K2 Base Camp trek trip report written by our guide Ann Fitzpatrick.
Trekking to K2 Base Camp
The place-names of Northern Pakistan have been alluring me for years. I’ve long held a fascination for that part of the world reading about intrepid travellers and spies, players in the Great Game.
The names Baltistan, Baltoro, Skardu, Hunza, Concordia have always piqued my interest and inspired visions of remote, exotic and little known lands.
A late request to fill in as a guide on a trip to K2 base camp and the Gondogoro La was my chance to visit this wonderful land. Leading a trip of 6 women and 1 lucky male, I was slightly nervous about how I might be received in Pakistan.
Within minutes of meeting our local staff, I was immediately put at ease. Our local guides were totally relaxed, professional and respectful of me and the crew.
Arriving in Islamabad
We arrived early in Islamabad so we got a good sleep. We met for lunch and a briefing later that day. A lazy lunch, avoiding the 40-degree heat, was followed by a trip to the Fasail mosque.
Built in 1976 by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, the mosque is styled in the shape of a Bedouin tent and is the premier tourist attraction in the City.
We were respectful in our approach and concerned that we might be intruding on a sacred space uninvited – our fears were quickly abated when we soon became the star attractions at the mosque with children being cast into our arms and whole families piling in for photos with us.
It didn’t stop when we moved outside; a group photo prompted a photobomb from a load of lads. It was more entertaining to photo the group who were photographing us! Seriously we thought we were famous for a while.
This type of welcome was the norm as we travelled around the next couple of weeks. We were wholeheartedly embraced and welcomed to Pakistan. People were genuinely delighted and thankful that we had come to visit their country.
Into the Karakoram Mountains
Leaving Islamabad for the Northern areas, we took the 1hr 1 flight a day to the City of Skardu. The flight brings you into spectacular mountain scenery skirting by Nanga Parbat.
The flights get cancelled frequently due to a variety of reasons linked to weather thrown out by these gargantuan mountains. The alternative is a 2-day jeep drive along the infamous Karakoram Highway, which in itself sounds like an amazing adventure but one I was happy to miss on this occasion.
We camped down at the Pakistan tourist development corporation hotel (PTDC) in Skardu. The PTDC was established in 1970 and run a number of motels and transport networks in the country to try promoting tourism across the country.
The hotel, in style of a colonial lodge, is perched on high on a bench overlooking the Indus river valley.
The beautiful garden has ringside seats to one of the most stunning vistas possible -the mighty Indus framed by a backdrop of craggy, rocky mountains marching off into the distance.
We had the best part of two days to relax into our new surroundings and sort out gear for our hike and suddenly it was time to get out into that big wide-open landscape.
A 7 hours jeep drive to the start of our hike in the village of Askoli was bumpy and thrilling. The journey can frequently be interrupted by landslides but we travelled without a problem, although some of the stream crossings and narrow switchbacks overhanging the raging torrent below did turn knuckles a whiter shade of pale.
Beginning the K2 Base Camp Trek
The next morning we started on our trek proper and established our routine of early rising and early out on the trail with our umbrellas. The first two days are long days on the trail, easy enough in terms of technical difficulty but draining due to the intense heat and loose sand underfoot. We are launched straight into amazing mountain scenery with numerous rivers crossed by suspension bridges.
Wild roses and vetches add a lovely splash of colour to the otherwise dusty and gritty landscape. Some small oases appear on the lateral moraines and these frequently support the designated campsites. Day 3 allowed a rest day at Paiyu, time to wash clothes, bodies and swim in the glacial river.
A rest also for the hordes of porters we had with us who love nothing more than to sing and dance, an lively evening performance saw everyone dragged up onto the dance floor – nobody could escape bar eh Megan who managed to escape in time!
Climbing to the Baltoro Glacier
By this stage, our group had started to bond quite nicely and despite the exhaustion at the end of the days hike we had managed to establish a collective giddiness which left us in a state of perpetual laughter over most meals, aided in no small way by Melita’s entertaining stories.
Our 4th day on the trail and we left the river valley and climbed up onto the Baltoro Glacier. The glacier is in a constant state of movement and the trail needs to be re-established every season. The mule trains and porters pick their way through and create a trail for us to follow.
The landscape is raw – wilder, more barren, more intimidating, captivating and savage than any other I have ever seen. We were surrounded by rocky giants – Paiyu peak, Great Trango Tower and the Cathedral towers. Over the next few days, the vista opens up more to reveal other giants – Masherbrum, Muztagh Tower, Mitre Peak, Sia Kangri, Broad Peak, G2 and G4.
Glaciers for days
G4 quickly became my favourite mountain on the K2 base camp trek as it is like the gatekeeper to this mountain kingdom. It stands proud and strong, the sentinel on our long approach up the glacier.
The glacier becomes more entertaining to walk on – large rocks cast aside by the action of the ice require care to negotiate – a little boulder hopping and scrambling make the hiking more interesting and challenging. On our 7th day on the trail, we make it to our first destination – Concordia.
Concordia is the junction of three glaciers – the Baltoro, Abruzzi and Godwin Austen. The locals call them “The Throne Room of the Gods”.
The reason is apparent when you witness the 360 deg panoramic view of spectacular mountains; our eyes were immediately drawn up the Abruzzi glacier to the mighty Broad Peak and K2.
The Pakistanis say K2 is like a Muslim woman who covers her face with a veil, occasionally dropping the veil to reveal her face.
Views of K2
A Sherpa at base camp told me that in 2017 he worked on K2 for 2 months, and she revealed herself only once in that time. Whatever Gods were looking down on us we shall never know but over the three days, we had unrivalled views of the Mountain.
The following 2 days were a bit of a whirlwind. We detoured from our itinerary electing to make our journey to K2 basecamp a two-day journey. This included an overnight camp at Broad peak base camp instead of one long day up and back.
This turned out much in our favour as we were entertained and dined and treated to the most humbling kindness by the expedition teams at Broad peak and K2 base camps.
We shared dinner with the climbing team from Kobler and partners Broad Peak expedition who were leaving for their summit bid at 4 am the following morning.
Visiting the Gilkey Climbers Memorial
Our group followed their exploits and were happy to hear that all successfully summited. We made our own “summit” success reaching K2 base camp the following morning. On the way, we stopped off on route to pay our respects at the Gilkey climber’s memorial. It remembers climbers Ger McDonnell, Alison Hargreaves and Julie Tullis and all too many more.
It’s a surprisingly touching memorial that gripped us all in a way we didn’t expect. BC was a colourful and active experience Jan and Niall were determined to hunt down Mike Horn who was on a solo attempt unsupported and without supplementary O2 on K2.
Both Megan and Aileen jumped at the chance to search to find him. All returned brimming with enthusiasm and stories of the great Mike whom they had all fallen completely in lust with..especially Niall. A long return journey to Concordia and thoughts of our next objective, the Gondogoro La, followed.
Rest day and skills session
We filled our rest day with eating, packing for the next phase of our adventure and a skills training session. We sent most of our porters, excess gear and camping gear back down the Baltoro Glacier.
Aileen left us at this point, happy having achieved her objectives of Concordia, Broad Peak and K2 Base Camp. The rest of us went off following the glacier on our two-day expedition over the Gondogoro La.
Trekking to Gondogoro La Pass
The pass sits at 5,625mt and you would be foolish to dismiss this as an easy pass across the hills. It is as epic as any Mountain summit day. We jokingly compared it to “The Wall” from Game of Thrones. In the midnight inkiness looking at it rising from the glacier that pretty much summed it up well.
We arrived at the foot of the fixed ropes, and we saw a series of pigeon-hole steps ahead. The switchback route gradually ascended at a near-constant 45-degree slope. A few hours after and we were standing on top of the pass.
We looked back at our mountain giants and let loose tears of exhaustion, joy and frustration. We eased our tears with the sense of great achievement (and a few bits of Toblerone!)
Making the descent
2hey say coming down is the hardest bit and this just might just describe this very pass! We had another 3 hours of descent on fixed ropes on the other side. Although these were somewhat challenging, it was where they ran out that the real fun began. A loose talus and scree gully blocked our route onto the glacier.
Our tired bodies struggled to stay upright on the Glacier. We needed a bit of sensible direction and judicious use of a rope to get on it safely. Within a few hours we were down to our beautiful alpine campsite after a long hard night.
The next two days brought us down through stunning scenery, descending into the alpine zone replete with flowers. The colour was a welcome break from the grey, brown and white palette we had been immersed in.
Finally, we made it back to the tree line. Celebrations ensued, more feasting, dancing and singing – the porters and guides had lots to celebrate.
A well earned rest!
We rested after the hike in the mountain village of our local Guides, Khande. Here we visited a privately funded school with the objective of allowing equal access to education for girls.
They do this by providing free education for the girls while charging a small fee for boys. Our visit was incredible and we were amazed to see the good work being done there with few resources. Meanwhile our most excellent expedition doctor Nathan was off performing minor surgery on a village resident.
The docs on our trips provide great care to our clients and its great reassurance to have them. This trip really showed the need for medical knowledge and skill in these remote areas.
It was curious to watch a loose group form most evenings at the mess tent for the Doctor. We were happy that we could offer medical help, even if the translations were a bit dubious.
The journey home
Our return trip to Skardu was via another 6-hour jeep ride. A return to hot showers and Wi-Fi! Both of these were a bit iffy at the start but we got there in the end. Two days of rest and the most amazing food followed before our return flight to Islamabad.
We finally donned some clean clobber and made it to the Marriott hotel for pizza and a beer. My abiding memory of Pakistan will be the standard response I got when I asked a question – “Why not”.
For me, this demonstrates how amazingly accommodating and helpful everyone we came into contact with was. Our amazing local staff went above and beyond to make this a truly memorable experience for all of us.
How Ibrahim managed to liberate quite so many Toblerones from the Broad Peak mess tent I’ll never know. I do know that they were greatly appreciated! And of course, the group themselves; the outrageous giggle fests, the great conversation, and the friendships made.
It’s hard to sum up this trip, to describe the landscape of Northern Pakistan is a fruitless attempt to throw out a list of adjectives. No words can articulate the scale, the desolation, the texture and the captivating beauty of this remote area.
To understand and truly experience it, you have to be immersed in it. I would strongly recommend anyone with a curiosity for this area to jump right in.
If you’re interested in taking on the K2 base camp trek, you can have a look at our K2 Expedition page HERE