Popular Gondogoro La Trekking Route Closed In Pakistan

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.

28 Climbers Summit K2 In One Day

Standing 8611 meters (28,251 feet) in height, K2 is the second tallest mountain on the planet behind Everest. It also happens to be one of the most difficult and deadliest peaks as well, which has earned it nicknames such as the “Savage Mountain” and the “Mountaineer’s Mountain.” But last week the savage was tamed when a record-setting 28 people managed to successfully summit on a single day.

Located in a remote region of Pakistan’s Karakoram range, K2 is only accessible for a brief period of time each year during the summer. Climbers usually arrive in Base Camp around mid- to late-July with the hope of taking advantage of a narrow weather window to reach the summit. In years past Mother Nature has not been so cooperative, often keeping anyone from reaching the top. Last year, only four climbers managed to climb the mountain and they were the first since 2008 when 11 people were killed in a tragic accident.

2012 has not been a particularly good year for climbers in Pakistan, as unusually cold and wet weather prevented many teams from achieving their goals. But for those climbing on K2 last week the conditions were nearly perfect for making an ascent. As a result, a record number of mountaineers were able to reach the second-highest point on Earth and add one of the toughest mountains in the world to their resume.

So far this season there have been 30 total summits of K2 with a few climbers still hoping to top out in the next few days. To put that in perspective, there were nearly 500 successful summits of Everest this past spring, which is an indication of the difference in difficulty between the two peaks. Everest may be 237 meters (777 feet) taller but K2 is orders of magnitude more challenging.

[Photo credit: Kevin Mayea via WikiMedia]

Outside magazine’s inaugural ‘Travel Awards’ winners

With twenty-three categories and every continent up for consideration, the competition is fierce, but today Outside magazine released its picks for its new Outside Travel Awards. The winners include everything from travel companies and locales to cameras, suitcases, hotels, and apps, road-tested by those in the know (you know, those people).

Amongst the chosen is Seattle-based Mountain Madness, a mountain adventure guide service and mountaineering school, for its new Tsum Valley trek in Nepal, named “Best Trip in the Himalayas.” Known in sacred Buddhist texts as the “Hidden Valley of Happiness,” the Tsum Valley lies on the edge of the more visited Manaslu Conservation Area, which opened just three years ago to tourism.

Best travel company Geographic Expeditions (GeoEx) has “consistently taken travelers to the most remote regions of the world, from Everest’s north side to Patagonia’s glaciers to the far reaches of Papua New Guinea. This year its trailblazing new terrain with a 27-day trek to the north face of K2 ($11,450).” Bonus: “the price of every GeoEx trip includes medical assistance and evacuation coverage from Global Rescue and medical-expense insurance through Travel Guard.” Not too shabby.

Also making the list: Myanmar is the “Best New Frontier;” Canon Powershot G-12 makes the “Best Camera;” the “Best New Adventure Lodge” is the Singular, outside of Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile; and the “Best Eco-Lodge” is the architectural marvel, The Mashpi in Ecuador.

[Photo credit: Flickr user tarotastic]

First woman to climb world’s 14 major peaks without backup oxygen

Another record has been set in the world of extreme sports as Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, a 40-year-old Austrian woman from Germany, summited 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without carrying backup oxygen.

Supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, Kaltenbrunner was one of four climbers who reached the summit of K2, the world’s second highest mountain at 8,611 meters high. The conditions had been rough, and the threat of avalanches had been too high for many of the climbers, including Kaltenbrunner’s husband, to continue. Despite having to trudge through waist-deep snow and battle aggressive windstorms, Kaltenbrunner continued on to success.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner began climbing mountains as a child. When she was 23, she realized she wanted nothing more than to climb an 8,000-meter peak. The then nurse saved her earnings for climbing expeditions and in 2003 became a full-time mountaineer.

In her blog, she writes, “…The burden of the last days were lifted off my shoulders – we had made it. My life’s dream has come true…”

Climbers summit K2 for first time in three years

K2, arguably the world’s toughest mountain to climb, was conquered for the first time in more than three years earlier this week, when an international team of three men and one woman reached the summit. They were the first people to stand on top of the mountain since the tragic 2008 climbing season, during which 11 people lost their lives.

Located in the Karakoram mountain range, K2 straddles the border between Pakistan and China and stands 8611 meters (28,251 ft) in height. It is the second highest peak in the world, behind only Mt. Everest, although it is orders of magnitude more challenging to climb. While each year more than 500 people summit Everest, the top of K2 is rarely visited at all due to its extreme technical challenges and notoriously bad weather. In fact, K2 has earned the nickname “the Savage Mountain” because of its high level of difficulty and the fact that for every four climbers who have successfully reached the top, one has died trying.

On Tuesday, Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, along with Polish mountaineer Darek Zaluski and Kazakhs Maxut Zumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov ended the three-year drought on K2 by reaching the summit from the Chinese side of the mountain. Climbing for nearly 18 hours, the team endured waist deep snow and -25ºF temperatures on their way up, although the winds were mercifully light and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That afforded them some great views from the summit, but the exhausted group didn’t linger for long, as they still had a long trek back to their high camp below.
The successful summit earned Kaltenbrunner the distinction of becoming the first woman to climb all fourteen of the world’s 8000-meter peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen. While most high altitude mountaineers wear an oxygen mask and tank to help them breathe in the thin air, she did it using just her own lungs, which puts her in a very elite squad of climbers.

The team has now descended back to their Base Camp, where they are collecting all of their gear and are preparing to head home. After spending two months on K2 preparing for this summit push, they are no doubt more than ready to get back to their friends and families, not to mention a few creature comforts. I’m guessing a warm shower, a comfortable bed, and their favorite foods all sound pretty good about now.

[Photo credit: Kevin Mayea]