Finding Jim

Finding Jim

by Susan Oakey-Baker


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781927330708
Publisher: Rocky Mountain Books Incorporated
Publication date: 09/28/2013
Pages: 366
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Susan Oakey-Baker has twenty years of outdoor experience, having spent time ski touring, mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and biking all over the world. She has worked as a nationally certified backpacking guide in Africa, Nepal and North America and has guided more than 100 people, ranging in age from 16 to 85, to the top of Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, for the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia. Her photographs and writing have been published in Pique magazine, the Alpine Club of Canada Gazette and the Canadian Alpine Journal. She lives in Whistler, British Columbia with her husband, Joe, and their 6-year-old son, Sam.

Read an Excerpt

Finding Jim

By Susan Oakey-Baker

Rocky Mountain Books

Copyright © 2013 Susan Oakey-Baker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-927330-71-5




Jim Haberl first kissed me on a commercial sailing trip in the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, in 1982. He was 24 and part of the crew; I was 16 and a passenger. After the trip, he wrote postcards to me from all over the world. We drifted apart, and the next time we connected, I was 26. Jim was working to complete his International Mountain Guide certification, and I was teaching languages full time at a high school in Vancouver, while working part time on my master's degree. I had just spent many months breaking up with my boyfriend, who I once thought I would marry. Silently, I vowed I would not get into another relationship for at least a year.

Over the course of the next year, Jim and I went backcountry skiing, backpacking, rock climbing and kayaking. We watched sunsets at the beach together. We teetered on a tightrope. We were friends, but sometimes we were lovers.

One evening we went for Mexican food in Vancouver. My hands dripped with chimichanga sauce when Jim lowered his gaze. "I've been asked to join a Canadian/American expedition led by Stacy Allison to climb K2."

"Where's K2?" I chirped.

"In Pakistan. It's the second-highest mountain in the world. No Canadian has ever reached the summit. I'd be gone three months, next summer. And Dan Culver will be going." He leaned forward on the edge of his seat. "What do you think?"

"It sounds like an amazing opportunity for you, an incredible adventure. I think it sounds great. And it's a good time in your life, no real ties." I nodded my head up and down to convince myself.

Jim and I had slept together. I had dangled from his climbing rope and gone five days without a shower in a tent with him. Still, I would not put my heart on a chopping block and admit that we were tied together.

The K2 team interviewed Jim in Seattle, and Jim accepted their offer.

We continued to see each other. Two months later, at Christmas, Jim invited me on a backcountry ski trip to Rogers Pass with some of his friends. It was – 30°C and howling. At a rest stop, Jim brought his face close to mine and yelled over the wind, "How's it goin'?"

I wiggled my fingers and toes and pawed at the icy stream coming from my nose. He ungloved his hand and wiped the half-frozen goo from my upper lip with his warm fingers and gave me a reassuring smile. As cold as I was, my body became still, and I stared at Jim as he strode back to the front to break trail. He's so strong, I thought. So together. So confident. So caring. That night, when he asked to share my bed, my heart pounded. I was falling in love.

The next morning at breakfast, Jim's friends peppered him with questions about the K2 expedition. How long would it take? Three months. Would they use oxygen? No, they had made a decision as a team to go alpine style – without oxygen. When did they plan to summit? The beginning of July. Who would he climb with? He hoped to climb with Dan, but that would be Stacy's decision. How technical was it? It is the second-highest mountain in the world but considered by many to be the most dangerous because it is more technical than Everest.

I didn't say a word. He wouldn't be using oxygen. K2 is more dangerous than Everest.

At the end of our trip, Jim drove to Canadian Mountain Holidays' Bobbie Burns Lodge near Golden to guide heli-skiing, and I returned by bus to Vancouver to my teaching. My older sister, Sharron, picked me up from the bus station, and I sat in the car only half listening to her news as my body inhaled and forgot to exhale.

I burst and gushed out how I had fallen in love with Jim Haberl, how he was kind and generous and honest and brave and strong, yet gentle and inspiring.

For the next five months, before Jim left for K2 at the end of May, we spent as much time together as possible between my teaching and his guiding jobs. Our letters and phone calls intensified with that free-fall abandon of young, threatened love.

The day Jim left for Pakistan, he reassured my parents, "Don't you worry, I'm coming back." Dad hugged him and wished him luck.

Jim turned to me, raised his eyebrows and exclaimed, "Wow, a hug from your dad!"



(MAY–JULY 1993)

At the Seattle Airport, Jim stood amongst his six teammates – Stacy Allison, John Petroske, Steve Steckmeyer, John Haigh, Phil Powers and Dan Culver – and 45 pieces of luggage, labelled with purple and whiteK2 stickers. I grew anxious. A current travelled up my body and left me frazzled. I pulled my face tight to stop tears from leaking out, moved into Jim's open arms, kissed his face and pushed a letter into his hand. My voice warbled, "Be careful. I love you. Come home. Have a wonderful time."

Back in Vancouver, I prepared my students for their exams, moved into my first big purchase – a condominium in Kitsilano – biked and rock climbed with friends, worked on my master's, went on a horseback riding trip in the Rocky Mountains and planned a ski trip to Chile and Argentina.

I wrote to Jim every week and envisioned my letters' journey, first by plane to Skardu, then by truck to Askoli and finally by foot up the Baltoro Glacier into Jim's hands at Base Camp, elevation 5000 metres. I sent them special delivery but was not sure it made a difference.

Jim sent letters every four or five days, and I received all but one. Only half of mine made it to him, and the first one took six weeks. None of our letters arrived in the proper order. What follows are excerpts from Jim's letters to me.

May 25, 1993

Dear Sue,

Greetings from Pakistan. I'm sitting on my bed in the hotel room in my underwear, sweating. It's over 40°C outside, and the air conditioning unit is old and can't cope. It's hot, but otherwise things are going very well. The logistics are rolling along smoothly. Tomorrow we leave for the north: Skardu by 24-hour bus along the famous Karakoram Highway, an old silk-traders' route. We had planned to fly, but our reservations didn't make the computer translation from Seattle to Karachi. And flights to Skardu are booked for another 17 days. But though the bus ride will be brutal, it should offer a spectacular view of the countryside and a taste of the local culture.

We spent today changing our 32 kg planeloads into 25 kg porter loads. It looks like we will have 100 porters into Base Camp. It sounds huge to me but Gulam (our cook) said the last Japanese team to K2 had 1300 porters for 25 climbers, and there are only seven of us.

The whole scene here is amazing. Everything is pretty well figured out: porter requirements, helicopter rescue, insurance for porters, cook's equipment, everything regulated and followed to the letter. It is kind of like organizing by numbers – just look at the list and do the next job.

So we're on the move again tomorrow and hope to be on the trail, Inshallah (God willing), on May 30th. Our team has been lucky since I joined it last August, and I have a really good feeling. Keep your fingers crossed.

Much Love, Jim X0X

May 28, 1993

Dear Sue,

We're in Skardu now, our final jumpoff point for K2. In fact, if the weather cooperates, we'll leave tomorrow by jeep for Askoli and begin the approach on Sunday. Very exciting. The pace of the journey so far has been far more hectic than I imagined. It will be fantastic to get on the trail and have long sleeps and steady physical activity.

The bus ride from Islamabad to Skardu was the wildest part of our trip so far. The bus itself, painted and covered in more dingle balls and chimes than all the cars in Surrey, was solid mechanically and came with the world's most durable driver, which was a good thing. For the most part, the road we travelled, the Karakoram Highway, follows the route the Indus River has carved through the Himalayas since the beginning of time. The valley is thousands of metres deep and the road is literally etched into the side of the canyon. I have been on some wild roads – South America, Africa and even at home in British Columbia – where there were blind corners and long stretches of exposed driving, but nothing like this. The Karakoram Highway is on the verge of dropping into the Indus River. It's hard to describe, but if anything had gone wrong with the bus – flat tire, brakes, kingpin on the steering column – we would have been toast. I bet we turned more than 5,000 blind corners, horn blasting to warn would-be oncoming traffic. The entire road is single lane.

Yesterday, Dan, Phil and I tried to figure out how many porters we would need, and thus how much food to buy. We have seventy-seven porter loads, about 1900 kg, but then we need porters to carry the food for the seventy-seven porters, and more porters to carry food for the porters who are carrying food. Then, as we eat the food – 104 porters plus our team members will eat almost 91 kg of food per day – the number of porters we need decreases. So ... how many kilos of wheat flour do we buy? Try 460 kg! Our next job is to load our 2500 kg of food and gear into jeeps and drive to Askoli. The numbers are quite staggering to me. All to climb a mountain!

Hugs and kisses though the mail can't match the real thing, but that will come soon.

Love Always, Jim.

May 31, 1993

Dear Sue,

The road from Skardu to Askoli was another scary, eight-hour affair. For the final few hours, from Dasso to Askoli, the road was etched into the sides of a canyon formed by the violent Braldu River. The drivers negotiated switchbacks requiring two or three-point turns in 4WD low overlooking 150 metres of nothing to the water of the Braldu Gorge, and bridges suspended by cables and free to sway under the weight of our loaded jeeps.

Finally we are walking and tonight is the second on our approach march. The area is spectacular. Big peaks and stark beauty and we are still days from the "real" name mountains of the Karakoram. From today's camp, we can just glimpse the top of Paiyu Peak, the first of the big boys. It is an area of history, fables of mountain travel, summits where heroes are born; and now I'm walking into the heart of it all. Romantic, exciting and just a bit intimidating. I know that once we get going on the mountain, familiar actions and the process of decision-making in a mountain environment will chase any goblins from my head.

* * *

It's now June 1 and we are camped at Paiyu, the final camp before heading onto the Baltoro Glacier, our highway to K2. I just had a wash in the freezing Braldu River, one of those situations that is totally uncomfortable but you know the rewards will be worth it. Rain is pouring on the tent fly and I am thinking of you as I snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag.

* * *

It is now June 2. This morning it was hot and sunny and we caught our first glimpse of the Baltoro Glacier. Behind one spectacular summit, the west ridge of K2 was barely discernible, 50 kilometres away. The objective draws nearer. With good weather, In shallah, we'll arrive at Base Camp in four days. Then our work will begin in earnest.

Today was Eid al-Adha, the Islamic celebration of Abraham's faith in God through his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. I guess God came to Abraham in a dream. In Christianity, God stops Abraham as his sword is poised for the kill. In Islam, Isaac is turned into a goat. Hence the ceremonial slaughter of goats, or whatever animal the family can afford, on Eid. Our porters sacrificed a Zoa (ox) through a ritual slaughter using slow cuts across the neck artery, so that the meat would bleed without stopping the heart – scenes of Apocalypse Now. It was disgusting but an event that is part of the trip and the porters' lives.

Photography has been going well, ten rolls so far and we're just getting into the mountains. I'll be shooting most of my 50 rolls. The people shots, particularly the porters, have been exciting. Lots of expressions and the long line of porters weaving their way along the trail etched into the steep canyon carved by the Braldu River. Both Dan and I are working at the "job" of photography, and we seem to feed off of each other's enthusiasm. I think the final product will be a pretty high standard. Ideas grow daily for writing projects.

* * *

June 4. At 4300 metres the altitude is starting to take my breath away. We're just past halfway to the top, and I figure it's only going to get tougher. I found out today that a German couple is heading down the Baltoro Glacier and they're willing to carry out our mail. A chance to send my love to you – don't want to miss that! You are always on my mind. Some of the thoughts look to the future; some stay tuned to the moment.

Two weeks into the trip now and everything has gone according to plan. I wonder if that pattern will continue on the mountain. I am not going to push things, but with some weather breaks and if everyone continues to share such a great attitude and stays healthy – who knows? Dan and I are getting along famously, and the whole team is doing well. Stacy continues to keep a solid grip on most aspects of the trip. How that control will manifest itself on the mountain remains to be seen. I don't anticipate any problems. Phil has been a fountain of knowledge of Pakistan and the Karakoram; our smooth transition from North America to here is a huge credit to his experience and connections. Doctor John from Calgary is very good; his preparation has been excellent. Steve and John, the Seattle connection, are both team players and round out the K2 unit well. Everyone is healthy and keen – so far!

The Baltoro is spectacular, in a teasing kind of way. We catch glimpses of the great peaks around it, and then clouds veil the summits. It is surely one of the most amazing places on the globe, and the scale is beyond my descriptive abilities and must really be seen to be understood.

Love, Jim X0X0.

June 11, 1993

Dear Sue,

Things are going exceptionally well. Keep your fingers crossed. Today I made my first carry to Camp One, at 6100 metres. K2 Base Camp is at 5000 metres, so the journey to Camp One was a substantial effort. I felt strong and moved surprisingly well for my first crack on the mountain. Dan and Phil went up a few days ago. Dan and I have been split temporarily, but that is not a problem. When the time came for a first carry to Camp One, I decided to give my chest an extra day to clear. The doc, John Haigh, listened to my breathing and sensed tightness in my lungs. I am still convinced it is an allergy, and coming into a clean environment has helped, but the complications of altitude have left me feeling a bit congested. The doc has me using an inhaler, Beclovent, to help with the inflammation. Anyways, to make a long story even longer, my sense is that the chest is clearing up and today's effort to 6100 metres didn't make it feel any worse and made the goblins in my head disappear. I feel competent and strong and very much at home, rejuvenated by the technical terrain. The more time I spend with my "hands on" the mountain, the more comfortable it will become. The summit is still very far away, but I feel strongly that I can look after myself. Stronger every day. Stress is one thing I don't need if I'm going to make a dent on this hill. I feel good!

Tomorrow I rest while Dan and Phil return to Camp One, spend the night and then on the 13th carry on to Camp Two, at 6900 metres! While they're going to Two, Steve and I will return to Camp One with our sleeping bags, spend the night, and the next day carry on to Two and then return all the way to base. Meanwhile, Stacy, John and John will carry for the first time to One tomorrow, rest on the 13th, and then return to One to sleep on the 14th. That's the plan, anyway! Got all that?

The route is great. There are plenty of positive aspects, probably the most encouraging being that the terrain from Advanced Base Camp to Camp Three will be mostly fixed with a series of ropes. This means that it will be relatively easy to back off the mountain quickly in the event of bad weather or altitude complications. It took me less than one hour to descend from Camp One to Advanced Base Camp this afternoon – a vertical distance of 760 metres.

* * *

June 12. Another glorious day, our fourth in a row. And to top it all off, it's Dan's 41st birthday. I got up at 5 a.m. to see Dan, Phil, Stacy, John and John off to Camp Two. Hopefully the weather will hold and Steve and I will get back to Camp One and carry to Two.

Love Always, Jim X0X0

June 16, 1993

Dear Sue,

Just listened to Blue Rodeo's "Lost Together" and my mind really focused on you. Your memory brings such a warm feeling into my heart. I wonder how you're doing. I am anxiously awaiting news from you. I know you're thinking of me. I can sense that, so I don't need your letters, but I want them. I know you and I talked of my being a different person when I get back. It seemed inevitable, after time spent in such a place, on such a mountain. It still does, though how I'll be affected is not clear. Whether I'll want to return to such high and desperate mountains is certainly not a given. I have been exploring the value of this trip in my mind, the nature of the climbing, the people I'm here with and the quality of the experience. The ledger is still being examined. Probably the real outcome won't be fully analyzed until some time after, maybe years.


Excerpted from Finding Jim by Susan Oakey-Baker. Copyright © 2013 Susan Oakey-Baker. Excerpted by permission of Rocky Mountain Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


ONE Beginning,
THREE After K2,
FOUR Beginning Again,
FIVE Taking the Next Step,
SIX Breaking Ground,
SEVEN Day One,
EIGHT Day Two,
NINE Day Three,
TEN Day Four,
ELEVEN Day Five,
EIGHTEEN Day Twenty,
NINETEEN Day Thirty-five,
TWENTY Day Forty-three,
TWENTY-TWO Return to the Queen Charlottes,
TWENTY-THREE Out of the Mouths of Babes,
TWENTY-FOUR Back to Kilimanjaro,
TWENTY-FIVE Don't Waste a Crisis,
TWENTY-SIX Christmas,
TWENTY-EIGHT First Anniversary,
TWENTY-NINE Mother Earth Can Take It,
THIRTY Drawn Back to Kilimanjaro,
THIRTY-ONE Stress Leave,
THIRTY-TWO Beginning a Year To Heal,
THIRTY-THREE Moving Through Spring,
THIRTY-FOUR Scott Returns,
THIRTY-SIX Commitment,
THIRTY-SEVEN Letting Go Again,
THIRTY-EIGHT Do What's Good for Sue,
THIRTY-NINE Drawing from the Heart,
FORTY France,
FORTY-THREE The Perfect Heart,

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