To be bold is to be patient

To be bold is to be patient


Sitting where the air is thin is easy on icy cold summer nights. Snowflakes ever-so-gently land on my cheek; I observe them on the tip of my index finger. I love layers, but it’s not often you see mountains going back five-six-seven fold. Even on the horizon, the mountains don’t seem to get smaller, somehow, they get taller. I’m staring at what they call the ‘savage’ mountain, I wouldn’t know its killer instinct from my Little Rock beneath Laila. As usual, I think of the trivialities that fly around in spaces I can’t see. I find warmth in my bag and a flame beneath the pot of melting snow for my tea; my face softens in abundance. It took a lot to get here, but I like how it highlights that I don’t need a lot.

Laila Peak stands at 6096m and is one of the most recognisable peaks along the grand Karakoram Highway. Laila stands confidently alone in a country with five of the world's fourteen '8000ers' and has a distinctive sharkfin-Esque peak with a straight-edge 55-degree slope that runs down 800m. Our small team consisted of Chris Lininger and Jackson Groves. Chris is a guide in Pakistan and was returning for his 15th trip to the country and Jackson has recently come off two 8000m summits (Makalu and Manaslu in Nepal). Commercial mountaineering has seen an exponential boom with the popularisation of summiting big mountains and setting audacious records. Simply put, we didn't want to be around it. Adventure has always been the North Star for the three of us and Laila was the enigma that pulled us in.

Trekking from Hushe to Saicho and from Saicho to our basecamp, I was in perpetual awe. The grandiose nature of the surrounding landscape was spectacular. As an Australian, I felt out of place. My horizons typically seem to go for infinity till oceans blend into skies, yet in Karakoram, I was walking from one amphitheatre to another. Our time at basecamp was limited to ten days; within this time, we had to find a 3-day summit window. An ideal summit window would provide little wind, reduced avalanche risk, clear skies, and no rain.

I lost ten out of the eleven card games we played and focused heavily on hydrating at base camp. In the hope of mitigating any risk factors that may sway the mission, self-admin is the best thing you can do whilst waiting to climb. As the days passed, climbers passed by our little camp as they marched out of the Baltoro. Many had come from K2 looking weathered and talking wearily as they shared small insights. It was both humbling and confronting as they informed us of climbers that had fallen and died. Mountains demand respect and hold no place for arrogance or ego.

Day by day we worked on the language barrier with our guide. In doing so, we uncovered the potentially insurmountable challenge that awaited us. Realisations came in from all directions, we'd all be lying if we said we weren't out of our depth. All commercial mountains have fixed ropes to the summits, usually by sherpas. Additionally, it's understood that the guide has been to the summit or knows a route to get there. We had no ropes and no idea how to summit. Unprepared we may seem, but the information was scarce or otherwise in Spanish. We called in another guide who was a specialist at high altitude (one who had summited K2, 8611m), requested extra rope, and doubled our ice axe count. Summiting Laila would be a hail Mary, but we were ready to give it a shot.

Traversing through snow, scrambling up rock faces, and taking one step back for every three forward we eventually made it to camp one. Camp one was one of the most epic campsites and 'tent views' I've ever seen. The remarkable views made it easy to put a pause on the focus at hand. Juxtaposed against the beauty, headaches lingered as pressure protruded all sides of my brain. At 5100m, I was at my highest ever altitude and was starting to feel the effects of it. No matter how 'conversational' it may seem when climbers lightly throw around extraordinary mountaineering achievements, being at altitude is no small feat. It packs a punch.

After a night of poor sleep and a sachet of oats, we made our way to camp two. Camp two was situated at the base of Laila Peak, and it was here that we stared eye to eye with the now notorious sharkfin. Our strong and confident guides both looked puzzled. Like us, the severity and magnitude of summiting Laila hit them. The amount of rope we had would not make the length of the summit face, and the high traverse towards the summit presented extreme exposure. The route to Laila offered drops with imminent death. At this stage, it was rumoured that no Pakistani guide had ever been to the top and only 8-10 professional climbing teams had ever reached the summit.

Rarely do we take on something bigger than us where the odds of failing far outweigh the chances of succeeding. We learned many lessons and had a great adventure; our 'failed' attempt highlighted the gap between where we are and where we need to be. Instant gratification doesn’t sparkle in the eye of the devout nor does it satisfy the desires of big dreamers. Ultimately, we did not have the experience or the know-how to make the summit of Laila Peak. Life is worth living, and these mountain traverses will still be here for us next year. Bold it may be, but with patience and further skill acquisition, we will be back Laila.


Words by Josh Lynott

Images by Jackson Groves