Former Brandonite Ian Welsted, right, and his climbing partner Raphael Slawinski were the first to climb to the top of the western summit of K6 in Pakistan in June and have been nominated for the National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year 2014 award for the feat. In this photo, the two pose for a selfie at the mountain’s top.
The only footprints atop one of the most tortuous mountains in the world belong to a former Brandonite and his climbing partner.
Former Brandonite Ian Welsted and his climbing partner Raphael Slawinski were the first to climb to the top of the western summit of K6 in Pakistan in June and have been nominated for a National Geographic award for the feat. In this photo, Slawinski climbs on vertical ice with Kapura Peak in the background. (SUBMITTED)
Ian Welsted and world-renowned climber Raphael Slawinski were the first to climb to the virgin western summit of Pakistan’s K6 in June — and the feat has landed them a nomination for a prestigious National Geographic award.
The five-day trek to the top of the 7,040-metre summit had been attempted by only a handful of climbers in the past.
Welsted, 41, moved away from Brandon when he was 17 to France where he started his climbing career and now lives in the bosom of the Canadian Rockies in Canmore.
Deadly hanging ice threatening the climbers from all sides, chances of avalanches, steep snow and crevasses were some of the mountain’s features that have kept people from conquering it, not to mention the havoc wreaked on the climbers’ bodies at high altitudes.
To sleep, Welsted and Slawinski had to carve out ledges in the 65-degree-slopes of the old, grey ice face to place their ultra-light nylon tents.
"You chop enough of a ledge to lie down," he said, which takes several hours.
With the summit in view just 600 metres above them on what they thought was the last day of ascending K6 West, Welsted and Slawinski could almost taste the victory over the mountain.
"It looked like it was easy going to the summit," Welsted said.
It wasn’t. They reached a dead end.
"It was quite an interesting psychological situation because we’ve managed to climb peaks to about 6,500 metres," he said, the same height at which the two were standing when serious doubt set in about whether they would get to the top.
So after backtracking, they picked another route.
"We woke up, conditions were perfect, and we summited by 10 a.m.," Welsted said.
Because of that tremendous achievement, National Geographic has nominated the two explorers for the magazine’s annual People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year award, which will be given out in the new year.
However, A far more harrowing moment than any while the duo climbed the mountain occurred at ground level in Pakistan before they reached the base camp of K6.
On June 22, just days before the two arrived in Islamabad, 10 foreign trekkers were executed at a base camp about 100 kilometres from where they were going to set up — the deadliest assault on foreigners the country had seen in a decade, according to media reports at the time.
During their drive from Islamabad north through a known trouble area where refugees flood over from Afghanistan, the news came in to their military chaperone.
"He received a phone call that something was going on and he turned around and said he actually had it on video the 10 people were killed at Nanga Parbat’s Diamir base camp," he said.
They immediately retreated back to Islamabad.
While trekkers and climbers fled the country, leaving the mountains almost deserted of visitors, Welsted and Slawinski, determined not to cancel their history-making trip, made alternate plans to fly north, drive and hike two days to the base camp.
The traditionally peaceful area was almost entirely abandoned by foreign climbers.
The area’s economy heavily relies on tourism and because of western media-driven stereotypes, it was another substantial hit to the economy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
"In the west we see all these images of all the violence that happens in Pakistan and yet this area in the north is very dependent on tourism, and once you get to the north which you can easily do, it’s very safe and people are really happy and eager to see you."
Meanwhile, it’s been a banner year for the Brandon native.
In September, Welsted and Jim Elsinger climbed a previously unclimbed route in the Rockies and the route is now named after them. As well, together with three others, Welsted was recently awarded a $7,000 Canadian grant to climb in Alaska in March.
To vote for Welsted and Slawinski for the National Geographic award, visit adventure.nationalgeographic.com.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 2, 2013