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Ex-Brandonite climber conquers K6

Feat earns nomination for National Geographic award

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Former Brandon resident 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 a National Geographic award for the feat. In this photo, the two pose for a selfie at the mountain�s summit.

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Former Brandon resident 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 a National Geographic award for the feat. In this photo, the two pose for a selfie at the mountain�s summit.

BRANDON -- Among the few footprints atop one of the most tortuous mountains in the world are those of a former Brandonite and his climbing partner.

In June, Ian Welsted and world-renowned climber Raphael Slawinski were the first to climb the western route of Pakistan's K6 -- and the feat has landed them a nomination for a prestigious National Geographic award.

Welsted, 41, moved from Brandon when he was 17 to France, where he started his climbing career. He now lives in Canmore, Alta.

The five-day trek to the top of the 7,040-metre summit has been attempted by only a handful of climbers.

Deadly hanging ice from all sides threatens those who attempt to climb K6, which sits near the Line of Control that separates northern Pakistan from India. Chances of avalanches, steep snow and crevasses are some of the mountain's features that have kept people from conquering it, not to mention the havoc high altitude wreaks on climbers' bodies.

To sleep, Welsted and Slawinski had to carve out ledges in the 65-degree slopes of the old, grey ice face to place their ultralight nylon tents.

"You chop enough of a ledge to lie down," he said.

'We woke up, conditions were perfect and we summited by 10 a.m.'

-- Ian Welsted

With the summit in view just 600 metres above them on what they thought was the last day of ascending K6's western slope, Welsted and Slawinski could almost taste the victory over the mountain.

"It looked like it was easygoing 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.

That was approximately the same height at which the two were standing when serious doubt set in about whether they would get to the top.

So they backtracked and picked another route.

"We woke up, conditions were perfect and we summited by 10 a.m.," Welsted said.

Because of that 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.

Climbing the difficult K6 was just part of the dangerous adventure for the duo.

On June 22, just days before the two arrived from Islamabad, Pakistan, 10 foreign trekkers were executed at a base camp about 100 kilometres from where they were going to set up. It was the deadliest assault on foreigners Pakistan had seen in a decade, according to media reports.

Their military chaperone heard the news of unrest during their drive from Islamabad through an area known for trouble as refugees flood over to Pakistan from Afghanistan.

"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," said Welsted.

The group immediately retreated to Islamabad.

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, then drive and hike for two days to the base camp.

The area had been almost entirely abandoned by foreign climbers.

The attacks on the foreigners was a big blow to the region, which relies on tourism and has struggled since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"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."

Months later, 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 grant to climb in Alaska in March.

To vote for Welsted and Slawinski for the National Geographic award, go to adventure.nationalgeographic.com.

 

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2013 B2

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