K2 and the Gondogoro La
In July, 2006, I was forced to take a couple of months holiday thanks to UK immigration law. What a shame. I dropped into Pakistan for a few weeks on the way back to Australia and did a 3-week trek through the Karakoram, seeing K2 amongst other huge Karakoram mountains and climbing over a pass called the Gondogoro La.
We were fortunate upon arrival in Pakistan to get on an internal flight from Islamabad up to Skardu, the largest town near the Karakoram. This was no ordinary flight. Our Boeing 737, no tiny plane, gathered views of the ever-heightening mountains as it travelled north. Upon reaching Nanga Parbat (a mountain over 8000m high), it took a right-hand turn and commenced its descent into the huge gorge preceding Skardu. Fortunately, the pilot had flown this route before and we made a safe landing after navigating the gorge.
Another day's drive and we were at the start of the trek. We were in very old but reliable Landcruisers and spent the whole day clinging on for dear life as the 4x4s were thrown around the relatively new road/track which is under constant pressure from landslides off the surrounding mountains. As an indication of the state of the road, it took 8 hours to travel 100km.
Finally, we started the trek alongside the local support crew. Temperatures had been 45 degrees (C) in Islamabad so it was a relief to be trekking in the relatively cool mid-30s. Our path was well-trodden but across difficult terrain as these steep valleys have been carved out by huge glaciers and rivers. Several river crossings were made, and our prayers were answered by safely crossing the raging rivers across wobbly bridges.
Over the next week, the trek took us up the Baltoro Glacier towards Concordia. On the way up, we passed a few groups who couldn't get over the Gondogoro La due to bad weather. Would we make the pass? But this meant it was cooler for us walking up the valley. We passed the well-known Trango Group and Cathederal Peak, relatively small Karakoram mountains of 6000m high.
Concordia is one of the most amazing places on earth. It is at the junction of a number of huge glaciers and has views of several 8000m peaks. Not too bad at all. We had been walking for well over a week and the only time we saw K2 was literally for the last 5 minutes walk into Concordia, as there are so many other huge mountains around that hide its view, even though it''s the world''s 2nd-highest mountain.
There is a helicopter tale to tell from this trip. No, I didn't need to be rescued this time. A Pakistani army helicopter landed at Concordia and a group of western men in far-too-clean outfits stepped out. We were curious to see who they were and it turns out they were Dallas oil tycoons! The story gets better. They had flown to Pakistan for only a week to visit Concordia so had thrown an insane amount of US dollars at the Pakistan Army to fly them up here. They were trying to figure out where K2 was so we pointed out that it was the highest mountain (well, duh!). I think we could have told them we'd climbed K2 and they would have believed us! Having trekked for well over a week (ie. no showers) we were looking a little shabby so one of the Americans asked if we were getting "real jobs" when we were back in civilisation! Fortunately they only stayed for less than an hour so we had Concordia to ourselves once again.
We spent several days at Concordia just gazing at the awesome surroundings. We had a day trip up to K2 base camp, which at 5000m high is bigger than anything in the Alps!
Unfortunately, it was time to leave Concordia all too soon, and we walked up the Vinge Glacier to Ali Camp, the last camp before crossing the pass. A left-hand turn would have taken us to the Siachen Glacier, at well over 5000m it is the highest battle ground on earth. Every now and then, tensions flare between Pakistan and India so fighting occurs here.
A midnight start meant we were on top of Gondogoro La at sunrise to see the clouds clear up for an awesome view of the huge mountains surrounding. Gondogoro La is somewhere between 5,600m and 5,900m high depending on which guide book you read. Then down the other side which proved a bit of a challenge as it was icier than usual. Everyone made it safely and we had a welcome day's rest at camp in the valley underneath.
We gradually made our way down the valley to a village called Hushe. We made a few side-trips on the way down to make the most of our time there. The weather remained perfect for the rest of the trip so we were very lucky to make it over the pass. But the monsoon had hit Islamabad, so we couldn't make the exciting plane trip from Skardu, and had 2 long days driving down the Karakoram Highway (KKH). We were running late, so arrived at an army checkpoint after sunset. They were insistent on giving us an armed escort as we were driving through an area known to have Taleban influence in the dark.
Upon opening the bathroom door at our luxurious hotel on the KKH, I was greeted by lots of cockroaches - something like out of an Indiana Jones movie! So we thought better of having a shower (having not had one for several weeks) and waiting just one more night....
All in all, a great trip!
Our trip leader posted this trip report on the Jagged Globe website.
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