On The Trail of the Glaciers: Karakorum 2009

Karakorum 2009

29 July 2009, Flight Islamabad-Skardu: we’re headed north, toward Baltistan and Skardu, the “gate to the Karakorum”. The next day, a Jeep travel day across the spectacular valleys of the Indus, Shigar and Braldu bring us to Askole, the last civilised outpost on the way to the Baltoro glacier: a 60-kilometre giant, the fifth longest in the world.

From Askole, we set out for the two longest stretches of trekking, thirty kilometres to cover in two days at a relatively low altitude (3100-3400 metres), in intense heat, sometimes over 30 degrees. Just before reacing the Payu camp, as soon as the view of the Baltoro opened up, we repeated a photograph taken by Massimo Terzano, photographer of the Duke of Spoleto’s 1929 expedition: after 80 years, at first glace no major changes on the glacier front are noticeable. 

The day after, we head closer to the front to repeat one of Terzano’s most famous images. With great regret, we find that this could be one of the latest chances to enjoy this astounding view: the area of Terzano Rock seems to be greatly undermined at its base because of the erosion of the Baltoro river, and is doomed to collapse soon.

In the following days the exploration around the Baltoro continues. On 4 August, thanks to the in-depth bibliographic, iconographic and cartographic research done in preparation for the expedition, we are able to find the same photographic point of the beautiful panorama of the Baltoro, also taken by Terzano. 

After a week of trekking on the infinite moraines of the Baltoro, we arrive at the splendid Concordia amphitheatre at 4650 metres of elevation, one of the largest glacial spaces in the world, surrounded by some of the highest mountains on Earth, including K2. Here, we set up our base camp, just like the early Italian expeditions in 1909 and 1929, and we immediately begin our study and research on the historical photographic points, together with the surveys necessary to assess the technical difficult of the incline, and to make the narrow tracks we’ll follow at night, during our ascent to reach the peaks in time to use the best morning light.

On 13 August, we leave the base camp at two in the morning, with our three high-altitude carriers and our guide. We advance on very steep scree. After ten hours, we’re at the peak, at almost 5500 metres, tired but happy to reach another mythical place: from this same peak, Massimo Terzano took, eighty years ago, a splendid 270° panoramic image of the Concordia Circus, still used today by glaciologists to study glacier dynamics, including in relation to climate change.

We take this important image again for the scientific community and to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that guide the lives of glaciers. 

After a two-day stop at the K2 base camp for some geographical surveys, the time has come to undertake the long return trip, that with about 60 kilometres of trekking in five days, brings us back to the village of Askole. We are satisfied, almost all of our mission objectives have been met. We’re heading back with a rich trove of images and information, and we are sure we can provide science with an excellent comparison to understand the possible fluctuations of the glacier in the last century: at first glance, comparing the current view with the 1929 images, the front seems to have undergone a significant loss of thickness, although in terms of retreating, it can be considered stationary.

Text by Parallelozero, loosely taken from: “The Travel Diaries of Fabiano Ventura © 2009 - 2018”