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It was a very restless night. As I lay on a glacier, in my warm sleeping bag, over a cold, hard, inhospitable and uneven surface. The silence of the wilderness was absolute and I was trying to get some sleep but the erratic and terrifying sounds of the heavy avalanches did not allow me to do so. To make it worse, the diluted oxygen level of the high altitude made it difficult to breathe. Thus, I spent the night tossing and turning in my constricted sleeping bag with some hope of catching much needed sleep.
It was still dark when I heard rain drops over my tent. And around 5:00 am, my tent lit up by the first light of the day. I inched forward to sneak out half way from my sleeping bag and unzipped my tent to catch a glimpse of the outside. The beauty of the scene had the celestial aura of a fantasy world! The sky all bright and clear, the camp site all carpeted with snow. Everything within my view was pure and white, surrounded by high grey mountains. A moment truly magical and of pure bliss!
Amongst the tallest 14 mountain peaks of the world that are above 8000 meters, Pakistan proudly bears five. And, of those, four peaks can easily be seen from the Concordia, a camp site at the elevation of 4600 meters. The tallest and most magical of the four is K-2 (8611m), the second highest mountain of the world, also known as 'Choghori' by the locals. The other three peaks are Gasherbrum I (8080m), Broad Peak (8051m) and Gasherbrum II (8035m). This is the very reason why Concordia has been labeled as "The Mountaineer's Paradise.”
At Concordia, the Godwin Austen glacier from K-2 flows into the Baltoro glacier from the north. The name Concordia is of Latin origin, meaning ‘harmony with the heart’ and was first used by a British mountaineer, John Frederic Hardy for a place where two or more glaciers meet, thus the name was then adopted for this camp site in the Karakoram Range.
As I stood out of my tent, with the sun still behind the mountains, light rays broke through high peaks to present to me a remarkably spectacular view. To my east, shining brightly were Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II, whereas to my south was the majestic Mitre peak. To the west, were countless peaks all above 6000 and 7000 meters. While towards my north, proudly stood and stands still the breathtakingly beautiful, K-2, shining in front of my eyes in all its glory.
In late 19th century, the Englishman Sir Francis Younghusband, the first westerner to have witnessed the mountain up close, described K-2 as “A mountain of stunning dimensions. It seems to rise like a perfect cone, but incredibly tall” and he surely did justice to its brilliance.
I have always been befuddled by the coinage of the name K-2. “K” means Karakoram and rightfully, it should have been K-1, being the highest mountain in the range. But because of inattention of a British surveyor Thomas George Montgomerie who during the Great Trigonometric Survey in 1850s sketched the two most prominent peaks in Karakoram, labeling the 7280 meters Masherbrum (ranking 22nd highest in the world) as K1 and 8611 meters high Chogori as K2. The former came later during his journey hence, unfortunately the name was carried forward and the second highest mountain on earth became “K2”.
My initial motivation for going to Concordia was only to see the K-2 with my naked eye. That mountain has been haunting my imagination since childhood, a dream to fulfill. But I never knew I would come across such spectacular beauty along the way. Reaching there is a formidable feat. It took me a week’s trek to actually get to Concordia, another day’s wait to to get the mountain in my sights and descend back in four more days. The route that runs to the Concordia camp site is a remarkable journey of exploration and truly a mountaineer’s haven.