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The Glaciers of Pakistan – An Overview

concordia at k2 base camp

Many people travel to Pakistan for the opportunity to undertake a high-altitude trek and see some of the highest mountains in the world.

Of course, like most alpine regions, there is a fair amount of glacier present on these excursions.

Actually, the concentration of glaciers in Pakistans is actually extremely high. If you travel to the northern areas like Baltistan, Hunza, or Chitral, you’re bound to run into a glacier eventually.

The glaciers of Pakistan are truly marvelous to see in person and even more thrilling to cross (when done properly). There’s just nothing else quite like seeing a glacier encroach on a bridge, ready to swallow it, or navigate the mangled jaws of the likes of the Baltoro. 

In this week’s article, we’re going to take a closer look at Pakistan’s glaciers and talk about why they’re so significant. You’ll get to know famous glaciers a bit better and will learn what it takes to traverse these icy mammoths. By the end, we hope you will be inspired to visit Pakistan and see its glaciers for yourself.

What makes Pakistan’s glaciers so special?

When some people think of Pakistan, they imagine it as either a) full of crowded, hectic cities or b) desert. Quite literally, it’s something in-between Iran and India.

Little do they know that Pakistan is actually one of the most glaciated countries on the planet.

In fact, there are over 7,000 known glaciers in Pakistan and together these form the most amount of ice outside the polar regions!

types of glaciers in pakistan austin goodwin

Crisscrossed by the three highest mountain ranges in the world – the Karakoram, Himalaya, and Hindu Kush – Northern Pakistan is totally carved out of ice and rock. The hidden valleys, soaring peaks, and mighty rivers such as the Indus all exist thanks to the glaciers. 

The glaciers also provide much-needed irrigation to the local communities and are practically the lifeblood of all civilization in the north. The locals have gotten pretty good at taking advantage of these glaciers, creating intricate systems of canals for watering crops and removing pieces of it for refrigeration. Without the glaciers, there would be no life in the rugged north.

Are Pakistan’s glaciers melting?

Mostly yes, but also no. 

For starters, climate change has indeed affected parts of Pakistan in a profound way. Rapidly rising temperatures lead to rapidly melting snow, which then causes massive flooding. Whole villages have been swept away and people frequently drown. Like the rest of the world’s alpine areas, many glaciers in Paksitan are receding. 

Conversely, some glaciers in Pakistan appear not to be shrinking. In fact, they appear to be growing. This paradoxical phenomenon has come to be called “The Karakoram Anomaly” by researchers.

Snow lake hispar glacier melting

Experts are not sure why or how the anomaly is possible. Many attribute the unusual trend to the ubiquitous rubble covering the glacier, which acts as insulation against rising temperatures. Others say it’s just a poor conclusion drawn from incomplete field data – the Karakoram are, after all, extremely difficult to work in. Ultimately, the Karakoram Anomaly remains just an interesting theory.

Regardless of their apparent stability, the glaciers of Pakistan are still threatened by climate change. They may not be shrinking as noticeably or quickly as the Himalaya, but that’s not saying they’re completely immune either. Time will tell what their actual fate will be.

Notable glaciers in Pakistan

Pakistan hosts over 7000 glaciers! Here are a few that you’ll probably hear about when planning a trip there.

Baltoro Glacier

Length: 39 miles/63 km

baltoro glacier

The fifth-longest glacier in the world and home to four of the world’s fourteen 8000-meter peaks: K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, and Gasherbrum II. It is regarded as one of the most awe-inspiring locations known to man and its sheer grandeur has begotten famous nicknames like “The Throne Room of the World”.

From the Baltoro springs dozens of other smaller, yet still impressive glaciers, namely the Trango Glacier, Chogolisa Glacier, and Austin-Goodwin Glacier at the foot of K2.

The Baltoro Glacier is also the setting for the superlative K2 Base Camp Trek. Like a giant ice-laden red carpet (or rather blue), the glacier leads you further and further up until you reach the king itself: K2. Surrounded by some of the world’s highest mountains, navigating the jagged snout of the glacier is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Biafo Glacier

Length: 42 miles/67 km

Starting in Askole – the same starting point of the Baltoro – and running all the way north to intersect the Hispar Glacier, the Biafo is technically the longest glacier (completely) in Pakistan. 

The Biafo Glacier is somewhat similar in topography to the Baltoro, being mostly laden with rubble. Rimming the sides are semi-arid meadows that locals use for cattle grazing. Camping is relatively comfortable.

Though it may not feature such famous giants, like K2, walking up the Biafo is no less stunning. The scenery is just as stunning and even surpasses the Baltoro in some ways. Here, you will get to see the infamously terrifying Latok group, which is considered by many climbers to host some of the most dangerous alpine-style climbs in the world. The stories from here are gnarly.

Hispar Glacier

Length: 30 miles/49 km

snow lake hispar biafo glacier trek

The Hispar and Biafo combine to form not only the longest glacial system outside the polar regions but also one of the greatest treks in the world: Snow Lake

The Biafo is not like the Baltoro or Biafo Glaciers – it is much icier than the other two, which is why they call it “Snow Lake”. When standing on the glacier, all you’ll see is miles and miles and empty whiteness punctuated by the jagged spires that typify the Karakoram. It is a truly unique and spectacular site, of which the original discoverer, Martin Conway, said:

“Beyond all comparison the finest view of mountains it has ever been my lot to behold.”

But with more ice comes more technical challenges. Trekkers must rope up when crossing the glacier lest they risk falling into one of the many crevasses. After all, this is real glacier as one comes to imagine them.

Siachin Glacier

Length: 47 miles/76 km 

“Longest glacier in all of the Karakoram” and “second largest in the world outside of the polar regions” are a few of the Siachin Glacier’s impressive distinctions. 

Unfortunately, the distinction that garners the most attention for the Siachin is that it’s often considered “the world’s highest battlefield”. For the last 40 years, the glacier has been disputed territorially by India and Pakistan, and battles have erupted here in the past. As such, the Siachin has become a symbol of animosity between the two warring nations.

It’s a shame too because the Siachin Glacier features some truly magnificent alpine landscapes, comparable to the Baltoro. We’ll just have to wait for Pakistan and India to settle their beef first before visiting – and you’ll know we’ll be the first in line! 

Batura Glacier

Length: 35 miles/57 km

patundas batura glacier viewpoint

Located in the Hunza Valley, the Batura Glacier is the longest in Pakistan outside of Baltistan. Like the Baltoro and Biafo, this one is a massive traffic jam of rock, ice, and earth. 

The Batura is not commonly visited or seen by trekkers, mostly due to the absence of notable peaks or trails in the vicinity. Most settle for seeing more accessible glaciers nearby, like the Passu or Ghulkin Glaciers.

But the Batura Glacier really is impressive, especially when seen from above.

The best views of the Batura Glacier are from the Patundas Meadow, which we visit on our Discover the Hunza Valley itinerary. Straddling both the Batura and Passu Glaciers, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of both from here. The sunsets are particularly incredible.

Tips for crossing the glaciers in Pakistan

Crossing a glacier isn’t like a normal hike – there are some serious factors to consider before undertaking something like this. Here are some tips to help prepare yourself for a trip featuring glacier travel in Pakistan.

Travel with a team

walking on the passu glacier pakistan

Glacial travel is serious business that often takes several days if not weeks to complete. Journeys of this duration require ample supplies, porters, equipment, and support. 

You should not be crossing alone. For one thing, you will need someone to help carry everything as food and gear quickly get heavy. More importantly, you will need someone to watch your back and make sure you don’t end up in a place you shouldn’t, like the bottom of a crevasse. This is why we rope in: to catch each other from falling. 

When you join an organized expedition, like the ones Epic Backpacker Tours does, you receive full support. And not just in the form of extra hands and logistics, but also in pre-trip planning and mental preparation. We like to think that there’s more that goes into a tour than just staffing and supply runs, and that you get more out of it than just a good time. Rather, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has the potential to really impact the lives of everyone.

Understand the glacier beforehand

We’ve already mentioned that there are several different types of glacial terrain in Pakistan, the two most common being rubble-strewn (black glaciers) and exposed, icy ones (white glaciers). The grand majority of these are found in valleys. 

The way one traverses a glacier will depend a lot on its composition. Glaciers covered in rubble in rock are not usually technically challenging but are still physically demanding. On the other hand, exposed glaciers usually feature more dangerous obstacles, like crevasses, that need to be treated with the utmost caution.

Before attempting to cross a glacier, study its unique topography and formulate a plan. Know what you’re getting yourself into and what you can expect. Never go in blindly. 

Have the proper equipment

man on glacier with tent and satellite phone

Different terrain requires different gear, and you need to be sure you have the right stuff. 

That old, worn-out pair of hiking boots may work on a small, mostly rocky crossing, but will absolutely fail on longer, mixed terrain crossings where ice is involved. At the same time, a light jacket may feel good in the daytime but when the sun goes down you’re going to need something MUCH warmer.

Once you understand the nature of the glacier and its demands, the next step is equipping yourself with the right gear. Having the right layering system, a warm sleeping bag, and reliable safety equipment, among other items, is crucial to a successful expedition.

For some ideas on what to bring, feel free to refer to our recommended packing list for K2 Base Camp.

Give yourself time

Crossing a glacier can be tedious, not to mention exhausting. Navigating endless boulder fields, staying vigilant for crevasses, and keeping an eye out for rock falls: none of these things should be done rushed.

Whatever your average trekking time is, it will probably be a bit lower on the glacier. The going is slow sometimes and you will need to take frequent breaks to recharge. If you go in thinking you’re going to blitz through this terrain, you’re probably going to get equally frustrated and gassed.

For our K2 Base Camp trek program, we opt to start trekking earlier in the day. This allows ample time to reach the next camp without over-exerting ourselves and helps to make an already difficult itinerary a little bit easier.

Cross earlier in the day

sunrise on the baltoro glacier

The earlier you start trekking, the better. Mornings are when the temperatures are still fresh and the ice is solid, both of which make for easier hiking. 

The longer the day progress, the hotter it becomes – and it can get REAL hot in the Karakoram. By midday, it’s not uncommon to experience temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and there is little shade to give you respite. Better to be settled in the mess tent around this time.

If there’s lots of snowmelt, waterways will be engorged as well, making the crossing even more difficult. On a hot day in the late afternoon, once timid streams can turn into full-on torrents. Best not to deal with water hazards if you can help it.

Ready to experience the glaciers for yourself?

Join us in Pakistan this year as we visit four out of the five major glaciers mentioned in this article. You can put down a deposit to secure your place on one of our many trips if you are keen to get signed up. Here’s what we offer:

Feel free to contact us for any trip-related questions.

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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