Why Pakistan should be your pick for a post-lockdown adventure
It is autumn of 2019 and the world knows nothing of Covid-19 or R numbers. I’m stood at Concordia camp in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. Tomorrow, I will complete the final leg of a two-week trek to K2 base camp at the foot of Earth’s second-highest mountain. Concordia is located at the confluence of the Baltoro and Godwin-Austen glaciers at around 4,600m (15,091ft) – only slightly lower than the summit of Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak. The scene makes the Alps look distinctly Lilliputian, delivering a sense of scale and perspective that can only be found in Asia’s great ranges. Indeed, the enormous rocky amphitheatre surrounding Concordia contains the planet’s densest cluster of sky-scraping summits, including four of the 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ – the world’s only peaks above 8,000m (26,000ft). As I turn to my left and gaze along the immense Godwin-Austen Glacier, K2 soars in splendid isolation above the neighbouring moraine, its towering bulk utterly overwhelming. Pakistan’s ‘Savage Mountain’ may be second in stature to Nepal’s Everest, but the mountain has poise and symmetry that, in my mind, makes it the most impressive of all of Earth’s great peaks. But, while Nepal attracts over a million annual visitors to its trails, Pakistan’s trekking industry has stagnated since 9/11. However, that may all be about to change. Following his 2018 election victory, Imran Khan highlighted tourism and national security as main objectives in his first 100 days agenda. Initiatives have included increasing availability of tourist visas, developing an online e-visa system, receiving the Royal Family for a state visit and restarting direct flights to Islamabad. The drive has already seen a moderate increase in visitors, particularly adventurers. Climbers and trekkers are venturing to some of its most remote regions, among them K2. At 8,611m (28,251ft), it is the only 8,000m peak unclimbed in winter. With a throng of foreign mountaineers currently assembled at base camp, preparing for an attempt on its slopes, the mountain is witnessing its busiest ever winter climbing season. Under previous regulations, this number of climbing permits were unavailable. Furthermore, K2 expeditions have been aided by an extension of the road from Skardu, the gateway city to the Karakoram. The extension cuts days of porterage off the backbreaking journey to base camp.