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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

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