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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Trip Report for K2 & Gondogoro La led by Chris Horobin in August '12

Photo: K2 and Broad Peak from Concordia

Our K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro la group flew back home last weekend after a successful trip led by Chris Horobin and our local Pakistan guide Hassan. From speaking to Chris on the phone on his return to UK it sounds like the trip went well and his group were lucky to fly both ways Islamabad to Skardu at start of the trip and back again to Islamabad after the trek rather than tackle the two day bus ride on Karakoram Highway (KKH). In fact there was a sad incident on KKH while our group were on trek where twenty five Shia muslims were killed in a sectarian attack, for more information take a look at BBC website. While this incident was not directly targeting foreigners it raised the overall risk levels of driving KKH so we pushed PIA hard to get our group to fly back to Islamabad.

As the group flew to Skardu at start of the trip on August 5th they had two nights staying at K2 Motel before starting the trek so everyone had some time to explore Skardu as well as relax in the gardens of the hotel overlooking Indus river. After an exciting (!) jeep ride to Askole the group were ready to start walking. I gather the weather for most of the trek was sunny and fine apart from one cloudy day on arrival to Concordia however the day to K2 Base Camp was completely clear revealing spectacular views of K2 the second highest mountain in the world. Some of the group decided to make Broad Base Camp their final objective as in fact the best views of K2 are from here and then the rest of the group continued onto K2 Base Camp.

At Concordia one member of the group decided he would prefer to walk back down Baltoro rather than cross Gondogoro la, this was organised for him and by the sounds of it his walk out went well while the rest carried onto Ali Camp. In fact this year the group stayed at Ali Camp 2 located higher than original Ali Camp and has advantages as closer to Gondogoro La and avoids the tricky walk over moraine in early hours when dark. Also Ali Camp 2 is cleaner and less dirty than Ali Camp so we would certainly consider staying here again in future years.

This year there were more groups undertaking K2 trek compared to previous years, this is really encouraging for tourism in Pakistan with more people are travelling to this amazing and hospitable country. However for us it meant there were two other groups crossing Gondogoro La at same time as ours and as a result had to wait for an hour or so at top of pass for other groups to descend and clear the ropes. There is a high risk of rockfall while crossing Gondogoro La and this risk increases later in the morning when sun warms the rock face above descent line. This is the reason for leaving Ali Camp in the early hours of morning to cross the pass before frequent rockfall and mudslides are released by the warmer temperatures. In spite of a few close calls our group crossed the pass without incident and reached the lovely campsite at Khuspang, please note a climbing helmet is essential kit to safely cross this pass!!

The feedback I have received from this group is how challenging they found the crossing of Gondogoro La and for most people trickier than they expected. I am well aware of how tough crossing of Gondogoro La can be as I have taken our groups over four times in the past (2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010). There is no doubt the risk of rockfall was increased this year due to their wait at top of the pass however even if one starts descent of ropes at first light around 5.30am there will always be some rock falling down onto the descent route. In fact what many people do not realise beforehand is that probably the trickiest part of the descent is after the ropes have finished as there is a very vague trail over loose rock and moraine with several gulleys to cross before descending to glacier level where there is proper trail to follow down to the campsite at Khuspang.

The other factor that makes descent of Gondogoro La quite risky is the poor state of the fixed ropes supposedly maintained by the "Hushe Rescue Team". Everyone crossing the pass will pay a toll to this local team and in return they are meant to fix the ascent and descent of Gondogoro La as well as escorting trekkers over and provide assistance if required. The ropes have been damaged by constant rockfall so are in a poor state however I am disappointed that 400m of rope donated by The Mountain Company in previous years has never been used instead probably for sale in Skardu Bazaar? After every trek and expedition in Pakistan the leader attends a debriefing at Alpine Club of Pakistan and each time we at The Mountain Company have discussed the issue surrounding the poor state of fixed ropes however unfortunately there have been no improvements over last few fact we now bring 400m of extra fixed rope to refix sections where required however we do not have time or resources to fix the whole pass for our groups.

After one night in Khuspang the group continued down to Shaisho where they spent two nights as at this point they had one day in hand within their itinerary. On meeting jeeps at Hushe village everyone enjoyed the ride through the villages of this spectacular valley and then stopped for lunch in the newly restored Khaplu Palace operated by Serena Hotels, for more information on this lovely boutique hotelAfter lunch the group continued their jeep ride back to K2 Motel in Skardu then next day as mentioned above they were fortunate in being able to fly back to Islamabad by PIA scheduled flight. Most of the group decided to reschedule their flights to fly home a day earlier however I understand they enjoyed a good meal at the legendary Kabul Restaurant in Jinnah Market before leaving to go their separates ways back to USA, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and UK.

At The Mountain Company we try our best to provide detailed and accurate advice to our trekkers about crossing Gondogoro La on people's initial enquiries and as well as providing tips and advice with the run up to departure. It is worth pointing out that this trek is far more challenging on many levels than the classic treks in Nepal or Bhutan. This starts from uncertainty in terms of itinerary i.e flying or driving KKH to Skardu, lack of security and overall risk level of visiting Pakistan, the lower level of facilities and infrastructure while on trek (for example you are very likely to have to cross rivers as many have no bridges). Also the trail itself is tough especially for first three days on Baltoro Glacier from Paiju to Goro Two with moraine and loose rocks as well as significant amount of ascent and descent on the ice ridges.

Having said this if you are prepared for this trek there is no doubt K2 is simply one of the best treks in the world. If you are considering completing K2 Base Camp and Gondogoro La then at a minimum you should have done one previous high altitude trek in Himalaya or Karakoram, have a high fitness level and preferably have some mountaineering experience (although our western leader will also provide some mountaineering and rope training on the trek itself it is better if this is a refresher/ reminder on techniques). I suggest if you are interested in this trek then you get in touch with us, we will send our Pre Trip questionnaire for you to complete. Then once we receive your replies we will let you know if this trek is a suitable objective for you or we will provide advice on how to increase your fitness and experience level to be in a position to join this trek in the future. Or you could consider walking to Concordia and K2 Base Camp then retracing trail back down to Baltoro avoiding the Gondogoro La pass.

I would like to thank Chris Horobin and Hassan for doing a great job leading this group and also of course the rest of our amazing Pakistan crew. I suggest you take a look at the trip report on Chris's blog about leading K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La and visiting Pakistan for the first time.

And lastly you might be interested to read the blog written by Helen Chorlton (Head of Communications at British High Commission in Islambad) who also trekked to K2 Base Camp this summer. This is very refreshing to see diplomats travelling and getting out to see remote places like K2 and reporting back in a honest and informative fashion, well done Helen!

The Mountain Company is organising K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La trek in August 2013 so please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join this group.

Roland Hunter

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