Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Trip Report for Snow Lake and Hispar La trek in Pakistan led by Ade Summers in July '16

Photo: Biafo Glacier (credit: Mar Knox)
Our Snow Lake and Hispar La group arrived to Islamabad on July 10th and were lucky to fly as planned to Skardu on 11th. It is worth pointing that in the past this flight has been unreliable and often cancelled. If the fight is cancelled then we drive the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”) and spend the night in Chilas along the way. At the moment Foreign & Commonwealth Office ("FCO") to Pakistan advises against travel on the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”) and therefore at point of booking we require a signed FCO Awareness Disclaimer from all clients. This document confirms that person joining the trip assumes and accepts the risks associated with travel against FCO advice.

Since we last organised a trek in Pakistan back in August 2012 the flight to Skardu has become more reliable as there are more planes flying the route from Islamabad to Skardu so these days the chances of having to drive KKH are reduced (although of course still possible). In fact over Summer 2016 of all our groups both Snow Lake and K2 Base Camp treks were lucky as they flew both ways Islamabad to Skardu and back to Islamabad.

Photo: Snow Lake (credit: Mar Knox)
As the group flew to Skardu at start of the trip they had two nights staying at K2 Motel before starting the trek. On July 13th the group drove in jeeps along the rough road to the village of Askole at the road head. Along the way there was a landslide blocking the way however they managed to cross the land slide on foot through an area with active rockfall with small rocks regularly falling. The guides organized the group to quickly cross this hazardous area with with spotters looking out for falling rocks. This is the reality of adventure travel in Pakistan where roads are often damaged by landslides so before booking any trip to this country you should make sure you are comfortable with this level of risk and uncertainty.

Photo: view from High Camp (credit: Mar Knox)
When our group arrived to Askole, Ade met a German group and their Pakistani guide who had attempted Snow Lake trek although had to turn around and trek back to Askole. After detailed discussions with this group Ade found out there were large crevasses 30m to 40 wide blocking the route to Hispar La. At that point Ade got in contact with TMC office in London to discuss the situation and we both agreed to continue with the trek and to check conditions at Hispar La to see if possible to proceed with the traverse into Hunza.

On July 14th they started their trek following the K2 Base Camp trail for three hours to Korofong (3,100m) then from there the Snow Lake trail turns to the west and ascends the Biafo glacier. As mentioned in K2 Base Camp trip reports, most of the high mountain treks in Pakistan like Snow Lake trek do not pass through any villages so this is very different to trekking experience to Nepal. The trek to Snow Lake passes through rough and rugged terrain. As there are no villages in this area the trails are less well travelled and there are no bridges over the rivers so you must be prepared for river crossings.

Photo: High Camp at 4,580m (credit: Mar Knox)
I gather from Ade for the first few days of the trek the weather was fine and quite hot however after a couple of days the weather became cloudier and there was heavy rain in afternoon. The trek proceeded as planned however there was heavy snow fall on the day before heading up to Snow Lake causing difficult conditions on the glacier. When there is fresh snow on the glacier this can hide the crevasses and also cause slippery conditions underfoot. At this point the decision was made by Ade to turn back and retreat to Askole given the low chance of finding a way through the large crevasses on way to Hispar La and also due to the fresh snow making glacial travel riskier for the group and crew.

After some discussion with TMC Office and our local partners in Pakistan we rescheduled their itinerary.  The group walked back down Hispar glacier to Askole then drove back to Skardu for one night and then drove around to the end point of the trek at Karimabad. The four people who had booked onto the K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La trek decided to stay a few more nights in Karimabad and the rest of Snow Lake group with Ade flew back from Gilgit to Islamabad as planned.

Photo: roped up traverse to Snow Lake (credit: Mar Knox)
I think it was a real shame that this group were not able to cross Hispar La over to Hunza valley as I understand it is disappointing not to achieve the objective of the trip. When I heard this news from Ade I was surprised as many groups have crossed this pass over the years however for some reason the conditions of this glacier has dramatically changed.

From speaking to the local guides they thought these large crevasses may have been caused by two recent earthquakes experienced nearby in October 2015 (magnitude 7.5) and April 2016 (magnitude 6.6). This affect was reported in local Pakistan at the time although from Kyber News article it is not clear which glacier they are referring to. The other contributing factor likely to have influenced this change in conditions is global warming as it has been recorded that many glaciers in Himalaya and Karakoram are melting fast.

Photo: Khalil, Javed and Mark dancing at camp (credit: Mar Knox)
After Snow Lake, Ade went on to lead our K2 Base Camp groups and on return to Askole at end of August met a group they had also return to Askole after attempting to cross Hispar La as they were also unable to cross due to these crevasses. As far as I know no other groups managed to make the traverse from Askole to Hunza via Hispar during Summer 2016. For this reason we have decided not to run our Snow Lake trek in 2017 as we are not confident with the current conditions however if a route is found through these crevasses next summer then we will look to organize Snow Lake again in 2018.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Ade checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for our 2016 Snow Lake

Thanks very much to Ade, Javeed and Wahab plus the rest of the Pakistan team for their hard work in leading this trek.

I have copied feedback below from one member of Snow Lake group: “Excellent trek in a remote part of Pakistan to the beautiful Snow Lake. Very professional, safety conscious and organised. Excellent individual service.” Mark S

As mentioned The Mountain Company will not organize Snow Lake in 2017 however we are promoting both our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La in Pakistan for July 2017.Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join one of these groups next summer.

Roland Hunter

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Trip report for Ladakh Sky Trail GHT led by Almas Khan in August/ September 2016

Photo: Tshokar salt lake
Our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT group arrived to Leh in northern Indian on August 17th and on 19th drove to Lamayuru (3,500m) and 20th they started the trek. Our Ladakh Sky Trail is a unique itinerary designed by Almas and travels through the best of the three areas of this region: Ladakh, Zanskar and Changthang/ Rupshu. For most of Ladakh Sky Trail GHT we follow rarely trekked trails and this is only possible due to the local knowledge of Almas and our local Ladakhi guides.

As for all or our treks in the Himalayas we received bespoke weather forecast from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com. Fortunately the weather was good for our 2016 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT trek and I gather from Almas there was less snow on the high passes compared to previous years. This meant that the river levels were low and there were no issues with river crossings. Amas knew this year's horsemen well as they had worked together on treks several years ago and are the best we have used so far on this trek. I gather due to low river levels and experienced horseman the horses did not need to be unloaded and reloaded during the many river crossings so this speeded up the days.

Photo: river crossing son way to Zangla Sumdo
As mentioned in previous year’s Trip Reports we have carefully selected the time of year to run this trek, by starting in late August into September much of the snow in the mountains has already melted over the summer so river levels should be lower at this time of year.

As the weather and conditions were favourable the group made good progress and followed the itinerary as planned. The whole group arrived to end of the trek at Tsomoriri lake on September 9th and then on 10th drove back to Leh. As with all of TMC western led treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can see the map of this trek on SPOT Adventure website

Photo: on way to Lingshed
Thanks to Almas and the hardworking Ladakhi team for doing a great job on another successful Ladakh Sky Trail GHT. Almas will be back in Ladakh again next summer leading our 2017 Ladakh Sky Trail and we have already requested for the same local Ladakhi crew to join our group. Please get in touch soon if you are interested in joining our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT or if you have any questions on this trek.

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Trip Report for K2 Base Camp treks in Pakistan led by Ade Summers in August '16

Photo: K2
In 2016 we decided to run two treks to K2 Base Camp in Pakistan at the same time: our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and our K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La. The plan was for both groups to walk together to K2 Base Camp then one group would return back down Baltoro and the second group from Concordia would follow Vigne glacier and ascend over the Gondogoro La pass to Hushe village. After the trek both groups were scheduled to meet back up again in Skardu then travel together back to Islamabad. These K2 treks were led by Ade Summers and supported by Pakistan guides Javeed and Wahab.

Our K2 Base Camp & Concordia is a non-technical walk however for a large portion of this trek follows a moraine covered glacier. The feedback received is this trek is more challenging than similar treks such as Everest Base Camp in Nepal. We recommend K2 Base Camp to experienced trekkers who have trekked to high altitude in the Himalaya on a previous occasion and experience in the outdoors such as regular walking and hiking in home country.

Whereas if you plan to join K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La trek then mountaineering skills are required to cross this technical pass. At The Mountain Company we have a process of reviewing pre trip applications sent in through our website before providing feedback on suitability and whether any further training is required. I have noticed from having led K2 Base Camp trek many times over the years that often other groups underestimate the challenge of crossing the Gondogoro La. It is important for safety to have mountaineering skills and experience of previous high altitude treks before considering this trip.

Our K2 Base Camp groups arrived to Islamabad on July 30th and were lucky to fly to Skardu on 31st. It is worth pointing that in the past this flight has been unreliable and often cancelled. If the fight is cancelled then we drive the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”) and spend the night in Chilas along the way. At the moment Foreign & Commonwealth Office ("FCO") to Pakistan advises against travel on the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”) and therefore at point of booking we require a signed FCO Awareness Disclaimer from all clients. This document confirms that person joining the trip assumes and accepts the risks associated with travel against FCO advice.

Since we last organised a trek in Pakistan back in August 2012 the flight to Skardu has become more reliable as there are more planes flying the route from Islamabad to Skardu so these days the chances of having to drive KKH are reduced (although of course still possible). Our K2 Base Camp groups were lucky as they also flew back to Islamabad after the trek too.

As the group flew to Skardu at start of the trip they had two nights staying at K2 Motel before starting the trek. On this extra day in Skardu the group enjoyed exploring the town and bazaar as well as walking up to the fort located on a hill overlooking the Indus river.

On August 2nd the group drove in local jeeps along the rough road to the road head at the village of Askole. On August 3rd they started their trek following the fast flowing Braldu river. Unlike treks in Nepal on K2 Base Camp trek there are no villages once one has left Askole. The trek to K2 Base Camp passes through rough and rugged terrain with impressive peaks flanking the Baltoro Glacier. As there are no villages in this area the trails are less well travelled and there are fewer bridges over the rivers so you must be prepared for river crossings.

We have carefully designed our itinerary for gradual acclimatisation and unlike most other companies we decide not have two nights in Paiju (3,383m) as this is too low to benefit from acclimatisation. Instead we continue onto Urdukas camp (4,130m) where we have two nights as this more beneficial at this altitude.

We made one change on our itinerary for summer 2016 as we now have one night at Concordia on the way up and then on next day we shift camp up to Broad Peak Base Camp. This works much better as one can walk up to K2 Base Camp from Broad Peak Base Camp then back down to Concordia. Whereas in the past we walked from Concordia to K2 Base Camp in a day and this is a very long way on rough moraine covered glacier. In practice this day walk is too far for most people and it is disappointing if group cannot reach their objective of K2 Base Camp.

I gather from Ade the first few days of the trek the weather was very hot and then they had rain at Urdukas followed by cloudy conditions for Concordia and trek to Broad Peak and K2 Base Camp. However luckily the group did see the mighty pyramid of K2 however not as clear as our groups have enjoyed in the past. The weather had been unstable in Karakoram from last week of July and this had fallen as snow that had accumulated on Gondogoro La.

One of the main risks of crossing this pass is rockfall and mudslides especially when fresh snow starts to melt. As a result the local Hushe Rescue Team were not in place to help teams over the pass. Therefore Ade made the decision that it was not safe to cross the pass and sadly our Gondogoro La group descended Baltoro with our K2 Base Camp team. The good news is that all eleven members of this group successfully made it to K2 Base Camp. Well done and congratulations!

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Ade checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for K2 Base Camp

Thanks very much to Ade, Javeed and Wahab plus the rest of the Pakistan team for their hard work in leading this trek.

I have copied some feedback below from one of K2 Base Camp group:

"This is a great company that provides point by point communication and attention to details. The head guide was well chosen to blend the needs of all the clients. The food and food preparation was excellent. Attention was paid to care and cleanliness to avoid illness on the trek. The local support crew was excellent and was also on target with camp preparation and helping the clients. The camp sites provide great views of more 7 and 8000 meter peaks than most any place in the world. The timing of the trip length was excellent to help with acclimatization. The whole package from start to finish makes this group and this trek one of the best treks on the planet." Doctor Phil (USA)

The Mountain Company is promoting both our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La for July 2017. We decided to organise these treks one month earlier compared to 2016 as there may be better chance of clearer weather and for crossing Gondogoro la in July. There is already interest in these departures so I am confident this will run as planned.

Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join one of our K2 Base Camp treks in July 2017.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company