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Ten minutes on top of the world


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It was just before dawn as I pulled the ropes to climb to the top while taking deep breaths. The summit was a only a few feet away. I paused for a while, caught my breath and looked behind. The sky was a palette of orange and blue hues as spectacular mountains were silhouetted in the foreground.

On top of Gondogoro Pass. -Photo by Attique Badar

Descent on Gondogoro Pass. -Photo by author

The weather was bright and clear, I was at the top of one of the highest mountain passes on earth — “Gondogoro la Pass” at an altitude of 5,940 meters above sea level, was viewing some of the highest peaks on earth including Four of Eight-Thousander peaks K2 (Choghori), Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II.

I’d been advised to spend no more than 10 minutes on the summit and then descend to the other side.

Those 10 minutes very easily became the most beautiful moments of my life where I saw the first beam of sunlight hitting K2 — the second highest mountain in the world.

First beam of sunlight hitting K2 peak. -Photo by author

My journey to the top started at 10:00 am in the morning on July 10, 2012 when a team of 27 trekkers left for Ali camp from Concordia. It took us all about six to eight hours to reach to the camp. We crossed through hard rocks and the Vigne Glacier. In many places, the snow came up to our waist and it didn’t take long before our shoes and socks were drenched.

Trekking on the Vigne Glacier towards Ali camp. -Photo by author

After reaching Ali camp in the evening, we tried to dry our shoes on the stove in the kitchen tent, but with little success. The trek to the summit was in just a few hours and we were back on our way, in the dark, without much rest.

We’d been told to reach the summit before dawn. Gondogoro Pass can only be crossed during the night; it involves steep climbs and abrupt descents. Without the sun, temperatures fall below freezing causing the snow to harden, hence lessening the chances of slipping or getting caught in an avalanche.

Time is a commodity in this environment and even minutes wasted can prove deadly.

While at the Ali Camp, we had our meal and then prepared ourselves for the treacherous pass. Taking a limited supply of food packs and water, we started our hike at 22:00 hours towards the pass in complete darkness aided by a little moonlight and our head torches.

The initial trek was difficult to navigate, with the snow being so hard, but eventually our path evened out to a more manageable climb. It took us an hour and half to reach to the base of the Gondogoro pass.

The enormous snow walls were illuminated by the moon light, as I watched a few head torches at a distance going to the top. A few of them were my trek mates, while the man ahead belonged to the rescue team for the Pass who was trying to make the route easy for those following.

Ropes were fixed on the steepest slopes and I had to fix the carabinar into it to prevent a fall. It was hard to climb, especially as the air thinned with altitude and breathing became more laborious.

It took me almost six hours to reach the summit. Even though there was a fear of avalanches, I had come too far to turn back. Reaching the top would be a seminal achievement in my life and a memory that would last me forever. After spending the allowed 10 minutes on the summit I began my descent.

Descent on Gondogoro Pass. -Photo by author

To my surprise, the descent was steeper and harder than the ascent. We had to do it in daylight. I managed to descend down with the help of ropes while snow started to get soft. It took me two hours to climb down. Then I started my hike towards the beautiful lush green camp site of Khuspang, again crossing through soft snow and rocky patches for what seemed like hours.

Khuspang camp site. -Photo by author

The grand Gondogoro Pass quest ended at 1300 hours, the next day at Khuspang . Upon reaching the camp site, I joined my trekking mates for a meal.

Resting in our tents. -Photo by author

As I lay in my sleeping bag, I thought back on the events of the day and realised how memorable the entire experience was. Despite the ropes and gear that we had, it had been an arduous and dangerous climb. I wondered how difficult it must have been for those before us who didn’t have the facilities that I had been provided with.

It was not just another adventure or exploration, for 10 minutes of my life I was literally on top of the world, and any number of words is not enough to define that.


The author is an adventure seeker, travel photographer and writer, who loves mountains, deep sea diving, food and tea. He tirelessly wanders around Pakistan for positive stories. He blogs at You can view his photography here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Danial Shah is an adventure seeker and a travel and documentary photographer with an interest in anthropology. He loves trekking, climbing, deep sea diving and chai.

He tweets at @Danialshah_ and you can follow him on instagram here.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (37) Closed

Danial Shah Aug 22, 2012 02:41pm
The love with such peaks takes you to an extreme level of adventure that is not easily explainable in words and pictures. Though i tried my best, or may be, near to my best...
Taimoor Ali Sep 01, 2012 12:39pm
awesome !
Adnan Aug 22, 2012 11:22am
Awesome post! I climbed this route back in 2004 and it remains one of my most treasured achievements. Your words brought back wonderful memories, especially that of beholding the truly spellbinding spectacle of the first rays of sunlight hitting K2 from the top.
aun Aug 21, 2012 02:46pm
I have been to the place during late mr shah you have driven me to the have covered the beauty in a natural style..thumbs up..
Syeda Aug 21, 2012 02:10pm
Amazing how people could even endanger their lives to spend 10 mins of such solid experience by the beauty! Absolutely amazing ....:) Keep climbing, who knows one day you reach the top of the peak :) Stay Safe Danial
Danial Shah Aug 22, 2012 02:38pm
Yes sir, its a pass. Summit is also referred as the highest attainable level of achievement, not just for the peaks but for the pass too.
FayBee Aug 21, 2012 02:07pm
May be a life!!
Camera Adventures Aug 21, 2012 01:58pm
As an adventurer and somewhat a trekker myself, I could feel being there in spirit; you certainly did justice in taking your readers on a journey of a lifetime on top of Gondogoro Pass for 10 minutes. It wasn't just you who stopped breathing on top but also your readers. It is a beautiful narration of an amateur adventurist seeking out for an adventure through his life's journeys. Keep up with the adventures, and keep inspiring us with your breathtaking journeys and photography.
raika45 Aug 21, 2012 01:05pm
Aree Daniel Sahib, to save 250 rupees, why did to take this arduous adventure? climbing to the pass and spending 10 minutes to catch your breath.Why this Kolavei de? You could have taken the Kutubudin truck passenger express from Concordia to Khuspang using the side road in our open top [360 degrees view] with refreshments [extra payment].Yours sincerely: Meaan Kutubudin {chairman and CEO] one truck passenger service with limited liability. PS: to the moderators.Please do not take this seriously. Just a weak joke on my part.Hats off to this young man that can achieve his vision and at the same time get an earning.Very few of us can do that.
Farooq Aug 21, 2012 01:02pm
The pictures added to your brilliantly narrated story made me feel like I am part of those 10 minutes. You always enjoy the flash back more than the actual advanture! ...
alikhan Aug 21, 2012 12:10pm
just wondering how much would it cost for 10 mins?
Javed Aug 21, 2012 11:42am
Well described... Excellent adventure. Certainly the most unforgetable 10 minutes of your life.
Jehangir Aug 22, 2012 12:00pm
Great...but Gondogoro La is a pass and I don't think you can technically call it a summit.
Danial Shah Aug 22, 2012 10:55am
Its not just 10 minutes. Its one whole big experience of 14 days. Money doesn't matter once you are crazy enough to take on that adventure.
Danial Shah Aug 22, 2012 02:50pm
Ammar, you just gave me a flashback of that particular moment when i also had to come across confronting a lot of my fears, just get to the other side. Once you are on the other side, its like having a new life with spelbound achieve,ent
Danial Shah Aug 22, 2012 10:58am
Bohat lamba joke tha :P. Thanks for the appreciation :)
Danial Shah Aug 22, 2012 10:56am
Asma, i feel poor. The more i travel, the more i feel that i've seen less...
Jehangir Aug 23, 2012 12:01pm
Agreed. You have done well and a good piece of writing too.
Adeel Liaqat Aug 23, 2012 09:58am
Very nice described Danial.
Danial Shah Sep 01, 2012 07:24am
Thank you sir for the appreciation. Congratulations for your latest Spantik expedition. I myself was confused why some people use \\\\
Abdul Jabbar Bhatti Aug 24, 2012 06:12am
Well done Danial Shah, congratulations on a great achievement and what a beautiful narration. When I was going through your article, I found myself in high mountains. I crossed GG pass in 1993 as part of my approach march to Chogolisa. Latest is our successful trip to top of Spantik - July 2012. Please do not mind few corrective notes to your excellent narrative ability, from an elder mountain brother: 1. 'La' by itself means 'pass', so no need to write "Ghondoghoro La Pass" 2. Surely 'summit' has multiple dictionary meaning, but when talking of mountains it necessarily has only one meaning; 'top most point of a mountain/hill', Pass is a lower, passable part on a ridge connecting two valleys. 3. Trekking and mountaineering are two different levels. This type of activity is trekking. I wish all the best in continuing your passion, don't stop there! Jabbar Bhatti
Ahmed W Khan Aug 24, 2012 04:28am
I know, it would be a great experience. All the best for your future trips, hope to see some more amazing images of Pakistan. Best,
Adeel Athar Aug 24, 2012 04:16am
Commendable article for promoting adventure tourism in the country. Besides the passion in Danial Shah fulfilling his list of achievements and covering Pakistan through his lens, this one tops that I know for sure, very well.
Arslan Sep 01, 2012 05:50pm
Awsome work done bro :)
An Ardent Dreamer Aug 21, 2012 11:56am
Looking at the beauty and in the solitude of an early hour is like being in an intimate relationship of the! Absolutely an awestruck moment! Completely enchanted! No wonder people seem to fall so ardently in love with these peaks.....esp Godwin Austen..aka K2 which with its beauty tends to haunt its admirers and tend to stay with them forever!! Bravo Danial....thank you for yet another of your lovely shares.....making a romantic like me to feel as if one of another dream has seen its fulfillment through your eyes.....
Ammar Aug 21, 2012 03:51pm
I climbed Gondogoro back in 2008 and still remember the day very clearly. It was easily the most memorable day of my life. I had to confront a lot of my fears to get to the other side but I made it.
asma javaid Aug 21, 2012 04:00pm
i love your life as i see it through your lens!! you are probably the richest person i know...the more you travel the richer you get :) good luck for every of your trip :)
Rahim Aug 22, 2012 02:04am
I crossed through the same site and that memory still persists in my mind after 3 years. I am blessed to conquer this feet at the age of 19.
@dodgy_helmet Aug 22, 2012 04:22am
Pakistan as a country has everything.
Dan Aug 22, 2012 07:57am
Fantastic feature story. Wish I could have a chance to go one day.
shozabnaqvi Aug 22, 2012 09:33pm
I have been to the pass; got there at at just about dawn, sun had already risen on K2 and it had turned red. We could see 7 different layers of light in the sky. On the descent side it was completely dark! What a site that was! You got the descent part right, it was much harder than the ascent! But I just loved the scenery on the Hushe side, such a change from the barren Concordia side! I have been in love with Hushe all the way upto Khaplu ever since then!
Ali Aug 23, 2012 05:09am
Chu Chu, please stop being a nostalgic little baby! otherwise I'll have to carry you to hushe again! :P Ali
Ali Aug 23, 2012 05:11am
Moderators, I did this trek back in 2004, and the comment above is predicated on Adnan being a friend of mine from university, I'm pretty sure its him, hence the joke, please let it through... Thanks, Ali
serenahotels Aug 23, 2012 05:37am
What a great journey, Danial Shah. Keep up the great adventures!
Ali Aug 23, 2012 05:58am
I climbed this back in 2004 too with my university's adventure society, the sunrise at the top is only topped by the sheer descent on the hushe valley site. Best 24 days of my mountaineering life!
amir Aug 23, 2012 06:01am
I would first like to thank you for exploring and appreciating my Pakistan which has the world's best places kept secret. these are probably the best shots that you have displayed I request you to send me some more on my e-mail id Thank You
Peace Aug 23, 2012 09:28am
Amazing..................i wish i can go there. I love travelling but i think ye mountain climbing ka shook shadi say pahlay pura kar laina chahiye tha. Cuz now its very difficult as my 9 months old baby who recently learn to say "Mama" and now whatever she wants she just shout "Mm mama mama" and me react like "1122" on her every call. Well this life has its all charm Anyway i enjoyed the article and pics a lot keep travelling and writing for persons like me who can't go to these places:-( Good luck and God bless you. stay safe