Long on my bucket list, the trek to K2 Basecamp will be without a doubt the highlight of my summer 2023 travels. Objectively, the 14 day trek is not a particularly difficult one, with a gradual ascents up the Braldu Valley and moderate distances: 183 km (114 miles) and 4170 meters (13,700 ft) total elevation gain. However, the limited food choices (there are no villages along the route), dubious water quality at higher camps, and a recurrence of my old nemesis, gout, provided challenges aplenty. Despite these issues, the palpable sense of history when scrambling up the Art Gilkey Memorial and the awe-inspiring huge south face of the second highest mountain on Earth seen from the Godwin-Austen glacier are experiences I will never forget. They provide ample rewards for the adventurous traveler.
The trip began in Islamabad where the group of eleven clients and our western leader, Bart, met over lunch the first day. Early the next morning, we departed for Skardu. Fortunately, the weather was good enough for the one-hour flight, avoiding the necessity of traveling about 14 hours up the Karakoram Highway. Baltistan, with Skardu as its capital, is home to most of the high peaks in the Karakoram mountain range. With an elevation of about 2250 m (7400 ft), a night spent there while our trekking permits were sorted also helped our altitude acclimatization. Early the following morning we took a convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers on the six-hour drive over increasingly sketchy roads up to Askole, the last permanently-inhabited village in the upper Braldu Valley, where the trek commenced the next day.
Day 1 – Askole to Jhola: 18 km, 520 m elevation gain
To beat the heat, each day we started trekking between 6 and 6:30 AM. The first day and a half were on jeep roads, enabling good distance as we headed up the Upper Braldu Valley.
Day 2 – Johla to Paiju: 20 km, 640 m elevation gain
We would leave the jeep track behind today, though since a river crossing 10 km above Askole has no vehicular bridge, vehicles had to be helicoptered in above that point; consequently we saw none.
Day 3 – Rest Day at Paiju
To aid acclimatization, we spent a day in camp (at 3400 m). This was our only rest day on the trek, and I can confidently say it was enjoyed by all.
Day 4 – Paiju to Horbose: 13 km, 610 m elevation gain
After Paiju, we would shortly reach the Baltoro glacier, drastically increasing the difficulty of the terrain for the subsequent week.
Day 5 – Horbose to Urdukas: 6 km, 270 m elevation gain
A short day as we continued to gain elevation. Horbose and Urdukas camps were both on the lateral moraine, not on Baltoro glacier itself. This day we had to cross two side glaciers entering from the south.
Day 6 – Urdukas to Goro 2: 11.5 km, 330 m elevation gain
A longish day in which we would leave the relative warmth of lateral moraine campsites for the next five nights, camping on the Baltoro and Godwin-Austen glaciers.
Day 7 – Goro 2 to Concordia: 13 km, 360 m elevation gain
Today we trekked to Concordia, the junction of three glaciers and the place that American climber and photographer Galen Rowell aptly named the ‘Throne Room of the Mountain Gods.’ Nowhere else on earth can you stand so close to so many of the world’s highest peaks, including Broad Peak (8047m), Gasherbrum (8080m) and the stupendous south face of K2 (8611m).
Day 8 – Concordia to K2 BC to the Gilkey Memorial to Broad Peak BC: 19 km, 560 m elevation gain
This was the BIG DAY we had all been physically and mentally preparing for. Six of the 11 clients made it to the Art Gilkey memorial on K2, and three of us also reached the empty K2 Basecamp.
Days 9-14 – Descent back to Korophon (Askole): 82 km and 880 m elevation gain
Six more days trekking were required to essentially retrace our steps back to Askole. A couple of camps were different and some daily distances greater, with of course less elevation gain on the undulating terrain heading down valley. Our final camp was at Korophon, about 10 km before Askole village. Some of us (myself included) took a jeep from there. Here are a few of the photo highlights I took of the descent.
I’ll spare the reader details of our onward journey to Skardu and then the flight to Islamabad where we went on a city tour, had a celebratory final dinner, and dispersed for our returns home.
* — a sad postscript on the two strong Russian climbers attempting to open a new route on Gasherbrum IV. Yesterday Dimitry Golovchenko was confirmed dead after falling on the south-east ridge. His climbing partner, Sergey Nilov, is currently in a hospital in Islamabad recovering from frostbite and other injuries.
Back in the UK, I’m packing for my next trip – a week hiking on Crete, with my plane departing tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for my next blog post of the White Mountains and some coastal walks on that rugged Greek island.
The Vagabond Hiker