Valley of Giants

STORY AND PHOTOS BY: Kaixiang Liang

Situated between Pakistan and China where the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin Austen Glacier meet in a natural amphitheatre, Concordia offers a 360° view of four of the world’s 14 peaks above 8,000m within a 21km radius.

Access to this chain of mountains – known as the “throne room of the mountain gods” – is best done from Baltistan, a mountainous region with an average altitude of over 3,000m, on the border of Pakistan and India in the Karakoram mountains just south of K2, with Xinjiang to the north and the Kashmir Valley on the southwest.

Baltistan was originally an ancient mountain kingdom inhabited by the Balti. While a majority of the population follows Islam, millennia-old Tibetan culture, customs, and language still exist.

 

SKARDU TO SHIGAR VALLEY

Skardu, capital of Baltistan where the Shigar River meets the mighty Indus, is the main staging point for expeditions to this part of the Karakorum Range.

This extremely mountainous area is accessible via the famous Karakorum Highway (Pakistan’s National Highway 35) which heads north via Chilas, or south from Xinjiang, China.

There are also flights to Skardu from Islamabad (to take this option, you’ll need to apply for a tourist visa prior to arrival and would require a letter of invitation from a Pakistani host or tour operator).

The best way to get to Concordia is to hire a local guide, due to its remoteness and the ever-changing trail on the Baltoro Glacier. Operators are available at Skardu, or via onlinel tour operators.

From Skardu, it’s a 4WD ride through the Shigar Valley to the town of Shigar, where mobile reception – along with tarmac – disappear. From here on, it’s a bumpy dirt track through the Braldu Gorge all the way to the trailhead in the town of Askole.

Askole (3,000m) is the last settlement, with a population of 500, before a trail leads to an alpine paradise where four of the five 8,000m peaks – including K2, Gasherbrum I and II and Broad Peak – stand proud alongside hundreds of unclimbed peaks up to 7,000m. From here, porters and mules can be hired for the next 2 weeks.

 

ASKOLE TO JOULA

From Askole, the course follows the Braldo River towards Korophon – a forested area and campsite at the terminus of the Biafo Glacier.

From there, the route meanders to the junction of the Dunlordo and Biaho rivers, passing through thick patches of wild edible sea-buckthorn berries, before reaching Joula (3,190m), the first overnight halt.

 

JOULA TO PAJU

Being in the soaring Karakorum, merely going from one valley to another – despite how near it may look – requires a hard day’s hike.

A significant portion of the route is on fine white sand, which is not the easiest surface to trek. Another common sight from Day 2 onwards are the army outposts along the Concordia route, the first of which you pass on the way to Paju camp (3,380m), a tree-lined oasis that marks the next night’s halt.

 

PAJU TO KHORBUTSE/URDUKAS

The view from Paju takes in multiple peaks over 6,000m tall, while just an hour’s hike brings you to the base of the Baltoro Glacier. Ascending the uneven moraine to one side you will traverse the glacier – with astounding views of the Baltoro pinnacles and Paiyu peak – before descending to the opposite valley wall with loose rocks where the glacier has pulled away in recent years.

This route brings you to Liligo, and onwards to the overnight spot at Khorbutse (3,930m) on the far side of a lateral glacier flowing into Baltoro. It’s a spot with excellent views of Uli Biaho, a soaring pinnacle over 6,000m high.

Alternatively, the next campsite is a 3-4 hour trek to Urdukas (4,050m) crossing two glaciers en route before ascending high above to a terraced campground overlooking the icefield.

This last campsite is not actually on the glacier itself; it’s a historical campsite – established by the Duke of Abruzzi in the early 20th century – located on a grassy slope high above the Baltoro and commands one of the most intense mountain views in this world: down the Baltoro and up the glacier towards Concordia.

 

URDUKAS TO GORO 2

Leaving Urdukas, you head towards Goro, or “little rocks” in Balti, an apt name for the glacial debris you must cross as you hike along the Baltoro. In the lead-up to Concordia, the summit of Gasherbrum IV (7,925m) grows on the horizon over successive days.

At Goro 2 (4,250m), you’re camping on the glacier, so it’s a struggle to find a comfortable, or even level tent site among the moraine and ice. However, you are rewarded with excellent views of Masherbrum (7,821m), which was once thought to be the highest mountain in the Karakorum range, otherwise known as K1.

There’s also a good view of Muztagh Tower, an enormous rock tower with four sides stretching steeply into the sky; it’s perhaps the most difficult technical climb in the Karakoram.

 

GORO 2 TO CONCORDIA

From Goro 2, it’s an easy day’s hike to Concordia (4,650m), following the Baltoro to its confluence with the Godwin-Austen Glacier, where views open up with the final surprise being soaring K2 (8,611m) peeking out over Marble Peak (6,256m) on the left, just before reaching Concordia.

After 6-7 days’ of hard hiking, you arrive at the “throne of the mountain gods”, with the reward being expansive views of four of the 8,000ers (Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I & II, and K2), as well as a view down the glacier you’ve covered.

 

THE RETURN JOURNEY

From here, there are a few optional day trips to K2 base camp (5,100m), Gasherbrum base camp (5,050m) or Broad Peak base camp (4,850m).

On the return trek, there is the option of going over the Gondogoro La pass (5,940m) which brings you around to Hushe (however, there have been periodic restrictions on crossing this pass). Alternatively, you can return the way you came and experience the route back with a different perspective over 3-4 days.

Leave a Comment





error

Enjoyed this article? Please spread the word :)