K2 Base Camp

Everest Base Camp
 

 

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Since 2002, we have organized three major expeditions to the Karakoram mountains in northern Pakistan, and feel more than confident to set up trips into this region for clients. The Boltoro trek to Concordia – the meeting place of glaciers – and K2 itself, is one of the great hikes of the world.

    Treks into this region are undertaken ‘expedition style’ – everything needed for survival being carried in by a team of porters: food, tents, bedding, tables and chairs, fuel, cooking apparatus and personal belongings. There are no villages along the way, and no where to collect supplies. A group of 16 people would need an entourage of some 80 porters.

    We fly (or travel by bus) to Skardu, the capital of the north-eastern province of Baltistan, and then take a 6-hour jeep journey to Askole, the last village we encounter before the 16-day trek commences.

    For three days we walk up the Boltoro river to Paiju, and from there (after a mandatory rest-day for the porters) climb up to the Boltoro glacier, which leads to Concordia and K2 Base Camp.

    The trail now passes through one of the most sensational mountain corridors on earth, with the Trango peaks (castles, cathedrals, buttresses, spires and pinnacles – all carved in solid granite, and rising to heights in excess of 6,400m/21,000 feet) on the left, and soaring snow-encrusted peaks on the right. One of these, Masherbrum, was originally thought to be the highest peak in the Karakoram, and was designated ‘K1’. It is one of the most beautiful mountains on earth.

    We camp at night on the Boltoro itself, the second-longest glacier outside of the poles. It extends for 62 kilometres, and has been measured scientifically to a depth of more than a mile.  

    The surface of the glacier has a life all its own, with huge chunks of sharp-pointed ice (which resemble the white sails on sailing ships) ‘floating’ on top of the glacier - which is indeed a ‘river of ice’. There are also clear streams of melt-water on the surface of the glacier flowing for many kilometres through narrow channels, before being sucked down into the bowels of the glacier to join the highly sedimented water that flows at rock-bed level. This water later emerges as a fully-fledged river, that passes down the Boltoro valley to the mighty Indus river, three hundred kilometres away.

    There is very little by way of a path to follow through the glacial moraine strewn on the surface of the glacier - rock and rubble, stones and dirt. Each year the route changes as the glacier buckles and breaks up, altering its  course.

    After 8 days of trekking we reach Concordia, where we camp for a number of days, exploring the surroundings, and doing a day’s walk to K2 Base Camp. (It is also possible to relocate the tents, and camp for a night at the base of K2.)

    Concordia, dubbed the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods by the famous mountaineer/photographer Galen Rowell, is a truly remarkable place. Three major glaciers converge at this point, creating a natural amphitheatre that offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Above, four of the world’s 14 eight-thousand metres peaks stand shoulder to shoulder, their soaring summits rising 3,050 meters/10,000 feet into the sky.  

    But there are other famous peaks here too: Gasherbrum IV, Chogolisa, the Golden Throne, Marble Peak, Crystal Peak, Angel Peak, Bride Peak, Mustagh Tower, and in the distance Paiju Peak and Masherbrum – not to mention the four eight-thousand metres giants themselves: K2, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum I and II. The region boasts the greatest concentration of 8,000-metre peaks anywhere in the world, and more than a 100 summits that exceed 7,720 meters/25,000 feet in altitude.

    For all our trips we arrange the dates to give us a full moon at Concordia – a magical experience! With bright moon-light (the skies are so clear!) reflected off the snow on the ground, and glinting off the high peaks above, the ‘throne room’ takes on an unbelievable brilliance. The light is indeed so bright that one can read a book in the open, and take remarkably good photographs as well! Far above, the inky black northern sky is filled with twinkling stars. An awesome sight!

    Weather permitting, it is possible to return to Skardu via the Gondogoro La (pass). At 5,940m/19,520 feet, however, this pass can be treacherous when deep snow prevails. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to return the same way – down the Boltoro glacier.

    But all is not lost, for there is still something to look forward to! Before returning home, we normally call in at Nanga Parbat (8,125m, 26,650 ft) – one of the 14 eight-thousand meter peaks on earth, which forms the western-most shoulder of the great Himalayan range – camping at Faerie Meadow for three nights, and exploring the neighbourhood.  

    Nanga Parbat, at 8125 metres (the sixth-highest mountain in the world), is one of the most majestic peaks on earth with a very dramatic history. It has been called the ‘Naked Mountain’ because most of its slopes are so steep that they can hold neither snow or vegetation. It is also recognised as the deadliest peak in the Himalaya.

    Many famous mountaineering books have been written about Nanga Parbat – indeed, ever since 1895 when A.F. Mummery (the greatest mountaineer of his day) mysteriously disappeared high on its slopes. He is thought to have been crushed by an avalanche.

    It was not until 1953 that Nanga Parbat’s summit was finally breached after an almost miraculous 41-hour solo ordeal (without oxygen) by the brilliant German climber Hermann Buhl, who, incidentally, lost his life four years later on Chogolisa, a fluted peak which can be seen from Concordia. Hermann Buhl’s classic, Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, inspired a generation of climbers.  

    The name ‘Fairy Meadow’, the place where we camp, has an interesting history too. In the 1880s, the famous explorer Conway was told that the peaks of Nanga Parbat were inhabited by fairies. “When the sun shines hotly it smokes up there, and that shows when the fairies are cooking their bread!” he was told. The Pakistan Handbook comments: “More alarmingly, it is also believed to be the home of demons, giant frogs and snow snakes 30 metres long!” Apparently a place to be avoided! The campsite today is located at Conway’s original entry point.

    This trip is long – but it would be unwise to make it shorter. Distances are great, and travelling to and from the Karakoram takes time.

    The ultimate trek surely for those looking for a huge challenge, and something very special!

 

ClickThe Boltoro trek - 2002

 

My first trip to the Karakoram mountains was in 2002, with just a guide and four local porters to help carry my food, tent, bedding and clothing.

    I did the trek at the beginning of October – late in the season, shortly before the winter storms commenced. For 18 days we trekked into the heart of the Karakoram, and in all that time we only saw two other climbers – two elderly Japanese men. Every night I camped alone. The weather was exciting with freshly fallen snow five nights in a row, and clear open skies during the day. The photography was glorious, the gradient gradual, and the pace (of necessity) easy. I acclimatised well, never experiencing even the slightest suggestion of a headache, nausea, or loss in appetite. K2 Base Camp is at 5,488m/18,000ft.

    It would seem that the K2 Base Camp trek, with its incredible scenery, is attainable by any fit, determined hikers, who are prepared to rough it. The terrain is challenging but beautiful – much of the trek being along the bolder-strewn Baltoro Glacier (a river of ice, slowing grinding its way down the valley).

    The glacier has a life all its own, with huge chunks of ice, which resembled the white sails of ships, ‘floating’ on the surface. Gleaming icicles lined the narrow channels which conveyed swiftly-running melt water over the surface of the glacier. The indistinct path we followed was interrupted periodically by non-threatening crevasses, which plunged into the depths below. At night the ice groaned beneath my tent, while the roar of nearby avalanches often kept me awake. At Concordia, the temperature plunged to minus 20˚C; but each morning I woke to find the flush of dawn painting the surrounding peaks with light that ranged in colour from the softest flamingo to fiery gold. The newly-created warmth was welcome. At midday the ice-encrusted summits gleamed like burnished silver in the hot sun; while at dusk a tranquillity rarely known on earth descended upon our little world.  

    Concordia, in the heart of the Karakoram (the meeting place of three major glaciers) was particularly impressive. This must surely be one of the world’s most stunning show-cases. Galen Rowell named it “Throne Room of the Mountain Gods”. Gasherbrum, Broad Peak, Chogolisa, the Golden Throne, Marble Peak, Crystal Peak, Angel Peak, Bride Peak, Mustagh Tower, K2 (the second highest mountain on earth) – yes, the greatest peaks of the Karakoram, they were all there! I read that the Boltoro has the greatest concentration of 8,000-metre peaks anywhere on earth, and more than a 100 summits that exceed 7,620m in altitude.

 

Flights and arrival in Islamabad

I flew with Emirates Airlines to Islamabad via Dubai. The airport officials in Islamabad were courteous, kind and helpful. Someone from customs escorted me (with 58 kgs of luggage – I had taken all my camping gear and food with me!) to the place where I was to be met by my Pakistani hosts.

    The 3-star hotel where I stayed was clean and comfortable, and wherever I went in the city I was treated as a ‘guest’ and made to feel welcome. The officials at the Ministry of Sports and Tourism (anyone going into the Karakoram has to endure a formal interview with the said authorities and have his itinerary approved) were extremely friendly. We spent most of the time talking about South Africa, and Nelson Mandela in particular.

    In the afternoon I changed travellers’ cheques into Pakistani rupees at a bank; and that evening the teller who had handled the transaction for me phoned me at my hotel at about 10 pm. He said that he had spent the whole evening contacting every hotel he could think of in Islamabad, looking for a Mr. Malcolm Pearse from South Africa. Apparently, when checking his business deals for the day, he discovered that he had paid me one hundred dollars less in rupees than he should have! Would I please call at his office next day, he wanted to know, to collect the money owing to me? If that’s not honest, what is! This gentleman could so easily have pocketed the money himself, and nobody would ever have been any the wiser.

 

Safety

It never occurred to me at any moment that I wasn’t safe in Pakistan! Even along the trail I felt perfectly at ease – leaving my boots outside the tent on occasions, knowing that none of the soldiers in the area would touch them.

    The military presence along the Baltoro Glacier was quiet and discrete, yet reassuring. One advantage of having soldiers there is that they are maintaining the trail (what little trail there is!); but there was never any disturbance – certainly no guns firing, rockets exploding, or helicopters flying overhead! What was featured in the film “Vertical Limit” has no bearing whatever on reality – just the figment of someone’s wild imagination, with a lot of Hollywood ‘hype’ thrown in!

 

Contact in Pakistan

The company I chose in Pakistan was Vista Tourism Management Services. I found the leader of their team, Bilal Ahmad, totally reliable, competent, gracious, knowledgeable and easy to get along with – and I’m sure everyone else would too!

 

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