Three hours, one rockslide, five joints, two infant-led slingshot attacks and numerous other near death experiences later, we arrived at Hoper base camp – alive.
A severe lack of funds restricted my Chinese train travel to ruan zuo (hard seats) and every ticket seemed to be double booked. I woke in the middle of the night to discover an assortment of vegetables and travellers in my lap –withered old folk, bags of mushrooms, women wrapped in newspapers and countless used chopsticks. After travelling the entire breadth of China on these trains, I was ready for some extended time on my feet.
I crossed the Pakistani border and spent a night in Karimabad; a small apricot-farming town nestled in the northern Karakorum. Ali Rahmit, a local gem miner, was determined to send me deeper into the mountains. “Rush Lake is greatest trek on this Earth,” he mused.
The next day I threw my pack into Nezaar's door-less, roof-less and seatbelt-less jeep, and began to doubt my wisdom. After five minutes of literal cliffhanging, Nezaar lit a spliff. Three hours, one rockslide, five joints, two infant-led slingshot attacks and numerous other near death experiences later, we arrived at Hoper base camp – alive.
We started walking at sunrise, accompanied by brand new bed bug bites, three other trekkers and Ali. The first major crossing was a black glacier, darkened by decades of landslide residue. Ali warned us to tread carefully - we could trigger a slide or tumble into a crevasse. I tested every step before committing to the glacier. Then, whack! Ice melt glided me, more roughly than appreciated, down metres of cliff face to a freezing puddle. I staggered to my feet, ego bruised.
The next day’s climb was more than two thousand metres of altitude. I woke early and moaned about my latest bruises. The tent sagged under the weight of newly fallen snow. Voices rumbled outside. The zip flew open and a snow-encrusted face appeared. As the ice began to melt, a smiling young shepherd was revealed. We ushered him inside, out of the storm.
Eagles soared overhead. We had reached Rush Lake. The most incredible, breathtaking, awe-inspiring beauty lay before me. Colossal glaciers flanked snow-capped peaks. K2 loomed mystically in the background. The perfectly still lake reflected every inch of beauty in its azure waters.
Tanner is an Australian photojournalist and writer, committed to capturing some the world’s most spectacular landscapes and populations. Undying wanderlust has led Tanner across the Karakorum from China to Pakistan, on a three-year yachting expedition and through the mountains of Burma, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
After a recent quarter-life crisis induced resignation, Tanner is now based on the road somewhere between Melbourne and Delhi. To read and see more, visit: www.tannerphotography.me
Once the storm passed, we ventured outside. A glistening crust blanketed the ground. Rolling storm clouds draped over surrounding peaks and herds of woolly sheep, complete with five-inch dags, staggered out from nearby caves. We shared a cup of hot salted tea (which was truly disgusting), then the shepherd fired his Soviet era rifle and continued on his way.
Two of the group had altitude sickness, but fortunately I was spared. Even so, it was unclear how much longer we could or would continue. Oxygen was low and everyone was struggling, except Ali. We pushed, further and further, until a plateau came into view. Wild buffalo grazed on blossom crusted fields. Eagles soared overhead. We had reached Rush Lake. The most incredible, breathtaking, awe-inspiring beauty lay before me. Colossal glaciers flanked snow-capped peaks. K2 loomed mystically in the background. The perfectly still lake reflected every inch of beauty in its azure waters.
Ali wanted to be in Hoper by nightfall, but it was already three p.m. and we were still at the summit. We had to get off the mountain. Ali started to panic and asked if we were comfortable running down to base camp. I nodded, hesitantly.
The fastest way off the mountain was down the northern side. It was a sheer, sixty-degree slope. I looked over the rim and swore quietly to myself. Ali bounded gracefully from one dead shrub to the next, slowing his momentum with each tuft of grass. I shadowed him clumsily, trying not to tumble down the 2000m cliff.
After ten minutes of hopping, Ali stopped. "I need rest," he panted. Thank god. We looked behind and saw the rest of the group collapsed in a heap a few hundred metres above.
Descending 2000m of altitude in under an hour proved to be a tough, toe-breaking experience. We reached the base, feeling a little damaged, and climbed another small slope. The land dissolved into another mass of ice. Miar Glacier sprawled below.
The scale was phenomenal. Fifty kilometres of rock and ice conglomerate stretched down mountains and poured through valleys. It looked like snow, but was an awful lot harder and slipperier. Turquoise ice melt laced the ground I walked upon… Ali explained the glacier was melting rapidly and had dropped more than twenty metres in recent years. Abnormally warm winters were having a clear and undeniable impact.
The sun was already disappearing behind Ultar Peak and there was no chance we would make it to Hoper before dark. Ali’s brother lived in a shepherd village on the other side of the glacier. So, we decided to shelter there for the night.
As dusk fell, we arrived at the village and were immediately presented with more hot, salty tea. I smiled politely, then poured it out behind my back.
The last remnants of daylight disappeared and the village fell into silence. Miar Glacier and the surrounding peaks glowed orange in the twilight. It dawned upon me that my brief dalliance with the remote Karakorum was coming to a close...
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