Bordering Pakistan and China, K2 stands tall in the Karakorum range at 28,251 feet making it the second tallest mountain in the world. Nestled deep in the Karakoram range of Northern Pakistan lies a series of legendary mountains steeped in mystery, cloud, snow and ice. It traverses some of the most spectacular mountain scenery on the planet, the most humbling of which is seen at Concordia, dubbed the “Throne Room of the Mountain Gods” by the famous mountaineer/photographer Galen Rowell, is a truly remarkable place.
Three major glaciers converge at this point, creating a natural amphitheater that offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Above, four of the world’s 14 eight-thousand meters peaks stand shoulder to shoulder, their soaring summits rising 3,050 meters/10,000 feet into the sky.
But there are other famous peaks here too: Gasherbrum IV, Chogolisa, the Golden Throne, Marble Peak, Crystal Peak, Angel Peak, Bride Peak, Mustagh Tower, and in the distance Paiju Peak and Masherbrum – not to mention the four eight-thousand metres giants themselves: K2, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum I and II. The region boasts the greatest concentration of 8,000-metre peaks anywhere in the world, and more than a 100 summits that exceed 7,720 meters/25,000 feet in altitude.
Summiting K2 is widely considered the ultimate prize for elite mountaineers. It may be second in stature to Everest, but it has a grace and symmetry that make it the most striking of the 14 eight-thousanders. It is possible to experience K2 without having to scale one of her death-defying flanks. The standard base camp approach, or trek, is in Pakistan. Karakoram has been described by Fosco Maraini as the greatest museum of shape and form on earth.
Treks into this region are undertaken ‘expedition style’ – everything needed for survival being carried in by a team of porters: food, tents, bedding, tables and chairs, fuel, cooking apparatus and personal belongings. Once you leave trailhead village of Askole on day one of the trek, there are no permanent human settlements. There are no villages along the way, and no where to collect supplies. The K2 Base Camp trek is one of the most popular trekking holidays on earth. Walking through the stunning Baltoro region of Pakistan to view the highest peaks in the world is an adventure of a lifetime and something everyone should (and can) experience at least once. While this iconic trek does not require climbing skills, you need a good level of fitness and determination. K2 base camp sits at 16,400 feet. The altitude change over the trek is spread out quite a lot as in the beginning it is slow going, walking up the valley and gaining height gradually.
The trek is challenging. The absence of proper trails and the loose moraine and scree on the Baltoro Glacier can make it slow at times. Additionally, you’ll be camping on the glacier for at least four nights, which is significantly colder than sleeping on rock or grass. Baltoro Glacier, the second-longest glacier outside of the poles, extends for 62 kilometers, and has been measured scientifically to a depth of more than a mile.
The surface of the glacier has a life all its own, with huge chunks of sharp-pointed ice (which resemble the white sails on sailing ships) ‘floating’ on top of the glacier – which is indeed a ‘river of ice’. There are also clear streams of melt-water on the surface of the glacier flowing for many kilometers through narrow channels, before being sucked down into the bowels of the glacier to join the highly sedimented water that flows at rock-bed level. This water later emerges as a fully-fledged river, that passes down the Shigar valley to the mighty Indus river, three hundred kilometers away.