The savage mountain

The savage mountain


The moon illuminates tents pitched near K2, the world's second highest peak, in the Karakoram mountain range.

Geographically, Pakistan is a climber’s paradise, and rivals Nepal for the number of peaks over 7,000 meters. In more peaceful times, the country’s unspoilt beauty was a major tourist draw, but the potentially lucrative industry has been blighted by years of violence.


Reuters photographer Wolfgang Rattay talks about exploring mountains in Pakistan.

"When we said good-bye to each other five adult men burst into tears like little children."
Wolfgang Rattay, Reuters Photographer

I am addicted to mountains. Whenever possible I spend every free minute climbing or hiking. It’s the same with my son who works in an outdoor shop.

I travelled with my 31-year-old son Jan to northern Pakistan to see the world’s second highest mountain, the K2 in the Karakoram mountain range. We planned to go to the base camp of K2 and nearby Broad Peak at about 5,200m.

Once we arrived at Islamabad airport we flew on a small turbo-prop airplane to Skardu (about 3,000 m altitude), the starting point for our trek to Concordia.

Among mountain enthusiasts the Concordia, the confluence of the Baltoro and Godwin-Austin glaciers at some 4700m altitude is known as the world’s number one place to be.

We arranged the trip with Aziz Ur-Rahman a lovely 40-year-old Pakistani who lives with his German wife and their two young boys in Augsburg southern Germany. Aziz used to work as a mountain guide in Karakoram, before increasing violence in the area, following the September 11, 2001 attacks, led to the almost total collapse of the tourist industry in Pakistan.

In Skardu we met Aziz’ 38-year-old brother Mujeeb and two of his uncles. Altaf Hussein, a whimsical looking 64-year-old mountain guide has worked on his farm since 2007 because there are so few trekkers. Aziz’ other uncle, Shukrullah Baig, a 52-year-old former cook at Pakistan’s most famous five-star hotel chain works as a brick layer due to the lack of clients. For Altaf and Shukrullah this was to be their final K2 tour.

The next day we set off to the remote village of Askole at about 3000 meters. Askole is home to about 500 people in the Shigar Valley and the starting point into the wilderness of the Karakoram mountains in northern Pakistan.

We reached Askole at 7p.m. when the sun had just set. The tents were set up in the dark and we were all rewarded with the best food one can imagine cooked by “Magic Shukrulla” half an hour later.

Early the next morning, all our food supplies, tents, kitchen equipment, and kerosene for the next two weeks was weighed by a local fixer and chief porter. Then it was loaded onto the back of seven mules and seven locally hired porters.

The only problem was a nasty mule that hit me in the ribs when I walked by. The climbing was easy and we had no major problems due to successful acclimatisation. We had no altitude sickness except for Altaf our mountain guide. He had to go down during the snowfall and the total white-out due to the snow.

We did not achieve our goal, to reach the base camps of K2 and Broad Peak, because of heavy snowfall. It snowed nonstop for 60 hours and we lay in our tents drinking tea, sleeping and reading. In the end about a meter of snow fell. This is unusual, in winter 30 centimetres is the most that falls said Altaf, who has been leading groups here since 1980.

60 hours later my barometer signalled better weather, we had a clear night and the sun was out for the next two days. We were rewarded with a great view of the mountains after three days of waiting. We also suffered sun-burn on our tongues because we were breathing with open mouths due to the high altitude.

After the huge amount of snowfall, our mules were stuck in the snow and refused to cross crevasses and had to be left on the hill. They were lead down a week later by other drivers.

The result of the reluctant mules was that we had to carry down everything on our own. With my ribs hurting badly after the “meeting” with the mule I had to use some extra painkillers to be able to carry my gear.

The journey through deep snow was exhausting. But in the end we all made it. Altaf and Shukrullah had their decent farewell tour, Mujeeb had his first clients in years and my son and I, who originally came to Pakistan to see the mountains, found some of the nicest people we have met in our lives.

When we said good-bye to each other five adult men burst into tears like little children. We will come back to Pakistan that’s for sure.

. Pakistan. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

A group of Pakistani soldiers carry their guns uphill along the K2 base camp trek in the Karakoram mountain range.