Michele Dalla Palma, a journalist, photographer and professional athlete, guides us through his most striking memories of his journey to Pakistan. Enthusiasm, tenacity and the drive to discover new horizons: Dolomite, a leading brand in the outdoor world, supports and promotes Dalla Palma and all those who love nature and are always on the look out for new challenges.
The desire to touch the perfect mountain with my eyes and my mind has been there for as long as I can remember. I have always imagined it as the "ultimate" peak, the ambition only granted to the greatest and most daring mountaineers.
Years ago, when my climbing fantasies involved vertical lines leading to the tops of mountains, I even dreamed of tackling this titan of rock and ice; and even when the inexorable march of time had quashed my illusions, and my steps followed less challenging paths, the dream of getting up-close and personal with K2 remained. Intact. Until it finally came true in the summer of 2010.
7 June. We leave Askole at dawn. We follow the Braldu, which carries all the waters from the Baltoro glacier down to the Indus. Crossing the mountainside on huge walls of sand built by the river, for a few kilometres we follow the delicate green hues of the last cultivated terraces that break up the evenness of the horizon. Then the angry rumble of the river is the only accompaniment to my steps towards the mountain I have dreamt of since childhood.
Around a bend, Jhula camp appears before me, after almost ten hours of rocks and sand. A collapsed bridge forces us to take a lengthy detour over the moraine of the Biafo Glacier, a foretaste of what lies ahead of us in the following days. A meal of rice, dhal and chapatis is the menu that will re-present itself, unchanging, at each meal throughout this fantastic adventure.
11 June. Not a breath of wind stirs the stiflingly hot and heavy air that bears down on me. The stones emanate waves of sultry heat, whilst the sun, like a colossal blacksmith, hammers its fiery rays on my head. Despite the map's indication that we have gained some 300 metres in height, Guy's altimeter records a total climb of 800 metres today. The sum of a thousand vertical waves, to be climbed then re-descended, in this solid, shambolic sea devoid of logic. At last, Urdukas, the spectacular balcony that clings to the vertical face of the Masherbrum, appears after days of endless moraines, in the belly of the immense snake of ice that slithers slowly but relentlessly between the cyclopes of the Karakoram. Days of walking, each step rendered ever more arduous by the altitude, which has now passed the 4000 metre mark.
But the most inescapable scourge is the dust; with each step, an unstoppable cloud envelops our world. This is the price to be paid by those who dare to touch the great mountain with their eyes and imaginations.
13 June. In the last two days, the ice, finally free from the bounds of its stony burden, seems to swell and rise up above the level of the horizon, which, due to a strange combination of light and perspective, appears lower than the point where I am standing, although I still have far to climb. Despite the altitude, I am feeling good, and now that I am free of the sand, these last stages of the journey feel like an invitation to run: with my feet, and with my mind.
No place on earth can compare, in size or majesty, with the incredible natural scenery of this world, so alien to humans, where all the parts are played by stone giants. The Paju Peak, Uli Bahjo with its pinnacles and needles, the architecture of Baltoro Cathedral, the Trango Towers, and myriad other nameless colossals have formed the prelude to the Titans of the Karakoram, assembled in their exclusive meeting to recall the creativity and infinite power of nature. The Muztagh Tower, Masherbrum, Chogolisa, the immense crown of the Gasherbrums and the great wall of Broad Peak form a frame around the immense arrowhead that thrusts itself into the heart of infinity.
The "White Mountain" of the Himalayan peoples - the unpoetic K2 of pragmatic western geographers - dominates the horizon, a perfect, monolithic extension of the earth's vital energy outstretched towards the infinite cosmos. Like every creature precariously balanced between reality and magic, the greatest pyramid on the planet exerts an irresistible, hypnotic charm on anyone who comes near it. This is why I am here: to be entranced by its stories made of wind, clouds and mysterious divinities that live and breathe with a pace and rhythm unfamiliar to us. Yet more days, step by step through the snow to come closer to my dreams, until I can almost touch them.
Reality is infinitely, ruthlessly distant.
Michele Dalla Palma