Who carries the load

This was a feature I wrote for Alpinist magazine. It is available on their website for subscribers. Here it is for my clippings.

The first warning was a sharp crack that punctured the stillness like an exclamation mark.

Porters crossing the upper Baltoro glacier

Porters crossing the upper Baltoro glacier

At 4240 meters, Urdukas camp sits on a series of terraces among the looming boulders of a moraine wall. More rocks perch precariously on the mountainside above. Most expeditions stop here on their way up the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan. It’s warmer than the sites on the glacier, but the truly notable feature is the view: on a clear day, you can look out on mountains that jut like jagged teeth over the glacier’s tongue. Uli Biaho, Trango Towers, Cathedral Peaks. Names that resonate with mountain lore and forms that evoke a silent awe.

On August 16, 2011, the summits were obscured by a low ceiling of cloud. The mountains, the sky, the glacier—everything was a gunmetal grey. It was early afternoon. A gentle drizzle fell. The trekkers were in their tents. The porters huddled under sheets of plastic or in whatever dry spots they could find. Eight of them sheltered under a large boulder. The stone was the size of a house, but at some point in the past, it had split in two. One half leaned way out, creating an overhang, cantilevered in place by the weight of the other half and by a few smaller boulders wedged underneath.

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