CARACHI: Pakistan’s scenic north has long been a rallying point for mountaineers around the world due to its majestic peaks, although the adventure sport has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign travel bans and other coronavirus-related restrictions have reduced the arrival of mountaineers, mostly from the United States and Europe, to just 10% over the past year and a half, according to the ‘Alpine Club of Pakistan, the national mountaineering organization.
The country has nevertheless seen an upsurge in mountaineering in recent seasons, following the decline of the pandemic and the reopening of international travel.
“The number of mountaineers and trekkers which had fallen to less than 10% over the past year, has now climbed to 80% due to the reopening of international travel,” said Karrar Haidri, secretary general of the Alpine Club. . Anadolu Agency on the eve of International Mountain Day, which falls on a Saturday.
Haidri said 400 to 500 foreign mountaineers and around 300 trekkers would visit the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region for one season – from May to September – before the coronavirus pandemic hits the world.
“The latest figures show that almost 80% of activity has been restored,” he said.
Abdul Joshi, a local expedition organizer, agreed with Haidri that there were “clear signs of recovery” in mountaineering this year.
“In 2020, our business had no business due to coronavirus restrictions. But this year our business grew by 60% and we expect a further increase in the coming season,” Joshi said. Anadolu Agency.
Not only foreigners, he continued, but the number of local climbers and hikers has also increased in recent months.
Foreign mountaineers and hikers are accompanied by 25 to 30 porters at high altitude and 100 to 200 at low altitude throughout the season.
The mountaineering season spans the months of May, June and July, while the trekking season spans the months of May to September.
Compared to the traditional mountaineering season, the participation of foreign mountaineers in winter expeditions is much lower due to the very extreme weather conditions and the increased risk of avalanches.
In the current winter season, only two foreign expeditions are in Pakistan – from Japan and Taiwan – trying to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Hunza Valley.
In January, a team of Nepalese climbers became the first to summit K2 in winter.
The dreaded K2, also known as the “Wild Mountain” due to its dangerous terrain, had never been climbed in winter until the 10-member Nepalese team pulled off a feat.
It is the club’s last 8,000-meter (26,247-foot) peak to be climbed in winter, 41 years after Mount Everest was climbed in winter in 1980.
Some 300 climbers have already reached the summit, but all have taken up the challenge in summer or spring.
Even in relatively better weather conditions, 86 climbers lost their lives trying to scale the mountain, which dominates Shigar in Gilgit-Baltistan, Kashmir, home to five peaks over 8,000 meters above sea level, including the K2.
The northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan, which borders China, is home to the five peaks over 8,000 meters high.
The scenic area has some 120 peaks over 7,000 meters (22,966 ft) and an “unknown” number of mountains over 6,000 meters (19,685 ft).
According to the Alpine Club, no proper survey has been carried out to determine how many peaks with elevations over 6,000 meters are located in Gilgit-Baltistan.
In addition to this, the region has more than 5,000 large and small glaciers and more than 100 lakes, which together constitute the largest reservoir of fresh water in the world.
However, local climbers have long been forced to work as mere porters carrying loads with foreign climbers due to financial constraints and lack of training.
Besides K2, Nanga Parbat (8,126 m), Gasherbrum I (8,080 m), Broad Peak (8,051 m) and Gasherbrum II (8,035 m) are among others peaks over 8,000 meters located in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Nanga Parbat, or the “bare peak”, ranked as the ninth highest mountain in the world, is also known as the “killer mountain” because it has claimed the lives of most climbers.
With a peak of 7,821 meters, Masherbrum is known as the toughest alpine climb in the world due to its dangerous avalanches and moving ice which makes climbing difficult.