Baltistan,

Hispar La

Duration 12 days
Distance 130.9km
Standard extreme, technical
Season Mid-June-September
Start Thungol
Finish Huru
Zone and Permit open, no permit
Public Transport no
Summary The ultimate classic traverse of the Biafo and Hispar glaciers proceeds through a wilderness of rock and ice up the Biafo, across Lukpe Lawo, over the Hispar La and down the meadow-lined snowy Hispar.

 

Together the Biafo and Hispar glaciers, the Karakoram’s second- (65km) and fifth-(49km) longest glaciers, form the Karakoram’s longest continuous stretch of glacier (114km) linked by the Hispar La (5151m).

Warning

Trekkers who attempt the Hispar La trek on their own risk both accident and becoming lost. Almost every year one or two unaccompanied trekkers disappear needlessly, falling into crevasses. In the event of injury or accident, self-rescue is the only option. Hire an experienced individual to show you the way. What would you least like to part with, your money or your life?

 

Every year, a couple of hundred trekkers traverse these glaciers and cross this difficult pass between Baltistan and Nagyr through what both Francis Younghusband and HW Tilman called the finest mountain scenery in the world, scenery that ‘attracts by its grandeur, but repels by its desolation’. It’s hard to imagine, but tradition holds that Nagyr men used to travel this route, bringing horses to play polo at Kesar Shaguran near Askole.

Over two thirds of the trekking is actually on glacier, and more than 20km of the route requires travelling in roped teams. Fortunately, only two camp sites, Hispar La Base Camp and Hispar La, are on glacier. Both glaciers have chaotic, debris-covered lower sections and crevasse fields on their upper sections. With the rigours and risks of serious glacier travel, it shouldn’t be anyone’s first Karakoram trek.

More than a dozen 7000m peaks tower above these glaciers and the Biafo’s granite spires-Lukpe Lawo Brak (6593m), Lukpe Brak (6029m), and Baintha Brak (7285m), or The Ogre- form a magnificent cathedral of mountain architecture. Lower pastures along the Biafo Glacier are used by Balti villagers from the Braldu Valley, and lower ones along the Hispar Glacier are used by Burushaski-speaking Nagyrkutz. The upper ablation valleys and meadows along the glaciers, however, are filled with flowers and are unused except by wildlife. Brown bears occasionally appear (raiding camp sites, especially Karpogoro), as do ibex and eagles.

PLANNING

What to Bring

Mountaineering equipment necessary to travel in roped teams is required (see Mountaineering Equipment,).

Maps

The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research 1:250,000 orographical map Karakoram (Sheet 1) covers the trek. The Jutmo Glacier is labeled as Yutmaru, and Apiharai as Aplahara. Huru isn’t marked. Huru is 150m above the Hispar River’s true left bank, west of the two streams show flowing north from Rush Phari.

The Italian alpine-scientific expedition ‘Biafo 77’ determined elevations for the Latok group that differ from the Swiss map. Based on its survey, it also propose reversing the designations of Latok I and II, so that the westernmost summit be called Latok I (7151m), and the central peak Latok II (7086m). The easternmost peak Latok III (6850m) is correctly marked.

Guides and Porters

Take an experienced guide who knows the route. If you’re experienced with glacier travel, you can reduce costs by hiring savvy porters instead. You cannot, however, expect porters to know how to locate and avoid crevasses, or how to use a rope safely. If you’re at all unsure, hire a guide through a trekking company. Even though this is an open-zone trek, police at the Thungol check past have refused to allow unaccompanied trekkers to proceed up the Biafo Glacier and may insist you hire someone for you own safety. Trekkers may want to first request a letter from the DC in Skardu, however, stating that they have permission to go up the Biafo Glacier.

The trek’s length and difficulty necessitates hiring porters to carry gear and supplies. The ratio of porters to trekkers typically varies from 3:1 (for smaller scale lower-budget treks) to 6:1 (for trekking parties outfitted by a trekking company). Ensure porters have adequate clothing and equipment. Whether they bring their own gear or you provide it for them, keep in mind that they will be walking, sleeping and cooking on snow and ice for days.

Balti Porters

The traverse is usually done from east to west using Balti porters. When you need more than three or four porters, hire them in Skardu. Otherwise, hire them in Haiderabad or Askole. Porters are responsible for paying for their own transport to Thungol. As supplies are consumed and loads eliminated, porters are dismissed. Porters can be released along the Biafo Glacier as far as Hispar La Base Camp. Never dismiss just one porter. It’s dangerous for a porter to return down the glacier alone and irresponsible of any trekkers to insist upon it. You’re committed to take porters that cross the Hispar La all the way to Huru.

Some confusing exceptions to standard porters’ wages apply to this trek. Porters bring their own food to Baintha I. For these four stages, porters’ wages are a flat. It’s customary for porters to butcher an animal at Baintha. For the remaining stages from Baintha I to Huru, you provide all food and fuel for porters and pay a flat rate. Wãpasi is paid, despite the fact that porters never walk back over the glaciers to Baltistan. Porters instead walk to the KKH and take public transport via Gilgit back to Skardu. You’re not responsible to pay for their transport, unless you can get porters to agree not to be paid wãpasi. They also ask for the clothing and equipment allowance. Other trekking parties may negotiate lower wages per stage or fewer stages (the authors have heard as low as 18 stages), but they also pay a lot of baksheesh or face porters strikes.

Nagyr Porters

Nagyr porters, eager for work, welcome trekkers doing this route from west to east. A porters’ union has effectively eliminated porter disputes that had plagued this area for years. The one hitch is that any trekking party hiring five or more porters must also hire a porter sirdar, who is a village representative and whose responsibility it is to select porters from their village. The porters’ wages are a flat Rs 220 per stage, including payment for food rations.

In addition, they ask for for shoes, and a goat from large trekking parties. Nagyr porters don’t ask for Wãpasi. Instead, they ask for the cost of transport, food and accommodation to get from Skardu back to Nagyr. A representative from the porter union finds you.

Stages

The route totals 22½ stages. It’s half a stage between Thungol and Askole, plus these 22 stages from Askole: (1) Namla; (2) Mango I; (3) Shafung; (4) Baintha I; (5) Nakpogoro; (6) Marpogoro; (7) Karpogoro; (8) Hispar La Base Camp (Biafo Glacier side); (9) Hispar La; (10) Hispar La Base Camp (Hispar Glacier side); (11) to first glacier to north; (12) west side of Khani Basa Glacier; (13) Hagure Shangali Cham; (14) west side of Jutmo Glacier; (15) Shiqam Baris; (16) Pumarikish; (17) Bitanmal; (18) Palolimikish; (19) Ghurbun; (20) Hispar village; (21) Apiharai; and (22) Huru.

NEAREST FACILITIES

See Thungol (p).

GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK

To the Start

See Thungol (p).

From the Finish

An unsealed road from Hispar village due to the KKH follows the Hispar River, but is subject to blockage by high water, rock fall and landslides. From June to September, you must plan to walk the 16km between Hispar village and Huru, from where the road is usually open. Vehicles from Hispar and Huru are infrequent, so either prearrange a special hire to meet you or walk to the KKH. Some parties send a ‘runner’ ahead to the KKH to request a jeep in Huru. These are typically VIP jeeps where drivers usually allow a maximum of four passengers. Huru-KKH special hires cost Rs 1700 (1¼ hours, 26km). When the road is open to Hispar village, a Hispar-Nagyr Proper special hire.

The walk to the KKH is hot and dry, so carry water from Huru. When porters carry loads from Huru to the KKH, you pay them an additional two stages. This can equal the cost of a jeep, so you may as well as hire one and enjoy the ride. Porters with no loads aren’t paid for walking between Huru and the KKH.

THE TREK

Day 1 : Thungol to Namla

5-7 hours, 14.9km, 690m ascent, 60m descent

Either walk one hour along the road to Askole or stroll two hours through Thungol and Surungo villages to Askole. This upper trail is more shaded and enjoyable, and crosses two streams in steep, but not large ravines.

Walk through Askole (3000m) and follow the canal 30 minutes to its source at a clear stream. Continue past the confluence of the Biafo and Biaho rivers, following the Biafo River’s true right bank 1½ hours to Kesar Shaguran (Kesar’s polo field). A small clear stream is five minutes before this broad, level area (3090m). After crossing the area, the trails to the Biafo and Baltoro Glaciers divide. The trail to the Baltoro Glacier continues east below the rock but- trees. The trail to the Biafo Glacier turns north-east up a rock gully between a cliff on the left and a rock buttress on the right.

Ascend amid boulders 15 minutes to a large cairn (3360m) and the first view of the Biafo. Biafo means ‘rooster’ and describes the glacier’s snout, which resembles a cockscomb. Continue on a trail through the ablation valley, descending to the broken white rock at the glacier’s margin in 45 minutes. Move onto the glacier where water lies in moraine pools. Toil gradually up past occasional cairns. After 4.5km, or three hours, on the glacier, head west (left) 15 minutes to its margin. Off the glacier, continue 15 minutes to the grassy area of Namla (3690m) with porters’ shelters and sandy camp sites. Get water from the glacier or from the silty Namla stream.

Day 2 : Namla to Mango I

5-6 hours, 6.7km, 30m descent

Leave Namla on a sandy trail and descend quickly to the glacier. Head straight out through moraine crevasses 1¼ hours to the medial moraine. Cross a medial moraine and a white ice band to a second medial moraine. This eastern medial moraine is more level and easier walking. In 45 minutes, janping Chekhma (3734m), a large, green, side valley, is visible to the west. This side valley is very hard to reach, blocked by black ice towers and difficult broken glacier. Continue along the medial moraine, passing occasional cairns made by Askole villagers who bring their yaks as far as Mango. Continue two hours from the point on the glacier opposite Janping Chekhma, until directly opposite a side valley to the west, marking the south end of the green Mango area. Cross the white ice, the western medial moraine and then broken rock-covered ice to reach Mango I in 45 minutes. Head for the ablation valley above the side valley. High water in this side stream makes an impassable barrier to approach from below. Two camps exist, Mango I and Mango II. Mango I (3660m), at the south end of this 2km-long ablation valley, is the better camp site with great views, a pond, profuse wildflowers and porters’ shelters.

Days 3-4 : Mango I to Baintha I

4½-5½ hours, 10.7km, 330m ascent

Walk up the ablation valley 30 minutes to Mango II, a large camp site, but less scenic with silty water. From Mango II, it takes 2½ hours to cross 6.5km of alternating bands of white ice and medial moraine to the Biafo Glacier’s opposite (east) margin, with good views of the Latok peaks. Descend onto the glacier and head straight out 30 minutes over broken black rubble-covered ice to a band of white ice. Follow its west (left) edge up 45 minutes, skirting occasional small crevasses. As the white ice levels out, cross it to the east (right) then climb over medial Moraine and descend to a larger white ice stream. Work east across that white ice, and ascend another, larger medial moraine.

Here, you’re directly opposite the Pharosang Glacier, an eastern tributary of the Biafo. Descend the medial moraine east and onto a third white ice stream. Cross it and the medial moraine beyond, to a broad white ice band. Follow this ice high way up 30 minutes, then cross one final medial moraine (4054m), opposite the Gama Sokha Lumbu Glacier and icefall with snowy Gama Sokha Lumbu (6282m) at its head. Cross the broken ice on the Biafo Glacier’s east margin at its narrowest point, aiming for a faint trail visible on the grassy hillside ahead.

Enter the dry ablation valley along the Biafo Glacier’s north-east margin and climb the short, steep trail along the hillside. Contour through grass and flowers, pass a small rock shelter, and after one hour descend into a large ablation valley with a broad alluvial fan. Below is Shafung (3930m), a camp site at the base of a large boulder. Warm, clear water flows by this pretty spot. Follow the stream’s true left bank to another side valley, crossing the stream where it braids into many channels. The water may be high on warm afternoons. Continue north-west, passing a small moraine lake and a possible camp site to reach Baintha I (3990m), 1¼ hours from Shafung. Almost all parties take an extra day in Baintha’s lush meadow for acclimatization and so porters can bake bread for the coming days. Tradition also dictates a goat feast for porters. A nontechnical ascent of rocky Baintha Peak (5300m) above camp, which assists with acclimatization, gives good views of the glacier, Baintha Brak and the Latok peaks. Across the glacier is Ho Brak (5364m), a single-day snow and ice climb.

Day 5 : Baintha I to Marpogoro

5½-6½ hours, 14km, 420m ascent

Stroll up the green ablation valley for 45 minutes to Baintha II (4050m), a less desirable camp site (marked by a triangle on the Swiss map) at the confluence of the Biafo and Baintha Lukpar glaciers. To the east, up the Baintha Lukpar Glacier, is Latok II Base Camp. The Baintha Lukpar Glacier’s northern arm, the Urzun Brak Glacier, leads to Latok I Base Camp, Baintha Brak Base Camp, and a single-day snow and ice climb of a 5669m peak right underneath Baintha Brak.

Move onto the Biafo Glacier, crossing broken ice 20 minutes to the smooth central ice flow. Head up the glacier, working around crevasses and ascending steadily several hours. Early in the season, this section may be snow covered, necessitating use of a rope.

After walking 8km in three to 4½ hours on the ice highway, you’re opposite the first of the three ‘rock camps’ named for the

Snow Lake

Scottish naturalist Hugh Falconer was probably the first European to discover the Biafo Glacier in 1838, and Godwin-Austen did extensive exploration in 1861, but it wasn’t until 1892 that Sir W Martin Conway dubbed Lukpe Lawo, the 5000m relatively level, snow-covered glacial expanse at the Biafo’s head, as Snow Lake. From the 6000m to 7000m peaks surrounding Lukpe Lawo descend a number of the Karakoram’s largest glacier: the Biafo Hispar, Khurdopin, Virzherav, Braldu, Nobande Sobande, Choktoi and Sim. Together, the Sim Glacier and Lukpe Lawo form one of the world’s largest glacial basins.

This icy playground is best explored on skis, which allows for relatively easy cruising and keeps you out of hidden crevasses. Mountaineers can set a base camp for exploring and straightforward ascents of 5000m peaks. Besides the Hispar La, which is the only pass feasible for most trekkers, four other technical passes lead out of Lukpe Lawo and the Sim Glacier: Khurdopin Pass, Lukpe La, Skam La and Sim La. These high and steep passes are extreme challenges for qualified mountaineers who are experienced at glacier travel through remote areas.

 

Colour of the rock (goro) above them: nakpo (black); marpo (red); and karpo (white). Nakpogoro (4380m) is a large area in an ablation valley on the Biafo’s east margin with clear water, some vegetation and room for many tents. From the Biafo Glacier, a stream from a side glacier tumbling onto a white alluvial fan is visible. A prominent yellow rock spire towers above Nakpogoro. Access to this camp is through broken ice. Start from directly opposite the camp and head straight in. Nakpogoro is used by larger trekking parties, as the higher ‘rock’ camps are smaller. Camping at Nakpogoro leaves a very long distance the next day if you intend to reach the Hispar La Base Camp.

Continue 3.5km up the ice highway in the glacier’s middle. Beyond Nakpogoro 1½ hours, you are just below Marpogoro. This small camp site with six or seven tent platforms and stone shelters is just above a side valley with a large icefall. The rock on the north side of the camp site is distinctly red, hence the name. Angle towards the red rock, working cautiously through the large marginal crevasses that guard the approach. A few flowers bloom and a bit of grass grows at Marpogoro (4410m), but the lush vegetation of Baintha is now behind. The tent sites on a lateral moraine are cold and exposed to wind, but dramatic amid the glaciers and snowy peaks. (Marpogoro is marked by a black square on the Swiss map). Across the glacier, above the confluence with the Ghur Glacier, is a single-day snow and ice climb of Ghur (5796m).

Day 6 : Marpogoro to Hispar La Base Camp

5-6 hours, 11.6km, 360m ascent

Leaving Marpogoro isn’t as difficult as reaching it. Head out, angling north 15 minutes, detouring occasional crevasses to the broad, white ice highway of the main Biafo. A steady breeze constantly blows down the glacier, making the ascent cold and tiring. It takes two hours to walk 6.5km up the white ice until you’re opposite the third rock camp, Karpogoro (4680m). The 22km from Baintha I to Karpogoro can be covered in one long day, if you’re fit and acclimatized. The camp is at the glacier’s east margin, at the confluence of the Sim and Biafo glaciers. It’s guarded by marginal crevasses, so approach carefully. To the west is the route to the technical Sokha La.

If you’re not going east to camp at Karpogoro, bear west (left) to avoid crevasses. The glacier broadens as the Sim and Biafo glaciers meet, and the ascent is gradual. Measurements here show the ice to be almost 1.5km thick and that the glacier’s surface moves 300m per year. With permanent snow cover, travelling in roped teams is mandatory and wearing gaiters is helpful. Continue 5km in three to 3½ hours to Hispar La Base Camp (4770m). Avoid placing your camp site in a crevasse field. The usual camp site, marked by litter, is near a large pool of water some 30m below. You may want an extra day here to acclimatize or to explore Lukpe Lawo.

To the west, at the head of a small glacier and on the divide between the Biafo and Solu glaciers, are two climbable granite towers (peaks 5979m and 5957m on the Swiss map).

Day 7 : Hispar La Base Camp to Hispar La

3-6 hours, 4.2km, 381m ascent

Start before the sun hits the snow and softens it. The ascent to the obvious Hispar La is a steady climb of a 20- to 30- degree snow slope. Travel in roped teams following a route up the middle, detouring to avoid numerous gaping crevasses and many more hidden ones. The broad and level Hispar La (5151m) makes a magnificent camp site in good weather. In inclement weather, get off the pass and camp lower down on the Hispar Glacier.

Conway, the first European to cross the pass, called the view to the east of Lukpe Lawo and Baintha Brak, ‘beyond all comparison the finest view of mountains it has been my lot to behold’. Just north of the pass is Workman Peak (5885m), climbed by the indomitable Fanny Bullock-Workman. Far to the west, the Ultar peaks above Hunza are visible.

Day 8 : Hispar La to Baktur Baig Gut Delum

6-8 hours, 14km, 681m descent

Start down before the morning sun hits the snow. It takes 45 minutes to one hour to cross the 2.5km-long flat pass, and another hour to descend the middle of the lower angle snow ramp, skirting yawing crevasses with icefalls on either side. The Hispar side of the pass is more heavily crevassed than the Biafo side. Once onto the lower Hispar Glacier (5040m), wend around the fissures and sinkholes 30 minutes. It’s possible to camp here on the glacier near pools.

Continue for 1½ hours until even with the first large icefall to the north. The crevasses decrease and using a rope becomes optional. Reach red moraine after 45 minutes, and 45 minutes farther, reach the Khani Basa Glacier (4511m), the first of four major glaciers that push into the Hispar Glacier from the north.

Climb 15 minutes over the moraine and cross two white-ice sections of the Khani Basa Glacier in 30 minutes, staying right. Kanjut Sar (7760m) is at the Khani Basa Glacier’s head. Enter the ablation valley along the north margin of the Hispar Glacier and ascend 30m of talus to the grassy hillside above. Pass two small possible camp sites. Thirty minutes farther, at the end of the ridge descending from point 5198 on the Swiss map, reach a large camp site called Baktur Baig Gut Delum (4470m), which means ‘Baktur Baig pitched his tent here’ in Burushaski. Here are a side stream, wild-flowers, porters’ shelters and splendid views of the Bal Chhish peaks soaring above the Hispar Glacier and Baintha Brak peering over the Hispar La.

Day 9 : Baktur Baig Gut Delum to Shiqam Baris

7 hours, 7.9km, 360m ascent, 660m descent

Cross a stream from the small tributary glacier just beyond camp and descend steeply to the ablation valley along the Hispar Glacier’s north margin. Move onto boulder-covered medial moraine 30 minutes from camp. On either side of this level moraine are heavily broken sections. Although a trail hugs the grassy hillside above the glacier from Baktur Gut Delum 5km to the Jutmo Glacier, this trail is sporadically obliterated by mud slides and avalanches and may be blocked. A camp side called Hagure Shangali Cham is one the hillside. If this trail is not passable, move out onto the Hispar Glacier, working towards its centre to avoid the Jutmo Glacier’s broken east margin where it impacts the Hispar Glacier. After two hours on the Hispar Glacier, cross onto the very convoluted Jutmo Glacier (4320m). Work around high ice walls and after two tedious hours, reach the cliff at the north-west corner of the Jutmo-Hispar confluence. A thin, steep trail ascends lose, powdery cliffs 15 minutes to the grassy hillside above (4680m). Traverse the hillside, passing several small camp sites along the trail. Each of these camp sites has excellent views and clean water. The largest one, Shiqam Baris (4170m), is 1½ hours down the trail at the end of the grassy hill. A large stream descends from a side glacier onto an alluvial plain. Shiqam Baris means ‘green canyon’ in Burushaski.

Day 10 : Shiqam Baris to Dachigan

7 hours, 13.1km, 60m ascent, 270m descent

Continue one hour on a good trail to Ulum Burum Bun (white rock ahead), a colder and less desirable camp site with no morning sun and water farther away. Cross the large stream just beyond Ulum Burum Bun in the morning when water is low. Beyond the stream, the trail along the hillside towards the Pumari Chhish Glacier is preferable, but occasionally obliterated by rock fall and avalanches. Local people know if it’s possible. The alternative is to descend the loose, cliff-like lateral moraine to the Hispar Glacier’s north margin and to follow it to the confluence with the Pumari Chhish Glacier (4080m). This exhausting, awkward route takes three hours. Cross the Pumari Chhish Glacier in 1½ to two hours. It’s much less broken than the Jutmo Glacier, and not as wide. Head for the distinctive red lateral moraine of the Pumari Chhish Glacier, which bends west beneath cliffs as it mergers with the larger Hispar Glacier. Where the red moraine ends and meets the white moraine of the Hispar Glacier (4020m), climb up the powdery cliff above the glacier’s north margin on a thin, loose Class 2 trail 15 minutes to the hillside above (4080m). After 30 minutes on a trail, reach a camp site, where water sources may be dry after midsummer. The trail climbs above and around this dry camp site and joins the trail from the west side of the Pumari Chhish Glacier. Continue 45 minutes to Dachigan (3960m), an ideal camp site. Dachigan refers to a wall (dachi) blocking the trail (gan) to prevent livestock from straying. A large clear stream waters this beautiful grassy area with grand views of the wall of 6000m peaks south of the Hispar Glacier.

Day 11 : Dachigan to Hispar

6½ hours, 17.9km, 340m ascent, 917m descent

Follow a gentle 4km trail in 45 minutes to Bitanmal (place of the shaman), an expanse of tall, lush grasses used as a pasture by Hispar villagers in late summer. Near the huts and livestock pens is a large rock and shrine. Lofty Makrong Chhish (6607m) rises across the Hispar Glacier. Bring water from Bitanmal (3660m) because it’s scarce for the next few hours. From Bitanmal, walk 15 minutes across the meadow and descend steep talus to the Kunyang Glacier’s edge. A faint trail crosses the stable, rock- covered Kunyang Glacier in one hour. The 15- minute climb to the grassy hill (3900m) on the far side (labeled Daltanas on the Swiss map) is the hardest exist from a glacier yet. It requires careful balance and frequent use of small handholds. With no more glaciers to cross, enjoy the stroll through junipers and ephedra down the ablation valley. After an hour, reach Palolimikish (3630m), a field of tall noxious plants named palolin. Continue 30 minutes to a large stream, and ford it amid tamarisk shrubs.

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