Be happy as time has came… The thrill, sensation and delusions, we master our ways into dark forests and high glacial passes, where nights are long where strength comes along where is fear,
we live with a dream where paths shows no mercy, we stand high soaring, roaring and thundering with a great spirits and pure heart beating, we are wanderers without destination.
Day 1. Preparations and Arriving at Barsat, Shandur pass
We started traveling from Gilgit at noon, after crossing phandar pass and green lushed meadows of phandar we reached Barsat around 7.
We decided to camp there near one of the local houses and start the hike next day, local kids came and brought food, a bowl of yogurt and chapati, we ate food and had salty chai.
One kid’s name was Nawazish, and the other was Gul Naeem. They were in 6 and 9th grade. I took their photos, and they seem happy. Good lads, they were.
We talked to locals there and arranged porters for the upcoming expedition, they told us to get ready at 3 am as we have to start the journey early morning.
We fixed the camp and went to sleep. I kept looking at the stars through the window of our tent, and it was bright outside with little clouds and half-moon, it was so silent and peaceful out.
I could hear myself thinking about life and how far I have come chasing my dreams. Later that night, the sky was filled with black clouds, and wind storms arose, luckily we passed the night peacefully.
Its the first time I was going on a hiking expedition into the mountains, and I had fears and doubts but also excitement for the upcoming trekking journey.
I had been only to mountains once before this, and it was a guided tour to Hunza.
But that one tour alone ignite in me a spark to see the mountains up close and personal, to hike into the deep unexplored mountains to find the bliss, and I never knew this would be the start of a never-ending series of hiking expeditions.
At 3 am, our porter to Kukush lake came on the tractor and torched its headlight, told us its time to go, we packed everything and left for Langar Nala, a place near Shandoor top from where the hike to Kukush lake starts.
Day 2. The Hike towards Kukush lake
We started the hike at 5 am towards Kukush lake, the biggest trout paradise in Pakistan, its also the largest lake in Ghizer, GB with 9km length,
We were at approx. El. 12000ft when we reached the lake at noon.
We made noodles for lunch, fixed tents and started fishing, there were just too many trout that we were able to see them in water moving here and there, we did fishing the rest of day and in the evening we deep fried the trout we caught and smoked the rest for the upcoming journey,
This trekking journey is the first time I ate trout fish, and it was so delicious, we put on fire and sit around it for a while, I took some long exposure shots of the lake and went to sleep early, so we start the next day trek early morning.
Day 3: Exploring the Kukush lakes and trek towards Bashkaro pass base camp
Our porters decided to ditch us at the Kukush lake one and told us that they don’t know the way beyond so we are on our own, we packed our bags and with the name of Allah started the hike towards the base camp of Kukush/Bashkaro pass at 5 in the morning.
It took us 2 hours to cross the first lake, and it just won’t end, after that small lakes, Kukush 2 and 3 came.
We made a roundabout them and reached Kukush 4 the last lake; there was no track to find the way, it was just small rocks due to landslide on which we have to walk, the stones were slipping, one wrong foot and we would fall into the cold water with unknown depth and death it was.
It was around 2 in the noon when we were truly lost, we had no water left, dehydration was killing us, I could see the water below in lake, but there was no way to reach it, we were rock climbing on steep paths when out of nowhere we saw a man with a herd of sheep.
It was like when angel come in human form, we ran towards him, and he took us inside his rock cave, gave us water and lassi, made tea for us from goat milk, I can never thank that man enough all my life.
After resting he carried our bags to some distance and showed us the way from there, he told us there is another man up near Base camp, we thanked him and continued to our approach.
We reached the basecamp at 4 in the evening; there was a rock cave with two people inside, when they saw us they took us inside their cave, one local guy made tea for us, while the other made lassi.
After that, they made karahi for lunch from Markhor meat, which they hunt two days ago, how uncertain we were about what we are going to eat, but Allah says you don’t find Rizak, rizak finds you in places you can’t even imagine.
We asked them about the condition of track that goes to pass, they said it’s easy, and if you start next day at 6 in the morning then you will be in Mahodand, swat by evening, we rested for some hours, then they made dinner for us, it was markhor chops with stew.
These are the rock caves in which we sleep at night, made below a big rock which existed naturally in a way that made room for five people.
Day 4. Summit push and reaching Swat valley
It was a bright day with no clouds and perfect for crossing the pass, we asked the man to take us up to the top as we don’t know the way and we will pay him, but he refused and said he has to give salt to his goats and once again we were on our own.
We started at 6 in the morning, and it was steep ascent after that, the sun had melted the snow, and it was easy walking on it, our morale was high after hearing from the man that it’s the easy way, but we were so wrong.
After walking for 4 hours, we reached into the world of ice; it was hard ice everywhere, blue water streams were flowing through thick ice.
It was a sight I can’t ever forget, it was just beautiful, at 15000 ft there was no sign of life except us, only ice and rocks, the sun rays were too intense that it was burning our skin, and it was so cold beneath, and then there was no way forward.
Our GPS was telling us to go into the direction that was apparent death; clouds were beginning to form at the top, blocking the visibility.
You can’t go anywhere when there is zero visibility when it’s man vs. nature; nature always wins, there is nothing in your control up there, all you can do is pray that life doesn’t turn against you today.
In the end, it was left or right, there were two trails ahead, our GPS was telling us to go to the extreme right, but It was impossible without ropes, ice axes, and crampons,
so we decided to blindly go to the one on my left, having tawakal on Allah we started the climb, not knowing what’s on the other side.
As we continued our way towards the summit, the snow became soft, and we could see crevices in a glacier,
death was staring at us within deep blue ice; you cease to exist in these situations, your ego, your pride it all vanishes into air, these crevices are so deep and cold that if you accidentally fall into one, they can’t even find your body till the end of times.
We crossed the last 200 meters one step at a time, after each step we would wait if ice is stable, then another step, again waiting if we are going to fall, then again one step and that’s how we reached the top.
There were tears in my eyes after reaching the top; how I arrived there in one piece I couldn’t understand, our GPS was showing 4970m elevation, There was Barsat, Shandur valley on my one side and Swat valley on another side.
Standing between the end of life at one side and beginning of life at other it was a glorious moment I can never forget, its the adventure one can only dream about, We thanked Allah and started decently on the other side.
As we started the descent, clouds begin to form, and in no time it started snow falling. A massive wind storm came, we took shelter under a big rock and waited for the rain to calm, we had to get down before sunrise otherwise we were stuck there after some time we decided to continue cause we had not much time.
There was no way while we were descending, it was very technical descent; at one point, it was so steep, and the path was all little rocks, so we have to cross it one by one; otherwise, the stones were falling on others.
As we lost height snowfall changed into rain, we were at 15500 ft and had to get down to 9000 ft where we could find the first village and the sign of life again; it’s tough to descent on snow cause you just slip downward and if you lose your control you just fall with so much acceleration that you can’t stop yourself.
We had to stroll to reach the stream below which could guide us to the village, after walking for 3 hours, we reached Raj Makan and could see the Blue Lake at a distance at the foot of Kachikhani pass.
In ancient times the Raja of Gilgit used to come to the place for hunting. Flower-filled areas, freshwater from the glacial melt from the passes, and amazing views of the mountains, it indeed was a place fit for a king.
We also saw a man with a herd of sheep near the lake, seeing another human being after a long time it sure felt good, we asked him how long till we reach the village. He said you could not arrive there today, you have to spend the night in the wild, it was 6 in the evening and we just sat there looking at the lake for the longest time.
Descending from Blue lake we reached Neel sar, it has beautiful blue water with lush green surrounding, we decided to camp there as it was getting dark and then some 9, 10 people with heavy machine guns and AK47 saw us.
They came towards us and asked who we are, and what are we doing here, we told them we came from Kukush pass from Gilgit side on 11 number car (that’s our two legs ) they laughed and said to us that their village is only one hour ahead and we should camp there and they will also give us food.
They were going hunting, we said our goodbyes and started descending again.
After walking for 2 hours, there were still no signs of any village, so we camped in between two big rocks in the middle of nowhere. It was 9 in the night, and we had no food left, so we went to sleep hungry when you walk continuously for 15 hours, you are so tired that the minute you lay down, you are in the world of dreams.
Day 5: Reaching the Mahodand lake and the end of our journey.
The next day we reached the village, they gave us breakfast and told us that you would arrive at Mahodand after 6 hours, from there you can get jeeps down to Kalam city, there were too many beautiful waterfalls on our way, this is one of them.
After reaching Mahodand lake, we hired a cab to drop us at Kalam city, and from there, we got a high roof to Abbottabad.
So it concludes our extreme survival adventure in the heart of the mountains.
Read about my next solo adventures in the mountains – a quest to find myself.