A man rappelled down the Brooklyn Bridge on the morning of July 4, without any safety equipment and not only lived, but had his feat captured on camera. To quote the PIX11 news anchor who covered this story, “They’re not looking at this guy like he’s a superhero; it’s more like he’s super-crazy.” The anonymous man managed to pull off his adventurous morning with only a handful of people noticing. But this story has a funny twist: the man landed on an NYPD building. Of course, with this having happened on the morning of an official and patriotic holiday in New York City, police were initially concerned that the man might have been up to suspicious behavior on the bridge, but now that a few days have passed without any Brooklyn Bridge drama, it appears as though this guy was just a thrill-seeker, squeezing iconic New York City architecture for all it’s worth.
The Gondogoro La trekking route, located in a remote region of Pakistan, is considered one of the most demanding and beautiful hikes in the entire world. The path often draws adventure travelers from across the globe, most of whom come for its legendary mountain views that are amongst the most spectacular on the planet. But in May the route was suddenly shutdown by the Pakistani government without explanation, preventing travelers from visiting the region and putting the fragile local economy in a bind.
The trek traditionally begins in the village of Askole and winds its way up the Baltoro Glacier before crossing over the Gondogoro La Pass into the almost completely uninhabited Hushe Valley in northern Pakistan. The route rises to a height of 19,488 feet and offers stunning views of the Karakoram Range that at one point includes four peaks of more than 8000 meters in height. Those mountains include Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and II, and the second tallest mountain in the world – K2.
While not as crowded or well known as the trek to Everest Base Camp or a climb up Kilimanjaro, the Gondogoro La route is nonetheless quite popular with hikers and climbers visiting Pakistan. The trail is well known for being technically challenging and can require more than three weeks to complete, depending on pace, weather conditions and the experience levels of the hikers.
It is not unusual for the route to be closed as avalanches have sealed off the path in the past. But this time the Pakistani government has simply stopped issuing permits for the trek on May 23 and hasn’t been particularly forthcoming as to why. The route does wander close to the border with both India and China, although the mountains make it nearly impossible for someone to cross into one of those countries from Gondogoro La. There is some speculation that the move was made for security purposes, although there have not been any indications of what security threat may exist in the area.
Many adventure tour companies in Pakistan rely on regular hikes along the Gondogoro La trail for steady income, as do the small villages that fall upon the route. With the path closed off there is very little income, even now at the height of the tourism season in Pakistan. Tour operators are increasingly frustrated by the lack of information about why the trail was closed and how long it will remain that way. Many of the guides and porters that traditionally work the route are now unemployed, while small inns and teahouses remain empty.
The closing of this route predates the shutdown of Nanga Parbat, the mountain where militants killed 10 foreign climbers recently. Whether or not a similar faction is operating in the Gondogoro La region is unknown, but it is possible that the government has ceased to issue permits in an effort to keep travelers safe. This part of Pakistan has a history of being peaceful and receptive to visitors, so hopefully this closure is only temporary and adventurous trekkers can return soon.
Early Sunday morning a team of armed gunmen dressed as local police stormed Base Camp on Nanga Parbat, the ninth tallest mountain in the world at 8126 meters (26,660 feet). The attackers reportedly pulled 10 climbers from their tents, bound their hands and shot them execution style. A Pakistani guide was also killed in the massacre while another Chinese climber was shot and wounded, but survived. Afterward, a militant group known as Junood ul-Hifsa, a relatively new splinter group from the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the killings, which they say were in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike back in May.
News of the attack sent a shockwave through the closely-knit mountaineering community, which has been coming to Pakistan to climb in the summer months for decades. The Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, which is where Nanga Parbat can be found, is normally considered to be very peaceful and welcoming of foreigners, which has only added to the sadness and confusion that has come with this massacre.Immediately following the attack, the Pakistani military moved onto the mountain and secured a safe exit for the other climbers, most of whom were further up the slopes at the time. At the moment, only one team remains on Nanga Parbat – a Romanian squad that is attempting an ascent along a different route. Their camp is located far from the scene of the attack and they are awaiting word to see if they will be allowed to continue.
Meanwhile, back in Islambad, other climbers are stranded in the city while they wait for an opportunity to travel to their targeted peaks. A number of teams hoping to make an attempt on K2 – the second highest mountain in the world – are now left wondering if they’ll even get a chance to climb at all. The Pakistani government want to make sure it can guarantee their safety before letting them depart for the mountains and as a result it is erring on the side of caution. While there have been no other attacks on mountaineers elsewhere in the country, an armed presence now exists on the trekking routes that lead to those peaks.
Summer is typically the busy climbing and trekking season in Pakistan and the economy there depends on visitors feeling safe. This attack is likely to make adventure travelers and mountaineers think twice before they travel to the region in the future, which could have a big impact on the poor people that live in these remote areas.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s hard not to enjoy car camping, as long as you find a destination and campground that are compatible with your interests and needs. Not that I’m speaking from experience, but … let’s just say the romantic, roughing-it weekend my ex and I had planned in southwestern Colorado a few years ago turned into pitching a tent in a trailer park populated by elderly snowbirds.
If you’re carless, or want something more adventurous/rigorous/off-beat, or safe for your bad back, I’ve got a few alternatives for your consideration. The good news is, the price points for these adventures ensure there’s at least one that will fit your budget. Depending upon where your travel plans are taking you, some regions even specialize in these types of camping trips. So get online, do some research and don’t forget the sunscreen. Happy Trails.
There are hut systems located all over North America (as well as in other alpine terrain worldwide); perhaps the most famous are Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a backpacking machine, there’s a hut hike suited for you. Tip: book well in advance. You can sometimes find last-minute beds, but this type of trip really requires advance planning.
If mountains are your thing, get on a horse or mule and take a pack trip. The Sierras, Rocky Mountains, and Cascades in particular are known for their alpine scenery and well-regarded pack trains. Tip: there’s no reason you can’t do a pack trip if you’re a novice rider, but you need to choose the right outfitter and destination; many trips are for experienced riders (you can even bring your own horse sometimes).
I love sea kayaking, but I’m too novice to attempt a big paddle on my own. When I was living in Seattle a couple of years ago, I found an outfitter who, for a reasonable price, took me on a private paddle out to one of the many deserted islets off of Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island. We camped, watched bald eagles, gorged on a Marionberry pie picked up en route, and what do you know? He taught me how to read a tide chart well enough to give me the confidence to try this type of mini-excursion by myself.
Some coastal, riverfront, or lakeside destinations offer water taxis to get you to and from your campsite. Although Kauai no longer offers this service for return hikers coming off the famous Kalalau Trail, there are plenty of other exotic options. I once took a water taxi from Picton on the South Island of New Zealand, in order to embark on a two-day hike of the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Track. Bonus: a pod of dolphins kept pace with us the entire ride out.
Sometimes, it’s just not practical or possible to do a backpacking or camping trip with a car. In a couple of weeks, for example, I’m going to do Colorado’s West Maroon Pass, which is a roughly 11-mile hike over the Elk Mountains, from Crested Butte to Aspen. Since I’m going it alone, I’m arranging for Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle to bring me back. This Gunnison Valley-based airport shuttle addition also offers summertime returns for hikers coming off the Pass. At $60 a seat (as long as they have more than one passenger), it’s worth the price to not have to sort out the logistics of a car swap or transport. Best of all, you can take a nap after all that walking.
We’ve seen some truly amazing time-lapse videos in recent months but it is difficult to top this one. It was shot on Mt. Everest this spring and delivers a true sense of the scale of that mountain. Many of the images were captured at various campsites along the route up to the summit and feature some stunning shots of the night sky above the tallest mountain in the world. It is a short, but beautiful film that will leave you in awe of our planet.