I absolutely loved Passu. A travel writer I follow claimed it was his favourite place on earth and I can totally see why. It is drop dead gorgeous and you will likely have it to your self. The Passu Cones are surrounded by the most spectacular glaciers. It genuinely is like nothing I’ve seen before. An added bonus it is covered in apricot trees and home to one of the best apricot cakes. I hope I have convinced you. I would have stayed longer only I was desperate to find some human company. The mountains are beautiful yet lonely places.
So after the success of finally making mates (no easy task in Northern Pakistan). Cherry put me in contact with a random bunch of students who were due to start trekking the following day in the quaint little village of Hopper. I wondered how the hell I was going to get there on time. I needed have worried… The Karakoram Highway isn’t exactly known for its transport so instead I chanced my arm and hitch hiked. In Argentina I once waited 6 hours for a ride, in Pakistan you wait a maximum of 6 minutes. A Lovely couple who were on honey moon picked me up and pleaded I join them for dinner. It’s not exactly what you would imagine as an ideal honey moon date but this is typical of what you will see in Pakistan ridiculously kind and open people. I was on a mission to get to Hopper before dark so I politely declined and they disappointingly left me off at a junction.
My luck continued when two army officials picked me up. One was normal the other was not. You can’t have it all I suppose. He sped through dirt tracks (which were scarily bordering a cliff) whilst staring me out of it. We eventually arrived I was naturally shook and the two officials also pleaded with me to also join them for dinner. I was given very typical vague Pakistani instructions to ‘ find a lad called Sherbaz he will be waiting for you’. Excellent.
When I arrived I was instantly whisked away by a group of very confused Pakistani Man. They were all expecting me I’m not exactly your typical clientele. I eventually managed to communicate I wanted to do a 4 day trek to see Rush Lake and that I wanted to join the group of students. The famous Sherbaz, who would be my guide eventually appeared. I was dealing with his confused brother neither of which had any English. I was naturally a little concerned about spending the next 4 days alone with this chap. It’s not like there are tourists floating about. My conversation with Sherbaz extended to have you any brothers? Yes one, and you? Yes 7. Despite the awkward English he was a gent and I felt safe and instantly liked him. Rush lake is the highest in Asia at 4,694 m. My plan was to trek up to Rush Peak (5,098 m). It can take up to 5 days to complete with some lunatics doing it in 1-2.
That evening Sherbaz and his family stuffed with my chapati, lentils and some other delicious concoctions. I was stuffed but knew I would need it. I pitched my tent and got prepped for the days ahead.
I was really disappointed as the students doing the trek supposedly were in bad shape and Sherbaz insisted we do our own thing confirming they would slow us down. Anyway I was happy to leave at 6 am dreading the thoughts of trekking and carrying all my camping equipment in the blistering heat. Sherbaz offered to carry my camping gear and food but since arriving in Pakistan I have become determined to show how women are capable confident travelers. I did not want to conform to how they saw me. It definitely gets to you when you are greeted by utter shock and disbelief that you are woman traveling alone and worse still you carry all your own gear!!
We arrived at the campsite at 11 am so I figured it was way too early to camp so opted to keep going. In fairness we were bombing it and I was fairly nackered (mainly caused by the weight of the bag). We were probably going so fast because as we had absolutely nothing to say to each other. At this stage my back was near breaking point. Sherbaz was literally sprinting ahead of me . He was a skinny melink with energy to burn. Eventually he kindly offered to carry my pot, pasta and gas canister so I couldn’t have been more grateful but inside I felt disappointed. Pride aside I had no choice if I was going to make it to second camp.
The thoughts of broken Urdu/English chitchat for the rest of the day motivated me to keep walking. I’m also a sucker for a painful challenge. The first camp was stunning a lush green valley surrounded by streams. It was here were we actually met other people and they had English!! Kaychief and Zourha were also trekking to Rush Lake but they had lost their porters. They had absolutely no food or water (and it was hot!!). After supplying them with some bickies and dates we decided to trek together. Kaychief runs a travel company so had already completed the trek to Rush Lake 2 times. He warned us all of what was ahead, a grueling 6 hour uphill climb in hot altitude. This was pure and utter torture and felt like it never ended.
At this stage we all ran out of water and were getting quite desperate. I was struggling massively with the weight of my bag. Since arriving in Pakistan I felt an overwhelming amount of discrimination against woman. There is a general belief that woman are not able to walk alone, camp alone or basically do anything alone. Carrying my bag became in a way symbolic.
This is the second hardest trek I have every completed (The hardest still to this day was getting stranded on the top of Cerro Castillo in Patagonia). Our new found friend’s porters were still missing in action so the remaining snacks were shared among us all. We were all starving, thirsty and wrecked. All in all fairly grim until you look at that view…..
After about 10 hours of intense trekking we found water. It was a delirious kind of happy. Very concerning, their porters still hadn’t arrived. They were left stranded on the side of a mountain with absolutely no food or tents. I reassured everyone I had enough food to feed an army with 2 kg of pasta and rice so we were sorted.
My guide Sherbaz was in an equally tricky situation. He also had no tent!! (don’t ask) and wondered if he sleep could sleep with me. Naturally I wasn’t too keen on the idea. So there was 4 of us and my one crappy tent. We all just prayed the porters would eventually turn up. It was almost 8 pm at this stage and getting dark.
Anyway I decided to get cracking on dinner. This was nothing short of a tragedy. My gas did not work. I bought my stove in Argentina and the Pakistan gas was not compatible. Obviously a lesson to us all but mainly me, check this before you end up wild camping on a mountain. So this meant we had no food unless we wanted to eat some raw rice!!
An alternative dinner was a miserable handful of peanuts, dates and biscuits. It really was the pits. There was another guide on the mountain looking after a couple but he said he could not share his gas as he didn’t have enough (which is totally understandable). I felt like such an idiot and lugged all the weight for absolutely no reason. Sherbaz sensed the urgency of our situation so went off to look for the Porters as light was closing in and it was getting cold. The plan the next am was to try and reach Rush Lake. We were way ahead of schedule and all figured the quicker we could get off the mountain the better due to the lack of food and shelter.
After what felt like a life time Sherbaz came back with the two exhausted Porters. They were delayed because the bags weighed over 30 kg. Anyway all ended well and we eventually got into our tents (Sherbaz bunked with the porters so happy days).
Alarms were set for 3 am so that we could trek up to see sunrise. I needed have bothered as sleep was impossible. It was baltic and my thin sleeping back is definitely not equipped for these harsh conditions.
Sherbaz decided to give sunrise a miss (I wouldn’t blame the chap). Having trekked for 10 hours the day before we were all fairly beefed but myself, Zohra and Kaychief slowly plodded along until we arrived at the baltic but beautiful Rush Lake. We were way ahead of schedule and had to wait it out in the freezing cold. The sun started to slowly rise and it was a sight for sore eyes. We forgot about hunger, sleep deprivation and the cold and took in the amazing sunrise. Afterwards we trekked up to Rush Peak where we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of K2 (the world’s 2nd tallest mountain, apparently it’s quite rare to see it due to poor visibility). Our misfortune certainly paid off in the end.
Sherbaz and the porters met us at the lake later that morning where we were treated to breakfast. We had a feast of chicken karahi, and homemade chapati at 4,000 m high. The best thing I ate in Pakistan to date. Everything was fried in an excessive amount of oil and was just perfect.
With renewed energy we started the descend. Sherbaz suggested we spend our second night with his Uncle who is a Shepard. It sounded cool at the time a minor detail he failed to mention was it involved traversing a tricky glacier.
This was an eventful journey. The glacier crossing was nothing short of lethal I fell on multiple occasions and was not able to balance myself with the heavy backpack. We lost Kaychief and Zohra but my guide didn’t seem concerned in the slightest and urged me to keep going as light was closing in. I thought we would never make it. I was weak and couldn’t’ stop falling. It’s the type of glacier you could imagine lots of dead bodies buried underneath. We had a further grueling up hill slog to reach the Shepard’s hut. I was treated to some goats yogurt. I was so excited to try this but in reality it was not edible truly awful stuff but unable to turn it down I forced it into me and was sick moments later. Just as it was dark Zohra and Kaychief rocked up looking quite understandably disheveled.
I was able to cook my pasta in the fire and after dinner chilled for a while appreciating the stary sky. It was incredible. I was invited to slaughter a sheep by a creepy man. It is a local delicacy. He then wanted to go explore the mountains with me at night. I politely declined. I was slightly freaked out he would visit me in my tent but luckily I had my new mates near by.
We all slept like babies and the next am we peeled our bodies out of the tents and after some chai and chapati. Our torn apart bodies made the final descend back to the gorgeous village of Hopper.
What an experience!