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2015 PAKISTAN EXPEDITION

Marcos Costa


PART ONE

“Would you like to join our expedition to Pakistan this summer?” My climbing partner and friend Bruce Normand asked me while hiking down a glacier somewhere in western Sichuan along with American alpine climber powerhouse Kyle Dempster. We had just tried to climb an unclimbed peak, but failed due to high winds and cold temperatures. Even though we had failed and it was still winter, we were already thinking about plans for the coming summer. Life is too short to dwell in failures. Thoughts started rushing through my head as I tried to remember what mountains are located in the Karakoram. K2 came to mind really quick as well as the famous Gashebrum group along with other 8000 meter peaks. However what they had in mind for their expedition in Pakistan were not the great 8000 meter peaks of the Karakoram, but something much harder but equally famous mountains of the Choktoi glacier. Without much hesitation I replied “let’s go!”

The Choktoi glacier is a tributary of the great Biafo glacier which is a 67 km (42 mi) long glacier in the Karakoram Mountains of Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan which meets the 49 km (30 mi) long Hispar Glacier at an altitude of 5,128 m (16,824 ft) at Hispar La (Pass) to create the world's longest glacial system outside the polar regions. The Biafo and Choktoi glaciers presents a trekker with several days of very strenuous, often hectic boulder hopping, with spectacular views throughout and Snow Lake near the high point. The Biafo Glacier is the world's third longest glacier outside of the polar regions. It is here in the Choktoi where the Ogre group and Latok group of mountains is located.


The huge unclimbed North Face of Latok I

Latok I alone has defeated over 40 expeditions in the past 30 years. From the Choktoi there were over 100 expeditions with only on successful ascent up to now. Kyle Dempster and Hayden Kennedy ascent of the south face of Ogre I in 2012.


Our expedition would include Bruce and I in one team, Kyle and Scott Adamson in another and two other Americans, Billy and Jesse on a separate team for a total of 6 members. Our targets would consist of 3 north faces: the north face of Ogre I, the north face of Ogre II and the north face of Latok I. All three faces are over 2000 meters of vertical terrain, unclimbed and tried several times over the years.


Since Bruce and I both live in China we decided to meet up in Kashgar and go over land to Pakistan by taking a bus to Tashkurgan and crossing the border to Pakistan.

Local Delicacies in Kashgar

On June 9th we flew to Kashgar, met up, rounded up some gear Bruce had left behind the previous summer, went shopping for expedition food, dried fruits and local goods and got ready to take the bus to Tashkurgan the following morning.

KAILAS bags ready to go through Chinese customs

The next day we took a beautiful drive through the Xinjiang  desert, passing the famous 7500+ meter MustaghAta and a pristine lake on the way to Tashkurgan.

MuztaghAta from the road on the way to Tashkurgan

We were expecting to cross over to Pakistan the following day but since it was a holiday in Pakistan we ended up stuck in Tashkurgan for an extra day. On June 11th we crossed the border into Pakistan and drove to Karimabad (where we met Billy). It was a long 8 hour drive with the first views of the big Karakoram mountains.


We also passed Attabad lake that was formed due to a massive landslide at Attabad village in Gilgit-Baltistan, 9 miles (14 km) upstream (east) of Karimabad that occurred on January 4, 2010. The enormous landslide killed twenty people and blocked the flow of the Hunza River for five months.

Getting friendly with the locals while crossing Attabad lake

The lake flooding has displaced 6,000 people from upstream villages, stranded (from land transportation routes) a further 25,000, and inundated over 12 miles (19 km) of the Karakoram Highway (now being rebuilt by the Chinese thanks to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor ‘CPEC’ agreement). The lake reached 13 miles (21 km) long and over 100 metres (330 ft) in depth by the first week of June 2010 when it began flowing over the landslide dam.The whole ride from Kashgar to Karimabad took a total of 4 days instead of the planned 3.

The view of Rakaposhi  (7788 meters) from Karimabad

Karimabad is home to a few very high mountains. In particular Rakaposhi a 7788 meter high mountain ranked 12th highest in Pakistan and 27th highest in the world. Rakaposhi has an uninterrupted vertical rise of approximately 6000 m (19,685 feet), making it the tallest mountain on Earth when measured from the base to peak. it is an impressive looking peak. We decided to stay around Karimabad for 3 days to start acclimatizing on a peak just across from the mighty Rakaposhi.

 

Bruce, Billy and I left for Rakaposhi basecamp in the morning. On the way up to basecamp we were surprised to meet a group of local school children and their teacher on the trail.

 

They were heading up to a waterfall on the way to the basecamp to have a picnic. A great outdoor class activity! It was a very hot day and I was amazed to see the kids going up the trail with nothing but their clothes and plastic bags carrying only what they intended to consume in the picnic.

Getting near Rakaposhi basecamp

They would stop at every stream to cool off and drink. We hiked together for a good 3 hours communicating in broken English. These kids had quite a lot of energy! From Rakaposhi basecamp we crossed a huge glacier and after 2 more hours we reached a moraine field that would lead us to our intended basecamp at around 4400 meters. Since the weather was extremely hot we realized that we would have to start hiking early in the morning in order not to sink in the snow in the upper snowfields.


Our route was pretty straight forward and would go up a wide snowfield up to a ridge that would lead to the summit. We got up at 3am, had breakfast and left camp by 4am. Steep steady snow climbing lead us up to the ridge in 5 hours and 40 minutes later Bruce and I were in the summit.Billy had been feeling tired from the approach and decided to head down at around 5000 meters. We reached the summit at 5510meters at around 11am.

Bruce approaches the summit on our acclimatization peak. 5510 meters

Approaching the summit on our acclimatization peak (5510)

After enjoying the view on top we made our way down and by 2pm we were back at camp. Since it was still early we decided to head back to Karimabad. What felt like a good idea at the time turned out to be a very painful idea. The long hike made it a very tough day for the first acclimatization climb. We finally made back to Karimabad at 8pm.

The KAILAS ice axes used on the climb

I was sore for 2 days after this intense hiking/climbing excursion. Good thing we had a day drive to Skardu where we would meet the other members of our expedition and our Liaison Officer (LO).

 

To be continued….