In the heart of the Pakistani Himalayan mountains
Laurent Boiveau, mountain guide and photographer, has just come back from Pakistan where he spent about 40 days and, especially, 15 in autonomy on skis with a pulka. A 100 km journey, between 4 500 m and 5 600 m of altitude in incredible sceneries.
How do you prepare such a trip?
There is a big part on the work of the itinerary with the GPS and Google Earth: we have to check that there are not too many seracs and that a plan B exists, just in case. Then, the second part is the management of the precise weight of the pulka, to see if it fits or not… And it never fits, it is always too heavy! Everything counts: food, essential technical equipment, etc. For the material, we were helped by Alain Blanc, owner of Jean Blanc Sports and by Gilbert Sports and we had handmade skis, Rabbit on the roof.
I always say to myself that it's going to work but in fact, we are not Mike Horn! I had to carry a little over 60 kilos and my partner, Barbara, 40. We had trained in the Avals valley. On the spot, we suffered in the fresh snow, it was really hard. But we kept in shape, I lost 7 kilos!
Once in Islamabad, what was the next step?
We went directly to the mountains to reach Shimshal, the starting village, to recruit porters. A superb place in the wakhi country. We then started 7 days of trek in gorges and in very remote places. Once we reached 4 700 m, we passed the Shimshal pass, we arrived on the Bradlu glacier then the porters left us with all the gear. The start went very well, in alleys of blue-green penitents which can reach 30 m high. The snow was hard, so the pulkas were sliding well. Then it started to snow, the environment disappeared, it was hard with the ground movements, the bits of moraine on the track… You don't see anything, you don't know if you go up or down, you are seasick! That blocked us, we had to stop, to start again 1h or 2h during a sunbeam. Before arriving at the pass, the weather went good, it was magnificent. But it started to be very cold! Once we reached the pass, there was not a cloud in sight for a week and it started to get very hot (20 degrees during the day, -15 at night!).
What were the highlights of the trip?
We had to make monumental efforts to progress in the powder. Once, we even had to go back and forth with a half load. Sometimes, we skied 20 kilometers a day because it was going downhill, sometimes 2…
The landscapes were magnificent, in particular the sight on Snow Lake, the Baintha Brakk and the towers of Solu. On the end of the journey, we saw our first bird, an eagle. We also saw tracks of a snow leopard, a fox…
There was nobody except in Snow Lake, where we met a Swiss expedition, the crew from the movie "The List" with Jérémie Heitz. They were shooting the sequel and I even found a mountain guide friend I hadn't seen for 20 years!
How did the end of the trip go?
We started the descent of the Biaffo glacier during 3 days, then we met again the porters of the village of Askole, the baltis, from the Baltoro region. Then we had two more good days of infamous moraine before arriving at the village. We made a small pause there to visit, to meet people… The wife of Aman, the chief of the porters, made us food : it changed from the freeze-dried products ! We stayed a little in his typical and ancient house, then we left towards Skardu and finally, we returned to Islamabad.
What was the hardest part?
The deep snow because you have to make a phenomenal effort to move forward. For Barbara, it was the permanent cold, she was fed up at the end. You have to like the rock, the ice, being lost…
And then, we had a stove problem: no water, no kitchen, it is difficult to manage! We kept gasoline for the stove in plastic bottles, some of them had contained soda and we had not rinsed them well, so the stove got dirty. We had to clean it thoroughly every day, it was very stressful!
Let's go back to Courchevel where you live, what are your ideas of exploration?
In winter, the slopes of the Aiguille du Fruit and around the Rateau, there are plenty of possibilities and always a couloir to ski!
In summer, the climbing site of Praméruel is very well equipped with small and big climbs, from 4 to 7b. When it's hot, it's perfect for climbing.
More information about Laurent's adventures on www.tekenessi.fr