Trekking to K2 Base Camp is one hell of an adventure unto itself. You get views of multiple 7000 and 8000 meter peaks, the majestic remoteness of the Karakoram range, and a chance to sleep at the base of the world’s second highest mountain.
Many trekking groups do the classic out and back along the Baltoro glacier…which is great too… but if you go for that option then you will miss the cherry on the cake of this adventure: crossing Gondogoro La.
So what is Gondogoro Pass and why is it worth tacking onto the end of a K2 Base Camp Trek trip? Read on to find out more.
What is Gondogoro Pass?
Gondogoro Pass (aka Gondogoro La in the local Balti language) is a 5600-meter semi-technical mountain pass that serves as an alternative exit route for groups doing the K2 Base Camp Trek.
The normal route is to ascend from Vigne Glacier on the northeast; departing from a fixed camp known as Ali Camp (4800 meters). Descending the pass, you will eventually arrive onto Gondogoro Glacier. After a few days of trekking down the valley, you will reach Hushe Village and the end of the trek.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of doing Gondogoro La is the potential insane views of all of the surrounding peaks that you get if the weather is clear when you arrive on top.
Gondogoro La Difficulty
Although not beyond the reach of someone with decent fitness and no mountaineering experience, Gondogoro Pass is a challenging endeavor.
It should be emphasized that people who have no mountaineering experience can still do the pass no problem. 90% of the people who do it every year do so without much high alpine experience.
The difficulty comes in two forms:
1. The route is long. Groups typically set out in the dark from Ali Camp around midnight with the goal of “summiting” the pass around sunrise. By the time you descend to Gondogoro Glacier and make your way down the valley to the next camp at Kuisbang – the whole journey will be around 10-12 hours.
2. The route is steep. Descending the La can be a bit intense in places because it is so steep. To aid with this steepness, every year the national park installs fixed rope lines for safety. Most people clip into this rope as they descend. They use the rope almost like a handrail. No rappelling is involved and you are really using your arms and upper body to descend on the rope.
Finally, the high altitude can be a factor. Peaking at 5600 meters, the lack of oxygen can make this pass feel tougher than it actually is.
My opinion is that if you were fit enough to do K2 Base Camp and the whole route from Askoli, then you should be good to go for the Gondogoro La trek as well if you are prepared with the right gear.
Benefits of Doing the K2 Gondogoro La Trek
As I mentioned before, if you only have the desire to do the K2 Base Camp Trek out and back version, that trip is still going to be awesome.
Many of the budget tour operators only offer this option; because of the extra work and logistics needed to cross Gondogoro Pass.
If you have the extra money to tack on the Gondogoro La component of the trip, it is 100% worth it. Most likely this is the only time that you will come to this part of the world and to come all the way here and not do the pass is to deprive yourself of a truly rewarding adventure expereince (plus the crazy views you can’t get elsewhere on this trek).
For many people too, it gives the chance to set a new personal high-altitude record and the chance to dip your toes into the world of basic mountaineering.
Another benefit to doing Gondogoro Pass is that it saves time. Once you come up the Baltoro Glacier at the start of the trek you will be keen to want to avoid going back the same way as that route can feel quite long to do back to back.
Normally once you cross Gondogoro La, you have two nights of camping to go before the return to Skardu via Hushe. If you come back down the Baltoro, you are looking at 3 or 4 days minimum until you reach Askoli and the jeeps back to Skardu.
Risks of Crossing Gondogoro La
Like any high alpine adventure, certain risks are inherent. The main two I would say for doing the Gondogoro La Trek: 1. the altitude and 2. the danger of rocks falling from above.
Unless you have been at altitude before, there is no way to know how your body will feel at altitude. With our itinerary, we give everyone the best chance of feeling their best because we have plenty of days prior to crossing the La to acclimatize. Sleeping at 4000,4500,4800, and 5000 meters in the days before crossing the pass will help your body acclimatize properly before attempting Gondogoro.
The other danger has to do with rock fall. Typically, the descent of Gondogoro Pass is done just after sunrise. The majority of snow and ice above the descent route is frozen, thus reducing the risk of rock fall significantly. We also try to time our descent so that no other groups are coming down above us so that careless trekkers from other expeditions don’t rain down rocks on us.
Obviously, it is mandatory for every member of our team to wear a helmet.
Training for the K2 Gondogoro La Trek
Like anything in life when it comes to physical activity, the more you put into it before the actual trek, the more you will get out of it and the less you will suffer.
We have had people with all kinds of fitness levels join us. Some simply rock up without much training and are fine though they find the days challenging. Others will do a bit of training and they find the daily trekking and crossing the Gondogoro Pass easier.
The best thing you can do to train for the K2 Gondogoro La Trek is… hike. Surprise, surprise.
Your leg strength and your cardio fitness will be the two main areas you want to focus on. Getting out for a tough hike a few times a week is a great way to prepare for this trip in the months prior to departure. If a gym is all you have access to where you live, then the stair master machine, stationary bicycle, and treadmill will all be your friends.
If you have some time and ability to get to a place of some significant altitude before coming to Pakistan, this will only help you acclimatize faster. That said, our acclimatization program is such that we assume most people are coming from sea level before the start of the trip, so getting pre-trip acclimatization is absolutely not essential.
Caution on Doing the K2 Gondogoro La Trek with Budget Companies
In this section, I will try to be as objective as possible, considering the fact that I am also a tour operator and guide for the K2 Gondogoro La Trek myself.
Over the years, I have witnessed some truly dangerous behavior on Gondogoro La. More often than not, the offending parties are operators from budget trekking companies – who charge very little to do this trek vs other operators. These groups can be as large as 40+ people with one guide supposedly managing the whole thing – which can work in some cases, but not when it comes to crossing Gondogoro Pass safely.
With groups so large, it is obvious to see why it is not possible to safely manage a group doing the Gondogoro La trek.
Oftentimes as well the “guides” have no crampons, harnesses, or helmets. In many cases, it is the first time that the “guides” themselves are doing the Gondogoro La crossing.
When it comes to K2 Gondogoro La Trekking, you absolutely get what you pay for.
By comparison, Epic Backpacker Tours has a minimum of two qualified guys while doing Gondogoro La and sometimes three. Our group size is kept small so that at any time, our guides are there to assist our members if need be.
In my opinion, groups numbering 30 plus members should not even be allowed to do Gondogoro La as it makes the mountain more unsafe for everyone else.
As mentioned previously, we do our best to time our crossing so that no other groups are there when we are going for it.
Trek to K2 Base Camp
Weather on Gondogoro La
Being that this is the Karakoram Range in Pakistan we are talking about, it should come as no surprise that the weather on Gondogoro La is highly variable. I have experienced the La in pretty much every kind of condition during the exact same time of the year.
The most common months to do the crossing are June – August when the weather in the mountains is the most stable. And even then you never quite know what the weather will be like.
The ideal scenario is little to no wind and clear skies. Expect the temperatures to be below freezing during the nighttime ascent and on top of the pass. I have not experienced it being colder than -10 C at the top of the pass. A cold,clear night will give way to a clear sunrise and one of the best views of your entire life.
On the other hand, it is possible to get snowfall on Gondogoro La at any time of year. Cloud and fog can roll in quickly making it difficult to see much beyond the top of the pass.
With my groups, I have experienced it both ways. The last time we had a group crossing the La we had the most perfect weather possible and had killer 360-degree views in every direction.
It is important to remember that crossing Gondogoro La is never guaranteed.
If there is heavy snowfall at Concordia or K2 Base Camp in the days before you are meant to cross the pass – it is possible that the amount of snowfall will make it difficult or impossible to cross.
Depending on the weather patterns during the week that you are there and the future forecast, whether or not to cross the pass that will be a game-time decision from your tour operator.
Important Gear Needed for the K2 Gondogoro La Trek
Here is a list of five things I highly recommend you bring on the Gondoogro La Trek:
- Proper alpine boots: For the best result and guaranteed dry, warm feet, I recommend going for a double mountaineering boot like the La Sportiva G2 SM or Scarpa Phantom 6000. If those boots are beyond your budget, the La Sportiva Trango GTX is also much better than doing GG LA in only your trekking boot.
- Good gloves: You’ll want gloves that are waterproof, warm, and offer good dexterity for when you will be holding the rope descending Gondogoro La.
- A helmet and a harness: Under no circumstances should you attempt to cross Gondogoro Pass without a helmet.
- Extra water and snacks – There is no opportunity to refill your water bottle when you leave from Ali Camp to start to trek. Start the ascent with a minimum of 2 liters of water and plenty of snacks or energy gels to keep you going all night.
- Crampons: There are different opinions surrounding crampon use and Gondogoro La. After my last expereince with a ton of ice present on the descent, crampons are no longer an optional piece of gear; we made them mandatory. Crampons are essential for descending the La in icy conditions. If you have not worn crampons before, put them on and get a little training in from your guide around Ali Camp or Concordia.
Final Thoughts on the K2 Gondogoro La Trek
By now you should have a proper idea of what the Gondogoro La Trek entails.
Combining a crossing of Gondogoro La with the K2 Base Camp Trek is one of the best mountain adventures in the world. Period.
Whether you are an experienced trekker, or new to the game and looking to gain real mountain experience, the Gondogoro La Trek is the ultimate adventure for those who want to reap the rewards and jaw-dropping views that the Karakoram has to offer.
If you are keen to join us for the K2 Base Camp Trek + Gondogoro La next year, check out the trip page and get in touch with us to secure your spot.