The men at the machine gun waved as we pushed our carts by, in the hot and humid Pakistani night. We had landed an hour before, and now exited the Islamabad airport on foot, with four carts piled high with our expedition duffels.
Our driver had tried to pull his van directly up to the airport, but had been denied entry by the security guards. So now, just outside the razor wire barrier, we heaved our bags over a low concrete wall and into the idling van. I count each 70 pound duffel, making sure all twelve make it aboard.
The freedom of unencumbered movement, moving light and fast, is my favorite part of alpine climbing. I like to travel in that style as well, packing conscientiously and skating by with the bare necessities. But here, on my first trip to Pakistan, my first true "Expedition", I'm learning that moving heavy luggage is the first step on a successful climb.
For the next two months, our team of three will shepherd our 12 duffels, plus hundreds more pounds of food and fuel, across rivers, up glaciers, and over passes. We will build a well-stocked base camp and advanced camp, and ultimately set ourselves up for "light and fast" attempts on some remote and gigantic mountains.
Far from the nearest REI, we'll carry extras of all the important items, since equipment seems to break when you need it most. We have 8 60m ropes, to account for the inevitable shredded sheaths and core-shots. We have five tents, to stock each camp and still have a light tent for climbing. We each have a wardrobe of clothing, with layers for every environment from desert to arctic.
In order to transport all of our gear, we will form a large expedition team, with porters and a cook. This, of course, means equipping the entire group to travel and live in the high mountains with us. Our base camp will be about 4300m (14,000') above sea level, which means that it could snow there even in mid-July. For locals accustomed to hot and dry desert living, we have waterproof jackets and pants, plus gloves, hats and puffy jackets. We brought tents and sleeping bags for the small crew that will accompany us for the entire 6 weeks in the mountains, and harnesses, boots, and ice tools for them to carry loads to higher camps on the glacier.
If this is all beginning to sound excessive, I understand! I haven't even yet mentioned food, of which we'll bring a ton (nearly!). This style of expedition climbing is new to me, and the logistics of supplying and transporting the team are just as important as weather, fitness, or actual climbing ability. Fortunately, my team mate Steve has been on big expeditions for decades, and his wealth of experience should set us up for success.