When it was finally decided that we are doing a trek this year which we weren’t sure earlier, question became to where? I personally wanted to for something at less altitude this year however Shoaib and Ezaz were in the favour of involving something challenging and going above 5000 again. We considered some passes before Ezaz proposed doing something in the Golen Gol valley in Chitral and end somehow in Kumrat valley from there. Most of the trekking in Pakistan happens in the Karakorums while Chitral and surroundings remain less explored overall. We have a fancy for remote and less explored routes so this proposal caught our attention right away. We started checking the feasibility and available options in the area.
When we started looking at the map and consulted Isobel’s and John Mock’s books, the only known and documented above 5000m option was Phargam pass that connects Laspur with Golen valley. There was a problem however – and that was we wanted to include Kumrat somehow. There is then a documented trek via Thalo pass that connects Laspur with Kumrat. This also passes through a big visible lake in the middle – Bashkargol. It was possible to combine the Phargam and Thalo treks but then we had to touch the settlement/road at Laspur, something that we wanted to avoid. Reaching settled life with facilities breaks the rhythm one has in the wilderness. We therefore started looking for an alternate option that could connect us to Bashkargol from Golen valley directly. Looking at google map, there did seem a possibility of pass ahead of Shaichiku peak in the Dakadak nala but this was never mentioned anywhere and involved uncertainties. I, Shoaib and Ezaz kept discussing it. We compared the route and gradient with other passes we have been to. We finally concluded it is worth giving a shot and so did it get locked. At that point this pass didn’t have any name and so I put a pin on Google Earth calling it “Target Pass” till we actually crossed it and gave it somewhat descent name 🙂
Unfortunately Shoaib had to drop out at the very last moment because of some of his official commitments. After having him involved in whole this process, it was very hard to let him go but we had to continue without him. Saturday, July 15th was spared for shopping and Sunday July 16th was decided to be the departure date. Saeed was accompanying us for the second consecutive trek with an additional partner this year in the from of his twin brother and lookalike – Rasheed. Ali Kayani also confirmed his availability a week before the trek. Biggest news came in the form of Col. Ahsan who had returned from Khurdopin attempt. With all of his experience and technical capabilities, it was a big boost for the team. Aziz Jamali sb was the last person to confirm and he did make it to Islamabad from Quetta on Saturday.
Finally on Sunday early morning, four of us including myself, Aziz Jamali sb, Col. Ahsan and Ali left for Dir on Ali bhai’s jeep. Ezaz, Saeed and Rasheed left from Peshawar at the same time to join us in Dir. Two parties met at Dir around noon where we parked our jeep in one of Ezaz’s friend’s place and hired private jeep for Chitral. We reached Chitral at around 9 PM and stayed at Al-Farooq hotel. Three of the porters from Laspur whom we had arranged beforehand were waiting there for us. They also had a couple of other porters form their village available to go with us in case we need them. We decided to bring them onboard too. Unlike GB, porters in Chitral work for flat per day rate. This saves a lot of hassle. They agreed for a flat 1500 per porter per day that seemed reasonable. We also managed to meet Fida Hussain who is an experienced guide and currently works with Pamir hotel. Fida belongs to Koghozi (Golen starting point). He had already done some working for us and was confident that we could find an experienced gujjar familiar with this area from the last nala in Golen valley. Fida agreed to accompany us till the start of trek to manage logistics. I would highly recommend him for any trekking trips/information in Chitral, he can be reached at 0344-9818936.
Next day (July 17th), we completed rest of our shopping for Chitral and left for Golen on two jeeps including Fida’s. One jeep costed us 10k till last village. Hafeez and Arman also joined us in Chitral who had traveled all the way from Chapursan to join us as guide and cook respectively. Golen valley turns right on the Chitral Mastuj road from Koghuzi. Istur is the main village of valley. Valley opens up after Istur and offers some amazing lush meadows. We reached Dakadak, the last settlement. Overall, it took between 4-5 hours to reach this last settlement from Chitral city. From this village, one can continue towards Phargam pass that takes around 3 days trek. Instead of camping along with settlement, we decided to cross river to a grassy patch that looked like a tempting camping place from here. It turned out to be a very good choice with beautiful grassy meadow and fresh water stream. We sent Fida along with Ezaz to his gujjar contact that Fida had mentioned. They reached him and started negotiating. Ezaz kept us updating on the radio. Nabi – the gujjar head of this family initially disapproved the idea mentioning no one has gone there for more than 10 years. As Ezaz was alone, he didn’t take him seriously and recommended going to Phargam instead. Ezaz kept trying to convince him using Pushto skills. Eventually, he opened google earth app on his phone and showed him the exact route we wanted to attempt. There Nabi felt we are determined enough and he agreed to go with us till the top. He claimed to have done this pass some 10-12 years back.
Day1 – Dakadak to 22-Camp Campsite
This was the first trekking day of our trek. After wrapping up our tents, we started our journey at around 8:30 AM in the morning. We reached Nabi’s place after a flat walk of around 30 mins. There Nabi joined us along with his two sons and we formally started our trek. Shaichiku peak at 5950m, the highest peak of this valley is the main visible milestone. Keeping Shaichiku peak on our left, we had to go further ahead of it. Our target was a campsite with some stone platforms developed supposedly by a foreign climbing expedition to 22-camp peak some 15/20 years back. Our source for this information was Nabi and we haven’t found any formal report of this expedition so far. Trek ascends gradually from the start point till the lake from where there starts a bit steep portion and loose boulders along glacier moraine. We reached 22-camp campsite after a total trek of 5-6 hours. Today’s total altitude gain was 670 meters.
Day2 – 22-Camp Campsite to Shaichiku Pass Basecamp
This was planned to be the acclimatisation day. We walked for another 2-3 hours to reach the last possible campsite before the pass. We did manage to gain another 300+ meters during this travel and camped at 4270m. This was a rough campsite with some patches of grass and a fresh water stream. We had to clean up space to pitch our tents. During the afternoon, we went up for recce, further acclimatisation to find and finalise route to the pass. We went up on the left with pretty steep ascend to around 4500m from where the pass became visible. From that point however, the pass ascend angle looked pretty scary and we didn’t initially believe this could be the pass. We had done our study based on google satellite map and imagery and what we missed were the sharp rocks 0n left that made our paper route pretty impossible. A little right on the rocks however, there was some possibility of ascend on scree. We had a hope however that what looks like a vertical wall from this distance will have some gradient and a possible route somehow to the top. After some discussions, it was finally decided to pursue this route in the morning tomorrow. Hafeez and Col. Ahsan had to lead the route finding effort along with Nabi and his son. There were definitely uncertainties and so we prepared a runtime backup plan as well. We decided in case we are unable to cross the pass, we will attempt Madaglasht pass on the opposite side that looked easier than this target pass. We knew there exists a route from Madaglast to Kumrat too.
Day3 – Crossing Shaichiku Pass (5150m)
This was the pass day and like all passes turned out to be another pretty tough day of our lives. We started at 5:30 in the morning. We had to gain more than 800 meters of altitude till the pass. With just two days into the trek, our bodies had not properly been acclimatised and with this steep ascend, it was quite a challenge. Trek was all on loose boulders who loved to slip. Combined with the steepness, boulders made the ascend pretty demanding. As the route is not in use, there was no marked trail and we had to traverse our way ourselves. We reached to the true base of pass in around 4 hours. From there, the actual challenge was supposed to begin. However, to our luck we soon found a small water channel coming down from somewhere near the top. The channel came as a blessing as it least made the scree stable in the form of steps that made ascend somewhat easier than it would have been on all loose scree. It took us another couple of hours to the top from the base. We had been able to open a new route for Bashkargol from Golen valley. The excitement and feeling cannot be described. This pass had never been done before by any trekker. We thought to name it for future reference and so it was named as Shaichiku pass after the Shaichiku peak in the vicinity. At the other end of pass, there was glacial snow basin. We descended into snow for about an hour after which the boulders greeted us once again. We decided to camp at around 6 in the evening and managed to find a suitable place along nala coming from 22-camp called locally as Ishporel. We named this Ishporel campsite. Camp altitude was 4250 meters.
Day4 – Ishporel to Darkotu
Having crossed the pass, most of uncertainties and difficulties had already ended. We had descended to a safe altitude. Started our day at around 9 AM. Our target was some jungle camp that is supposed to come at the junction of Ishporel and Bashkar rivers. As rest of our trek had to be on the true right of river bank, we decided to cross Ishporel while it is not that messy. We found a relatively stable spot for river crossing after around 20 minutes of walk from the campsite and reached the other end. In another 3-4 hours we managed to reach the start of tree line with an amazing campsite called as Darkotu. After being on the boulders for most of these three days, Darkotu felt like heaven. With lush green grass, fresh water stream flowing right in the middle of it covering the whole length of Darkotu and plenty of dry wood made it an ideal place to celebrate our pass success.
Day5 – Darkotu to Bashkargol Lake
What was supposed to be an easy day turned out to be another very tough day. We imagined today to walk on a plain path till the lake. It remained so for about an hour after which a steep ascend was awaiting us. We had to leave the river basin and trail climbed steeply towards the ridge on the right side. We managed to reach top of the ridge in another hour or so from where lake was visible some 200 meters below. The ideal trail goes on to the other side of lake however lake water flow was too much to be crossed so the only option was to take this steep rocky portion on the right. From the ridge, we had to negotiate rocks and a narrow path between them. Any potential fall could make one taste the lake water lake hundreds of feet below. We continued for 1-2 hours when we finally came across our last hurdle for the day – a dead end with vertical wall at one end and deep corner of the lake in front. The only option looked feasible was to cross it on pulley. Col. Ahsan again took the technical lead to set it up. He and Jamali sb took rope and swam to the other end. They anchored the rope and one by one we managed to cross it to the other end along with our luggages. This whole exercise took few hours and it was around sunset when all of us and our luggage managed to cross water safely. In the night, we camped at the first possible dry place and found it after some walk of 30 minutes. This had become a very tiring day for all of us overall.
Day6 – Bashkargol Lake to Zaghi Chat
We thought to be able to reach Zaghi Chat lake by day end today but we couldn’t. Because of yesterday’s fatigue, we woke up late and started no earlier than midday around noon. The trek however remained mostly flat with grassy patches and boulders. Till around 6 in the evening we were below the first lake. It seemed difficult to reach the lake before sunset so we decided to pitch our tents. It was a pure boulders area and we had pitch our tents right there on uneven surface. Porters did remarkable job however with clearing the big stones below and making platforms for tents. In the end, we managed to get some good sleep.
Day7 – Zaghi Chat to Gurshai
This was one of the most rewarding days of our trek in terms of scenery. We reached first lake in around 90 mins from yesterday’s campsite. Then after a walk of another hour or so we reached the second lake Zaghi Chat – also knowns as Liksar lake at an altitude of around 4000m. It was one of the most beautiful lakes we have been to. This lake was quite bigger than our expectations based on google map imagery. After Zaghi Chat, we ascended a couple of hundred meters to reach Thalo pass (4200m). There are a couple of glacier lakes before and after Thalo pass. One also needs to negotiate ice and soft snow around the pass. Descend from pass was however too steep and scary again on loose scree. Sharp descend takes around an hour after which one reaches a potential campsite. We decided to continue however, crossed the amazingly beautiful Shahzore banda and Kala Pathar with multiple meadows and camped at Gurshai Banda along with a settlement. With the destination coming near now, it was time to celebrate our trek with a bakra feast that we did at Gurdhai campsite 🙂
Day8 – Gurshai banda to Kumrat
This was the last day of our trek and we were hoping to reach jeep spot. We continued descending towards Kumrat. This whole area is rich with thick forestation. It was paper mulberry in the start at higher altitude followed by pine trees as we moved down. This forest is definitely one of the thickest pine forests in Pakistan with only Taobut in Neelum valley to its comparison. It was a treat to walk on this plain and well marked trail now after after walking for 6 days on loose boulders and unmarked trails. We reached hotels area before mainland Kumrat after a walk of around 6 hours from Gurshai. Jeep was arranged for this point till Dir from where we reached back home the next day.