supported by the German Alpine Club (DAV)

Karakorum Expedition 2013
Karakorum Expedition 2013
Karakorum Expedition 2016


Our approach from Islamabad leads over 800 km on the Karakoram Highway (KKH). The bumpy jeep ride past mighty peaks of rock and ice like Nanga Parbat (8.125m) itself is already an adventure. This route of the old Silk Road is a crossroad of cultures since more than 10.000 years. And each culture has left its marks behind like a guestbook of around 60.000 petroglyphs and inscriptions known so far. From prehistoric hunting scenes and simple palm prints to Iranian, 

Karakorum Expedition 2016

Scythian, Parthian, Kushan (Gandhara), Tibetan, Chinese and even Nestorian Christian influences, Hinduism and delicate Buddhist rock carvings - every culture that passed through spread its marks along the trade routes through these valleys. Nearly each of these valleys once was an independent kingdom. Even today they speak their own languages; sometimes the languages differ within viewing range from one side to the other of one and the same valley. One of the oldest and most impressive settlements is Hunza.

Villages like Karimabad, Altit and Ganish welcome you from far away with their apricot, cherry and walnut trees - little green dots of an oasis fed by fresh glacier streams in-between the arid rock 

Karakorum Expedition 2016

deserts of the Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindukush mountain ranges, surrounded by a fantastic mountain panorama of peaks above 7.000m like Rakaposhi (7.788m), Diran (7.266m), Ultar (7.388m) and Spantik (7.027m) in the distance.

Already on our ride up the Karakoram Highway into the north, we witness how uncontrollable and hostile the Karakoram mountain ranges could be. Not only is there a persistent risk of landslide and rock-fall that can block the roads for days, but since 2010, a massive landslide had created a giant lake by blocking the narrow Hunza valley with its river around Attabad, thus cutting the only lifeline that existed here, the KKH leading all the way from Hunza to the Chinese border. 

Karakorum Expedition 2016

The natural dam had blocked Hunza River to a massive lake of more than 20km in length and up to 100m in depth, thereby swallowing the different settlements with their rare farming lands in this narrow gorge one after another. A single track is driven through this giant landslide, past boulders bigger than a house until it reaches the docks of the ferries. For the further approach, our team has to go by boat that hosts up to 50 people and transports goods for the isolated areas. It is an

Karakorum Expedition 2016

incredible ride over the green-blue coloured lake embraced by steep rock cliffs – a surrealistic panorama.

On our arrival after nearly two hours, we continue our journey by jeep, heading towards mighty Tupodan mountain, past Passu Village, where a jeep track turns off the KKH into a hidden narrow gorge – turning into a nerve wrecking adventurous shelf road with a cliff falling several hundred meters straight down into Shimshal river below, allowing

Karakorum Expedition 2016

the driver not a single mistake. But it exactly is this ragged, crumbly road that took more than 20 years to get constructed by the Shimshali people themselves for breaking the isolation of their valley. It was finally completed in 2003. Before that, there was not a shorter way to reach their remote settlements than trekking for several days on foot….the same for transporting any goods they themselves could not produce.

From the end of the valley we start our trek and head into a north-eastern gorge, following the Ganj-i-Tang river upstream. Sir Georger Cockerill described the route: “...a stream called Tang flows in from the north-east through a gorge so narrow as to be scarcely visible, and so hemmed in by precipices as to be

impassable. The path turns steeply up its left bank for several hundred feet. As it ascends, an open plain is reached from which a magnificent view is obtained to the south-east up the Shingshal valley, across the Yazghil glacier, over the snout of the Khurdopin glacier, and beyond as far as the main Karakoram range...still ascending the path grows narrower and more difficult at every step. Now it strikes across slipping shingle slopes which, a few feet below, end in a precipice; here and there it leads over a single gnarled tree-branch bridging a seamless cliff, now it ascends and now descends a fragile wooden staircase, and finally, after reaching a height of 12,600 feet, plunges 1,500 feet over steep rock-faces to the very edge of the Tang stream. The gorge here is but 15 yards wide, a mere sunless rift in the black rock. Scrambling over and under great boulders we forded the torrent fourteen times in the next mile, and as often again a sheath of ice across two sunken rocks presented the alternative of a slippery bridge. Suddenly the gorge widens to 60 paces. On either side rise em­battled walls of gravel.....The track was not easy; now it traversed a rotten cliff and now crossed a deep chasm by a fragile bridge.....and climb­ing 1,000 feet emerged upon a broad shelving plain over which we trudged for 2 or 3 miles till we came to a deep ravine at the edge of which was the cairn that marked the westerly point reached by Captain Younghusband. Just beyond was Shuijerab, where he camped.”[1]

Coming from the opposite direction, Shipton remarked, that “these terraces were more imposing than anything we had seen on the northern watershed…the most fantastic ravine carved out of these alluvial deposits by a side stream.” And that without an impressive path driven through it by the locals, “it would have presented an unsurmountable obstacle. As it was, a stairway had been engineered through it with astonishing skill, and it was now an easy matter to descend the 1.500 feet into this fearsome gorge….The pioneers of the route must have had a remarkable determination, for anything less promising than the way they had chosen must be hard to imagine….the gorge below us was so bad that not even the ingenuity of the natives, with hundreds of years at their disposal, had been able to construct a way through while the river was at its summer level.”[2]

Three years earlier than Cockerill, Francis Younghusband noticed further upstream: “The valley we were in soon narrowed to a precipitous gorge….impracticable for ponies and even very difficult for men.”[3] From here, Younghusband returned to Shimshal Pass and we follow his footsteps past the “Steep sided barren valley of Shuijerab[4] to reach the famous Shimshal Pass.

Shimshal Pass, watershed of the Mustagh Range, between Central Asia and the Indian plains starting point for the feared and famous raids of the Hunza Kingdom on caravans passing by on the Leh-Yarkand route, was first discovered for the western world by Francis Younghusband, who describes the pass for which he had been seeking during so many weeks: “The pass which is a pamir….a nearly level plain of very shallow and wide through between high mountains on each side….there were two small lakes”, further “This Shimshal Pass forms one of those remarkable depressions which are here and there met with in these mountains...There where patches of good grass both here and on the flat surface of the pass, but no trees and only low dwarf bushes.”[5]

Shipton described his arrival at Shimshal Pass: “I sat for a long time on the crest of the pass, cought up in the magic of the view.... The view in every direction of this plain were magnificent. The limestone peaks to the south-west rose sheer out of a flat glacier....in contrast to these, the Jörkul Peaks, to the north, showed the gently rounded ice caps.”[6] Shimshal Lake is decribed as “a great blue lake, a square mile or more in area.”[7]

While raiders from Hunza and Shimshal used the pass as a starting point for their attacks, as Younghusband reports of a case in autumn 1888, shortly before his arrival: “A party of eighty-seven men of Hunza, armed some with matchlocks, some with swords, and some with picks only, had come from the Shimshal Pass…., attacked a (Kirghiz) caravan and carried off a quantity of goods and captured, to take away as slaves, took with them some 21 Kirghiz men and women.”[8]

Our team proceeds over the pass on our raid for unclimbed secret peaks.....

[1] Cockerill, George: Pioneer Exploration in Hunza and Chitral,1939, in: Himalayan Journal 11, http://www.himalayanclub.org/journal/pioneer-exploration-in-hunza-and-chitral/

[2] Shipton, Eric: Blank on the Map, 1938, in: Shipton, Eric: The Six Mountain Travel Book, 2012,  p.293

[3] Younghusband, Col. Francis Edward: The Heart of a Continent, 1904,pp.232.

[4] Shipton, Eric: Blank on the Map, 1938, in: Shipton, Eric: The Six Mountain Travel Book, 2012,  p.292.

[5] Younghusband, Col. Francis Edward: The Heart of a Continent, 1904, pp.231-232.

[6] Shipton, Eric: Blank on the Map, 1938, in: Shipton, Eric: The Six Mountain Travel Book, 2012,  pp.291-292.

[7] Shipton, Eric: Blank on the Map, 1938, in: Shipton, Eric: The Six Mountain Travel Book, 2012, p.292.

[8] Younghusband, Col. Francis Edward: The Heart of a Continent, 1904, pp.197-198.