The following treks are all in an open zone, except where noted below.
To the west and south of the Basha Valley are the infrequently visited Tormik and Stak valleys. Their rarely crossed passes make for unspoiled and adventurous trekking. Only basic supplies are available in villagers, so bring everything you need. Bagicha and Dassu (1½ hours from Skardu), Stak (three hours from Skardu) and Sassi (1½ hours from Gilgit) are trailheads along the Gilgit-Skardu road. It’s easy to get on or off any daily transport between Skardu and Gilgit at any of these places.
Ganto La (4606m) is a pass, usually open late June to early September, linking the Basha and Tormik valleys. It’s an interesting, but steep, exit from the Basha Valley. The moderate trek starts from Hemasil in the Basha Valley, just across a stream north of Chu Tron, which means hot springs in Balti. This excellent hot spring, perfect for a pre-or post-trek soak, is around 39°C, has almost no sulphur smell, and gushes forth in a large flow. The villagers have constructed several enclosed bathhouses with doors, open ceilings and cement, walled, knee-deep pools.
It takes two or three days to cross the Ganto La to Harimal in the Tormik Valley from where you can head south to reach Dassu or Bagicha on the Gilgit-Skardu road in one easy day, or head north-west and cross Stak La. From Hemasil, ascend steeply 1000m to the ridge above Chu Tron. Camp in a meadow near huts at Matunturu. The next day, continue steeply to the Ganto La, with a permanent steep snowfield below the pass. Descend steeply to a pleasant meadow camp site called Pakora. Harimal is a short day’s walk farther.
Stak La (4500m) links the rugged alpine Stak Nala to the green upper Tormik Valley, both of which have trailheads on the Gilgit-Skardu road. The demanding technical trek makes a four- to five-day loop and can be combined with the Ganto La trek (above). From Dassu, head north up the Tormik Valley. At Harimal (not shown on the Swiss map), the route over the Ganto La branches to the north-east. Continue up the Tormik Valley to Dunsa and Camp near the polo field by herders’ huts. At the valley’s head cross a small glacier and reach the Stak La. The west side of the pass is corniced, so bring a rope and ice axe. Descend the glacier about 500m to a grassy camp site near a large boulder. The view of Haramosh and its large eastern glacier, Khotia Lungma, is stunning. Follow the river’s true left bank as it bends south 20km to Stak Village. It’s possible to get a jeep between Stak and the Gilgit-Skardu road, 1km east of the bridge over Stak Nala. Transport in a wagon along the Gilgit-Skardu road to either Gilgit or Skardu, whereas a special hire.
Haramosh La (4800m) is a glaciated pass linking the Chogo Lungma and Haramosh glaciers on its north-east side with the Haramosh Valley to its west (see the Chogo Lungma Glacier map, p307). The pass is enclosed by Laila (6986m), which towers over the confluence of these glaciers, Mani (6685m) and Haramosh (7409m). This extreme nine-day technical trek, which is possible late to July to early September, crosses one of the Karakoram’s most formidable and infrequently done passes. Snow and avalanche danger are present on both side of the pass early in the season with rock fall becoming more of a danger by mid-Summer. This trek is only suited to experienced trekkers with mountaineering experience. The Haramosh La is usually crossed from east to west.
From Doko in the Basha Valley, the route follows the Chogo Lungma Glacier (see p) for the first 3½ days as far as Bolocho. From Bolocho, the route crosses the Chogo Lungma Glacier, heads south and west up the heavily crevassed Haramosh Glacier, and reaches a grassy ablation valley along the glacier’s north margin and Laila Base Camp (4100m) on Day 5.
On Day 6, rope up to reach Sharing, the level glacial basin at the base of the pass, five to six hours from Laila Base Camp. On Day 7, travel in roped teams about four hours to the pass, probing carefully for frequent crevasses. Keep to the glacier’s west side where it’s less steep and fix a rope at the steepest section near the top. Camp on top of the level, open Haramosh La. Stronger parties may prefer to combine Days 6 and 7 by leaving Laila Base Camp before dawn to ascend Haramosh La the same day, reaching the top by mid-morning.
Depending on snow conditions, you may need to fix as much as 500m of rope to descend the steep, scary snow slope on the west side of the pass on Day 8. Beware of avalanche and rock-fall danger as you descend steep scree lower down. Mani, at the bottom, is a possible camp site, but a little farther is the inviting Kutwal Lake (3260m), seven to eight hours from the pass.
Continue downvalley on a good trail on Day 9 to Dassu with views of high peaks all around. When you prearrange a vehicle, it can meet you at the roadhead in Dassu. Otherwise, walk on the road along the Phuparash River to Sassi on the Gilgit-Skardu road to catch a ride on a passing vehicle.
To attempt to cross the Haramosh La without a qualified companion who knows the route and its danger is foolhardy. Conflict between Arandu’s Balti people and Haramosh’s Shina-speakers, however, reportedly prevents Arandu porters from crossing the pass, so be sure to hire a competent Shina speaker. Local porters know the route, but don’t know where or how to fix ropes, judge avalanche or rock-fall danger, or make crevasse rescues if necessary. Wearing a climbing helmet is prudent.
It’s 14 stages total from Doko: (1) Arandu; (2) Churzing; (3) Chogo Brangsa; (4) Kurumal; (5) Bolocho; (6) Laila Base Camp; (7) Sharing; (8) Haramosh La; (9) Mani; (10) Kutwal Lake; (11) Kutwal; (12) Iskere; (13) Dassu; and (14) Sassi.
Numerous little-Known routes cross the Deosai Mountains between the Indus River west of Skardu and the Astor Valley. Three valleys along the Indus River’s south bank, Shigarthang, Basho and Skoyo, have wildlife conservation programs where the likelihood of seeing wildlife is high. Trekkers can help support these initiatives by visiting them. Dambudas and Bagicha villages, marked by signs along the Gilgit-Skardu road, are where public transport drops you off. Neither village, however, is marked on maps.
Some trekkers simply walk along the 165km-long jeep road between Skardu and Astor across the Deosai Plains in an easy four or five days (see the Burji La map,). From Skardu, the road heads south up the Satpara Valley, passing Satpara Lake and village. The road continues west across the Deosai plateau, crossing large clear streams via bridges. As it leaves the Deosai, it skirts the north shore of charming Sheoshar Lake, then crosses Sheoshar Pass (4266m, marked Chhachor Pass on the U502 Mundik (NI 43-3) map) into the Chilam Gah, which becomes the Das Khirim Gah as it descends to meet the upper Astor Valley. You can cut the walk shorter by organizing a Skardu-Satpara special hire at the start or by getting on a NATCO bus at Chilam for the daily trip to Astor village.
Nanga Parbat is visible in the distance from Deosai hilltops, but a fun two-day side trip offers never-to-be-forgotten views of Nanga Parbat. When heading north-west down the Das Khirim Gah, cross a bridge below Gudai to reach Zail. Follow a trail to the pastures above, and ascend the dry ridge to camp the first night where the entire massif stretches before you. The next day continue down the rugged Bulashbar Gah to meet the Astor Valley at its confluence with the Rupal Gah.
Alampi La and Banak La
A demanding six-day trek across either the Alampi La or Banak La, best crossed mid-June to September, links the Shigarthang and Astor Valleys. Alampi La, also used as a route between Srinagar and Skardu, was probably first crossed by Vigne in 1834-35. Banak La is a more direct and difficult route. The Shigarthang Lungma joins the Indus Valley near Kachura Lake and village (marked Katzarah on the U502 Mundik (NI 43-3) map), 30km west of Skardu on the Gilgit-Skardu road. Skardu-Kachura special hires and ones to the road’s end at Tsok. Head south-west up the Shigarthang Lungma to Shigarthang village, whose residents are Brok-pa Shina speakers. Continue west upvalley 10km to huts at Thlashing Spang where the valley divides: the west branch leads to Banak La and the south-west branch leads to Alampi La.
To Alampi La (5030m), continue up the rocky Shigarthang Lungma and camp below the pass. The ascent to the pass is over snow. The descent, initially more than 35 degrees, is extremely steep and rocky. Continue more gently to a meadow camp (4000m) in the basin below the pass. Continue 5km west down this side valley into Bubind Gah, which joins the Das Khirim Gah and the Deosai road at Gudai, two days from the meadow camp. From Gudai, a side trip offers more Nanga Parbat views (see Deosai Traverse, left).
To Banak La (4963m), follow a steep, rocky path along the stream west-north and camp above the tree line at Urdukas (3962m), 6km from Thlashing Spang. Continue up across a glacier to the pass, 6km from Urdukas. Crevasses on the glacier are covered by snow bridges until late summer, but use a rope for safety. Descend steeply 8km to Chumik (3657m) and the Urdung Gah. Continue downvalley in two days to Astor.
A demanding three-day trek over the Dari La (4724m) links the Shigarthang Lungma with the Deosai Plains. From Shigarthang village, head east then south-east on Day 1 up the Dari Lungma and camp at the lush Dokhsun pasture below the pass. On Day 2, cross Dari La, and descend to Usar Mar at the confluence of the Burji Lungma. On Day 3, walk south the road at Ali Malik Mar and ride in a jeep back to Skardu via the Satpara Valley. Alternatively, continue north from Usar Mar and trek over the Burji La (see p), making it a five-day trek.
Naqpo Namsul La
A demanding five-day near loop trek crosses the glaciated Naqpo Namsul La (5000m), a pass near the Basho Valley’s head. The Basho Valley, whose name means ‘grape’ for the valley’s vine-yards, meets the Indus River 36km west of Skardu and 16km south of Bagicha. The Basho River provides hydroelectric power for Basho, Skoyo and Rondu. Basho village (Basha on maps) is linked with the Gilgit-Skardu road via a bridge over the Indus River. Skardu-Basho special hires. The jeep road goes another 9km up the broad valley to Sultanabad, where the residents are Brok-pa Shina speakers. Skardu- Sultanabad special hires.
From Sultanabad (Turmik on the U502 Mundik (NI 43-3) map), the trek heads south-west upvalley. It then crosses the pass into the upper Shigarthang Lungma, and descends to Kachura along the Gilgit-Skardu road. Alternatively from the upper Shigarthang Lungma, it’s possible to cross Banak La (see Alampi La and Banak La,).
Skoyo village, about 60km west of Skardu, is linked to the Gilgit-Skardu road via a bridge over the Indus River (under construction at the time of research). Skoyo is 4km east of Dambudas and 8km west of Bagicha. Skardu-Skoyo special hires. Skoyo villagers have implemented the Project Snow Leopard to protect the Skoyo Valley’s snow leopard population, which is dependent upon income from trekking for support. An easy three-day loop trek visits pastures beneath the summit of Takti-i- Sulaiman (5632m).
Trango Pir Pass and Harpo La
A very demanding four-day trek across either the Trango Pir Pass or Harpo La, two difficult glaciated passes, links the Tukchun Lungma to the Parishing Gah, an eastern tributary of the Astor River, and the Astor Valley. These passes are best done-mid-July to September. The trek starts from Shoat village on the Indus River’s true left (south) side, 4km west of the Dambudas and 2½ hours’ drive from Skardu. This area along the Indus River between Bagicha and Shoat, where it flows through a deep gorge called Rondu, was once a separate Kingdom. The palace of the former Raja of Rondu is in nearby Mendi. Bridges over the Indus connect both Shoat and Mendi with the Gilgit-Skardu road.
From Shoat, head south up the Tukchun Lungma, past Harpo village to Chutabar, where the valley divides: the south-west (right) branch leads to Trango Pir Pass; and the south-east (left) branch to Harpo La. Both routes have sizable markhor Populations.
To Trango Pir Pass (conflicting elevations range from 4800m to 5600m), leave the Tukchun Lungma at Chutabar and ascend the rough rocky valley. Camp below the pass near huts at Baltal. The next day, cross the pass, steep neat the top, and descend a glacier then a steep rocky spur to Thengi village in the Parishing Gah. Follow a road 10km downvalley to Astor.
To Harpo La (5115m), continue from Chutabar up the rough Tukchun Lungma 8km where the route to the pass turns south up a side stream. Continue up the side stream and camp below the pass. The ascent to the snow line is rocky. The pass is glaciated with significant avalanche danger. Descend the steep glacier on the north side below the snow line to camp. The next day continue 4km to the Urdung Gah and 10km to Thengi, and then to Astor.
Katichu La (4588m) is a pass linking Mehdiabad (formerly called Parkutta) on the Indus River east of Skardu to the Deosai Plains. The pass is usually snow-free July to late September and the moderate trek takes three days. Reportedly, a distant K2 is visible from the pass. When crossing from east to west, this trek is easily combined with the Burji La trek, or return to Skardu via the road down Satpara Valley. Get off the daily NATCO bus or K-2 Travel Services wagon between Skardu and Tolti/Kharmang at Mehdiabad, which depart Skardu at 1.30pm and 10am respectively.
SHIGAR AND BRALDU
A moderate five-day trek into the rarely visited Sosbun Valley offers wildlife-watching opportunities and, for climbers, ascents of unnamed walls and towers. Ride in a jeep from Skardu up the Braldu Valley to Chakpo (Chokpoing on the Swiss map) and camp. Trek up the Hoh Lungma to camp at Nangmah (Nangmoni Tapsa on the Swiss map). Cross the Sosbun Glacier to Jusma camp at the base of the spur between the Tsilbu and Sosbun glaciers. Trek up the Sosbun Glacier to Sosbun Base Camp at the base of the spur between the South and North Sosbun glaciers beneath Sosbun Brak (6413m). Return in two days to Chakpo.
Skoro La (5073m) is a little-used pass, first crossed by Falconer in 1838, linking Askole in the Braldu Valley to Namika and Shigar in the Shigar Valley (see the Baltoro Glacier map,). This pass was more frequently used before the road was completed up the Braldu Valley to Askole. It offers an alternative, demanding three-day trek between Askole and Shigar, useful when the road is blocked.
From Askole, cross the Braldu River on a footbridge and ascend steeply to Thal Brok, with fine views. Continue up the Skoro La Lungma’s west bank and camp at Darso Brok, a summer pasture at the Skoro La Glacier’s edge. The next day continue up the glacier, over snow three to four hours, then turn west and climb to the Skoro La. Descend 450m steeply over snow and rock to the steep grassy slopes below. Camp here or descend another 900m to the Skoro Lungma’s head to camp. The next day, follow the stream, crossing it continuously, with several steep sections, to Namika on the road in the Shigar Valley, 6.5km north of Shigar.
The 42-km long Panmah Glacier forms the Dumordo River, which flows into the Biaho Lungma between Korophon and Jula (see the Baltoro Glacier map,). Askole villagers use summer pastures along this glacier. The Panmah is fed by two large glaciers, Choktoi to the north-west and Nobande Sobande to the north-east. The Choktoi leads to the base camp for the north face of the Latok spires. At its head is the difficult Sim La (5833m), which crosses Baintha Brak’s north shoulder. The entire area is in a restricted zone where a permit and licensed guide are required (see Trekking permit,). During the 1990s, experienced Westerners pioneered scenic and extreme technical treks here.
Treks begin from Thungol in the Braldu Valley. The approach follows the Dumordo River’s true left (east) bank, crosses to its true right bank below the Panmah Glacier’s snout, then continues along its east margin. Technical passes at the head of two eastern side glaciers, First Feriole and South Chiring, lead to the Trango and Baltoro glaciers. The First Feriole is reported to be the easier of the two. Continuing north up the Panmah Glacier, you cross the Chiring Glacier and reach the meadow of Skinmang (many ibex), a fine base for exploring the upper glaciers. The Nobande Sobande is reported to be mostly crevasse free with spectacular scenery. An unnamed pass just east of Biacherahi Tower enables parties to cross to the Choktoi Glacier and return to the Panmah Glacier in a five-day loop.
A longer near-loop trek is possible by crossing the Skam La (5407m) at the Nobande Sobande’s head, and following the Sim and Biafo glaciers back to Thungol. The east side of Skam La is reported to be straightforward, but the west side requires fixing as much as 300m of rope.
Conditions in this area can change in 1887 Younghusband found the Nobande Sobande inaccessible with ice blocks the size of house; in 1929 Ardito Desio found it remarkably smooth and was able to ski to its head; and the 1937 Shipton-Tilman expedition found it almost impassable, ‘broken by gaping crevasses and Tumbled masses of ice’. Technical trekkers must be prepared for the logistical challenges and changing conditions. Guides and porters don’t yet know these routes. If you hire someone make sure they’re adequately equipped for the rigours.
From Khaplu’s, main bazaar, a 45 minute walk leads past the polo ground to the palace of the Raja of Khaplu, with its impressive four-storey wooden balcony above the entrance. A steep 20 minutes farther is Chakchun village, with an old mosque, and fine views across the Shyok River of Masherbrum at the Hushe Valley’s head.
From the powerhouse at the upper end of the road, beyond the K-7 Hotel, it’s an easy seven- to eight- hour walk (two stages) up the Ghanche River to Ghanche Tso (lake).
From the polo ground, a jeep road climbs south-east to the summer settlements of Khaplutung and Hanjore, easy 1½ and 2½ hours’ walks, respectively, from the polo ground. The entire upper settled area, which is called Khaplu Brok, has great Masherbrum views. From Hanjore, a trail climbs behind the ridge in one long day (two stages) to Daholi Tso (lake).
Picturesque Honbrok summer pastures high above the Hushe River west of Hushe village are easily visited on a day hike. It takes four hours to climb steeply to the pastures and 1½ to two hours to return to Hushe. Cross the Hushe River on the lower of the two footbridges to its true right bank. Walk up 15 to 30 minutes to Honbrok Nala. Cross it on a sturdy wooden footbridge. The trail ascends the stream’s true left (north) bank all the way to the pastures. Honbrok has reliable spring water. June to October is the best season. Honbrok is labeled Honboro on the Swiss map. Hushe-pa also refer to Honbrok Peak (6459m) as Cigarette Peak.
The Aling Glacier, the westernmost of Hushe Valley’s glaciers, is very large with multiple upper branches. Two summits above the upper glaciers, Mitre (5944m) and Sceptre (5800m), attract climbers. From Hushe, cross the river to its west bank and reach the footbridge over the Aling River in two hours. Across the footbridge, the trail turns west into the Aling Valley to Dumsum, a summer village with a two storey mosque. Continue west along the Aling River’s true left (north) bank to Shatonchen pastures, and along the Aling Glacier’s north margin to base camp and Drenmogyalba (royal bear), the highest pasture.
Hushe-pa have 14 stages (one-way) up the demanding route, but no one goes beyond the seventh stage. The seven one-way stages starting from Hushe are: (1) Dumsum; (2) Shatonchen: (3) Base Camp; (4) Drenmogyalba; (5) Sampibrangsa; (6) Khadanlumba; and (7) Tasa.
K6 Base Camp
K6 (7281m), also called Baltistan Peak, is usually approached from Kande village, midway up the Hushe Valley (see the K7 Base Camp map,). The steep granite walls that line the Nangmah Valley, including the Great Tower (5800m) south of the summer pastures, make this a popular rock-climbing destination.
From Kande, cross a footbridge over the Hushe River, then cross to the Nangmah River’s true right (north) bank and Mingyulu village (labeled Minjlu on the Swiss map). Continue up the river’s north bank to Nangmah summer pastures and on to K6 Base Camp along the Nangmah Glacier’s north-west margin. Kande’s K6 Hotel and Restaurant, above the road’s west side, is the place to hire porters. The moderate trek totals six stages: three stages from Kande to K6 Base Camp; and three stages to return via the same route.
KONDUS AND SALTORO
The beautiful Kondus and Saltoro valleys have been in a closed zone since the dispute between Pakistan and India over the Siachen Glacier began in 1984. These valleys were always the preferred approach route to the peaks along the giant Siachen. The southern approach to the Siachen, up the Nubra Valley, was impossible in summer due to high water and quicksand. Now, Kondus and Saltoro villagers no longer see expeditions and so lose the opportunity to earn much-needed income. These eastern Baltistan valleys have some of the finest clean granite towers in Baltistan, rivaling the Trango Towers for size and sheer vertically. Despite the closed status of the valleys, climbers have their eye in first ascents of big walls in these valleys, and the Pakistan government has shown signs of relaxing the restrictions. In the summer of 2000, a group of US rock climbers received a trekking permit for the Kondus Valley and made a first ascent of a 5000m tower just above Karmading village. Contact the Tourism Division (see Trekking Permits,) through a trekking company to request permission-it may say no, but it might say yes!
From Halde village in the lower Hushe Valley, across the river from Machulu, a jeep road follows the Saltoro River’s true right (north) bank through Tsino (Chino on the Swiss map) with its magnificent granite towers to Brakhor where the valleys divide: Kondus it to the north, and Saltoro to the east.
The road up the Kondus Valley goes to Karmading, the highest village. A few hours’ moderate walk above Karmading to the north-east is the Khorkondus Valley and Khorkondus village. A waterfall tumbles over granite cliffs behind the village, and a small hot spring is 15 minutes north. The towers above Karmading can be approached without traversing a glacier. Above, the Sherpi Gang descends from Sherpi Kangri (7380m) and Saltoro Kangri (7742m). Above the pastures called Lisar (hunting ground) are clean granite walls, a climber’s delight. From Karmading, a trail leads up the main valley under the Karmading Wall several hours to the Kondus Glacier’s snout. It’s two stages to the highest pasture, Rahout Chen, passing through Byangeparo near the confluence of the Kaberi and Kondus glaciers en route. The Kondus Glacier is perhaps the Karakoram’s most difficult and chaotic glacier, but beautiful clean granite pinnacles rise above its upper reaches. From the Kaberi Glacier, some technical passes lead to Hushe’s Tsarak Tsa Valley.
From Brakhor in the Saltoro Valley, a bridge crosses to the river’s south bank. The road up the Saltoro Valley follows the south bank to Goma, the highest village. Women in the Saltoro Valley wear unique red- dyed raw wool hats with brown beaver-like tails. At Goma, the Bilafond, Gyang and Chulung streams meet, descending from the glaciers above. The Bilafond Glacier is also renowned for its granite towers. Beyond the passes above these glaciers are Indian troops.