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The Epic Journal #1: Our First Pakistan Tour of 2021

drone shot of a glacier in pakistan

Words and images by Epic Backpacker Tours Co-founder, Chris Lininger

hiking in pakistan
Our May 2021 crew

I found myself heading to the Islamabad airport in the middle of the night to pick up a client for the first time in 17 months. The city buzzed with a strange vibrancy at 2 am as many people keep nocturnal hours across Pakistan during Ramadan time.

This was a powerful moment for me personally as it could only mean one thing: I could finally run a tour again in Pakistan after we saw Covid 19 take that away from us for all of 2020. My 2 am cup of coffee had not tasted this good in months.

The next day our crew was assembled in Islamabad and we decided to depart the city early for the mountains. A new country-wide lockdown had been announced just a few days before – while we literally had clients in the air or already in Pakistan. I truly think being a tour operator in the Covid era has made us quite resilient to such news – which was basically taken with the attitude “we will find a way”. But I will not deny it: this was a stressful time.

The one-week lockdown had been announced to stem the spread of Covid during the busy Eid holiday – a period where millions of Pakistanis are on the move in normal circumstances. We made it to Gilgit Baltistan a day early to settle in, prepare for our trek, and to ensure we would not get trapped outside of the Northern Areas where we intended on being during the “lockdown”.

The result? We were almost the only foreigners or tourists in all of Gilgit Baltistan – it was glorious.

The icing on the cake came when the Government of Gilgit Baltistan gave us special permission to carry on with our itinerary, given the fact that 90% of our activities were trekking in remote places and everyone in our group had been vaccinated. We were in the mountains and for the first time since I began working in Pakistan – we would have almost every interesting point in the North to ourselves. We were psyched.

passu cones
Borith Lake from the drone

Getting Back to Ghulkin

hiking in pakistan
Ghulkin village at sunset

Ghulkin Village is where Epic Backpacker Tours started basically. Our dear friends Rehman, Sitara, and their children are from Ghulkin, running a homestay hosting travelers since 2017. This was also the first time for them that a group of foreigners had rolled through since the start of Covid. We were all just enjoying the feeling of normalcy seeing old friends brings.

Staying in Ghulkin, sleeping in my tent in the apple orchard, eating the delicious local spinach and potato dishes – these are the things I personally dream of when I am away from this village. Our village stay turned out to be the highlight of the trip for our clients as well.

Life just slows down in this part of the world. Our clients come from diverse backgrounds and busy lives back home. Generally, they are living in cities and have fast-paced jobs and lifestyles. For me as the trip leader, it is special thing to behold as our group begins to find their rhythm in this new rural environment where the community is more helpful. We split our days between challenging treks, hanging out with the local kids, and chilling in the hammocks hung between apple and cherry trees. This is the life.

hiking in pakistan
The food!
hiking in pakistan
Rehman’s mother making chapati in their home.
The crew taking in Baltit Fort in Hunza.

Hikes and Apricots

The scale in Northern Pakistan is something else.

The month of April had been colder and grayer this year than in years past. It was the first time I saw cherry and apricot blossoms coated in light snow. By the time May rolled around – I was curious about the weather we would be encountering as we started doing more stuff outside.

Luckily, by the time we started hiking a few days into our trip, we had near-perfect conditions. The Karakoram gods blessed us with excellent weather for the most part.

Our most action-packed hike on this trip takes us across Passu Glacier and to a camp 800 meters below the rocky meadow called Patundas. I could feel that everyone was getting excited for this part of our journey. To be honest – all of our trip members crushed it as we traversed ice fields dotted with enormous, otherworldly formations of rock and ice. I found myself stopping to shoot a few photo frames of our crew, taking a minute to feel great gratitude that we were able to be back here, doing what we love, playing in these epic mountains.

As we sat around the campfire we sipped tea, laughed a whole hell of a lot, and took in the whole scene before our cooks served us an incredible spread both nights we camped there. The simple pleasure of eating a hot meal under the stars with a fire roaring nearby is something that never leaves you once you have experienced it.

Over 15 days, our crew traveled from sweltering Pakistani cities to remote glaciers and alpine camps, to the China border, and back again. Thanks so much to Skylar, Sam, and Yunus for always trying hard, keeping a positive attitude, and trusting us to show the magic of Pakistan. We look forward to the next adventure!

hiking in Pakistan
The crew gearing up at the lower Patundas camp.
hiking in pakistan
Fire time.
The table a team of porters made from solid granite a few years ago!
Hanging out with the ladies at the Gulmit weaving collective

Highs and Lows of Pandemic Travel

I have a HUGE amount of gratitude to the people who chose to come with Epic Backpacker Tours to Pakistan this past May. For me this was not about restarting business or the money we would earn – it was about being able to get back on the horse again and ride both in actuality and mentally.

Coming into the trip, I knew that all of our group members were vaccinated and took PCR tests before arriving so none of us were very concerned about catching or spreading Covid at this point. The main risk and stress involved airlines, transits, and the fact that the rules within Pakistan seemed to be changing all the time.

Through all of these external factors – the group kept their calm and were truly present: they knew why they were here: to enjoy the landscapes, hike hard, and spend time getting to know people of Pakistan – and that is exactly what they did.

Planning and running a trip during the Covid pandemic taught me a few things: 1. this trip required the most logistics planning power I have ever put into a trip 2. All the hard work paid off (as hard work usually does) + the satisfaction and pleasure of seeing this trip succeed felt more rewarding than any other trip I have run as well.

I want to take a minute and thank all of our wonderful staff in Pakistan and the people behind the scenes who support everything we do. This trip was one for the ages because of our amazing community that I could not be more proud to be associated with.

Thanks for reading this first write up from The Epic Journal.

badshai mosque lahore
hiking in pakistan
A glorious sunrise on Nanga Parbat.

We have a few more tours on the horizon – which means more good stuff is happening soon!

Here is what we have on the schedule for the next few months:

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Welcome to our Journal!

Here at Epic Backpacker Tours, adventure is constantly on our minds. 

Our blog – or Journal as we like to call it – contains epic trip stories, photo diaries, and news about new tours. 

Thanks for checking it out! 

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PAKISTAN
K2 BASE CAMP TREK

Next trip: July 4th – 24th, 2023

Adventure Guide

João has born in the mountains of Madeira Islands in Portugal. Nature lover, writer, musician, guide, for him, a day without contact with outdoor vibes is a nightmare.

With a degree in Cultural Studies in Portugal and a Master of Arts in Global Cultures and Creativity in the U.K.

João found out what really matters in life can be found on the trails, and in the contact with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Guiding, crazy trekking missions, sharing observations about the natural world, – these are some of João’s passions.

After his trek to K2 Base Camp and other adventures in the north of Pakistan, the love of the country and the local people resulted in his desire to share these feelings with world.

When not in Pakistan, João is  guiding and exploring in the Madeira Islands trails –  discovering some of the hidden treasures on his Portuguese Island.

João I can not thank you enough for the off the beaten paths and views you keep giving. Definitely one of the most challenging and amazing hikes we did 1200m meters all the way up to Fanal forest and circling back to the hidden village. Wow!

– Jeffery 

travel hunza valley

Adventure Guide

Sohail is the newest addition to the Epic Backpacker Tours team and we are beyond stoked to have him on board. As a veteran of the Karakoram and a native of Karimabad in Hunza, there is not much Sohail can’t do in the mountains. 

Besides having the ability to speak more languages than we can count, Sohail has explored every corner of Gilgit Baltistan and logs more trekking miles 

in a year than most people will do in a lifetime. As of the summer of 2022, Sohail has summited Gasherbrum 1, Gasherbrum 2, and K2 – three of Pakistan’s five 8000-meter peaks. Sohail guides several trips including our annual bespoke expeditions but specializes in Hunza Valley tours.

Chris and Sohail, and the team at Epic are FANTASTIC! Highly recommend anyone to do a tour with ‘Epic’. They have the perfect balance of fun, excitement and wild adventures, tied in with being super professional and ensuring your safety/health in a foreign environment. Don’t waste a moment and book a tour with these guys as the value for money is UNREAL!

– Borgan

iran travel tour

Adventure Guide

Pedro’s been traveling all around the globe since 2009. His keen interests in documentary photography, rural life, and local people from different ethnic groups have been the focus of many of his professional projects.

Since 2012, he has developed his passion for travel and awesome shared experiences into a full-time adventure photography tour leader position.

Pedro has found himself continuously going back to the Middle East, with his likely favorite destination being Iran. Pedro will be leading his 11th tour in Iran with EBT this coming spring 2020

When Pedro’s not traveling the world with Epic Backpacker Tours, you’ll find him based in the western south of Portugal planning he’s next adventure missions, logistics and working out his photos in local exhibitions.

 I loved the combination of hiking, camping around breathtaking scenery mixed with the cultural aspects. The guide (Pedro) is knowledgeable and work very hard to make the trip as memorable as possible. All in all an epic adventure with some extremely epic individuals! Go for it, you won’t regret it!

– Saisun

Touring Iran with EBT in May 2022 was way above our expectation: itineraries well planned and carefully executed, perfect mix of sights and trekking, delicious food, nice accommodation, great guides and wonderful fellow travellers. Trekking can be handled by anyone physically fit. Highly recommended for those who want to experience the real Iran.

– Sumera

Diane Bouvet

Adventure Admin / Marketing

After fleeing from the corporate fashion world in Paris towards the start of 2020, Diane has been working as a web developer and graphic designer remotely from various bases across the globe

She brings all of her incredible design and organizational power to Epic Backpacker Tours and is responsible for many of the beautiful behind-the-scenes design elements. 

Diane has been to Iran and to Pakistan twice including all over Gilgit Baltistan and KPK.

k2 base camp trek guide

Head of Operations | Guide

A veteran of Pakistan travel, Ralph is an experienced guide, photographer and writer who specializes in documenting remote locations. 

Not one to simply go where everyone else does, he insists on exploring new and lesser-known areas.

Together with Epic Backpacker Tours, he shows people parts of Pakistan that most other operators don’t even know about. He is particularly fond of the village of Barah, which he believes will become just as famous as Hunza one day.

Just got back from EBT’s Trekking Amongst Giants 15 day tour. The experience was first class. Ralph, our head guide, ensured that the entire trip ran smoothly and relatively on time (a bonus for anyone travelling in Pakistan). We had so many unforgettable days on the tour and the trekking was well-planned, safe but also a rewarding challenge. 

– Calvin


Traveling to a non-tourist destination can be a little intimidating but EBT takes all of the worry and trepidation away. From the pre-trip call to meeting the wonderful staff in person you can tell that you are dealing with a company that has a passion for what they do each and every day. Ralph, Zahid, and Khan were supportive, kind, and always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone on the trip was getting what they wanted out of the experience.

– Katrina 

adventure tours pakistan

Founder | Adventure Guide | Director

For the last eleven years, Chris has been seeking out every shade of adventure in various parts of the globe and had visited more than 65 countries along the way. 

Since 2011, Chris has logged more than 6300 trail miles across five continents and climbed multiple 6000 + 7000 meter peaks in Pakistan and Nepal.

In 2017, a distant dream and a deep passion for the mountains and people of Pakistan led Chris to found Epic Backpacker Tours at a time when foreign adventure tourism in Pakistan was almost nonexistent. Since then, Chris has guided more than 15 expeditions to various parts of Northern Pakistan.

Chris believes in using photography and powerful adventure experiences to dismantle negative stereotypes regarding what mainstream media considers “dangerous” countries while facilitating unique and meaningful memories in the mountains for countless people from around the globe. 

Long-distance hiking, learning languages, meaningful conversations, all things Turkish food, mountaineering, and making tasty coffee above 6,000 meters rank among his favorite things in life. 

For him, an ideal start to the day begins with a steaming cup of good coffee, the beam of a headlamp, alpine boots, and a camera in hand.

When he is not leading or planning tours, Chris works as a writer and photographer on his blog Off the Atlas – an adventure travel blog all about Pakistan. 

 

Chris believes in Pakistan and its people, and he believes in the value of journeys shared with others and family cultivated on the road. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of what he does, and this really shines through in his work as a guide. He also makes great coffee – whether at 5am in an empty guesthouse or half way up a Himalayan peak.”

– Will De Villers

Chris believes in Pakistan and its people, and he believes in the value of journeys shared with others and family cultivated on the road. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of what he does, and this really shines through in his work as a guide. He also makes great coffee – whether at 5am in an empty guesthouse or half way up a Himalayan peak.”

– Alicia Anne Bjerkseth