Having never been to the Karakorum before, I really had to take the opportunity to lead a trek up to K2 Base Camp. At least once in life, a bit like Everest, you should at least see the Baltoro and K2.
I knew the Baltoro’s reputation for rough glacial walking. I knew I was going up through a lot of snow over the Gondogoro La on our return. I wanted one boot for the whole thing, that would get me up the Baltoro Glacier, a boot for staying warm while admiring sunset behind K2 from Concordia and to still get me up the icy glacier and over the pass at 5,585 m (18,323 ft) in my crampons, with a start in the cool midnight hours.
I’m a Lowa Ambassador, so I am biased as is anybody who is sponsored, though my way in was through buying, using and liking their boots long before working together with them. They made great boots, they fit. They always worked very well for me. And these boots just seem to work the best of all.
Could I trust one boot to do all that? I was skeptical. But I had spotted a new pair of boots and I was willing to give them a try.
They were bright orange, I much liked that.
They were climbing boots first, so they would put me close to the earth which I value highly, less likely to tip over.
There is nothing more important as climbers than how we stay attached to the earth.
And picking footwear should be simple.
- What will you use them for?
- How do they fit?
- And of course the performance question, are they fast and fun? (Why buy anything that doesn’t allow your feet to have and look like they are having fun.)
- Are they good value? Buy less, spend more for quality, love them to death.
You want to have grip, and to front point confidently if you have to. And at the very least to hop and skip along the trail and over the rocks and ice, and still to be comfortable at the end of the day. Hopefully with all your toes. Luckily if we get it right these days, getting frostbite on our feet is pretty much over.
It was so hot on the lower Baltoro I wandered along in approach shoes for a few days, a rocky trail but easier to just walk up it in shoes. We’d met the explorer Mike Horn in Askole, just back from K2.
Then walking along through the sand and the brush and the occasional rock tumbled off the cliffs above, out of the heat haze, in pretty much the middle of nowhere, wandered Garrett Madison.
With snow on K2 reputed to be, ‘over our heads,’ retreat only seemed prudent. We updated on all things mountain in 20 minutes.
Then I hit the Baltoro Glacier itself and the walk quickly became all it was supposed to be.
Up and down, and round-a-bout. And all that again. With loose black boulders and slippery ice and rocks falling into glacial pools. The boots were very grippy (not scientific, but descriptive, grippy is good). I’d worried they might be too stiff, too much of a climbing boot, but they weren’t. They rocked along and their close cropped soles kept my feet where they should be without that snowshoe feeling of hiking boots.
Being a climber, that whole wide welt, wide platform thing has always made me uncomfortable. I like to have my soles curve into the rock and know what is touching the ground, not waterski up or down the hill. Staying close to the earth is all-important.
In the mornings, double socks, the Borge Ousland recommended light synthetic inner and medium wool outer were toasty warm. Glacial pools were easily stomped through.
Did I mention light, crazy light, like feathers on my feet. Every once in awhile I’d have somebody else pick one up. Yes, agreed, super light. The 'SL' in the boot name, in other words.
Light when you are walking for weeks, or climbing is all important. Psychologically, you go lighter, and you also feel faster, more efficient, more able to cover ground and do longer days. Every little bit helps.
We had great weather on the Baltoro, mostly. Then part of the group headed back down the Baltoro and some of us headed for the Gondogoro La escape route. That was soon the end of the good weather.
At midnight there was a clear sky and we were off. At 2 a.m. we crossed Snow Leopard tracks and it was like a black cat had crossed our path. The clouds built and the snow started to fall. Thin, then thick, then pummeling down flakes.
We slipped on our crampons and started up the ropes, – the turny twisty ropes, with down jackets on, windproof on, hoods pulled over our helmets and around our faces.
Orange boots glowing in the headlamps beam.
Would I stay warm? I awaited the chill, the cold, but it never came. There was a bit of insulation there even in the lightness, which paired with a good pair of Lowa wooly socks, toasty. We kept moving and crested the pass just after dawn. It was a full on blizzard. The views of K2, of Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums were nowhere to be found. We took a quick huddled photo and dived down the other side. Rumors of a grassy valley, flower filled fields, glacial pools and then pine trees drew us on.
We started the down ropes, the 20 or 30 twisting, slipping, 14mm thick with ice ropes. At least the snow kept all the loose rocks from falling on our head. It cleared below, cloudy above, toes still toasty and dry, but not much else. I’ve long been supportive of lacing the boot lowers looser on the way up, and ankle up a bit tighter, to keep the foot in place and plenty of toe room. On the way down, I like to tighten the lower boot right up, keep the toes from slipping forward after a long day, and loosening the uppers marginally to let the ankle flex. With the laces locking off in the locking eyelet halfway up the laces, this simple adjustment is quick, easy and highly effective.
By 2 p.m. we were in Camp, 14 hours from Camp to Camp. The orange boots were still in their element, the crampons snapped on and off, grippy on wet rock, good on the snow, wading though the puddles and down the long trail at end of day.
And yes still orange, very orange.
My other worry was were they tough? Would that black rubber snakeskin effect really work? After the 3 weeks, not a scale had pulled off, the sole looked new.
They are ready and waiting for my next climb.
Specific Likes for the Lowa Alpine SL GTX:
- Flame Orange – why not.
- Light – super-light.
- Comfy – from walking to climbing to crampons to long descents.
- The lace lock (I-lock) – easy to adjust tightness high or low depending on conditions.
- The Neoprene cuff behind the ankle – comfy and effective at keeping scree and snow out.
- Big pull tabs on the back – easy to pull on. Or hang up to dry.
- Tough, no real signs of wear after 3 weeks on some rather unforgiving terrain. Followed by a weekend walk in The Lakes in the U.K., where every stitch of my clothing was soaked, and my boots still dry.
- Warmer than expected – while not insulated, with a good mix of double socks, were fine at over 18,000 feet in cold conditions.
Watch a minute of video starring The Orange Boot: