Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pakistan 2018: The Peaks of the Karakoram

With the spring Himalayan climbing season over our attention now turns towards the Karakoram in Pakistan. Whereas the the big peaks in Nepal and Tibet dominate the high alpine mountaineering scene in the spring and fall, the Karakoram is where it is at during the summer months. Right now, the teams are still just arriving in Base Camp and the season is still ramping up. But before things start to get really busy, I though it might be worth it to take a look at the mountains they'll be concentrating on in the days ahead.

K2
This is the crown jewel of the Karakoram. Standing 8611 meters (28,251 ft) in height, it is the second highest mountain in the world behind only Everest. That said, K2 is far more of a technical climb than its Himalayan counterpart. It requires much more skill and experience to get to the top, and several years can go by without anyone reaching its summit. Additionally, it is prone to avalanches, making it extremely dangerous too. In fact, for every four summits, one person perishes on the mountain, giving it a 25% death rate. Those aren't the best of odds, although to be fair those numbers have started to come down in recent years with more successful summits due to an increased number of commercial climbers. There are multiple routes to the top, all of them very difficult, but the Abruzzi Spur is the most popular and well traveled. To put things in perspective, consider this; K2 is the only 8000-meter peak that remains unclimbed in winter. That is how difficult and demanding this mountain truly is.

Broad Peak
Situated not far from K2, Broad Peak has become a popular peak to acclimatize on in recent years before heading over to the taller mountain. Several commercial tams actually offer the two peaks as a double header for those coming to the Karakoram, as BP is a challenging climb, but not nearly as difficult as its neighbor. Stretching 8051 meters (26,414 ft) in height, Broad Peak is the 12th highest mountain in the world and it has several sub-summits that add to its appeal. The mountain is truly "broad" making a traverse of the peak a real challenge.

Nanga Parbat
Dubbed the "Killer Mountain," Nanga Parbat has a fearsome reputation that can rival even that of K2. Standing 8126 meters (26,660 ft) in height,  the peak dominates the skyline, creating an impressive prominence over the surrounding area. It trails only Everest amongst Himalayan peaks in terms of prominence. A very steep and technical climb, Nanga is another mountain that often will go several years without any successful summits. Back in 2013, a group of terrorists attacked Base Camp, killing 11 people. This attack prompted the Pakistani government to step up security in the area, but teams have been slow to return to the mountain. Last year marked some of the first true efforts to climb NP since the attack, and there are already several climbers in BC this year.

Gasherbrum I and II
The Gasherbrum Massif is made up of a group of peaks that are all closely strung together, each of which lures high altitude mountaineers on a regular basis. But GI and GII are the two summits that rise above 8000-meters, so they get the bulk of the attention. GI stands 8080 meters (26,509 ft) in height and is the more difficult of the summits to obtain, while GII is 8035 meters (26,362 ft) in altitude, and is usually viewed as the easier, less technical mountain. Of course, nothing is especially "easy" above 8000 meters, so both remain substantial challenges, although the risks are far less than other mountains on this list.

Of course, there are plenty of smaller peaks in the vincilty as well, but most are seldom climbed. Just getting to the Karakoram can be a real challenge and the trek to BC is long and difficult in its own right. Most people who do come, concentrate on one or two of the 8000-meter mountains. This leaves a number of the other peaks unclimbed and ready for someone to claim a first ascent.

That's a quick and dirty round-up of the major climbing peaks we'll be watching closely this summer. Usually the Base Camps on these mountains start to see climbers arriving now with summit pushes coming in late July and early August. We'll have to wait to see if that schedule holds again this year, but there is little reason to believe it won't.

More to come soon.

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