Summer's here: Five once-in-a-lifetime treks up north

Whether you are a novice or expert, we have the ultimate Pakistan trekking guide for you.
Published July 16, 2017

Pakistan is a mountaineer’s paradise.

It has four of the world’s 14 8,000m mountains and over 108 peaks over 7,000m and almost the same for those above 6,000m.

There is currently no count for mountains that are within the 4,000- 5,000m range. This makes the possibility of the sheer variety of treks among these giants nearly endless.

While that might be the case, we’ve shortlisted five once-in-a-lifetime treks for you to take this summer, in order of difficulty.

Whether you are a novice or expert, we have the ultimate Pakistan trekking guide for you

The main trekking and mountaineering season ends in September and so there is still time to head for an adventure in the north.

Most of these treks start from Gilgit or Skardu and thankfully, there are flights that go to both cities. If you are not a northerner living in the mountains, one would highly advise that you spend the night in either city to acclimatise to the altitude before strapping on your hiking boots and setting off for your adventure.

Novice: Passu Glacier

Doable for the trekking novice, the whole Passu Glacier trek can take anywhere between four to six hours to do depending on how fit you are.

The common way of going about it is to go to Borith Lake and order your lunch.

Your driver/guide will then drive you up to the starting point from where you start your hike through a small rocky valley.

The difficult section is the incline before the glacier. Survive that and you’ll come face-to-face with the head of the glacier.

It’s a great place to take a few moments in meditative silence before making your way back. If you are quiet enough, you might even hear sounds of the glacier cracking and melting.

Beginner: Nanga Parbat base camp

Concordia Camp Site under snow with the view of K2. ─ Photo by Danial Shah
Concordia Camp Site under snow with the view of K2. ─ Photo by Danial Shah

The trek to start off with for most people is the one that leads to one of Pakistan’s mighty 8,000m mountains — the Nanga Parbat.

Although there are three approaches that lead to the base camp, the most popular one starts from Fairy Meadows. Spending the night here to acclimatise to the altitude is important.

You can also enjoy a breathtaking view of the Naked Peak right in front of you.

There are wooden cabins and the option of staying in outdoor tents for the night.

It’s a relatively easy trek to do and something that can be done within four to five hours.

Those who are more adventurous prefer going a little further, spending the night, and then returning to Fairy Meadows the next day.

This is the perfect trek to do if you are starting out and somewhat unsure about hiking in general.

Having said that, most people, by the time they return, have been bitten by the trekking bug.

Amateur: To Concordia/The K2 base camp

A popular hike for those who want something a little more challenging.

Waking up at Camp Concordia to the mighty K2. ─ Photo by Danial Shah
Waking up at Camp Concordia to the mighty K2. ─ Photo by Danial Shah

There are many tour operators offering this trek for those who are interested.

It’s not entirely for beginners as walking uphill on a glacier for days on end can be quite challenging.

But at Gondogoro Pass, you can see all four of Pakistan’s 8,000m mountains — Godwin Austin or K2, Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat and Masherbrum.

The camp itself is at a whopping 4,600m. The entire trip can take anywhere between 11-14 days to complete starting from Skardu via the Askole Valley and back to Skardu.

You can take an alternative route through Ali Camp, Gondogoro Pass and via Hushe Valley on the way back — although it won’t be an easy climb.

The important thing is that on the descent from Gondogoro La, people descend on ropes already fixed there by the Army and other rescue teams as it is a very steep descent.

It’s also somewhat expensive with costs ranging anywhere from Rs80,000-200,000 per person depending on how ‘comfortable’ you want your trip to be.

This includes cost of porters, food, camping equipment, guides, etc.

Moderate: Shimshal Pass trek

Nanga Parbat as seen from Fairy Meadows. ─ Photo by Danial Shah
Nanga Parbat as seen from Fairy Meadows. ─ Photo by Danial Shah

This is not an easy trek but definitely a must-do.

The Shimshal Pass trek can take anywhere from 15-18 days and kicks off from the remote, but beautiful, Shimshal village.

The trek takes you up seemingly precarious inclines through Shimshal Pass (4,745m) and Shapodin Pass (5,000- ishm) as well. You have the option of climbing one of the local mountains Minglikh Sar (6,050m).

This trek, although strenuous, has its positives: the going-off-the-beaten track and the stunning views of the mountains and glaciers.

Camp by the riverside and be completely immersed in nature.

What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, and this trek may push you to the limit if you are a physically-fit-but-trekking novice, but it will be worth it.

And finally, the mother of all treks…

Expert: The great Karakoram

This epic journey which starts in Gilgit and ends in Skardu (or vice versa) covers Snow Lake and goes over the Hispar Glacier and the Biafo Glacier.

This is neither for the faint-hearted nor for a first-time trekker.

This epic journey can take up to 20 days to do.

Most adventure companies start from Skardu and move on to the Askole Valley — it’s the same start you’ll take as when going for the Concordia/K2 Base Camp trek.

From Askole one route takes you to the Baltoro Glacier (for the K2 Base Camp trek) and the other towards Snow Lake (a part of the Great Karakoram Trek).

The camp is situated at an altitude of 4,000m. Getting on the glacier where the camp is located isn’t easy.

“There is broken ice, stones and fear of crevasses,” said Arslan Ahmed, a professional mountaineer who runs a popular online mountaineering news blog called Northmen Pakistan, “but once you are on the glacier, the walk is pretty straightforward and easy.”

This is also the point where you ‘rope up’ with your trekking mates.

Moving forward, there is no greenery for miles around. “You get the feel of what it must be like in the north and south pole,” says Arslan.

Finally, after this point, the next stop is Snow Lake.

Trekkers spend the night at this dreamy, magical place to acclimatise to the altitude.

“Because the next day, you have to cross Hispar La, which is about 5,150m high,” says Arslan. “This entire time from Mongo onwards, you are walking on the Biafo Glacier.”

After the Hispar La crossing you head towards Kanni Bassa, while still trekking over the glacier.

This is the point where the trek has formally turned towards Hunza.

You walk past several points and finally reach the Hispar Village, from there to Huru and then finally to Karimabad, Hunza.

At this point you are in the middle of civilisation and Giligit is a two-hour drive away.

The Great Karakoram Trek has taken you across the Northern Areas, and you can safely now call yourself an ‘accomplished’ trekker.

The writer is a member of staff. She tweets [@MadeehaSyed][4]

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 16th, 2017