|Zone and Permit
|restricted, US$50 permit
|This trek ascends the glacially carved Karambar Valley across a meadow- and lake- filled pass to Pamir grasslands, then crosses a historic glaciated pass into the Incredibly scenic Darkot Valley, which features springs and tumbling icefalls.
The glaciated Darkot An (4650m) at the Yasin Valley’s head is more easily crossed from north to south, even though access to its north side takes several days. The most desirable route for this trek from Iskhoman to Yasin is via the Karambar Valley, the dividing line between the Hindu Raj and Karakoram ranges. The rugged Karambar Valley leads to some of northern Pakistan’s most scenic places and largest alpine meadows used by Gujars in Karambar and by Wakhi in Broghil. The valley was apparently an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage route from Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to Gilgit via the Khodarg Werth Pass.
An alternative, more challenging start to the trek is possible from Chapursan, by preceding this trek with the Chilinji An and Qalander Uween trek joining this trek at Chilinj.
What to Bring
Mountaineering equipment necessary to travel in roped teams is required; crampons are optional (see Mountaineering Equipment,).
The US AMS topographic maps Baltit (NJ 43-14) and Mastuj (NJ 43-13) cover the trek. The map marks incorrect trails across the Chattiboi Glacier and along the river’s true right bank between Chattiboi Glacier and Shuyinj. The Karambar lakes are not shown. Bort is labeled Bhurt, Maturamdan as Mahtram Dan, and Piyakhin as Pekhin.
Permits and Regulations
This trek is in a restricted zone where a permit and licensed guide are required (see Trekking Permits,). Police in Imit and Lasht, and the Chitral Scouts in Ishkarwaz may ask to see your permit.
Guides and Porters
The tricky Karambar and Chattiboi glaciers and glaciated Darkot An require route finding. Since few porters from Imit, Bad Swat, Bilhanz or Bort Know the Chattiboi Glacier, find a herder from Sokhter Rabot. This route changes from year to year, and porters who crossed the Chattiboi in previous years may still have difficulty. Hire someone from Chikar to show the route across Darkot An. Iskhoman porters ask per stage including payment for food rations. Chitral porters in Broghil may ask for per stage.
The stages system is not instituted on this trek, but it’s begun to take hold. In Karambar, these stages are fixed and, unfortunately, short: Bort to Yazben, and Yazben to Maturamdan. Most porters consider it three stages between Chikar and Darkot village.
GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK
To the Start
The jeep road goes as far as Bort, but in summer, high water often blocks the road at Bilhanz. When it’s blocked, walk along the road, fording side streams as needed. Some river crossings, Such as Bad Swat River, can be difficult. It takes four hours to walk between Bilhanz and Bort. One stage is fixed between Bad Swat and Bort. You may have to pay for an additional partial stage between Bilhanz and Bad Swat.
Jeeps, which depart from Wad- din Transport Service on Gilgit‘s Punial Rd, to Bort, To Bilhanz and to Imit. Special hires to Bort, Bilhanz and to Imit. From Imit, you can also organize special hires as close to Bort as road conditions permit. Alternatively, you can take a daily NATCO Gilgit- Gakuch or Gilgit- Chatorkhand bus, which depart from Gilgit’s Punial Rd, and look for a jeep there.
The trip takes five hours to Imit via the Khanchey (Chinese) Bridge over the Gilgit River, which is beyond Signal and before Gakuch, or 5½ hours via Gakuch and over the old bridges over Gilgit and Iskhoman rivers.
From the Finish
Darkot- Gilgit jeeps and take nine hours. Darkot- Gilgit special hires. Special hires Darkot Yasin and Darkot- Gupis. Jeeps are infrequent, so you may have to wait a day or two. Darkot villagers can help you find a ride. Alternatively, you can walk along the road in two or three days to Taus or Yasin for transport. Yasin- Gilgit jeeps and special hires. A daily NATCO Taus- Gilgit bus.
Day 1 : Bort to Maturamdan
4- 5 hours, 13km, 167m ascent
Above Bort (2728m), the trail stays along the Karambar River’s true left bank to Yazben. Cross the Karambar Glacier, descending from the east and pushing its way into the valley, which can present a serious obstacle. In 1876 it stopped British officer John Biddulph who described it as ‘an impassable wall of ice protruding from a side valley.’ In 1916, Dr Tom Longstaff, Assistant Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts, found the glacier abutted against the rocks on the west bank, forcing the river to flow under it. In 1948, in contrast, the explorer HW Tilman found the glacier stopped well short of the river. A route leads up the Karambar Glacier’s north side to Kampir Dior Base Camp (4198m). Continue upriver to Maturamdan (2895m), the valley’s highest year- round village.
Day 2 : Maturamdan to Waraghut
5- 6 hours, 12km, 405m ascent
The trail crosses a footbridge to the Karambar River’s true right (west) side at Piyakhin. Continue up the river’s west side to Waraghut (3300m). An alternative and more difficult trail stays along the river’s true left bank traversing the Chilinj Glacier above a small moraine lake that has formed near its west end en route to the cable crossing of the Karambar River at Chilinj.
Day 3 : Waraghut to Sokhter Rabot
4- 5 hours, 10km, 120m ascent
Continue upvalley three to four hours to the cable crossing that leads to the river’s true left bank and the Gujar settlement of Chilinj (3450m). At Chilinj, the trail from the Chilinji An and Qalander Uween (see p) meets the Karambar Valley. The valley here is grassy and forested with steep cliffs above the river.
Stay along the river’s true right (west) bank 45 minutes beyond the cable crossing, then ascend briefly and ford the stream from a large unnamed glacier. After 15 minutes across moraine rubble, the trail descends to a broad alluvial plain and Sokhter Rabot (rabot mean a ‘dwelling place’), occupied by Uzbeks who fled Uzbekistan in the 1930s.
This plain was formed when the glacier advanced and damned the Karambar River. Across the valley is a reddish scree slope below the mouth of a valley at the head of which Wakhi herders say is a pass to the Agh Glacier in Chapursan above Biatar. Fifteen minutes farther up the trail is a clear stream. After another 30 minutes are more huts, also called Sokhter Rabot (3420m) with willows and a meadow for camping.
Day 4 : Sokhter Rabot to Shuyinj
5- 6 hours, 14.6km, 510m ascent
Continue up the grassy plain. A route from the Wakhan over the Khodarg Werth or Khora Bort Pass (Wakhi and Khowar respectively for ‘millstone’) enters from the north. This was the route crossed by Qirghiz nomads fleeing the Russian invasion of the Wakhan in the early 1980s.
Reach the lateral moraine of the Chattiboi Glacier (3510m) in 1¼ hours. For the next 4km, the Karambar River runs underneath the glacier, which fills the entire valley and provides the only route upvalley. Follow the black medial moraine up the glacier’s middle until it’s easy to move towards the right onto white ice. Follow the ice parallel to the black medial moraine until even with the main icefall to the south (left). As crevasses become more frequent, work towards the north (right) and the polished granite cliffs until just next to them. Parallel these cliffs 10 to 15 minutes, then leave the ice and climb up the Karambar River’s true left (north) bank to a trail marked by cairns. (An old trail, which is more difficult and less preferable, exits the glacier to the river’s true right (south) bank and continues up- river to a cable crossing below Shuyinj).
A few huts are nestled against the grassy hillside above the trail. Continue upvalley one hour to the base of a hill, passing many clear streams. Ascend 15 minutes to a large cairn. Continue 30 minutes to the two huts of Shuyinj (3930m). A more desirable camp site is 20 minutes farther. Cross the stone footbridge over the distinctive Shuyinj (shu means ‘black’; yinj, a ‘narrow gorge where water comes down’) stream, and ascend a short distance to a large meadow near two other huts, a rushing stream and marmot burrows.
Days 5- 6 : Shuyinj to Karambar Lake
4 hours, 12.4km, 330m ascent
Above Shuyinj, the Karambar River is clear. Continue through grasslands 1¼ hours to the base of a large old terminal moraine that runs north- south. A few huts are visible at its base, across the river to the south. Keep to the river’s true left bank and wind around the hill and up 30 minutes onto immense grasslands. Clear streams abound and wild onions grow in profusion along their banks. Ram chukor and golden marmots are on every south- facing hillside leading you into the beautiful, gently rolling pass.
One hour farther lies the opaque turquoise water of Karambar Lake (4260m), a stopover for migratory water fowl. It takes 1¼ hours to walk along its north shore, and 15 minutes farther is a large boulder with a cairn at its west end. Here are several stone shelters for porters and excellent camp sites. Rising above the lake’s south shore is Zhui Sar (peak above the lake), a snowy peak (Sar) whose glacier tumbles dramatically into the lake (Zhui) itself. Enjoy a rest day at this remarkable spot. The Karambar An (4320m) itself is 1.2km west of the camp sites.
Days 7-8 : Karambar Lake to Ishkarwaz
2 days, 34.7km, 60m ascent, 810m descent
See Days 3- 4 of the Broghil and Karambar An trek, in reverse, for details. Camp at Tir-e- Dasht on Day 7.
Alternative Camp Site
On Day 8 continue over a ridge 45 minutes, 2.8km, beyond Ishkarwaz (3510m) to the large meadows at Chikar (3570m; Chikar means ‘willow’ in Khowar and in Wakhi) where the camping fee. Several small stores sell basic supplies such as rice, flour, salt, milk powder, tea, sugar and kerosene. Chikar men bring these goods over Darkot An from Darkot village where shops are regularly supplied from Gilgit.
The 25km route between Chikar and Darkot can be crossed in two days, and involves an 1080m ascent and 1890m descent. Camp either at the base camp or on the pass.
Day 9 : Ishkarwaz to Darkot An Base Camp
3¼- 3¾ hours, 7.9km, 630m ascent
Snow on the Darkot An softens by mid-morning, which makes the going tedious. It’s a good idea to cross the pass before 9am. To do this, either camp farther upvalley beside the glacier, or depart Ishkarwaz or Chikar before dawn.
Thirty minutes beyond Chikar is an excellent spring at the edge of the fields. The first possible camp site is 1½ hours farther where a side valley opens into the main ablation valley along the Darkot Glacier’s east margin. Water is well above camp, flowing over scree. A better camp site is 30 minutes farther up the trail, at the upper limit of scrub willow, 6km from Chikar. In a small ablation valley at the mouth of a side valley is Darkot An Base Camp (4140m), with space for three or four tents. Clear water flows from the side valley over rocks above the camp site. Directly across the glacier is a distinctive black rock outcrop separating two major icefalls coming down from a prominent snowy peak.
Day 10 : Darkot An Base Camp to Rawat
5½- 6 hours, 11.6km, 510m ascent, 1550m descent
The 6.5km ascent to the pass takes 2½ to three hours. Continue up the lateral moraine, cross a ravine to a few tent platforms on the moraine (a more exposed and less desirable camp site) and in 30 to 45 minutes, reach a cairn. Descend onto the glacier itself and walk 45 minutes up the left side of the smooth, white Darkot Glacier. Aim for a rock outcrop at the glacier’s eastern head. Travel in roped teams and ascend a steep 30- degree section just west of this rock outcrop 45 minutes. Traverse right and up, passing below and to the right of a broken section to reach the level upper pass area. Avoid the glacier’s heavily crevassed middle and west margin, even though it’s a lower angle. Cross the top of the crevassed, but broad and level, Darkot An (4650m) in 30 minutes. The Zindikharam Glacier branches north- east from the pass. A well-known PTDC poster shows a Yak caravan crossing the pass.
The 5.1km, 1500m descent begins on the west side of the pass, and contours back east passing below a crevasse- filled bowl. Then head to the Zindikharam Glacier’s west margin and descend quickly to the end of the ice, 45 minutes from the top of the pass. The slope steepens here and may be ice, requiring step cutting.
Descend over rock to the level area below the glacier’s snout in 15 minutes. Cross the outwash stream to its true left bank and pass a small stone shelter. This is the Base Camp for anyone crossing the pass from south to north.
The trail becomes clear and traverses left, away from the main glacial stream, and over a small ridge that ends in a dark brown pinnacle, crowned by a large square cairn. In 30 minutes reach a possible camp site with room for a few tents and a stone circle for porters. Water, however, comes from the glacial stream.
Five minutes below is a boulder next to the trail. Craved on the boulder is a stupa and Tibetan inscription dating from the left 8th or 9th century commemorating the meritorious donation of a stupa. The inscription, translated by AH Francke and published by Aurel Stein, names a person Lirindor, with the clan or family name of Me-or, as the Stupa’s donor.
The trail descends steeply 1½ hours. Continue east, crossing several streams, one of which tumbles over the cliff in a nice water full. Below, on the valley floor as the base of the cliffs, is the trail to hot a spring. The trail from the pass, however, doesn’t go by the hot spring. The trails to the hot spring branches north off the main trail just outside of Rawat. This spring is said to be good for aching joints and bones and to cure infertility. Descend to Rawat (3100m), a lovely summer herders’ settlement.
Six or seven large streams come down all around this secluded valley and three or four glaciers perch above. To the west, the rough broken tongue of a small glacier hangs down the cliffs, almost licking the valley floor. This well- watered lush below has a sanctuary- like quality to it. The people are Burusho, and speak the Yasin dialect of Burushaski. The women wear tall stitched hats. Unlike other Burusho settlements, here the women tend the herds, a division of labour usually found among Wakhi.
Day 11 : Rawat to Darkot
2- 2½ hours, 7.3km, 100m ascent, 440m descent
Continues 15 minutes to a footbridge (2970m) and cross to the main river’s true right bank. Pass by the permanent settlements of Haribaris and Tokemaling west of the trail. Climb a short, but steep, 100m to the top of Darband, named for the terminal moraine that almost blocks the river like a closed (band) door (dar). Two trails cross Darband; a shorter, but steeper footpath and a more gradual livestock path. Descend steeply 15 minutes and cross the river again via a sturdy wooden footbridge, obscured from view as you descend from Darband. West of Darband is the Duldung Bar, at the head of which is a steep scree Ascent to the Gamu Bar Pass, the Das Bar and Nialthi.
Follow a jeep road 45 minutes to Darkot’s west end from where it takes 30 minutes more to walk on the road west to east along the village’s north side. Darkot (2760m) is green and lush with some 300 households. The imposing mountain to the west called Dhuli Chhish (6517m) is usually shrouded in clouds. Beneath Dhuli Chhish (frowning mountain) is a rock called Lamokor and Gasun village, along the river’s true right bank. Expect to pay camping fee.
Darkot or Zindikharam?
|A Chinese army led by a Korean general crossed the Darkot An in AD 747 and conquered Gilgit, which was then ruled by Tibetans and called Bru- Zha. The archaeological explorer Aurel Stein believed the Chinese army crossed the Zindikharam Glacier rather than the Darkot Glacier. But stein himself in 1913 found the Zindikharam Glacier closed by enormous bergschrunds and opted for the Darkot Glacier. Broghil residents living north of the Darkot An report that it’s feasible to cross the heavily crevassed Zindikharam Glacier in two or three days, but they prefer the easier and more direct route across the Darkot Glacier.