Baltistan,

Gondogoro La

Duration 15 days
Distance 114.9km
Standard extreme, technical
Season Late June-August
Start Thungol
Finish Hushe
Zone and Permit restricted, US$50 permit
Public Transport Finish only
Summary This is on-the-edge trek crosses a high glaciated pass with extraordinary views of four 8000m peaks and countless other peaks.

 

In 1986, a route was established that connects Concordia and the upper Baltoro Glacier to the Hushe Valley over the Gondogoro La (5940m). Since then, this challenging technical pass has attracted trekkers and climbers alike.  This route avoids retracting your steps down the Baltoro Glacier and has one of the most overwhelming mountain panoramas anywhere in the world, with all of the Karakoram’s 8000m peaks close at hand.

The Gondogoro La, although popular with trekkers, involves Class 4 climbing. The north side is a 50-degree snow slope with avalanche danger requiring fixed ropes. The south side is a continuous 50-degree slope with rock-fall and avalanche that requires fixing as much as 300m of rope. Crossing this pass requires good judgment, commitment, top fitness, prior acclimatization and basic mountaineering skills of all members. Parties must be on top of the Gondogoro La at sunrise to minimize exposure to objective dangers.

Parties cross the pass in both directions. Crossing from north to south from Concordia to Hushe, however, is recommended for four reasons. First, the longer approach up the Baltoro Glacier permits more gradual acclimatization. Second, the objective dangers of the not-straightforward route up the north side of the pass are more easily visible and take less time on this ascent, which is more than 200m shorter. Third, if conditions prohibit crossing the pass, you don’t miss out visiting the Baltoro Glacier and Concordia. Occasionally, especially late in the season, the crevasses on the north side of the Gondogoro La are unbridgeable, and parties have been forced to turn back. Fourth, the road from Hushe to Skardu is usually more free of blocks than the road between Thungol and Skardu.

Large trekking parties, however, may choose to start from Hushe, crossing the pass from south to north, in order to get past the objective rock-fall danger on the south side earlier in the morning when danger is lowest. Such parties then usually slog across the crevassed West Vigne Glacier in soft, treacherous snow. Marathon trekkers also cross in this direction in order to combine this trek with longer traverses of the Baltoro, Biafo and Hispar glacier. It’s advisable to first trek to Masherbrum and/or K7 Base Camps before going up the Gondogoro Valley to facilitate acclimatization. At the minimum, use Days 1-5 to reach Xhuspang from Hushe, move to Gondogoro High camp on Day 6, cross the pass to Ali Camp on Day 7, and reach Concordia on Day 8.

PLANNING

When to Trek         

The pass is easier to cross earlier in the season and can be attempted as easily as the last three or four days in June. Any earlier and you are likely to be the first party of the season to break trail. By August, objective dangers from crevasses, avalanche and rock fall increase substantially as the snow cover begins to melt.

What to Bring

Traversing the Vigne and West Vigne glaciers requires travelling in roped teams and crossing the Gondogoro La requires fixing as much as 300m of rope. The Hushe Rescue team places fixed ropes on both sides of the Gondogoro La each year from late June to late August, and charges a fee to use them: one to three trekkers; for four to six trekkers; for seven to nine trekkers; and for nine or more trekkers. Most parties utilize their ropes. Reports are positive because it saves time and reduces weight and the expanse of having porters carry rope and anchors. Wearing a climbing helmet is prudent. Crampons are optional, but strongly recommended. See Mountaineering Equipment (p) for the required equipment.

Maps    

Refer to the Maps sections under the Baltoro Glacier trek (p) and the Gondogoro Valley trek (p). The Swiss map misrepresents the relationship of the West Vigne Glacier to the Gondogoro Glacier, and the shapes of these glaciers.

 

 Where is Gondogoro LA?

Misleading and inaccurate information has been published about three passes between the Baltoro Glacier and Hushe’s upper valley: Gondogoro La, Masherbrum La and Vigne Pass (also called Mazeno La). Of these passes, trekking parties can only cross the Gondogoro La, which links the West Vigne Glacier to the Gondogoro Glacier‘s large eastern branch. Gondogoro La is misplaced on most maps. Its map coordinates are 35° 39′ 18.0″ N and 76° 28’ 22.0″ E. The other two passes present serious technical difficulties. The Masherbrum La (5364m), between the Yermanendu Glacier and a northern branch of the Gondogoro Glacier, has an enormous icefall on its south side. The Vigne Pass connects the Gondogoro Glacier’s northernmost section with the West Vigne Glacier’s head, north-west of Gondogoro La. The Vigne Pass, although lower in elevation than Gondogoro La, has more rock-fall danger and technical sections impossible for porters to cross. Some maps incorrectly show the Gondogoro La crossing the ridge between the Biarchedi and Gondogoro glaciers. One look, however, at the steep, corniced wall above the Biarchedi Glacier with its multiple avalanche flutes shows that any crossing of this ridge is dangerous and highly technical.

 

 

Permits and Regulations

This trek is in a restricted zone where a permit and licensed guide are required (see Trekking Permits,).

Guides and Porters

It’s essential to hire an experienced guide who knows the pass, and very helpful to have strong porters who have also crossed it. Guides and porters from Hushe may have more experience crossing the Gondogoro La than those from other areas of Baltistan. Having a strong, experienced team helps ensure success and enables all to enjoy it.

Porters cannot ascend or descend this pass without using between 100m and 300m of fixed ropes. Equip each porters with a swami or sling, one locking carabiner, instep crampons and gaiters (you can provide porters with plastic and string to fashion something useful) for one day.

Starting from Thungol

See the Baltoro Glacier trek for Thungol and Concordia. Between Concordia and Hushe, continue paying a flat rate of per stage and providing food for porters.

Starting from Hushe 

For the four stages between Hushe and Xhuspang, porters ask for per stage, including payment for food rations. Beyond Xhuspang, you provide food for porters and pay Per stage. It’s customary for porters to butcher an animal at Gondogoro Camp or Daltsampa. Animals can usually be purchased at Shaishcho or Gondogoro Camp. Small parties can pay porter a one-time meat ration in lieu of buying an animal.

Stages                          

It’s 18½ stages total. It’s 9½ stages between Thungol and Concordia (see the Baltoro Glacier trek, for details), plus these nine stages between Concordia and Hushe: (1) corner of Mitre Peak; (2) Ali Camp; (3) Gondogoro la; (4) Gondogoro High Camp; (5) Xhuspang; (6) Daltsampa; (7) Gondogoro Camp; (8) Shaishcho; and (9) Hushe.

Tough bargainers may be able to negotiate eight stages between Concordia and Hushe, eliminating the stage at the corner of Mitre Peak. Reportedly some porters have asked for and received double stages/wages over the pass. Don’t follow this precedent, which has no legitimate basis.

NEAREST FACILITIES    

See Thungol (p).

GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK

To reach the trek’s start, see Thungol (p). For transport from its finish, see Hushe (p).

THE TREK

Days 1-10 : Thungol to Concordia 

10 days, 71.8km, 1800m ascent

See the Baltoro trek for a description. The route over Gondogoro La leaves the Baltoro Glacier trek at Concordia on Day 10.

Day 11 : Concordia to Ali Camp

3½-5 hours, 9.5km, 360m ascent

The route to Ali Camp is up the snow-covered Vigne Glacier, so start before the sun softens the snow. From Concordia, head south towards Mitre Peak, crossing the Baltoro Glacier’s broken south margin. Follow the lateral moraine around the base of Mitre Peak, paralleling the ridge south from its summit. After 4km, or two hours, reach the Vigne Glacier. Head south-south-west up the Vigne Glacier 5.5km to Ali Camp travelling in roped teams. Firmer snow towards the glacier’s middle offers easier walking and avoids crevasses along the west margin. You pass three valleys on the west side of the Vigne Glacier. The first, 15 minutes up the glacier, has a camp site called Miksus (eye pain), marked by a cairn along the glacier’s margin. ‘Snow blindness’ camp is infrequently used, yet a reminder to be sure everyone in your party wears sunglasses. In the second small side valley is an alternative Ali Camp. The actual Ali Camp is just beyond the third and largest side valley, three hours up the Vigne Glacier at the base of the spur at the confluence of the Vigne and West Vigne glacier (ie, the base of point 5943 on the Italian IGM map). Marginal crevasses guard Ali Camp (5010m), so carefully approach it straight from the Vigne Glacier’s centre. Several tent platforms are wedged against the cliff and on moraine. Painted in red on the cliff in the name of Ali Muhammad Jungugpa, the site’s namesake, who crossed the Gondogoro La on 20 June 1986. South-east facing Ali Camp is usually warmer than Concordia. A small shop sells basic supplies such as flour and kerosene.

Day 12 : Ali Camp to Xhuspang

7-10 hours, 8.5km, 930 ascent, 1260m descent

From Ali Camp, it takes four to six hours to reach the pass. Plan to be on top of the pass by 6am. Large parties should start by 1 or 2am; small or very fit parties could start by 3am.

Rope up immediately and move over firm snow along the base of the buttress to your right. Turn into the snow-covered West Vigne Glacier heading west-south-west. On firm snow it takes one hour to cover the 3.3km to the base of the pass. The angle is gentle heading diagonally towards a black rock band descending from the ridge above the glacier’s south side. The pass is south-east (left) of this band, and is not visible until just beneath it. At the West Vigne Glacier’s head, an obvious low point is the more difficult Vigne Pass. The steep slope east (left) of the Gondogoro La is prone to avalanche.

From the base of Gondogoro La, the 600m snow ascent takes two hours. Three steep 50-degree sections require fixed ropes; snow anchor are necessary. The first pitch goes 60m to a bench. If no steps exist, kick steps. If steps exist, they may be icy. K2’s summit begins to emerge above the ridge to the north as you climb. From the bench, the second pitch is 25m to a second small bench, with large crevasses on either side. From here, head right up lower- angle snow to the base of a large icy cornice, a part of which avalanched on 24 August 1998, killing two porters. The third pitch turns left and ascends 30m passing left of the cornice. Above, continue up easy low angle snow a short way to the level Gondogoro La (5490m).

The spectacular panorama from the pass includes K2, Broad Peak and the four Gasherbrums, I (8086m), II (8035m), III (7952m), and IV (7925m).  Trinity Peak (6700m) lies along the ridge south of the pass. The lovely snow and granite cone of Laila (6200m), first climbed unofficially in 1987 by a British expedition and officially in 1996 by an Italian expedition, rises over the Gondogoro Glacier as you turn to descend.

On the south side of the pass, use fixed ropes to angle right and down a ramp 10m to a point in front of an outcrop of exfoliating granite. Here, turn 90 degrees left and descend the 50-degree slope. This slope is snow-covered through early July, but as the snow cover melts, the exposed loose rock presents serious rock-fall danger, giving Gondogoro its name (gondo means ‘broken pieces of’; goro, ‘rock’). After the first 250m, begin traversing right down for an additional 100m to 150m, at which point the angle begins to ease. Continued use of a rope, although recommended, may unnecessarily slow the descent, particularly when rock-fall danger is present. Reach the glacier, 900m below the pass, in 1½ hours.

Follow along its north (right) margin in 45 minutes to a few stone shelters on moraine near a moraine pool. When approaching the pass from Xhuspang, this is Gondogoro High Camp (4800m), also known as Doug Scott Camp, named after the well-Known British mountaineer. The camp can be snow covered until early July. Continue another hour, 2.7km, along the north (right) side of the lateral moraine in a pretty ablation valley to the confluence of two branches of the upper Gondogoro Valley. This pleasant hillside camp site, called Xhuspang (4680m), has several tent platforms and porters’ shelters. It’s named for the turquoise (xhu) flowers that blanket this grassy place (spang) in summer. Just below camp, the ablation valley is often covered by water in summer. Behind camp a flower-blanketed hillside rises to a massive steep-walled granite prow. Water comes from nearby streams,  and a latrine has been built a short way upvalley.

Day 13 : Xhuspang to Daltsampa                    

2½-3 hours, 6.8km, 380m descent

Skirt the pool below Xhuspang in 15 minutes and climb onto the moraine where the two branches of the glacier meet. From here, no trail or cairns exist as the route changes regularly. Follow the medial moraine of the east (left) branch 30 minutes. The main Gondogoro Glacier is to the west (right) and its lateral moraine is grey-brown and higher. Continue working left over level ice 30 minutes towards rust-coloured moraine. Cross this and the brown moraine to its left in 45 minutes to a broken and crevassed band of ice. Follow this down until opposite Laila’s convex north-east granite face.  Cross moraine left to another ice band and head down towards the hillside above the major southern bend of the glacier. The massive granite prow above Xhuspang remains s visible landmark as you descend the glacier. Across the Gondogoro Glacier, to the north-west, is the awesome icefall from the Masherbrum La. After 5km on glacier, exit left off the Gondogoro Glacier through its heavily broken left margin. Once on the hillside, grazed by yaks, follow a trail turning south-west, and after 30 minutes reach Daltsampa (4300m). This beautiful camp site is sheltered in a flower-filled ablation valley with a clear stream and two small lakes with superb views of the icefalls from Masherbrum’s ridge.

Days 14-15 : Daltsampa to Hushe   

2 days, 18.3km, 1250m descent

See Days 1-4 o the Gondogoro Valley trek (p). Camp at Shaishcho on Day 14.

Another such stream in 30 minutes beyond. A cluster of huts at Ghurbun are 30 minutes farther. The final stream before Hispar village is often difficult to cross in the afternoon. If the water is too high, descend steeply to the Hispar River’s true right bank and ford the side stream where it braids out through more level ground. Pass a large spring and cross the footbridge over the Hispar River. Hispar village collects a bridge toll of per person. Climb steeply 100m in 15 minutes to Hispar (3383m), two hours from Ghurbun. Trekking parties stay in the compound of the dilapidated rest house. The camping fee, you porters can cook and sleep in the single small, intact building. Water here is silty.

Day 12 : Hispar to Huru     

4½-5 hours, 15.9km, 150m ascent, 548m descent

Follow the road one hour to a bridge to the Hispar River’s true right bank. A well-Known slide here, called Tarkiching Das, causes road blocks. Watch for falling rock. Pass a side stream, with the first water since Hispar, and reach Apiharai (grandmother’s pasture), a small grassy camp site with a spring and trees in a walled compound. Continue along the true right bank, passing two more slide areas, and reach the second bridge 2½ hours from Apiharai. Cross the bridge of the true left bank, which marks the end of Hispar village’s territory. Climb 150m in 45 minutes to reach pleasant Huru (narrow canal) with its grass, apricot orchard (2972m), spring and clear willow shaded pool.

Masochists can follow a seldom-used trail from Huru to Rush Peak for a different perspective of the terrain just covered (see the Rush Phari trek).

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