K2 North Face Trek, June 2012

June 4 Fly Beijing to Urumqi

The flight was delayed out of Beijing, so, I had to stay the night in Urumqi. I walked around the busy streets and had a delicious dinner.

June 5 Fly Urumqi to Kashgar. Drive to Karagilik (Yecheng)

After a short flight I landed in Kashgar and was met by my guide Muhammad at 11:00 and soon picked my cook Shobo. We drove on a fairly new highway southeast from Kashgar skirting the great Taklamakan Desert to Yarkand for lunch (14:05-14:50) and then on to Karghilik (1335m, Yecheng), arriving at 17:45. I walked around the market area near the hotel with old and new blending together. We drove to a popular local Uyghur restaurant for a delicious dinner and surprisingly were not stopped by the Chinese police. Mostly sunny 30-35C.

June 6 Drive from Karagilik (Yecheng) to Yilik Village (3504m)

We were up before sunrise and left at 5:05 to start the long drive on China National Highway 219 to the trail head. The drive was fairly flat at first passing villages and eroded hills before climbing to Akmeqit Pass 3295m (6:45), descending, and then climbing even higher to the Chiragsaldi Pass 4994m (10:40). We turned off the highway at Mazar (3929m) at 11:35 and followed a dirt road to the army police check post (12:45 - 13:25). The soldiers took my passport and Muhammad and Shobo's identify papers while we would trek. We arrived at Yilik Village (3504m) at 13:35 and stayed at the Village headman Daniyar's house next to the road.

I met two distraught tourists who could not arrange camels for their trek. Evidently, one trekking company has a monopoly on all the camels, but these two tourists had arranged their trek through a competitor. No matter what they did, willing to pay more, calling their embassy, begging, the headman would not budge. After paying thousands of dollars and travelling so far, they had no choice but to head home the next day. Luckily, Muhammad had used the right company, so I was good to go. Mostly cloudy 17C, overnight 10C.

June 7 Trek Yilik Village (3504m) to Sarak Camp (3759m)

After a leisurely morning, the camels arrived at 10 and were loaded. We started the trek at 10:25 with the trail contouring around the hill above Yilik and then descending to the Surakwat River (3652m, 13:35). The trail meanders next to the river to the Sarak Camp (3759m), arriving at 15:05. Shobo cooked our first dinner and I fell asleep, happy to be finally on the trek. Partly cloudy 20C, overnight 6C.

June 8 Trek Sarak Camp (3759m) to Kotaz Camp (4330m)

After eating breakfast, we broke camp and started the day's trek at 7:30. The trail follows the river for an hour before crossing a bridge and climbing above a gorge. The trail widens with some mountain views. Muhammad and I could not see the camels, so we stopped an hour and a half to wait. We then followed the camel man, his donkey and four camels to Kotaz Camp (4330m), some abandoned mud and stone huts, arriving at 13:20. Party sunny 7-11C, overnight 0C.

June 9 Trek Kotaz Camp (4330m) to Aghil Pass (4810m) and descend to Kerqin Camp (3968m)

Left camp at 7:35 and climbed a gentle contouring trail to Aghil Pass (4810m), arriving at 10:15 in cloudy 4C weather. Here is what Sir Francis Younghusband had to say upon reaching this pass in 1889: At last I came upon a little lake; beyond it was a rise I was sure must be the pass itself. I worked myself up for a final effort, and literally ran up the rise. And this one really was the top. And beyond? What did I see there? Beyond was the fulfillment of every dream . . . There, arrayed before me across a valley, was a glistening line of splendid peaks, all radiant in the sunshine, their summits white with purest snow, their flanks stupendous cliffs. And bearing away the rich abundance of their snowy covering were vast glaciers rolling to the valley bottom. For mountain majesty and sheer sublimity that scene is hardly to be excelled. And, austere though it was, it did not repel it just enthralled me. This world was more wonderful by far than I had ever known before. And I seemed to grow greater myself from the mere fact of having seen it.

The descent at first was gentle, but then went through a section with huge rocks where you can easily lose the trail. Finally you come out to a plateau above a sweeping curve in the Shaksgam Valley with views towards the Gasherbrums, and, after crossing the plateau, a break in the cliff allows us to descend steeply to the Shaksgam River (4000m) at 12:30. We walked along the wide flat expanse of the Shaksgam Valley until we had to cross the river. We waited for an hour and fifteen minutes for the camel man and had our first camel ride to cross the river and arrive at Kerqin (3968m) at 14:45, our campsite for the night. Although the landscape was barren, Kerqin had clean running water and a hot spring and many small flowers. Truly an oasis. Sunset highlighted the colourful limestone cliffs and the surrounding mountains. Party sunny 20C, overnight 3C.

June 10 Trek Kerqin Camp (3968m) to River Junction Camp (3824m)

We left Kerqin at 8:10 in mostly cloudy weather and continued trekking down the flat wide Shaksgam Valley. The weather quickly turned bad with ice pellets blinding and stinging as the temperature plummeted to 3C. The weather cleared again as we continued the trek to a camp just before the junction of the Shaksgam and Sarpo Laggo Valleys, arriving at 12:45. Party sunny 10C, overnight 2C.

June 11 Trek River Junction Camp (3824m) to Sughet Jangal K2 North Face China Base Camp (3900m)

It is a short trek again today, so we left late at 10:45. Before reaching the Sarpo Laggo Valley, we parted company with the camels as we took a shortcut between the two valleys. We reached a point where you can see K2, but the weather was cloudy with no views. We arrived at Sughet Jangal K2 North Face China Base Camp (3900m) at 14:25. Mostly cloudy 19C, overnight 0C.

June 12 Trek K2 North Face Base Camp (3900m) to K2 North Face Intermediate Camp (4462m)

The dawn arrived crystal clear with great views of the surrounding mountains. The camels can go no further, so my cook Shobo agreed to be my porter and carry the tent and food for me. We left at 6:35 and climbed the hill above base camp and contoured around until K2 came into view for the first time, although with clouds swirling around the summit. We trekked beside the K2 Glacier and arrived at K2 North Face Intermediate Base Camp (4462m) at 10:45. Muhammad and Shobo set up my tent and then went back to base camp. I snuggled inside my tent waiting for the clouds to dissipate. I cooked my dinner early and waited for the cooler air of the evening to arrive. And arrive it did and, with it, the clouds started to disappear revealing the spectacular North Face of K2 looming large up ahead. I stood outside admiring the view and filming and taking photographs. Although the trek on the Chinese side is nowhere near as interesting as the Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan, the view of North Face in China is better than the view from Pakistan. I happily went to bed and slept contentedly in my lonely tent at Intermediate Base Camp. Mostly cloudy 10C, overnight -2C.

June 13 Trek K2 North Face Intermediate Camp (4462m) to River Junction Camp (3824m)

Clouds obscured the sunrise view so I had a quick breakfast, packed up the tent and became my own porter, leaving at 7:15 and arriving back at base camp at 10:25. After we had some lunch, we packed up the campsite and left at 12:25 to retrace our steps to the River Junction Camp, arriving at 15:40. Mostly cloudy 19C, overnight 3C.

June 14 Trek River Junction Camp (3824m) to Kerqin Camp (3968m)

The morning was perfectly clear as we left at 7:55 to retrace our steps to Kerqin Camp (3968m), arriving at 12:35. The weather continued clear through to sunset. Sunny 15C, overnight -4C.

June 15 Trek Kerqin Camp (3968m) to Kulquin Bulak Camp (4060m)

Another clear morning as we left at 8:00 to retrace our steps past the valley coming down from the Aghil Pass and on to Kulquin Bulak Camp (4060m), arriving at 10:55. I walked up to the plateau above camp, admiring the view and spotting a triangular metal tower here in the middle of nowhere. Sunny 20C, overnight 2C.

June 16 Trek Kulquin Bulak Camp (4060m) to Gasherbrum North Base Camp (4294m)

We left camp at 7:45 in fairly good weather and trekked in the wide flat expanse of the Shaksgam Valley to Gasherbrum North Base Camp (4294m), arriving at 14:30. The clouds that obscured the view dissipated before sunset, revealing Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, and Gasherbrum III - much different looking mountains from China than in Pakistan. Partly Sunny 17C, overnight 1C.

June 17 Day At Gasherbrum North Base Camp (4294m)

We left camp at 8:00 in sunny weather and climbed the hill next to base camp to 4400m, and then contoured above the Gasherbrum Glacier to a height of 4500m before having to descend to the glacier at 9:40. We walked along the glacier as far as we safely could, stopping at 10:40. We admired the glacier, the strange ice shapes and small lakes and then went back to base camp, arriving at 13:45. The clouds disappeared again as I enjoyed the sunset on Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, and Gasherbrum III. Mostly Sunny 12C, overnight 2C.

June 18 Trek Gasherbrum North Base Camp (4294m) to Kulquin Bulak Camp (4060m)

At sunrise I noticed that in fact K2 was visible from here. We left camp at 7:40 and retraced our steps in good weather to Kulquin Bulak Camp (4060m), arriving at 13:00. Partly Sunny 20C, overnight 7C.

June 19 Trek Kulquin Bulak Camp (4060m) up to the Aghil Pass (4810m) and down to Kotaz Camp (4330m)

We left camp at 7:50 and retraced our steps to the gap in the cliff to the terrace above the Shaksgam River Valley at 9:35 and then climbed up to the Aghil Pass (4810m) at 13:10. From there it was easy downhill to Kotaz Camp (4330m), arriving at 15:10. By now, I was anxious to get home, so I paid the camel man some extra money to trek all the day to Yilik Village the next day. Partly Sunny 12C, overnight 2C.

June 20 Trek Kotaz Camp (4330m) to Yilik Village (3504m)

The morning dawned clear as I left at 6:55 and descended quickly down the valley to the gorge and crossed the bridge at 8:55. The trail then goes next to the Surakwat River, past the Sarak Camp (3759m) at 9:40 and ascends to the terrace at 11:00 and contouring around to Yilik Village (3504m), arriving at 13:35. Muhammad, Shobo and the camel man arrived later in the afternoon. Muhammad called for the driver to pick us up, but he would not arrive until the next evening. I enjoyed the sunset, walking around the village. Mostly Sunny 20C, overnight 10C.

June 21 Day at Yilik Village (3504m)

Another clear and sunny day. After breakfast I walked to the cliff above the river and through the village, watching people tilling the fields, and visiting the local school. The driver arrived almost at sunset with a sad story. When this Uyghur driver arrived at the army police checkpost at the village entrance, two soldiers took his land cruiser for a joyride and returned it when they had damaged the suspension. A mechanic in the village helped to repair the vehicle. Sunny 25C, overnight 10C.

June 22 Drive from Yilik Village (3504m) to Karagilik (Yecheng)

We left Yilik at 7:10 and stopped after 10 minutes at the army police checkpost. They actually looked at some of my photos to ensure I did not take any pictures of the checkpost. They returned my passport and Muhammad's identify papers, but claimed they lost Shobo's. This was a devastating blow to Shobo because it would take months to obtain new identity papers, and therefore he cannot find work and also cannot get married as he had planned. We left the checkpost at 8:50 and had to wait for an hour when a truck broke down, blocking the road. We continued on to Mazar at 11:00 and rejoined the China National Highway 219 and retraced the road to Karagilik (Yecheng), arriving at 17:50. We drove to a popular local Uyghur restaurant for a delicious dinner and were stopped by the Chinese police going back to the hotel. Mostly cloudy 20C, overnight 10C.

June 23 Drive to Karagilik (Yecheng) to Kashgar, visit Kashgar tourist sights, Fly to Beijing

We left before dawn at 4:15 and retraced our journey to Kashgar, saying goodbye to Shobo, and having breakfast at 8:30. We then visited the Mao Statue, Id Kah Mosque, Old Town, Ferris Wheel, Donghu East Lake, Urban Planning Museum, and Tomb Of Abakh Hoja before dropping me off at the airport. The old village that was so prevalent in 1993 when I previously visited Kashgar has been demolished with a small museum still set up on the hill above the man-made lake and huge ferris wheel.