Karakoram (sometimes spelled Karakorum) lies in northeast Pakistan and Northern India, some 1500km west of Nepalase Himalayas and north of westernmost part of Himalaya, separated from it by the river of Indus. It is often regarded as a part of the Himalayas. The mountains in Karakoram typically have sharp, angular form and many of icy peaks are surrounded by wild towers and spires.
Based on geographical features Karakoram can be divided into Greater Karakoram formed by Karakoram main chain running more or less from west to East and northern and southern lesser Karakoram chains on either side of it. Greater Karakoram consists of several Muztaghs and most of the highest and best known peaks are located on this part of the range. For climbers though, probably more meaningful distinction is to use the division based on general location. The following combines the two so that areas are listed generally from West to East and within each area from North to South.
Virtually all climbers arrive via Islamabad. The most interesting areas for climbers are located in northern part of the country, so either Gilgit or Skardu usually serves as convenient center to give access to the mountains. Is is possible to get there from Islamabad either by domestic flight or along the Karakoram Highway (KKH).
Karakoram Highway is also important means to access to the mountains, as it runs through Hunza valley and connects Gilgit–Baltistan with China through Khunjerab Pass (4693m). KKH is the highest paved international road in the world and a popular tourist attraction. Due to its high elevation and the difficult conditions in which it was constructed, it is sometimes referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Giant landslide caused part of the road to be covered by a lake, thus the road trip is nowadays interrupted by a boat ride.
Many mountains in Karakoram are very difficult to climb. Majestically shaped K2 (8611m, world's second highest mountain) is the most famous mountain in Karakoram. Called mountaineer's mountain, it has no easy route, as every route features technically difficult climbing at high altitude. 8035m Gasherbrum II, The lowest of the four 8000m peaks of the range, on the other hand is considered as one of the easier 8000m peaks. It is located very close to Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak, 8068) and these two share lower camps. Broad Peak is the fourth 8000m peak of the range. Besides 8000m giants, Spantik (7028m) gets regularly visited by commercial parties.
K2 aside, the most famous climbs on Karakoram are to be found on somewhat lower peaks. Several ground breaking climbs have been made on peaks like Gasherbrum IV, Ogre, Trango Towers and Latok. Some of the historic ascents are firmly embedded in the the history of alpinism. There are also several highly coveted objectives waiting to be climbed. The likes of North Ridge of Latok I, NE face of Masberbrum and NW Spur of Rakaposhi are almost guaranteed to place the eventual first ascent parties at the very short list for Piolet d'Or. 8000ers aside, perhaps the most actions in recent years have been concentrated on somewhat lower peaks in Charakusa and Nangma valleys around Hushe.
Generally Pakistan does not attract nearly as many climbers as Nepal. One reason for that is without a doubt political situation of some of the Pakistani's mountain areas. Pakistan has tried to attract more climbing tourism though lowering summit fees and also otherwise lessening the require bureaucracy.
The weather pattern of Karakoram differs a great deal from that of Nepalese Hiamalaya. K2 is about 1200km from the sea, so the climate is not much affected by Monsoon. Instead, there are four distinct seasons: pleasant spring (March to May); a hot summer (June to mid-September); a cool autumn (mid-September to November); and a cold winter (December to February). The summer monsoon in the Bay of Bengal moves steadily westward usually reaching Pakistan by late June and continuing through to September. Being north of, and in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, the Karakoram receives little monsoonal rain and generally has a dry climate in the summer months. During mid-summer Gilgit (1494m) is usually around 40°C with the temperature dropping 6.2°C for each 1000m. The range has severe storms, especially K2 is known for harsh weather.
Climbing season runs from June to September with July and August generally the most popular months. Outside these months snow conditions can poise a big problem at high altitude. Winter ascents are few and far between as the temperatures are extremely low.
Commercial expeditions operate in Pakistani Karakoram, but the there are far fewer people than in the most visited areas on Nepal. Of the big peaks, Spantik is reasonably popular among commercial groups, as it is considered technically least difficult and also because it's location is not particularly troublesome. On 8000m peaks several commercial expeditions operate, particularly Broad Peak and both Gasherbrums see some traffic as they count among the easier 8000 peaks. However, they are far cry form the circus of Everest due to lot less prestige. K2 would definitely be prestigious enough, but its difficulty as well as associated danger keep the number of suitors at bay.
For areas on the Indian side of line of control in the Eastern Karakoram Indian rules and regulations apply. These areas have been traditionally heavily restricted (in practice shut off), but the policy seem to have opened quite a but during 2010's), particularly regarding Nubra valley (Siachen, Rimo and Saser Kangri groups).
Chinese valleys are seldom visited by climbers as they are the most remote. Approach to K2 from China takes very long time as on top of a multi-day approach to glacier's rand where the camels stop, the mountain is still quite a distance away.
Except of few very famous peaks that are regularly featured in climbing literature, climbing in Karakoram is far less known than climbing in Himalayas, particularly in Nepal. Therefore information about the routes in 8000m peaks as well as on Trango Towers is easy enough to come by. Other than that, far less is known about climbs.
Here Gilgit area covers western areas to the south of Batura Muztagh and southern valleys reaching into Rakaposhi-Haramosh chain. Most famous, and the highest, peak of the area is . The valleys are all accessed from Karakoram highway except for the easternmost valleys reaching into Rakaposhi-Haramosh chain from the south which are accessed from the road leading from Gilgit to. The closeness to Gilgit makes this part of the range quite accessible.
Naltar valley lies in the NW of Gilgit surrounded by the peaks of Naltar mountains. The range is low by Karakoram standards with none of the peaks reaching 6000m. The peaks above the upper valley attract climbers each year. is a moderately difficult alpine climb, while is a serious mixed rock and I snow climb.
from West side (SW ridge and NW ridge routes). The routes from this side are long but probably the easiest on the peak.
Large valley north of Jalalabad. The upper valley branches into western and eastern branches. The former consists of Bagrot glacier and leads to East face. The latter can be used to approach from SW.
Complex valley with multiple branches in the upper part of the valley. The valley can be used to approach Miar (5824) and from south, Laila Peak (6985m), not to be be mixed with lower but more famous peaks in Masherbrum group) from west as well as Mani (6685m) and from NW. The valley is accessed from the road leading from Gilgit to Skardu.
Hunza and Nagar valleys are easily accessible part of Karakoram, as Karakoram Highway runs through Junza valley. Hunza's capital is the small hoptill town of Karimabad, popular with tourists because of the amazing views across the valley below and up to the peaks above Ultar.
Here Hunza valley covers lower Hunza from where it junctions with Gilgit valley (near Chalt, 1800m) to Karimabad (2660m). Upper valley is covered in Gojal. There are numerous side valleys towards both north (Batura Muztagh) and south ( and ).
The peaks close to Karimabad like , and are about as accessible as it gets in Karakoram as the chains SE side can be approached directly from Karimabad.
Northern side valleys are long and relatively complex. Of the side valleys towards north Hasanabad glacier has the most interest for climbers as it gives access to several high peaks including , , , and Bojohaghur Dunasir and . Approach from Hasanabad via Hasanabad and Muchuhar glacier to Batura BS takes 3-4 days.
Side valleys towards south are much shorter and mostly lead to just one objective, north side of Rakaposhi. It is stupendous face that rises 6000m in just few kilometers from the valley bottom and offers highly technical and very big objectives, such as . Minapin and Silking glaciers further to the east are a lot longer. The former would be used to approach from NW.
From Karimabad side valley runs towards SE first to Nagar (2400m) and further to Hispar which is located at the end of long Hispar glacier. The glacier runs for 49 km to Hispar La (5128m), where it connects with even longer Biafo glacier. This valley system divides Greater Karakoram (north) and Lesser Karakoram (south).
from the south and from the west.
49km long Hispar Glacier joins Biafo glacier at 5128m on Hispar La (Pass) which creates massive glacier corridor between Hispar Muztagh in the north and Spantik-Sosbun chain in the south. The glacier has several side valleys in both directions which facilitate access to climbing destinations. Despite there being several high peaks in Hispar Muztagh, none of them are particularly famous and ascents are few and far between.
The largest of the northern side branches are used to access the highest peaks of Hispar Muztagh: Talbut glacier for , and , Pumarikish for Kynyang Chhish and , Jutmari glacier for , Yutomar Sar South (7330m) and and Kanibasar glacier for Kanjut and .
Southern border of glacier is formed by the norther slopes of Spantik-Sosbun chain. The southern side valleys are shorter and the peaks lower. could be approached from Hispar glacier side valley, but that approach is not commonly taken. The peaks of the Spantik-Sosbun chain are generally around or below 6000m high. The highest of them is located opposite Kynyang Chhish peaks.
Large glacier with multiple branches located to the north and east of and and NW of and .
Gojal is a series of small and large valleys sharing borders with Hunza in the south, China in the north-east and Afghanistan in the north-west. The main ranges accessible from Gojal are Batura and Hispar Muztaghs. Gojal area is crossed by Karakoram highway which makes the area very accessible in Karakoram standards. Main valleys of the area are Chipursan (Chapursan) and Shimshal.
Parallel long valley to the north of Batura glacier. Surrounded by numerous 5000m peaks, but none of them famous climbing destination. The upper part of the valley consists of several glaciers, of which Yashkuk Yaz and Kuk Ki Jerab could be used to approach high peaks located at the end of Batura glacier (Ghorhill Sar, Kuk Sar, Pamri Sar, Khampire Dior) from the NW.
Highly complex valley system with numerous long and complex side valleys. Forms to NE border of Hispar Muztagh and extends all the way to NW side of Panmah Muztagh. Village of Shimshal (3000m) accessible by car from Hunza valley a bit north of Passu.
Opposite side of Karakoram highway lower peak of Tupopdan (6106m, also known as "Passu Cones" or "Passu Cathedral"), lies to the north of the village and is well visible from Karakoram highway. The whole Cathedral ridge is full of sharp rock summits.
Huge and complex glacier giving access from Passu along Karakoram Highway to north side of Batura group (Batura Wall) and Passu group. The entire glacier is 56km long. Trek along thew glacier (albeit mostly going on the north side of the glacier without actually going to the glacier that often) is relatively popular thus approach is not too difficult (3-4 days from Karakoram highway to camp below Batura Wall). The standout feature from the glacier is Batura Wall forming the souther border of the glacier. It runs for 10km never dripping below 7000m, however, the entire wall is a lot wider, running over 35 km never once dropping below 6100m. North side of Bature I has been attempted in the 50's but no successful climb has been made. Peaks of the Batura wall aside, several high peaks are located at the end of the glacier, of which particularly Kuk Sar II is very impressive. Northern side of the valley is far less dramatic consisting of peaks of Lupgar range. The peaks are generally between 5000 and 6000m high.
Much smaller glacier to the south of Batura glacier. The glacier is used to access Passu group from the east as well as Shishpare and Ghenta from north.
North side of Gulmit Tower (5810m) and NE side of Ultar Sar. Gulmit Tower is not very high by Karakoram standards. However, what is lacks in height, it makes up by appearance, as it is highly aesthetic peaks, not too different in shape from a mlot more famous towers of Baltoro and Panmah ranges.
SE side of Ultar Sar.
Home to Pakistan's highest peaks and longest glaciers. Eastern Baltistan is famed for its huge granite towers, many of which remain unclimbed. All valleys are approached from the south, where a road along Indus leads from Gilgit to Skardu and further east to Khapalu. Four major valley systems branch off from Shigar directly north of Skardu: Chogolungma glacier, Biafo glacier, Choktoi/Panmah glacier and Baltoro glacier. Hushe valley is located a bit further east and directly north of Khapalu. Areas still further to the east like Siachen and Saltoro Valley have been firmly out-of-bounds for climbers due to their close proximity to India. As the restrictions have been loosened in the recent years, it is likely that there will be reports about the expeditions to little known high peaks in these areas.
Large glacier system parallel to Hispar glacier and located to its south side sandwiched between Spantik-Sosbun chain is NE and Rakaposhi-Haramosh chain in SW. The glacier can be accessed from Skardu through Shigar valley to road end at Arandu (2800m).
The Biafo Glacier is a 67km long glacier which joint with 49km long Hispar Glacier at 5128m on Hispar La (Pass) to create the world's longest glacial system outside the polar regions. This highway of ice connects two ancient mountain kingdoms, Nagar (immediately south of Hunza) in the west with Baltistan in the east. The 100km traverse of both presents trekkers with several days of glacier landscape within spectacular mountain landscape. Biafo is most readily accessible from Askole (3020m, itself accessible from Skardu through Shigar valley).
The most famous peaks accessible from the valley are the peaks of Panmah Muztagh, most notably Ogre and Latok-group. The south sides of both of these can be accessed from Biafo glacier.
Glacier system directly north of Askole between Biafo glacier in the west and Baltoro in the east. The upper valley divides into two main forks, more southernly Choktoi (Chocktal) and more northernly Panmah glaciers. Of these the former is far more famous as it gives access to north sides on Ogre and Latok groups, both of which are notoriously difficult climbs.
Lower reaches of the valley from Askole to Concordia. The most climbers visiting the lower Baltoro glacier are heading to steep towers of Uli Biaho, Trango group and Muztagh Tower. These groups feature very difficult routes predominantly of rock, many of which count as hard classics. Main base for climbing in this area is Trango glacier which lies between Uli Biaho group in the left and Trango group in the east. Aside on Trango Peaks and Uli Biaho Tower, somewhat lower Hainabrakk And Shipton Spire are playground fro very good rock climbers.
Peaks on the southern side of Baltoro glacier are visited through Mandu or Yermandendu Glaciers. Generally the peaks here may be a bit less flashy and less famous than the towers on the north side of a the glacier but North side of Masherbrum is significant exception to that rule. It is without a doubt the standout feature of the valley. Both NE face and North ridge count among the most coveted goals for elite alpinists. Despite attempts by several very strong parties consisting of the leading alpinist, both remain unclimbed.
Flowing south from K2. The glacier is the normal base camp site for all commonly climbed routes on K2 which completely dominates the glacier. The other peaks that sees some climbing activity from the glacier is Broad Peak on the opposite side of the valley. There are several other high peaks surrounding the glacier including 7530m Skyang Kangri located at the end of the valley, but the valley is completeley dominated by the two giants.
Vigne glacier is located almost exactly opposite Godwin Austen Glacier due south of Konkordia (4650). The valley connects with Gondogoro glacier through Ghondogoro La (5614m) which makes it possible to reach Konkondia from Hushe via Ghondogoro glacier and Vigne glaciers. The main peaks surrounding the glacier are the peaks of Khumul Gri, Chogolisa, Prupoo Brakk and Tasa Brakka. Western border of the glacier consist of several lower 6000m peaks ending with Mitre Peak located just south of Konkordia. Despite its modes height by Karakoram standards, it sees some climbing activity due to its closeness to Konkonrdia and impressive shape.
The main Baltoro glacier from the Concordia upwards runs to the south of Gasherbrum group until it is divided into two branches on either side on Baltoro Kangri peaks. This part of Baltoro glacier system probably sees the most climbing activity as 8000 giants Gasherbrum I and II are climbed from the valley.
Just a bit easrt of Concordia minor side glacier leads to foot of the West face of Gasherbrum IV. The peak misses 8000 mark by just a few meters is significantly more difficult than its higher neighbors and particularly the ascent of its West face is a milestone of alpinism.
Northern branch is known as Abruzzi glacier and it is the larger of the two and also more important for climbers. Base camp for both Gasherbrum I and II is located in the lower Abruzzi glacier. The glacier is surrounded by Gasherbrum I, Urdok peaks and Sia Kangri on the north side while the souther border of the glacier is formed by Baltoro Kangri. South Gasherbrum glacier is large side valley towards NW is is completely surrounded by Gasherbrums I to V.
Southern branch of the upper Abruzzi glacier. Surrounded clockwise by Baltoro Kangri, Kondus Peak, Kaberi Peak, Ide Dome and Chogolisa and Khumul Gri peaks.
Hushe valley is a valley leading north from Khapule to village of Hushe (3200m). The valley has a great number of side valleys, some of which are very important destinations for climbers. Of particular interest are Masherbrum, Charakusa and Nangma valleys.
Horseshoe valley surrounded by numerous peaks from all sides. Main draw of the valley is south side of Masherbrum. Other peaks surrounding the valley are not particularly well known, despite there being some other 7000m peaks and numerous 6000 peaks.
Ghondogoro glacier connects with Vigne Glacier through Ghondogoro La (5614m) which makes it possible to reach Konkondia from Hushe, providing alternate access to K2 and Gasherbrum climbs. Easily recognisable Laila Peak is most likely the most climbed peak from this valley.
Relatively short valley towards north from Charakusa valley. Several peaks surround the valley, but none of them are really well known. Despite the name, Chogolisa does not rise directly from the glacier, climbing it from the valley would involve climbing Prupoo Brakk first, then traversing SW ridge of Chogolisa. Side valley towards east can be used to approach peaks of Farol group.
Of particular interest to climbers is Charakusa valley having both wild rock towers in the lower valley as well as jaw-dropping alpine objectives of the upper valley, all accessible from a single base camp. The lower valley is surrounded by Sulu (ca 5950m), Beatrice (5800m), and Naisa Brakk (5200m) on the north side of the glacier and Fathi Brakk, Haji Brakk (5950m), and Farhod Brakk (ca 5300m) on the south side. The peaks on the north side can be climbed as day trips from Charakusa base camp, while those on the south side a bit further away. North faces are serious rock climbs, south faces a lot gentler.
The main draw of the valley are the high peaks surrounding the upper Charakusa glacier: K7 West, K7, Link Sar, Hassan, K6, K6 West and Kapura. Particularly K6 and K7 have gotten a lot of attention by strong climbers during the recent years. South Charakusa glacier is the major side valley towards south between Farhod Brakk and Kapura. The main peaks surrounding the valley are Drifika (6447m), Changmah (5844m) and Thanda Parbat. The peaks are lower and on likelihood somewhat easier than the main peaks surrounding the upper Charakusa glacier.
Southern neighbour to much more famous Charakusa valley. Perhaps best known as alpine rock venue with plenty of very steep rock. Most famous wall is probably Amin Brakk which is considered more difficult than Trango Tower. That being said, several ice routes on high peaks are just as well possible from Nangma valley. At least Kapura has been blimbed from the valley.
Extensive glacier system to the east of Hushe valley. The valley gives access to some of the better known peaks of the area including the likes of East side of K6, NE side of K7, SW side of Chogolisa and South side of Baltoro Kangri. However, access is heavily restricted due to closeness of Siachen dispute.
Indian controlled areas as well as Chinese Shaksgam valley. Siachem glacier is in the eye of Siachen border dispute between Pakistan and India with both parties having constant military presence in the area. Therefore getting climbing permits in the area has been as good as impossible. However, the restrictions have been loosened quite a bit in 2010's.
Main valley to access Eastern Karakoram is Nubra valley located in India's Himachal Pradesh is used to gain access to climbs on Siachen, Rimo and North Shukpa Kungchang glaciers on Siachen Muztagh, Rimo Muztagh and Saser Muztagh respectively. The valley can be reached from Leh, the capital of Ladakh region, over Kangdung La pass. The region actually comprises two valleys: Nubra and Shyok.
Siachen glacier is the longest glacier in the Karakoram and second-longest in the world's non-polar areas. The glacier lies between the Saltoro Ridge immediately to the west and the main Karakoram range to the east. The glacier is in the eye of Siacher border dispute between Pakistan and India which has kept it firmly out of bounds for climbing activity.
From Guazgo on the bank of lower Siachen, side valley towards east leads to North and South Terong glaciers. The northern fork runs to main peaks of Rimo group from SW and leads directly to Terong Kangri (6863), Rimo III, II and I, South Terong runs in general NW-SE direction parallel to Nubra valley and reaches Chong Kumdan and Mamostong Kangri groups.
Good base for climbs on Saser Muztagh. Base camp on glacier is three days trek from the valley.
Main valley on the Chinese side to access North side of Baltoro peaks, particularly K2. Access is highly complicated from Kashgar (Xinjiang) involving 2 days by bus, followed by two days by jeep ands 8 days camel trek. Since camels can't go on glacier, it takes a lot of load carrying to be able to establish base camp on Qogori glacier.
Extensive glacier system to the east of Siachen glacier. The glacier consists of three main branches, North, Central and South Rimo glaciers. The Central Rimo glacier is the biggest of the branches and is located to the NE of main peaks of Rimo group. Shorter South Rimo leads directly to east side of Rimo I, II and IV.
Side valleys of upper Shyok river are used to gain access to peaks of Chong Kumdan, Mamostong Kangri and Saser Kangri from the east side.