Whilst on our expedition to K2 and Broad Peak the year before, Wojtek and I had taken four days off and made an excursion to reconnoitre the Gasherbrums. We were very intrigued by them, especially by the south-west face of Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I), and conceived a plan to bag two summits during one expedition. At the Ministry of Tourism in Islamabad we had lodged a proper application but… only for the route on the south-west face of Hidden Peak. We couldn’t afford to pay for two climbing permits, so had to make do with one mountain...
At the end of May we were on our way, bound for the mountains. In the vicinity of Urdukas, just before we got to the Baltoro Glacier, it started to snow. Rare as it was at that time of the year and unheard of at the beginning of June, it just kept on snowing. In no time we were back in the depths of winter, conditions that our porters were somewhat ill-prepared for. And then like manna from heaven, a German expedition on its way back from Broad Peak, hove into view. On one of the first days they were on the mountain one of their climbers had been killed, so they decided to wind up the expedition and go back. As they were approaching our camp, their liaison officer hurried forward and, visibly intrigued, had a closer look at our “battlefield”.
‘That’s a problem? It’s no problem!’ Their officer was suddenly angry.
‘That’s a problem? It’s no problem!’ Their officer was suddenly angry. ‘You pay them for it and their duty is to obey. Where is your liaison officer?’
Here he did put us off our stroke and we had to be creative about it. Our LO, a true military officer, had said two days before that because of his bad leg he must return. We didn’t mind it at all, to tell the truth, since his absence would usefully play into our hands later on. But now we were forced to somehow explain his absence.
‘He’s no longer with us. He had to leave the expedition due to bad health.’ Their officer waited no longer but took things into his own hands, and when he yelled at our porters, they sprang to attention at once. He talked to them, and though I couldn’t understand their language, his words appeared to carry both the threat of the stick and the appeal of a carrot.
Now we were going to Islamabad again and the Tourist Ministry was our first address to collect the promised permit. A Ministry official shifted his weight in the armchair as he noticed us in front of his desk, or so I thought. Instead of reaching for a stamp to seal our papers, or for our dollars to be paid for the permit, he welcomed us with one question.
‘So what was the matter, gentlemen, with Broad Peak last year? Did you go to the summit or not?’
‘What summit?’ we feigned indifference. ‘The leader of the expedition had already been asked about it last year and she explained that…’
‘I know what she said. But it would be advisable for you two to make a written statement about it, too.’
So here was the snare they had laid for us — we’d come to do Gasherbrums but might be refused permission to do so. Wojtek employed all his diplomatic and rhetorical skills, yet to no avail. Forced to produce a written declaration, he concocted a dubious report of our Broad Peak escapade that satisfactorily reconciled both sides, them and us. The official wearied from the sultry heat and the whirr of a huge ceiling fan whose draught kept scattering the papers on his desk: he had little patience to study everything in detail at the end of such a tiring day. In his mind’s eye it was already after sunset and he was sitting with his family at a table laden with their evening meal. He found our explanations to his satisfaction.
Three days later we were at Base Camp. Having pitched our tents we got down… to writing. We were planning an ascent of two peaks, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II, but had a permit only for the former. If we had applied for the latter’s permit in Islamabad a week ago, we could have been granted permission right away. But they would certainly also have demanded to be paid for this permit on the spot, and we had no money. That’s why we were now playing absent-minded millionaires who had simply forgotten to apply for a climbing permit for the other peak as well. We were just at the foot of it, so nothing stood in the way for the Ministry to grant us the permission. With a mail runner gone, we were finally able to devote ourselves to some serious mountain work — with Gasherbrum II to begin with. The acclimatising phase took us to the as yet unclimbed summit of Gasherbrum East at 7,700 metres. We had no permit to do so, but it could, with a little imagination, be regarded as lying on our route. We climbed it on the go and violated no mountain rules in doing so. After a short rest it was time to commence the more difficult task — that of ascending Gasherbrum II via its eastern ridge.