The landscape of stone and earth has changed somewhat over the ages since the primeval storms and upheavals that had shaped it. Wind, water and ice have caused erosions, and the daily or seasonal variations in temperature constantly give rise to superficial changes. Above all, the growth of vegetation, whether wild or through human effort, has given a dressing to the mountains and has added new colours to the mountain scape.
A mountain range not only physically dominates the area in which it is situated but influences it significantly in many other ways. Mountains profoundly affect climate1 rainfall and weather. They are not only the usual source of rivers but they often also function as great reservoirs of that abundant but precious liquid without which life cannot exist. From this angle the economic value of mountains in arid regions is inestimable. Where artificial irrigation is used for crops the suspended alluvium in the mountain-fed rivers is a source of fertility of the soil resulting in luxuriant growth of the crops. The bellies of mountains yield rich minerals which they pulled up with them when they rose from the bowels of the earth in the great upheaval. Where climate is favourable the lower slopes of mountains and their foothills are a rich source of timber and firewood. In a world the past history of which is dominated by wars and ambitions of individuals and nations for sway over other nations and peoples, mountains have enjoyed great strategic significance the abundance of fortresses on hilltops commanding a wide view of the area around is evidence of the use man has made of mountains for defence or warfare. Where mountain ranges are virtually impassable they serve as natural national borders, and their valleys provide sanctuaries for the culture ef the people inhabiting them.
Above all, mountains are fascinating. By their contours they give definition to a landscape and profoundly add to the viewer’s enjoyment of the scene. In the strange shapes the mountains take, in their crags, cols and buttresses one sees nature’s handiwork. The view of a peak soaring above into the skies is enthralling. The viewer is awe-struck by the majesticity with which the peak rises up and above defying gravity, and wonders at the might of the natural forces that pushed it up to such a height. In front of a majestic peak there is something in the mountain which speaks to the soul of man, and viewing the peak is a strange spiritual experience, It is no wonder that prophets of yore sought spiritual enlightenment in the solitude of mountain tops and even today recluses, anchorites and rishis seek their abode in the mountains.
Mountain peaks are not only often hidden by clouds but are also usually shrouded in mystery. Some of the mystery arises from the fact that owing to the difficulties of ascending great heights few people venture to the top, and in legend and superstition the peaks become the throne room of the gods which cannot be defiled by human feet. Part of the mystery is in the unknown which lies beyond the mountains: it might be a waterless, tree-less, burning desert, a sea of ice or a utopia! A high mountain peak viewed from a distance may appear easily approachable but when the explorer goes towards it, he discovers that it is far more distant than he thought and lies across ridges and valleys that lay concealed from view — and in this sense every high mountain peak has a mystery about it.
PEAKS OF THE KARAKORAM
7300 Meters and above
K—2; 8611M, Gasherbrum I; 8068M, Broad Peak; 8047M, Central Summit; 8000M, North Summit; 7600M, Gasherbrum II; 8035M, East Summit; 7772M, Gasherbrum III; 7952M, Gasherbrum IV; 7925 M, Distalghil Sar; 7885M, Khinyang Chish; 7852M, East Summit; 7500M, Masherbrum; 7821M, Rakhaposhi; 7788M, Batura Muztagli; 7785M, Kanjut Sar; 7760M, Saltoro Kangri; 7742M, Peak 35; 7705M, Batura Muztagh II; 7730M, Trivor; 7720M, Saser Kangri I; 7672M, Chogolisa SW (Bride Peak): 7665M,
NE Summit; 7654M, Shispare (Batura); 7619M, Skiang Kangri; 7544M, Mamostong; 7526M, Saser Kangri II; 7513M, Saser Kangri III; 7495M, Purnarikish; 7492M, K-12; 7468M, Teram Kangri I; 7463M, Malubiting W; 7452M, Sia Kangri; 7422M, West Summit; 7315M, Skillbrum; 7420M, Saser (Cloud Peak); 7415M, Teram Kangri; 7406M, Haramosh; 7406M, Mt. Ghent; 7400M, Yazghil Sar; 7400M, Rimo I; 7385M, Rimo II; 7380M, Teram Kangri III; 7381M, Sherpi Kangri; 7380M, East Summit; 7303 M, Karun Káh; 7350 M, Momhil Sar; 7342 M, Mt. Ghent NE; 7342M, Mt. Spender; 7330M, Gasherbrum V; 7321M, Ounasir I (Batura) 7318M, Dunasir II; 7320M, Baltoro Kangri I; 7312M, Golden Throne II; 7300M, Golden Throne III; 7310M, and Urdok Peak I; 7300M
Though the sublime effect that the view of a mountain peak produces is felt, perhaps, by all humans, it is only some among them who are consumed by the desire to scale it. The passion to unravel a mystery, the thrill of over-coming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and the sense of achievement felt standing on the top — all these combine to drive the climber to the peak, no matter what the expense involved, no matter what risks he exposes his life to. According to a mountaineer, in “their knowledge and understanding of the mountain environment and their personal limits, climbers find a sense of freedom and joy where the uninitiated might find only terror.
The Karakorams (literally, ‘black mountains”), lying to the north of the Western Himalayas, stretch for nearly 300 miles from the eastern-most part of Afghanistan in a south easterly direction. Having a width of 150 miles, the Karakoram consist of a group of parallel ranges with several spurs. Only the central part is a monolithic range. Sprawling nearly over 35 and 33 N latitude and lying roughly between 74 and 78 E longitude, the Karakorams are one of the highest mountain systems of the world with an average height of 20,000 feet (6100 meters). The range has over 50 peaks of 24,000 feet (7320 meters) or above, and four of them soar above 26,000 feet (7930 meters). No other mountain system has such a large number of high peaks above 7000 meters. Craggy peaks and steep slopes are characteristic of the range. The southern slope is long and very steep. Being situated beyond the Western Himalayas, the Karakorams receive very little of the monsoon from the Indian Ocean. Aridity is, therefore, the dominant climatic feature. The height of the range is responsible for the other climatic features of rarified air and intense solar radiation, which give rise to great variations of temperature and cause strong winds. Lack of vegetation and high rate of erosion exposes the rock and slate to considerable weathering, giving the viewer the impression of disintegrating granite walls all round.
In consequence one is amazed to step onto sandy deserts at a height of 8 to 10 thousand feet. Yet owing to great height there is heavy glaciating. The glaciated area spreads over 6900 square miles (17800 sq. kilometers), and in the Karakorams are found the biggest and longest glaciers on the face of the earth outside the polar regions. Of these the Baltoro with a length of 36 miles (60 kin) is the most famous as it is flanked by the giants among the high peaks of the Karakorams. Glaciation on the southern slope of the Karakorams, which is more humid than the northern (Chinese) side, begins at a height of 9400 feet (2867 meters), whereas on the northern side it occurs at a height of over 11500 feet (3508 meters). The permanent snow-line on the southern slope is at a height of 15400 feet (4697 meters) whereas on the northern side it is at a height of 19400 feet (5917 meters). Granite, gneiss’s and slates are the dominant Geological features of the Karakorams. There is considerable seismic activity; earthquakes measuring 9 on the Richter scale have been recorded. Some warm springs are also found at certain places.
The Karakorams serve as the watershed between the two river basins of the Indus and the Tarim, the Indus, after an initial westerly direction, flowing south and the Khotan tributary of the Tarim flowing north to join the Tarim. These mountains also form the boundary between China and the Northern Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan controlled by Pakistan. Because of in-accessibility, difficult terrain and hostile climate exploration of the Karakoram region was difficult and started consider-ably later than in other mountain areas of the world, and the Karakorams still hold nooks, corners and heights which have yet to be trodden by human feet. Hitherto the area was accessible from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, only through the air services to Gilgit and Skardu which remained uncertain on account of extremely variable weather conditions. The Karakoram High-way, completed only a few years ago, now links Islamabad with Gilgit via Abbottabad through a wide all-weather road of fairly good quality. Beyond Gilgit this road passes through Hunza and extends upto the Chinese border. Another all-weather road linking Gilgit with Skardu, the gateway to the Baltoro, is nearing completion and is at present open to jeeps and trucks on certain days. The area is thus being opened up and considerable interest is being evinced in scientific investigation of the area. The year 1980 saw an international expedition visit the area for detailed scientific investigation. A trip into the Karakorams takes the tourist to behold nature in the raw and to feel the sublime in experience. For there is something of the primeval in these mountains: in their savageness, in their cragginess, in their sternness, in their remarkable and numerous glaciers, in their huge ice-falls, in their raging windstorms and blizzards, and, above all, in their desolate desolation! As he treks along the tourist discovers glacier after glacier, each lined on both sides by towering peaks. Few mountain areas on earth can equal the grandeur that is revealed to the tourist travelling up Galen Rowell. The Throne Room of the Mountain Gods.
the Baltoro glacier. “This is the inner-most sanctuary of the Western Himalayas, an amphitheater of the greatest mountains on this planet. In the space of about fifteen miles .the Baltoro holds in its icy embrace ten of the world’s thirty highest peaks. They line its sides and close its eastern most end like the high priests guarding the Holiest of Holies. Sir Martin Conway . . . aptly named the peak at the eastern end “The Golden Thronel Moving up the Baltoro the tourist will first have the view of Payu Peak, one of the lesser peaks but regarded as one of the most beautiful ones in the world; then come across a fantastic view of nature’s architecture in the Baltoro Cathedrals and a number of other peaks till he reaches Concordia, a point on the glacier famous for its view of the giants of the Karakorams. Of Concordia Galen Rowel, the American mountaineer has this to say: “I awoke as the sun rose on the finest mountain scene on earth. I was at the centre of a mountain shrine, surrounded by wild peaks on a scale beyond the power of my dreams. Comparing other alpine scenes with Concordia is as futile as trying to compare a single painting to the entire Louvre collection. The greatest cluster of high peaks in the world encircles Concordia, where the 36-mile long Baltoro Glacier merges with the Godwin-Austen Glacier, which descends from the flanks of K-2 (28250 feet).
“In the giant Concordia sanctuary, several glaciers seem to pause before joining into a single stream for a plunge down a granite canyon that makes Yosemite seem like a city park.” “Above the apparent stillness of Concordia there is a feeling of motion. Photographs hide this as surely as a statue hides the gleam in a hero’s eyes; no series of photographs can ever capture the interplay of movement at Concordia. Glaciers grind slowly while ice blocks tumble down gullies. Cirrus clouds migrate across the sky while a random cloud builds in a hidden valley, suddenly putting miles of distance between a summit and a ridge that previously appeared connected. The whole scene is orchestrated by the ever changing light, for the eye sees light, not the mountains, and light makes the mountains come alive.
The sights along the glaciers of Biafo, Hispar, Chogo Lungma and Batura are only slightly less breath-taking. The row of five peaks of the Latok group and the Ogre on the Biafo are exciting for their steepness. All are “of such uncompromising steepness on all sides that it is difficult to believe that there is anything but the most gruesomely difficult route up any of them. They rise sheer from a comparatively flat glacier base for about 7000 feet. In places fearsome rows of seracs cling precariously to the faces. Going along the Hispar one sees the peaks of Kanjutsar, Pumarikish, Momhil Sar, Trivor and Distaghilsar — all over 24,000 feet (7300 meters). The Chogo Lungma, to the south of Hispar and to the west of Baltoro, has Haramosh and Malubiting, both over the 24,000 foot mark. Further west and north are the peaks of Rakhaposhi and Batura Muztagh, both above 25,000 feet (7625 Meters)
It is, however, for the bold mountaineer that the Karakoram region holds the greatest attraction. The Karakorams are unmatched in the great variety of climbing they offer, from sheer rock climbing of the Trango Towers to the high altitude climbing with its attendant challenges: ice-fall, snow field, serac, overhang, scree, “chimney” and so forth combined with the rigours of wind and weather, rarified atmosphere and fear of gigantic avalanches. There are over fifty peaks of over 24,000 feet (7320 meters) in height and there are numerous peaks of lesser height which by the climbing difficulties peculiar to each excite the climber and make his feet itch for the climb.
The monarch of the Karakorams is K-2, rising to 28,250 feet (8611 meters). Some later surveys put its height nearly 500 feet higher at 28,741 feet (8766 meters). It is the second highest peak in the world after Everest in Nepal, 29,028 feet (8848 meters). The mountain is also known by the local name of Chogori, and is also sometimes referred to as Mount Godwin Austen. This name was suggested but was not approved, and the correct official name is K-2, the identification mark given in official surveys. Fosco Mariani, the Italian mountaineer, describes K-2 as “the very Patriarch of Mountains, regal, serene, a mountain conceived on a giant scale, given the space and setting that are meet and right for a giant. In the mighty mass of the whole, each single part seems so finely wrought, each one a telling note in a mighty chord, and in the patterning of ridge, couloir, rock face and ice-fall, thrusting inexorably upwards to the peak, there is the logic of a Bach fugue. Contrasting K-2 with the neighbouring Broad Peek, he says, “By the side of K-2, Broad Peak, although it has the distinction of being over the 26,000 foot mark, looks just a gallant old Mountain mass, thrown up by chance. K-2 is architecture, Broad Peak is simply geology. K-2 is construction, definition, form. Broad Peak is one more storm-tossed wave, higher than the rest, in a land-mass in upheaval.’
*John Keay. When Men and Mountains Meet.** Galen Rowell. Baltoro Odyssey (Mountain 49) *Malcolm Howells. The Biafo Peaks (Mountain 49) ** Fasco Mariani: The Ascent of Gasherbrum IV The area south of K-2 has such abundance of high peaks in close proximity to each other that it could rightly be called the high altitude climber’s paradise. Almost east of K-2 is the Broad Peak rising to 26,400 feet (8047 meters). Almost due south and south-east of Broad Peak are the six Gasherbrums. Four of them are above the 26,000 foot mark and one above the 24,000 foot mark.
These are: Gasherbrum I, 26,470 feet (8068 meters); Gasherbrum II, 26,360 feet (8035 meters); Gasherbrum III, 26,090 (7952 meters); Gasherbrum IV, 26,000 feet (7929 meters); Gasherbrum V, 24,020 (7321 meters); and Gasherbrum VI, 23,989 feet (7008 meters). Gasherbrum I lies to the east of the others and its view from the west being obstructed by them, is also known as the Hidden Peak. Among the Gasherbrums the most challenging for the climber is Gasherbrum IV. Further south of the Gasherbrums are the Golden Throne (Baltoro Kangri), 23,989 (7317 meters); and the Bride Peak (Chogolisa), 25,110 feet (7659 meters). The names of these peaks suggest their fascinating shapes and forms. The Bride Peak has a beautiful name but it was at this mountain that Hermann Buhl, the dauntless conqueror of the Killer Mountain, Nanga Parbat (26,600 feet, 8125 meters, in the Western Himilayas), lost his life.
In other parts of the Karakorams there are many tantalizingly high Peaks for the mountaineer: Distaghil Sar, 25,850 feet (7885 meters); Masherbrum, 25660 feet (7821 meters); Rakaposhi, 25,550 feet (7788 meters); Batura Muztagh, 25,540 feet (7785 meters); Kanjutsar, 25,460 feet (7760 meters); Saltoro Kangri, 25,400 feet (7672 meters). Teram Kangri, 24,490 feet (7463 meters); Malubiting, 24,451 feet (7452 meters); Haramosh, 24,299 feet (7406 meters); to name only a few of the highest. However, a detailed list of the peaks above 24,000 feet (7300 meters) is appended alongwith a sketch map of the Karakorams to indicate what a vast opportunity for climbing these mountains offer for the intrepid mountaineer. The golden age of the Karakorams is just beginning, according to Galen Rowell. Many minor peaks have not been climbed and the giant ones have been climbed by the easiest routes. The Karakorams will continue to be a challenge for generations to come. For, in the words of Mariani, “these mountains of Asia, ii their very vastness and remoteness, imprint themselves on the soul of the man who once sets foot on them, because they touch him at every human level; they bring him a mystic ecstasy at one moment, they remind him of his animal nature at the next. And through them he comes to know everything from nameless terror to the joys of scientific discovery.
In order to focus national and international attention on the vast potential for mountaineering that Pakistan has, the Pakistan post office proposes to bring out a series of postage stamps on mountains. A set of four double stamps, depicting the peaks of K—2, Haramosh, Malubiting W and K~6 of the Karakorams, is being issued on 20th August, 1981 as the first attempt in this regard. Some other .peaks of the Karakorams as well as of the Western Himalayas (Nanga Parbat, 26,600 feet) and the Hindukush (Trichmir, 25,290 feet) will be included in future sets. In each double stamp of the first set there is a panoramic view on one stamp with a close-up of the peak on the other.