I had heard from trekking friends that the Baltoro Glacier, in the Karakorum Range in northeastern Pakistan, was one of the most beautiful places in the world. I just got back from there and they were right!
There are two mountain ranges, the Himalayas and the Karakorum, which contain all 14 of the highest 8000 meter (26,247 ft) peaks in the world. The Himalayas actually originate in Pakistan and can be seen from the KKH (Karakorum Highway), which is a barely passable road due to the frequent rock fall. Despite the name, it is really not a highway that runs through the mountains.
The second highest peak and the most technical to climb, K2, can be reached after a trek up the Baltoro. K2 and the Baltoro are located in Baltistan, a very friendly part of Pakistan in the northeastern corner of the country. After all the news I had read, I thought that my trekking group would be the only ones there. Wrong! My trek up the Baltoro felt like a mini U.N. I saw Russians, Koreans, Italians, Spaniards, Croats, Poles, Brits and a few Americans. One reason for this, I learned, was that Pakistan cut its climbing fees drastically and made the country far more affordable than Nepal for climbing.
The Baltoro is only climbed by foot. One member of my group was carried on the porter's back when he hurt himself. The only way to get off the glacier is by helicopter or by foot. Walking on the grey, graveled, crusty ground felt like walking on Mars and the uneven, rolling surface full of crevasses, and mini mounds of gravel looked like it could be the Continental Shelf above water, but this shelf was made completely of ice and was slowly receding inches every year.
As I walked on the hard surface, I was in a long corridor of very tall, jagged, austere, mountains. There were no other colors but the different hues of grey on the ground and on the mountain.
My Bag Porter by Jeannie Boutelle on In The Know TravelerThe trek up the Baltoro to K2 Basecamp is 3 to 7 days depending if you are a mountain climber or a trekker, but the path, if you can call it a path, contains hazards all the way. I felt like I was doing mini mountain climbs of 5-8 hours each day between walking over sand, rock, ice and snow. The entire trip took three weeks and I lost 10 lbs. It was grueling. But the views were absolutely unbelievable. Some of the peaks I saw were, Mustagh towers, Broad Peak, K2, and the Gasherbrums. It is one of the most breathtaking places for mountains I have ever been in the world including Nepal, Patagonia, Peru, India, and the Rockies.
The Baltoro is the main glacier on the way to K2 BC (basecamp), think of it as a big tree branch with all sorts of little offshoots. K2 is at the end of a smaller glacier called the Godwin Austin that forms the top of a letter "T" to the Baltoro. Basically, hang a left at Concordia, go by Broad Peak BC and you are at the BC of K2 in about 6 hours. The most amazing thing to me was that there were so many people in the world that were so fit. If you are up for a very rigorous trip, with killer views of mountain peaks, a trek up the Baltoro is the one for you. I already have 2 other treks I want to do up different valleys near the Baltoro. And it beats 3 weeks at Canyon Ranch and it is cheaper too!
Written and photography by Jeannie Boutelle
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