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.

Two Mountain Climbers Die After Making First Winter Ascent Of Broad Peak

Triumph quickly turned to tragedy in the mountains of Pakistan last week when a team of climbers made the first winter ascent of the massive Broad Peak. The four climbers battled difficult conditions and extremely cold temperatures to reach the summit, but sadly two of the men died on the descent.

Last Tuesday, Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski and Artur Małek, climbing as part of an all-Polish mountaineering squad, reached the top of the 8051-meter (26,414-foot) Broad Peak, the 12th highest mountain on the planet. The four men accomplished that feat after spending weeks on BP building high camps, fixing ropes and acclimatizing to the high altitude and inclement weather. In doing so, they became the first men to summit that incredibly difficult peak during the harshest and most unforgiving season of the year.

But experienced mountaineers will tell you that the summit is only half way to the goal and that climbers still need to safely get back down as well. After spending a short time on top of Broad Peak, the men began the long, slow and exhausting descent back to their highest camp where they could rest before proceeding down to Base Camp the following day. Unfortunately, two of the men would never make it to that point.

In the hours that followed the successful summit, Bielecki and Małek managed to stumble back to camp and climb inside their tents for a much needed rest. But Berbeka and Kowalski were both moving far too slowly to reach high camp that evening. As a result, they were forced to bivouac at 7900 meters (25,918 feet) without a tent, leaving them exposed to the harsh elements overnight.The following day the team leader spoke to Kowalski via satellite phone who told him he was simply too tired to go on. No matter how much he was encouraged or cojoled, the climber didn’t have the strength or energy to get on his feet and so he sat in place, waiting for the inevitable. There was no further contact with him by mid-morning.

As for Berbeka, he was climbing without a satellite phone but was reportedly on the move and attempting to descend the mountain. He was last seen coming down from the site of his overnight bivouac but what became of him after that remains a mystery. It is believed that he was simply so exhausted by the climb and exposure to the elements that he inadvertently slipped into a crevasse while descending.

Over the next couple of days, other members of the team climbed up the mountain to watch for their teammates and lend assistance as needed. Both Bielecki and Małek were able to safely descend back to base camp but their companions were never seen again. A massive storm moved into region over the weekend, effectively closing off all chances of survival.

With the successful summit of Broad Peak, 12 of the 14 8000-meter mountains have now been climbed during the winter. Only Nanga Parbat, which also claimed a life this winter, and the dreaded K2 remain unconquered during the colder months of the year.

[Photo Credit: Adam Bielecki]