Ice and isolation in the Karakoram


Here is a story I wrote for The Financial Times about Karakoram:

Tour operators are hoping trekkers will return to northern Pakistan after the UK relaxed its warning against visiting. On a hike over the remote Hispar Pass, Matthew Green experiences the spectacular sights that await them

Ever alert to the risk that one of his guests might stray on to a trapdoor-like patch of ice, plunge into a hidden crevasse and never be seen again, Atta Khan gave the gleaming crust of the Biafo glacier another exploratory prod. A well-weathered guide, who had once rescued a man wedged 35m below the surface, he put aside his stick and uncoiled a yellow cord. “Better rope up,” he said. “I don’t trust this snow.”

The clink of metal striking metal pierced the thin air as our three-strong party snapped open carabiners and, one by one, clipped on to Atta’s line. His orders were strict: maintain single file and walk perpendicular to the chasms. Otherwise, if one should slip, the rope may drag everybody down.

It was day four of our attempt on the Hispar Pass, a 5,151m saddle deep in the Karakoram, an ethereal, granite-spired bastion in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of north-east Pakistan. Dominated by K2, the world’s second highest peak, the range began to lure a growing influx of trekkers in the early 1980s, but a surge in militant attacks in Pakistan after 9/11 has since deterred all but the most intrepid international tour companies and hit local operators hard. A further blow came on June 22, 2013, when gunmen entered the base camp of the 8,126m Nanga Parbat, killing 10 foreigners, among them Ukrainians, Slovakians and Chinese, as well as a local Pakistani cook.

…Continue reading