Glacier Trekking to Pakistan'sLegendary Snow Lake

  |  Gorp.com
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The Karakoram, the westernmost range of the Himalayas, is a desolate land of extremes that encompasses the earth's most dramatic, jagged high peaks and its longest glaciers outside the polar regions. In the middle of it all is Snow Lake, a vast basin of ice at 16,000 feet ringed by sawtooth peaks that explorer Martin Conway described as "beyond all comparison the finest view of mountains it has ever been my lot to behold, nor do I believe the world can hold a finer."

The route to Snow Lake starts at the village of Askole and proceeds up the 40-mile long Biafo Glacier, passing a gauntlet of spires reminiscent of the aguilles of Chamonix—but almost two miles higher. The glacier ends at its source, Snow Lake, an inland sea of ice punctuated by mountainous "islands" that thrust up from its surface. Trekkers then cross the 17,000-foot Hispar La to the Hispar Glacier, which descends 35 miles to the Hunza Valley, the prototype for James Hilton's Shangri-La. Although the terrain is gentle by Himalayan standards—most of the time you're walking on the glaciers themselves—the footing can be difficult. And the utterly barren landscape, devoid of vegetation and people, can be mentally trying for some. But for one glance at the grandeur of Snow Lake, these are scant drawbacks indeed.

Practically Speaking

Trekking to Snow Lake is impractical on your own. A guide and porters are a virtual necessity. The easiest alternative, of course, is to sign up with one of several U.S. outfitters who run this trek as a turnkey operation, at a cost of about $3,000-$4,000 from Islamabad. (Trip lengths range from 22 to 30 days and per-diem costs from $120 to $140 per person.) A second reasonable alternative is to arrange for a guide and porters with a reputable Pakistani company in Islamabad or Pindi. Prices vary widely, from perhaps $50-80 per person per day, but so does the competence of the guides. Aim for the high end. We would not recommend the bare minimum alternative: hiring a freelance guide and a porter or two in Skardu or Askole for $30-$40 per day. In 1937, explorer Eric Shipton called the residents of Askole a "depressingly weedy crowd," and things haven't improved much since. This is a potentially dangerous trek, with ice crevasses, and you definitely need a competent guide.

The trekking season in the Karakoram is a short one: July and August.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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