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Trekking the Karakorums

When I first considered going to Pakistan some 10 years ago, it was the thought of the endless mountain landscapes of the Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindu Kush that really drew my attention.  Finally, when I had the opportunity to visit this vast land in 2015, they certainly didn’t disappoint.

For anyone remotely thinking of going north from Islamabad and up in to the Hunza valley, I can certainly recommend tagging on a few days to make the trek up to Rakaposhi Base Camp.  Sounds like fun?  Then read on…..

Trekking in the Karakorum

 

As tasty as it had been for the last 2 weeks, I was   feeling slightly fed up with curry in its various forms and as I sat looking at Rakaposhi peak (7788mtrs) up the valley, in a little cafe in Minapin town (2030mtrs), I was astounded to find chicken and chips on the menu and quickly ordered a large portion – yes!  It didn’t disappoint.

We were introduced to our guide, Ali, with whom I instantly knew we were in safe hands.  Stories of climbs to beyond 8000mtrs were lightly mentioned and you quickly realised the capabilities of the guy.

Kit checked, we stocked up on water and were on our way.  A donkey was available for our backpacks, but we preferred to carry our own gear, as said donkey looked to have enough to contend with, carrying our kitchen tent and provisions.

We wound our way out of the village on a stone road, admiring the crops that each little farmstead had growing in neat rows.  From dried apricots to cannabis, they seemed to cater for every eventuality!

Crossing the water flow from Minapin Glacier on a small wooden bridge you realise the sheer scale of what is to come.  This flow is carefully managed and harvested and turned in to electricity by the nearby hydro electrical plant.

The walk really started from here, on a narrow track up steep switchbacks, and as we slowly ascended, the burning in our lungs began, as the air got thinner.  For many this could have been a walk in the park, but ascending 1200mtrs to Tagaphari basecamp, carrying our gear, was certainly a little higher than the Lincolnshire plains, which I’m used to.

Lunch was provided in an area that looked to be right out of the Sound of Music, with green fields and a trickling stream.  Ali was keen to press on, should the glorious weather change, and how right he was.

Climbing over the ridgeline, some 4 hours after leaving Minapin, we get our first view of the Glacier proper, and it’s time to don a warm jacket as the icy blasts off the glacier pound us.  We see some less prepared ‘Punjabi’s’ from the south making the trek in light clothes and trainers, and realise how lucky we are to have Ali by our side.  There seems to be no love lost between the tribes of the north and the people of the south.

The final stretch to base camp is along a narrow path with a vertiginous drop to our left hand side.  By now we were out of the wind, so a little more comfortable and grateful of a nice hot brew waiting for us at our camp for the night.

Base camp is little more than a flat green area with Minapin Glacier’s moraine to one side and hills to the other.  However, in close proximity are the mighty peaks of Diran and of course Rakaposhi.  My colleague, having not felt the altitude as much as myself, decided he needed to climb a further 200mtrs for a ‘view’.  I preferred setting up my camera, perched on top of the moraine, for some stunning views of sunset across the glacier, with the peaks in the back ground.

I am always surprised by the amazing food that gets served on treks, with little more than a dented pot and a small fire!  Ali didn’t disappoint us, with a large array of tasty and filling food.  Our evening was punctuated by an escaping donkey, complete with trailing rope, and for some reason Ali thought by grabbing on to the rope, he could stop the donkey.  He was lifted off his feet and dragged along the ground like something out of a Carry On film, but still hung on!  We were not much help as it was one of the funniest scenes we’d seen in a while and neither of us could walk for laughing!  After a circuit of the campsite, with Ali in pursuit, he finally came proudly back with the donkey in tether.

With a good guide, Minapin Glacier can be traversed without any major skill or crampons.  There are certainly serious moraines to cross to get on to the glacier, and major pitfalls to the unwary, but as I said before, we were in safe hands and Ali picked a route through the various craters and ice mounds.

Hopefully by saying that in 4 hours we didn’t quite cross the glacier, it gives you some idea of scale!  Our trek back, with the day’s melt water in full flow, was a little more difficult.  This is where you could see the real skills of the guide.  He picked us a route around the flows, and with a few jumps and climbs, we safely reached camp again, exhausted.

During our 2nd night there were no donkey runs for the hills, but the food was equally as spectacular.  With zero light pollution, the stars were spectacular and neither of us could resist an hour of playing with our cameras to try to capture the scene.

All too quickly the descent had to begin, and our camp was broken as we took our last glimpse of this stunning array of mountain scenery.

To have not added in these days to our itinerary, would have meant missing out on one of the most impressive hikes I’ve completed in my life.  How many times do you get to cross a 16km long glacier, surrounded by 7000mtr+ peaks!?

Mark in local dress - after the trek!

Mark in local dress – after the trek!

Mark’s trek can be added to any of our Northern Pakistan trips – please ask for details:

Pakistan Karakorum Highlights (15 days)

Pakistan Karakorum Highlights and Chitral Valley (21 days)


 

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