|Zone and Permit||open, no permit|
|Summary||This steep, but short, trek leads to a stunning glacial amphitheatre beneath the snowy summit of 7388m Ultar.|
The lofty summit of Ultar (7388m), towering dramatically above Hunza, is believed to be where a fairy queen once lived in a crystal palace. It’s from this sacred mountain that Hunza’s irrigation water flows. Baltit Fort guards the entrance to the steep, narrow Ultar Nala, which opens in its upper reaches into a pasture surrounded by a cascade of glaciers and granite. The walk to the meadow and back can be done as a strenuous day hike, but spending a night is an unforgettable experience. On moonlit nights, Ultar is sublime. Frequent avalanches off the icefall punctuate the stillness and echo off the peaks and cliffs surrounding the meadow.
The Deutschen Alpenverein (DAV) 1:100,000 topographic map Hunza- Karakoram depicts the area.
Guides and Porters
A local guide costs Rs 300-350 per day, but isn’t absolutely necessary. Ask for a reliable guide at your hotel, because lots of unreliable ones are out there. Trekkers have been lost and injured, however, and one solo trekker in 1994 has never been seen again.
GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK
Walk through Baltit towards the fort, under the house spanning the path, to the trailhead at a signed junction. It takes 15 minutes to walk here from most Karimabad hotels.
Day 1 : Baltit to Ultar Meadow
2-3 hours, 3.1km, 770m ascent
At a signed junction (2500m), footpaths lead right to Baltit Fort, left to Diramishal, and straight to Ultar Meadow. Go straight (north), following the canal into the mouth of the canyon. A spring is just past the canal’s headworks, 15 minutes from Baltit.
Climb steadily for one hour on a well-used, but sometimes difficult and indistinct, trail up the steep rubble along Ultar Nala’s true right bank. Rock-fall hazard is high along this section after prolonged rain, high winds or a thaw.
The trail then crosses the Dilbar canal, leaving the river’s edge. Cairns mark the way over moraine rubble, staying high above the river and rising to the base of cliffs. Pass an overflow canal, which is usually dry in the morning and flows in the afternoon. Pass the highest canal, which flows to the Victoria Monument, 15 to 30 minutes from the Dilbar canal. Here are the first views of the black rubble of the Ultar Glacier’s terminus. Follow the canal up a few minutes to the first level grassy area with a spring called Quru Phari (3000m). A friendly entrepreneur sells drinks and snacks, prepares hot meals and even offers free camping.
Continue up the more gradual trail one hour to Ultar Meadow (3270m), with good views south to Diran. Below the herders’ huts at Ultar, a rock wall usually keeps livestock out of an established camping area run by Hunza clans. A stream trickles through the compound. The camping fee inside the compound is Rs 70. Camping is free elsewhere, but there are no level spots outside. Also in the compound is a kitchen hut that prepares meals and sells drinks and snacks. Sod tables and chairs invite one to hang out. It costs Rs 80 per person to sleep in one of their tents nearby. Morning sun comes late, and swirling winds off the glacier can make it quite cool.
Alternative Day 1 : Baltit to Ultar Meadow
2-3 hours, 3.1km, 770m ascent
An alternative way into Ultar Nala is through Diramishal village, home to the Diramiting clan, and along the Dilbar canal. Part of this trail crosses private land and the Dilbar canal, constructed in 1998 and opened in June 2000, is technically closed to foot traffic. Local people are connected both about the safety of people walking along Dilbar, and also about the canal’s Structural integrity. Nobody wants the canal to break under the weight of exercise traffic. Ask for permission before wandering on your own. That said, it’s the most direct and commonly used way to Ultar.
At the signed junction in Baltit, turn left following the arrow to Diramishal. Go up stone steps and in one minute, turn right past the house next to the house with a hanging sign in front that reads ‘Hunza Fabrics Enterprise’. The narrow footpaths through Diramishal are confusing, and it’s easy to get lost. Have someone show you the way. It takes about 15 minutes to wind your way up through the tightly clustered old houses. Respect the privacy of Diramishal residents whose houses and windows you walk right by. Continue climbing another 15 to 30 minutes through fields and orchards towards a rock face, topped by the Queen Victoria Monument, to reach a spectacular view point and the Dilbar canal. If you get lost, ask for the way towards Malikamo Shikari, the monument’s local name.
Head right, walking carefully along the reasonably wide, but exposed path along the canal and into Ultar Nala. Reach the junction with the main trail in Ultar Nala in 30 minutes. About 50m before the Canal headworks, climb (left) onto the rocky moraine towards the base of the cliffs and away from the river. See Day 1 (p) for the description from the Dilbar canal to Ultar Meadow.
Side Trip : Hon Pass
4½-6 hours, 5Km, 995m ascent, 995m descent
Hon Pass (4257m), on a steep ridge above Ultar, has magnificent views of the Hunza Valley and the west end of the Hispar, Spantik- Sosbun and Rakaposhi- Haramosh ranges. The summits of Trivor, Spantik, Malubiting, Phuparash, Diran and Rakaposhi tower above the equally impressive Barpu, Minapin and Pisan glaciers. For an ‘aerial’ view of treks in Nagyr that you may have done or are thinking about doing, this is the place to go.
The popular day hike to Hon Pass is steep and strenuous, but well worth the effort. Plan on three to four hours from Ultar Meadow to the pass and 1½ to two hours to return. Those in really good shape can do the entire trip as a day hike from Baltit in eight hours. Carry water from Ultar because there’s no reliable source above.
Looking from Ultar Meadow, Hon Pass is the obvious grassy notch on the ridge south- west of the meadow. Although many people go to Hon, there’s no singles established trail except for the final 20 minutes. From Ultar Meadow, head slightly north- west, and pass the grave of Japanese climber Tsuneo Hasegawa, who died in a 1991 avalanche on Ultar II. Head up along the stream paralleling the base of the cliff. Stay towards the right, and don’t stay too far towards the inviting grass to the left. The relentlessly steep route rewards with increasingly spectacular views. To the south, the Barpu Glacier and peaks above it come into view first as the perspective on Ultar and its icefall becomes more dramatic. Eventually, cross to the left (south) side of the rocky rib dotted with grassy patches to reach a solitary cairn (4115m).
Avoid ascending the gully above the cairn. Follow the visible trail from the cairn south- south- east five minutes towards a distinctive rock outcrop. At the outcrop, the trail makes a sharp right turn and traverses the steep exposed slope 15 minutes to Hon Pass. Cows and Sheep graze on both sides of the pass. Nobody actually crosses Hon Pass, so retrace your steps to Ultar Meadow.
Day 2 : Ultar Meadow to Baltit
1½-2 hours, 3.1km, 770m descent
Be careful not to follow a canal by mistake as you descend the trail along Ultar Nala.