Nearly 4 years ago I was sitting on plane at the airport in Islamabad, Pakistan…waiting to take off. There was a flight delay, but of course we were only made aware of this once we were on the plane and sitting on the taxiway. After a short while we finally got into the air, but it was obvious quickly that something was wrong. Our flight path, that was supposed to be north/north-west out of Pakistan, took a sudden and stark turn to the Northeast. It certainly wasn’t a gentle maneuver as the plane banked the opposite direction somewhat suddenly.
We continued on this flight track for a while, before we gradually began banking back to the northwest. But it has a harsh pull on the stick of the Airbus, and the windows on the side of the plane were looking what seemed like directly down at a snow-capped mountain range. It wasn’t a single peak, or a single snow covered mountain that got everyone’s attention. It was what looked like an alien landscape, with towering peaks nearly as far as I could see out the window. Snow covered mountains, grass valleys, mountain passes, incredibly small villages that looked barely able to harbor life; this was my view for about 25 seconds.
I remember how awed I was at the sight of those mountains, and that civilization. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but that didn’t stop it from burning the image into my mind.
Years later, as my obsession with climbing picked up in earnest, I continually thought back to that day- the first time I saw what I thought were “real” mountains, and how I wanted to climb them. But the question nagged me, what mountain did I see? What was I looking at? With the help of Google Earth, I think I might know.
The safest and easiest guess is the Hindu Kush range, which is 250-300km north of Islamabad. The more appealing but less likely option is the range were K2 lives which is nearly 350km to the northeast of Islamabad. The directionality makes the K2 area a candidate, but it’s hard for me to tell if that’s more wishful thinking, as it certainly adds a sense of mysticism to the beginnings of my desire to climb.
In the end, I don’t know exactly what I saw that day. But it was inspiring, and it has stuck with me ever since.