near the lake on our way back. After an hour’s walk over the rolling hills of the lush green plateau we finally came to our descent and looked down on the spotted colors of the campsite 200m below in a narrow ablation zone between the mountain and the moraine. The moraine separated the glacier from the row of mountains by a mass of mud and rock that had been pushed up by the movement of the glacier. Passu peaked at us from behind the clouds as the team stood together to study the route past a treacherous ice fall as the glacier rose up the mountain slope to hide behind a dark veil of clouds. The summit was not going to be easy.
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(January 19, 2018)
(January 05, 2018)