Trekking to K2 base camp in Pakistan: everything you need to know

The K2 base camp trek in Pakistan is one of the great hikes on earth. Trekkers follow a rocky trail that winds up the mighty Baltoro Glacier, passing through a colossal amphitheatre of sky-scraping summits – including seven of the 19 highest mountains on the planet – en route to the base of the world’s second highest peak. Feet twitching? Here’s everything you need to know about hiking to K2 base camp.

A view of K2 mountain from base camp. The rocky mountain is covered in snow and its peak is obscured slightly by cloud.

 

Introducing the Karakoram

The spectacular Karakoram mountains of Pakistan are home to some of the wildest landscapes on Earth. And while tides of eager walkers flood the trails of Nepal, Pakistan receives just a trickle of trekkers in comparison. But the Greater Ranges of Asia do not acknowledge borders and while the classic Himalayan routes of Everest and Annapurna may steal the limelight, the Karakoram trails of northern Pakistan are no less magnificent.

The crown of the Karakoram is K2. At 8,611m (28,251ft) it is the world’s second highest mountain and an expedition to its base camp at 5,150m (16,896ft) makes for one of the most exciting walks in the world. Beginning in the remote village of Askole, the trail winds its way along the grand Braldu Valley before mounting the Baltoro Glacier to Concordia. Positioned 12km from K2 trek, Concordia is one of the few places on Earth where it’s possible to see four 8,000m peaks from one place: K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II.

Unlike the approach to Everest base camp in Nepal, where trekkers are treated to only teasing glimpses of the iconic summit, K2 is unimpeded by its satellite peaks, and instead stands imposing, watching over all who tackle the trail to its base. K2 may be second in height and notoriety to Everest, but as a spectacle, it is second to none.

Peter hikes through an ice field en route to K2 base camp. The climbers appear tiny against the white backdrop of the ice. In the background mountain peaks are visible.
The K2 base camp trek may be second in notoriety to Everest, but as a spectacle, it is second to none © Peter Watson / Lonely Planet

Why now?

In 2018, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan highlighted tourism as one of his main objectives after his election. The year 2019 saw the launch of a new e-visa system and relaxation of visa restrictions for over 50 countries. Meanwhile, British Airways became the first European airline to resume direct flights to Islamabad, the closest international airport to the Karakoram. As an additional boost, a visit from the British Royal family has drawn the attention of the world’s media to Pakistan.

Tourist numbers have begun to climb, albeit cautiously. The number of trekkers registering to enter the Central Karakoram National Park rose by 50% from 2018 to 2019, albeit to only 1,300 in total. It’s worth remembering that over 30,000 people make the Everest base camp trek every year. As such, trekkers in Pakistan can expect to find quiet and uncrowded trails throughout the season.

Trekking to K2 base camp

The K2 base camp trek takes 14 days in total (up and down), and starts in the village of Askole. Once away from this small green oasis, the mighty Karakoram doesn’t take long to reveal its beauty. Serrated summits and towering cliffs rear up either side of the wide valleys. By the end of the first day trekkers are camped beneath the distinctive peak of Bakhor Das, affectionately referred to as Mango Peak due to its curiously shaped summit cone.

The following day the remarkable granite spires of Trango Towers and Cathedral rear up, standing sentry over the trail for three days. Once onto the Baltoro Glacier the first 7,000m peaks – Masherbrum and Muztagh Tower – appear. Despite their dominance, it’s not long before the first 8,000m peaks emerge on the horizon. At the end of Baltoro Glacier stands the Gasherbrum Range, a massif of five peaks over 7,000m including two above 8,000m.

Another day of walking brings trekkers to the huge rocky amphitheatre of Concordia that makes the European ranges look puny in comparison. The eye is immediately drawn from the Gasherbrums, across the wide summit ridge of Broad Peak to the sharp and abrupt pyramid of black rock ridges and glinting snow gullies of K2. On this night, trekkers pitch their tents at one of the finest campsites on the planet.

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