PAKISTAN – The Largest Land of Glaciers [3 of 3]

Green In the Black refers to the Kararkoram mountains whose name means Balck Mountains and it is surprising that a lush green valley is found inside the snow clad peaks and largest glaciers of the world.



by Nayyar Hashmey PhD



The Baltoro Glacier, 57 kilometers long, is one of the longest glaciers outside of the Polar Regions. Located again in Baltistan, in our Northern Areas it runs through part of the Karakoram mountain range. The Baltoro Muztagh lies to the north and east of the glacier, while the Masherbrum Mountains lie to the south. At 8,611 m (28,251 ft), K2 is the highest mountain in the region, and three others within 20 km top at 8,000m or above.

The glacier gives rise to the Shigar River, which is a tributary of the Indus River. Several large tributary glaciers feed the main Baltoro glacier, including the Godwin Austen glacier, flowing south from K2; the Abruzzi and the various Gasherbrum glaciers, flowing from the Gasherbrum group of peaks; the Vigne glacier, flowing from Chogolisa, and the Yermandendu glacier, flowing from Masherbrum.


Masherbrum (7821 m), enveloped in mist, stands without its usual sheath of ice and snow in the Karakoram summer.

Masherbrum was first named K-1 for Karakoram 1 when it was believed to be the tallest peak in the Karakorams – an honour that was later taken away by the group of 4 mountains just a days trek away where the mighty K-2 (8611m) accompanied by the other 3 Eight-thousanders (Broad Peak, Gasherbrum 1 and Gasherbrum 2) rises out of the Godwin-Austen glacier in all its majesty.

Masherbrum has been summited 4 times.


The confluence of the main Baltoro glacier with the Godwin Austen glacier is known as Concordia. Concordia is the name for the confluence of the Baltoro glacier and the Godwin-Austen glacier, in the heart of the Karakoram Range. The name was applied by European explorers, and comes from this location’s similarity to a glacial confluence, also named Concordia, in the Bernese Highlands, part of the European Alps.

This location and K2 base camp are popular trekking destinations. The trough of the glacier here is very wide and its central part is a vast snowfield. Small valley glaciers form icefalls where they meet the trunk glacier. The sidewalls vary from very steep to precipitous. The glacier has carved striations on the surrounding country rocks. Moving ice has formed depressions, which serve as basins for numerous glacial lakes. The glacier can be approached via the important Balti town of Skardu.


BALTORO GLACIER, Taken upon return to Concordia from the K2 Base-camp day trek, Altitude: 4900 meters. Its around Concordia where some of the highest peaks are clustered as nowhere in the world. Four of the world’s fourteen“eight-thousanders”are in this region, as well as a number of important lower peaks.

Concordia offers the region’s best place to camp for mountain enthusiasts not involved in climbing. With breathtaking views, it also offers short hikes to several important base camps: K2 (three hours), Broad Peak (two hours) and the Gasherbrums (three hours). An alternative exit to returning down the Baltoro glacier is available by climbing the Gondogoro Pass (5,450m). Visitors to the region are advised to carefully monitor their water intake with concern. To avoid often painful and sometimes debilitating stomach upsets at high altitude, water should be obtained from clear water sources, preferably white ice dug from the glacier.


Batura Glacier (57km long) lies in the Gojal region of Northern Areas just north of Batura (7,795m) and Passu (7,500m) massifs. It flows west to east. The lower portions can be described as a grey sea of rocks and gravelly moraine, bordered by a few summer villages and pastures with herds of sheep, goats, cows and yaks and where roses and juniper trees are common.


The Biafo Glacier is a 63 km long glacier in the Karakoram Mountains which meets the 49 km long Hispar glacier at an altitude of 5,128m (16,824 feet) at Hispar La (Pass) to create the world’s longest glacial system outside of the polar region. This highway of ice connects two ancient mountain kingdoms, Nagar (immediately south of Hunza) in the west with Baltistan in the east. The traverse uses 51 of the Biafo Glacier’s 63 km and all of the Hispar Glacier to form a 100 km glacial route.

The Biafo Glacier presents a trekker with several days of very strenuous, often hectic boulder hopping, with spectacular views throughout and Snow Lake near the high point. Snow Lake, consisting of parts of the upper Biafo Glacier and its tributary glacier Sim Gang, is one of the world’s largest basins of snow or ice in the world outside of the Polar Region, up to 1,600m (one mile) in depth.

The Biafo Glacier is the world’s third longest glacier outside of the Polar Region, second only to the 75 km Siachen Glacier and Tajikistan’s 77 km long Fedchenko Glacier.

Camp sites along the Biafo are located off of the glacier, adjacent to the lateral moraines and steep mountainsides. The first three (heading up from the last village before the glacier, the thousand-year-old Askole village) are beautiful sites with flowing water nearby. Mango and Namla, the first two camp sites, are often covered in flowers and Namla has an amazing waterfall very near the camping area. Biantha, the third camp site, is often used as a rest day. A large green meadow, it has a few running streams near the camp and many places to spend the day rock climbing or rappelling.

Evidence of wildlife can be seen throughout the trek. The Ibex and the Markhor Mountain Goat can be found and the area is famous for brown bears and snow leopards, although sightings are rare.


The Godwin-Austen Glacier is located near K2. Its confluence with the Baltoro Glacier, the Concordia is one of the most favorite spots for trekking in Pakistan since it provides excellent views of four of the five eight-thousanders in Pakistan.

The five major glaciers are like five monarchs of Pakistan’s ice kingdom that have ruled their territories since ages. With their spellbinding beauty, grandeur and their steadfastness to protect their domains, they offer also a challenge to climbers from all over the world. Many climbers have lost their lives but the lure, the challenge and the spirit to conquer still prevails.


Previous 1, 2, 3

Photo Credits: Top by Atif Gulzar, Centre and Bottom by Aqib, Heartkins Photostream



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