SKI-TRIP IN PAKISTAN by Juliette WILLMANN
After a busy winter of travel and skiing, I had the opportunity to return home to Chamonix on May 5th 2022. My plan was pretty much set, to start to plan my summer and do some spring skiing at home.
Last minute change of plans, on Sunday 8th May, I was offered to go to Pakistan in a week. An opportunity I couldn't miss.
After a chaotic preparation and a feeling of high tiredness, here I am in the plane towards Islamabad, the Capital of Pakistan, more excited than ever.
Before leaving, I asked myself a lot of questions: "What is the place of women in this country, in the region where we are going? "Is it really dangerous? Is it just clichés that we have about this country?”
The goal of the trip for the boys was to go skiing around the summit: Falak Sar, a 5980m high mountain located in the SWAT valley east of Islamabad. This valley is still relatively unknown to mountaineers. Indeed, it was under the control of the Taliban until 2009, and then at high risk until 2018. Since then, it has been calm and the mountains are just waiting to be climbed and discovered. My personal goal was to ski the surrounding area, try to go in altitude to get a first experience up there, and take Beth skiing when the boys were focused on their summit.
After travelling all day by bus to the village of Kalam, we took a 4WD for 3 hours to reach the foot of the mountains and start our walk to the base camp, with the help of several porters to carry our gear plus the cooks'.
Indeed, we had a great team with us:
- The cook Zaheer
- His assistant (the trainee as they say) Nazeer,
- A local guide Ahmad
- A policeman Sattar.
And the five of us:
- Tom Grant (American guide and skier)
- Bine Zalohar (former Slovenian freestyler and mountain enthusiast)
- Aaron Rolph (Photographer and adventure enthusiast)
- Beth Haeley (English doctor, companion of Tom Grant)
- Me (the Child of the group, who loves skiing and adventures)
We all live in the Chamonix valley, because of our passion for the mountains.
We took two days to reach the base camp, I was very sick, I couldn't walk 500m without vomiting, yes, very classic in this country. Finally, two days of walking and 1500m in the moraines after, we arrived at the foot of Falak Sar, where we found a relatively flat place to put our base camp.
My first day of skiing in Pakistan will stay in my memory, as the boys had gone to scout the glacier, we took a different route to explore the surrounding area.
On the way to the moraine we were surrounded by the giants, which didn't really allow us to see everything around us, so I decided to climb a ridge to see what was behind.
As we left, Ahmad the local guide and our bodyguard said "Me coming with you Juliette", ok so here we go, serene I didn't take trainers and we started walking with our ski boots in the good big boulders of the moraine.
Beginner's mistake! There was no snow until hundreds of meters on the other side of the ridge.
Once on the snow, I saw the weather deteriorate, so we skied a small slope, just to say that we had put the skis on. It was a unique moment of sharing, as our two friends showed us their acrobatic talent in the snow, in trainers. I think this is one of the most beautiful memories of my life.
For me this trip was above all about discovery and a unique experience. Whether I ski beautiful slopes or not, my intention was to live the moment at 10000 percent.
Throughout the trip, the weather played tricks on us, relatively unstable, we did not have many days of good weather.
The two best days allowed the boys to climb to the summit and to ski the first ascent of the West Face.
t was the first time in my life that I was at the bottom of a mountain while my friends were up there. I can't remember being so stressed and anxious in my life. Without news, I feared for them, as we only had satellite phones and our in-reach to keep in touch.
I experienced their day from below, without binoculars to observe them. I was waiting for one thing: to see little black dots coming down the glacier.
We took the opportunity to ski up a nice slope, but the feeling of anxiety was too strong, I wasn't ready to take risks while my friends were on the next mountain shooting pitches in the ice. We skied some good spring snow and then slowly made our way back down.
The rest of the time was spent at the base camp with our Pakistani friends, laughing, dancing, reading, writing to pass the stressful time.
Around 7pm, the boys finally appeared on the glacier, my heart started beating again and we were able to join them in the moraine to celebrate their ascent.
The joy of the Pakistanis was contagious, and we could only be happy to share these moments of life.
The next few days we went skiing together and gave a ski lesson to our friends, Bine and I are ski instructors, so we had a great time sharing our passion.
Especially when your clients are Pakistani and have never seen some ski and have no idea what to expect.
With the bad weather, we spent a lot of time at base camp doing nothing: all our brains were racing and we were trying to get some fresh air and decompress whenever we could.
I had no experience of expeditions, I had never spent two weeks in the mountains, in a tent, at an altitude of more than 4000 metres. You hear it, you read it in books about expeditions, you hear it from friends who have had adventures like this: after a while you lose your mind.
So yes, we have also experienced clashes, arguments, so we speak badly, we cry, we apologise and we laugh again.
Living at altitude, without a phone, cut off from the world, is a beautiful adventure in life.