- Pakistan certainly eclipsed Iceland as an exotic destination!
was like an Indiana Jones
movie (minus the bad guys) at times, complete with the chaotic
street scenes, foreign garb and camels :-). Finally, travel that really
felt like we were away from home! It was great! We spent four weeks
there in August and September of 2001.
The fun began immediately in the bustling
streets of Rawalpindi, the very
old sister city of modern Islamabad.
Coming from behind us as we walked on the sidewalk, every single driver
and bicyclist was twisted around to look at us as he went by. As we
were wearing native dress and Brenda had her hair covered with the large
scarf that women wear, we wondered how they knew so easily that we were
foreigners. Our guide later told us that westerners "Walk different."
From Islamabad, we drove north into
the foothills and then dropped into the huge Indus
River gorge on the Karakoram highway. Again, the foreign flavor
was strong and pervasive and wonderful. For example, the first stop
for gasoline involved a hand-cranked pump! As we moved north, towns became smaller and more widely spaced and the
terrain more rugged, more arid and ever more precipitous. Soon the villages
were the only green spaces in a brown and grey landscape.
Two days on an ever narrowing paved
road brought us to Skardu, an absolutely picturesque mountain town. From there we had one day
in a jeep to cover the approximately 60 miles to the end of the road
and the beginning of the trek. This road
was way cool! It was ultra-narrow and went up and down and across
some of the most amazing terrain, cliffs and river-crossings. A civil
engineer would probably be both astonished and appalled at the construction,
all by hand.
Drivers tooted horns before blind
corners, blind hills, and sections where passing wasn't possible ... i.e. all the way. In spite of this
excellent system, our jeep once met another at a dicey place on a sloped
shelf right above the river. It was too narrow to get out, so the drivers
held a long negotiation by shouting back and forth ... we won! The drivers
were nothing short of fantastic, despite the mechanical shortcomings
of their old Toyota Landcruisers. One had windshield wipers that worked
only if the driver reached (and looked) under the dash with the bare
wire ends to short them on the frame - the knob had been transfered
to the stereo, clearly a more important function :-). Another suffered
a misplaced leaf spring bolt which was fixed on the spot with a rock
used as a mallet.
From Thongol at the end of the jeep road, we walked for about ten days into the Karakoram
range to reach Concordia.
Our walk took us along the raging Braldu
river to the Baltoro glacier.
From the very first day we saw stunningly tall peaks with striking rock
faces and huge glaciers. We kept pestering our guide for details and
he would answer "No name, too short," "No climb, too
short." This seemed incomprehensible until we got into the "real"
mountains a few days later.
picturesque town on a tributary of the Indus River along the Karakoram
highway is one of the largest we passed on the way north. The
multi-level houses are almost all made of concrete.
Building terrain in the gorge is pretty slim, so
houses tended to be taller here than in the plains to the south. Most
of the hillsides are either terraced for agriculture or used for grazing
goats and sheep.
On the lower right, you can see kids playing in
the icy, very fast-moving water. The parents here obviously have more
faith in their children's judgement than those in the US.
up the Indus River gorge the road has about one
lane of pavement centered on about two lanes of road bed.
When large vehicles meet, it can be an adventure while they maneuver
around each other.
jeep road from Skardu to Askole is very narrow and often built on unstable substrate. The person walking on the road gives you an idea just how
narrow this part is.
This section had a landslide earlier in the season, making the road
impassable. We unloaded everything from one jeep, and the porters carried
the gear around the bad section and then loaded it into another jeep
that had been trapped on the other side of the landslide. While we were
walking along this, rocks were still tumbling down the hillside.
We did this kind of vehicle swap three times in one day. Quite an operation!
are dwellings in the tiny village of Askole,
an hour walk beyond the end of the road, and the last settlement we
would see for two weeks.
The construction of rock, small timbers and mud is much like the Pueblo
Indians used in the American Southwest. We saw several arrangements
where the sheep and cattle lived on the lower level while the people
the river from Askole are some wonderful terraces and a few individual
homes. The constrast between rich
green fields and arid mountain sides was striking. This was the last cultivated land we would see for two weeks.
Irrigation ditches are cut into the mountainside,
sometimes in solid rock, to channel the water from glacier outflows
tempting bridge across the Braldu
river was just too much for Mark to
pass by. Compared to others later, it was a real luxury affair.
Bridges like this are revolutionizing
life in rural areas. Just a few years
ago, the locals often had to walk a day or more to a safe crossing,
and were not able to cross for months during high water.
fun little bridge was the first on our actual trek route. Again, compared
to others later, it was a really good one :-). The next photo shows
the surprising and ingenious location
of this bridge.
It saved us half a day of walking to be able to cross a side channel
of the river at this narrow section. Trail improvements like this have
made this popular trekking route much safer and easier for porters and
is Brenda crossing the bridge you saw in the photo above. Most of these
bridges are maintained by the military.
This trek path is also the major route for
soldiers and supplies to reach the Kashmir region. We saw many donkey
and pony trains taking supplies to the various military camps along
Several days up the valley is the Kashmir
region, where India and Pakistan have
a long running dispute over the boundary. No photos of the military
bases were allowed, but most consisted of a few small rock huts or fiberglass
buildings. We walked right through
these camps and the soldiers came out
to greet us - visitors are rare for them.
camp on a wider spot along the Braldu river. The large blue and
red tent is the cook tent and a second, similar, tent served as the
dining tent. The scrubby vegetation here is much like that found in
arid areas of the American Southwest.
This is one of the many striking, un-named,
un-climbed mountains that had us all in ecstasy during the first days. Look at those lovely lines, angles, ridges and summit block!
By the time we saw it again on the way back out, it looked pretty insignificant.
is the view back down the Baltoro glacier after two days of hiking up it. The large peak at the upper left is Paiju, while the impressive
rock tower on the right is the coveted Uli
Biaho. Many thousand vertical feet of technical ice and rock
climbing must be completed before reaching the 19,957-foot
summit. One of our friends here in Salida, Bill Forrest, was
on the summit team for the first ascent of this amazing granite spire.
The jumbled rubble surface of the valley bottom is the Baltoro glacier.
A rock layer from an inch to tens of feet deep covers the entire length
of the glacier. This challenging terrain is loose, very hilly, and riddled
with crevases and streams.
Our camp on the ice is visible at the bottom center, above a 100 foot
grey ice cliff. A steady rain of boulders and ice blocks fell into the
tarn (lake) while we were there.
interesting mix: the clean white seracs and cornices up high, and a
very black dirty glacier snout down below. Covered as it is with dark
dirt, you would hardly know it was ice.
This small glacier is one of many feeding the Baltoro glacier. Though
significant to the eye, both glacier and ridge were un-named.
a day below Concordia, the glacier
changed character. The rubble layer became thinner and huge white blocks
of ice had been thrust up everywhere. Our guide said that the glacier
moved so much that the route was different even after two or three weeks.
He was correct. When we returned a week later, the route in one place
was dramatically different due to a failed ice bridge.
Here Brenda is crossing the last pony bridge of the trek. It
is two poles with a few flat rocks laid across them, without any ties
or anchors. After this the streams were small enough to jump
or wade across. Sometimes we would climb up an ice ridge, cross over
the stream on this natural bridge, then drop right back down.