Confluence of large mountain ranges.

Baltistan's physical environment is very mountainous. Great mountains and glaciers and rivers like the Indus or the Shyok form a spectacular photograph that has become for centuries the target of adventurers, mountaineers, scientists and travellers.

Confluence of large mountain ranges.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, not far from the capital, converge the three highest mountain ranges on earth: Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush. These mountains that were created as a consequence of the enormous pressures generated by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are still alive and growing as the plates continue to move. The orographic activity is very intense and with the erosive action of the great rivers and torrents that are born in their glaciers, the region is terribly unstable, and earthquakes like the one in Kashmir in 2005 or other natural disasters caused by large floods of water and rocks are situations to which its inhabitants are constantly exposed.

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In addition to being areas of great geological activity is the area with more glaciers on earth except the two poles. Consequently, it is crossed by large rivers such as the Indus, which originates in China and flows through northern India towards Pakistan collecting water from the Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges. This makes Gilgit-Baltistan the most important reservoir of water in Pakistan although its inhabitants can not take much advantage of the wealth offered by water for lack of adequate infrastructure.

Karakorum Mountain Range

The Baltistan region lies in the Karakorum mountain range, one of the vast mountain ranges of Asia, where four of our planet's eight thousand mountains rise, in addition to other mountains of lesser wingspan but of equal beauty.

The name comes from the Karakorum Pass (5,179 m), an ancient pass on the trade route between India and China and means "Black Stones". Many erroneously think that the Karakorum is part of the Himalayas but according to the strict geographical sense are two independent massifs, separated by the great gorge of the Indus River.

The Karakorum is about 500 km long, limited by the Batura massif to the west and the Saser to the east. It is separated from Punjab by the Shyok and Indus rivers, and Shaksgam limits it from the Kun Lun massif. It is in the center of the system, in the massif of Baltoro, where the culminating point is found, the colossal pyramid of the K-2, and around that immense confluence of glaciers also rise the Gasherbrum (ochomiles I and II), the Broad Peak, the Mitre Peak, the Chogolisa and dozens of cathedrals of stone and ice. Specifically, in what is called Great Karakorum are concentrated 10 of the 30 highest peaks on Earth and about 70 sietemiles between main and secondary.

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Given its altitude and extreme harshness, its climate and orography, the Karakorum is much less inhabited than the Himalayan mountain range. It is said that the capital of Balistan, Skardu, was founded by Alexander the Great himself and was originally called Iskandaria. It is known that Marco Polo crossed the Karakorum to go from China to Kashmir. In fact Skardu was an important stop for caravans travelling between India, China and Central Asia. From Srinagar in Kashmir the route of the caravans turned north and passing the Burzil Pass reached Skardu through Astore. Then they only had to continue the Indus River to reach Gilgit. We also have news that two Jesuits crossed the Karakorum. Father Ippolito Desideri crossed the Karakorum pass to go from Delhi to LLasa and it is possible that the Jesuit Espinaba also crossed the Mustagh pass in 1760.

Later, Godfrey Thomas Vigne travelled between 1835/38 to Baltistan, Ladakh and Kashmir, reached the Chogo Lungma glacier and climbed the Saltoro valley in search of the Saltoro Pass.


First adventurers

But the first European explorer who ventured into those lands was undoubtedly H. H. Goldwin Austen with the Survey of India explored the surroundings of K2 and the Baltoro glacier. She was followed by Conway, the Duke of Abruzzo, Longstaff and early 20th century Fanny Bullock Workman and her husband Willieam hunter Workman. It was probably Fanny Bullock Workman who first brought feminist demands to these mountains, set the female record for altitude at 7,000 meters and exhibited a magazine on the Siachen glacier at 6,400 meters asking for the right to vote for women.

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The photograph taken by her husband was very famous in vindictive environments. Sir Francis Edward Younghusband toured the area in 1889 and was the first to overcome the Muztagh Pass. In the 1910s and 1920s they were succeeded by the Italian Filippo de Filippi, the Dutch diplomat Philips Christiaan Visser and his wife Jenny van't Viser-Hooft, and so on.


Modern Mountaineering

In the work and information of those first incursions were based later the attempts to the highest summits of the massif, already in the decades of 1930, 1940 and 1950. None of the peaks higher than 7,500 m was reached before 1945. We will give an account of those first expeditions.

Today hundreds of mountaineers and climbers cross the Baltoro glacier every season, some in search of the highest peaks, others in search of the most beautiful granite towers (Grupo de Trango, Amin Brak, Changui Tower, Latok, Shipton Spire, Baintha Brakk, etc.) and the most for the sole pleasure of enjoying the most spectacular spots.

The most intrepid and prepared mountaineers have not ceased to climb the five eight thousand Baltistan by different routes. If this were not enough today the challenges are much higher and the heavy expeditions have almost disappeared. Today we climb in alpine style through the most complicated routes, and if this were not enough we add the icing on the cake of winter climbing to make climbing more difficult.

The first climbs to mountains over 8,000 metres in this region date back to the fifties of the 20th century. All were conquered between 1953 and 1958.

The K-2 or Chogori (8,611) is the second highest mountain on the planet and was not conquered until 1954 by L. Lacedelli and A. Compagnoni, members of an Italian expedition led by Ardito Desio. The conquest of the summit generated serious tensions in the heart of the expedition and in Italy by a passage or misunderstanding between the cordada that reached the summit and the one formed by Walter Bonatti and the porter Mahdi who had to spend the night outdoors above 8,000 meters surviving miraculously.

Nanga Parbat (8.125) also known as the killer mountain was first climbed by an Austrian-German expedition in 1953. It was Hermann Buhl who topped the work of the entire expedition reaching the summit alone and without oxygen. The descent under these conditions was difficult but he managed to reach the base camp. Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara and Simone Moro made the first winter descent, while Tamara Lunger stayed a few meters below.

Broad Peak (8.047) also known as K3 is a summit very close to K2 and is located at the end of the Baltoro glacier where the Godwin Austen glacier is born finishing off the circus known by the name of Concordia. It was first conquered in 1957 by H. Buhl, K. Diemberger, F. Wintersteller and M. Schmuck. As K2 is located on the border between China and Pakistan. The first winter climb is due to a Polish expedition that put at the top four of its members.

Gasherbrum I or Hidden Peak (8,068). Also on the border between China and Pakistan was conquered for the first time in 1958 by the Americans P. Schoening and A. Kauffman. The first winter is due to a Polish cordada formed by A. Bielecki and J. Golab the same day disappeared forever trying the summit G. Göschl, C. Hählen and Nissar Hussain Balti mountaineer born in Sadpara near Skardu.

Gasherbrum II or K4 (8,035). Conquered in 1956 by an Austrian expedition. S.Larch, F. Moravec and H. Willempart set foot on the summit. Considered to be a relatively easy mountain, it has taken the lives of some Basque mountaineers such as A. Ibarguren, who fell in the descent in 1989, and Félix Iñurrategi, who died in an accident on 28 July 2000 when the rope on which he was rappelling broke. Friends of Felix created in his honour the Felix Iñurrategi-Baltistan Fundazioa that since then works in international cooperation in the Hushé valley. It was conquered for the first time in winter in February 2011 by S. Moro, D. Urubko and C. Richards.

The relation of mountains that do not reach 8,000 but whose climbing is equally meritorious is endless. Mountains of incomparable beauty can be found everywhere. Trango, Laila Peak, Masherbrum, Paju, Chogolisa or Saltoro are names that arouse the interest of any mountain lover and that because they do not reach 8,000 metres or because of their technical difficulty are not climbed regularly. In this sense, the list of virgin mountains is still long.

But none of the above would have been possible without the knowledge of the local guides and the selfless work of the local porters who, with heavy loads on their backs and without clothes or materials to guarantee their safety and wellbeing, worked for centuries in exchange for very little crossing glaciers and risking their lives, guaranteeing the success of many of these scientific and sports expeditions.