Passing. Water

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Sunday, June 17, 2007

Leaving Gilgit was always going to be a pleasure, but it quickly became clear why a lot of riders take the bus from 'Pindi to Gilgit and ride from there. This stretch of the KKH runs through the Hunza valley, which is distinguished by slightly less inhospitable topography and a lot more irrigation. Regular villages, green farmland, even trees- blessed shade! Since I didn't intend to ride 150km in one day, I could even take it easy and only cover the 80km to the base of Ricki Poshe, where guesthouses and restaurants take advantage of the breathtaking scenery. 'Another' 7000m+ peak, draped in glaciers and lush meadows. The last stretch to Karimabad was largely similar, until the last two kilometers. As I discovered at Chilas, any town which is not right on the river is up. Once again, there were perfectly servicable guesthouses on the road, so I was obliged to puff curses at Peter as I climbed.

I stopped at the internet cafe I found at the top of the hill, intending to find the name of the guesthouse where I would find Peter. I found Peter himself instead.
-Hey! OK. I admit it. That was hard.
-You've lost more weight!
-You've gained about 3kg of beard. Find me food.

I also had to admit that Karimabad was by far the most appealing town on the KKH. Perched on the valley wall overlooking the beautiful Hunza valley, overlooked by an attractive old castle. There were even half-decent guesthouses, at least by regional standards, and edible food containing actual nutrients. Peter had been hanging around for three days, occasionally trekking the nearby trails but mostly smoking charas. He was ready to leave, but I dug in my heels. I needed to rest, tend my wounds and enjoy the novelty of staying somewhere pleasant. Two days later we pushed on to Passu.

Passu is barely a place, but has at least three guesthouses and a shop, to cater for those who want to trek in the area. I'm a relative newcome to the concept of walking for fun, but am definitely coming around to the idea. We decided to do a '6-8 hour day-trek' to the 60km long Batura glacier. Unfortunately, we only had the sketch map from the Lonely Planet to guide us. This was a fairly serious issue, since the only reasonable uses to which one can put even the best Lonely Planet map is firelighter or toilet paper.

We knew this, and yet we persevered. We did well, taking the first wrong turn a full 100yards from our guesthouse. The first detour from what Lonely Planet laughably describe as 'the route' merely took us through some streams and bushes and a brief scramble over some loose shale that could have lead to an ungainly slide, but not injury. Our second minor mishap occured because we found the LP way. It looked unlikely, since it was a three inch wide incision in the side of a precipitous and crumbly mud slope, but was definitely The Way. It wasn't until we made it back that we discovered that this should more properly be known as 'The Old Way', unmaintained through four years rain...

These deviations were really entertaining excursions from the far less stimulating, wide and easy road available, though we didn't know it, a few hundred meters north. We made it to the morrain beside the first glacier of our walk, from which we could enjoy a pretty spectacular view of the ice. Now, the 'map' indicated that from halfway along this morain we take a right, into another valley at right-angles to the glacier. It did not indicate that this 'right' involved following a very well hidden path leading several hundred feet up the side of the morain. So we missed it. Instead we followed the morain, and some footprints, and some 'this is the way' stone chortens that other, equally disorientated trekkers had built, and to which we added, doubtless further confusing those who came later. Eventually this dubious 'path' led to, well, it ended. There was what, if we'd taken a step back to examine it in the cold light of glacial reflection, would usually be recognised as 'a cliff'. At this point, had we stepped back, we would probably have thought 'treks don't go up cliffs. Thats mountaineering that is. That's a whole different game, with ropes and training and such. We must have gone wrong. Lets go back.'

But we didn't. And this cliff wasn't sheer. It was made of a kind of slatey rock, that formed protuding ledges and small 'handhold' corrugations and looked... well.. climbable. It was relatively easy to climb to within 20 feet of the top, for me at any rate. Pete was taking the turn carrying the bag of snacks and water, and seemed to take his time following...

20 feet from the top the cliff changed. I hauled myself onto a flat rock that was securely wedged in a crevice. It was the only thing secure between me and the top.
-What's it like up there?
I tentatively put my hand out above me and touched a stone, which immediately shifted, causing a small avalanche past me.
-Everything moves Pete!
-Can I come up and have a look?
-If you want.

So Pete climbed up to have a look.
-It looks ok over there; couldn't you run accross this shale, and then climb up that side?
-Everything moves Pete.
I touched another rock and sent a shower on his head, to emphasise my point.
-What about that rock there?
-It moves Pete. Everything moves Pete.
-What about-
-It moves Pete. Everything moves Pete. I think we might have to go down.
-I'm not going down.
It was at this point that I realised that Pete had had a harder time getting here than I had. It was pretty clear from his tone that he was not going down. So we sat there for a few minutes, contemplating. I scratched at a patch of bare earth that one of my small avalanches had left, and found an embedded, non-moving rock just under the surface.
-Hang on a minute Pete. This doesn't move. And if I can use it as a foothold, it looks like I might be able to reach that rock, that looks like it doesn't move.
From there on it was surprisingly quick and easy to reach the top of the ridge, at which point we could find out what was on the other side...

A long, steep, unclimbable, unwalkable, but perfectly slidable scree slope down to the valley we were aiming for. Having slid, we stopped for water, snacks and deep breaths.

After a couple more wrong turns caused by paying attention to the LP map, we found the highlight of the walk, a point high up a cliff from which we could look down on the Hunza valley. We took photos and loitered for 15 minutes or so, but had to continue on our loop if we were to return to the guesthouse before dark.

There was another walk nearby, which involved crossing the river on rope bridges. We had intended to do this the following day, but walking involves different muscles than riding, and we were sore in the morning. Once we factored in the issue that once again we would only have a lonely planet map, and considered how many times we wanted to risk our lives in any one week, spending the day sitting around relaxing became a no-brainer decision.
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