The beginning of the journey was through the PIA Airbus to Skardu from Islamabad. It was the morning of 24th July, 2015 at 10am and we were on board. We could see the mighty Nanga Parbat and Deosai Plains from the window of the Airbus and Mr. Khawaja took some memorable snaps. Mr. Hussain Balti was there to receive us at the Airport, where we joined our other team-mates from Karachi and Islamabad and we all boarded in the vehicle of the hotel. Skardu was hotter that day and it looked a bit dusty. We stayed in the Hotel Masherbrum, although it’s not the best accommodation in the valley yet it’s one of my favorite places to stay, in Skardu. It is in the hub of the city and always full of mountaineers, guides and the tour operators.
We hired a van in the evening, for a short trip to the Shangri-La Resorts. The first Resort was built in 1983 by Brigadier Muhammad Aslam Khan, in a plane, which was crashed nearby the Lower Kachura Lake; he bought it and developed it into a Resort. I last visited Shangri-La in 1985 when there were a few inhabitants but now it is a bustling place with the inhabitants and the tourists. Because of the construction of the hotels and other buildings, around the lake, the serenity of the place is badly damaged. I am all praiseworthy and praying for the Shangri-La Resorts, the heritage and pride of the country.
On 25th July, we left for Askole in a hired jeep. The time duration from Skardu to Askole varies from eight hours to eighteen hours, depending upon the weather conditions. Last time we reached there within seven to eight hours but it took approximately 20 hours this time. The road was blocked because of flood in the ravine and we were stricken there for a night. We crossed the Nullah on foot, early in the next morning and reached Askole at 6am. We took breakfast and without wasting any time, started trekking at 7am.
The pleasure of trekking from Askole always depends upon the weather and luckily it was a good day for us. After crossing the Ravine, on foot, along the famous Biafo Bridge, we went on a steeply ascending and started walking along-with the glacier. When we saw the Korophone, we recalled the visit to the Concordia track. It was a total of six-hour trekking. Initially it was a flat track but after three-hour of trekking, it became a bit more difficult, with a narrow path on the slopes. We set up a camp for a short while at NAMLA camp-site, just avoid the crossing back to the glacier.
On the next day, we started crossing the Biafo glacier, as usual at 6am in the morning. The track was rough in the beginning but after three hours of trekking, it gets smooth with mere ascending. We stop neither at NAMLA nor at MONGO camp-sites but continued trekking for eleven consecutive hours and finally reached at SHOOFANG. It was particularly a long track especially the last segment was really tiresome. Shoofang is a beautiful place, on a bank of calm and sandy-river with greenish meadows. The place is a favorite hub of Ibex hunters however we could not manage to see them. Shoofang means flesh eating rock; there is a big rock-stone in the middle of the place and the hunters put their prey on the top of it, to prevent the leopards to take it away. Shoofang and all the other camp-sites are on the Eastern-most side of the glaciers, except Namla and Mongo. Trekking on Biafo is far more different than that of the other glaciers because it is very smooth with the snow and a few stones. There are crevasses also but they are not wide enough to be dangerous. We had to cross the moraines and tough trekking on the broad rock-stones, to reach the camp. It took about 45 minutes to an hour, twice a day, in the morning and in the evening respectively.
Shoofang and Biantha are very close to each other, on a distance of about one and half an hour of comfortable trekking through green meadows and a number of small lakes and streams. In fact these are Northern and Southern edges of a huge camping ridge. We started trekking from Shoofang towards Biantha and reached there around 11am. It’s a green grassy ground where a group of Pakistani trekkers was already relaxing. They are all youngsters and freshly graduates of the LUMS.
A team of two WAPDA Engineers with a helper, was setting up a camp there for a research project i.e., they were measuring the snow-melting speed of Biafo glacier. Biantha is a beautiful place with green pasture, surrounded by lakes and streams and famous Latok Peak is also in its vicinity. It’s a nice place for relaxing. Biantha resembles Paiyu, in the Baltoro track.
Morphogoro was our next destination a very easy and pleasant track was leading there which took about four and half an hour to reach. This side of Biafo glacier was plain and smooth with icebergs and a few crevasses. We took hardly half an hour in crossing the glacier to reach the camp. Morphogoro is among the most beautiful camping-sites; it is sandy and leveled and the streams are flowing like a river there. No one can capture the real beauty of the place.
After visiting Morphogoro, we had two options; either to go to Korphogoro or to the Snow Lake. Korphogoro is a congested spot on the ridge of the Snow Lake and it could accommodate hardly two or three tents at a time.
The camping site of Korphogoro was really uncomfortable due to extra climbing of a huge stone for extra half an hour to reach the site. There’s neither water nor a proper camping site, yet the view from the site was awesome. One can overlook the whole Snow Lake from here. Sokha-La is exactly on the opposite side of the Korphogoro.
The weather was getting harsh before reaching Korphogoro and it started drizzling when we could hardly get there. It’s a not a good sign because we planned to visit the Snow Lake and to cross Hispar-La the next day. The La could not be crossed in such a bad weather and our guide has given us a caution for a week-long wait to cross the La. Balti gathered all the porters and kitchen crew. The porters started singing and dancing while the kitchen crew was preparing bar-be-cue. Hussain Balti informed us about the old tradition of the mountains to sing and dance to ward off the clouds. We laughed it off because the clouds were too dense to vanish away only by singing.
The night was the most terrible one and earlier we were decided to start the expedition for the Snow Lake at 3am, so that the snow must not get soften. We were expecting a good, sound sleep because of the weather condition but Hussain Balti wake us all with a pleasant surprise of no more clouds, which got disappeared at midnight and the weather was pretty fine for pack-up then. We went on sleeping with our trekking gear on, except shoe, so within a few minutes, we were ready to leave. We left at 3am and went on a descending track of about an hour on huge stones and finally reached at Snow Lake. It was the night of 1st August, 2015.
We all got tied up together with the ropes for a pre-requisite of trekking to the Snow Lake. Snow Lake looks a magical place on that moonlit night. In the words of Hashim, the beauty of it can neither be described nor be captured. Soon the dawn was setting in and we could see the mountains and passes reaching the lake. It was a different experience of trekking with all roped up and everyone has his own style of walking. Many of us like to walk faster and then stop to take some rest, while the others walk slowly and consecutively and didn’t take rest at all. Similarly there was also a difference of physical fitness and stamina.
After enjoying the beauty of Snow Lake, the next destination was Hispar-la base camp. A Koreans group was already there; when we reached there, they were about to leave. A gentle ascending started in the beginning but soon the view became more and more beautiful. On reaching the top, we could see the Snow Lake, but we could not see Biafo due to visual obstruction by the surrounding mountains. Though it was a good trekking experience yet our speed was quite slow because of fastened with ropes to one another. We reached at the top of Hispar-la in the noon. La is wide and long; from the edge of the La, we could see the Snow Lake. Our porters had already reached there and arranged a lavish meal. After having the meal and taking some rest, we changed our earlier plan of staying on the top, at the night. Since we were all fresh, we decided to move towards descending and staying at the base-camp, on the Hispar glacier. On the way to Hispar, I got a scary feelings yet I did not share it with anyone else and kept on trekking. The pulse gets normal within an hour. We untied ourselves before descending but it was a sheer mistake the track was quite steep and we faced many interruptions by frequent crevasses. These crevasses were huge enough with snowy ridges therefore we had to cross them very carefully. As soon as we descended down from the Hisper glacier, we set up the cam. It was 1st of August, when we did trekking for thirteen and half an hour. The camping on the Hispar glacier was a unique phenomenon though it was very cold outside.
TREKKING TO KHANIBASA: We started our journey early in the morning as usual, with untold sense of satisfaction.
We manage to leave the Hispar glacier after an hour of continuous trekking, because the exit path was full of falling rock-stones and we had to climb on the sloppy tracks of the valley to reach the Khanibasa camp.
KHANIBASA is another beautiful place, along-side a glacial stream. It’s a fine place to relax because it’s spacious enough for setting up a comfortable camp. We left Khanibasa the next morning and climbing up the ascending slopes, sometimes descending, on the Khanibasa glacier. The descending was dangerous because falling of the stones. After crossing the icebergs, we ascended on the top of the glacier. It was the first experience of its kind to me, to climbing up such a glacier. It took about three to four hours to cross the glacier and once again we were ascending upon the slopes of the Hispar valley. We were so tired that we preferred a nearer-most accommodation.
On the next day, we came across the most challenging trekking of the tour. We left Hispar Valley after two to three consecutive trekking and descended down to Jutimal glacier. It took about six hours to cross the glacier. The middle portion of the glacier was full of crevasses with the icebergs on the ridges. At last we were succeeded in touching the soft sandy earth instead of the sloppy ascending. It was a day full of adventures but we realized that ropes, crampons and ice-axe are mandatory for this type of activity. We stopped at Jutimal for a short while and set up a camp there, along-side of nearby grave of a porter, the place is called “Qabristan” that’s why. It started raining outside so we took the meal early and went to sleep.
The next day was a comfortable, just a hiking on the greenish meadows, we saw hundreds of Yaks were grazing there. It’s a pleasant place with two glacial streams, although crossing the streams was a difficult task, because of descending and descending on the steeply slopes. We stayed at Butimal that night.
Next morning, we started hiking at 6am once again and cross the last glacial stream, the weather gets slightly hot there. We again reached near the Hispar village in the afternoon and setup a camp there. Since a few trekkers come to cross the village, unlike Aksole, the local people were anxious and curious to know about us and gather on the camp-site.Thanks Hussain Balti owner of K2 Treks & Tours Pakistan and his all crews the best expert and Knowledgeable guide for Biafo Hispar and Snow Lake Trek Karakoram Range Pakistan.
By: Prof Aamir Ali Chodhry