Are There Actually Climbing Teams Heading to the Karakoram This Summer?

Over the past month or so, we’ve been watching Pakistan’s situation closely as we wait to see if there will be a summer climbing season in the Karakoram. Right now, things are definitely influx inside the country, where the coronavirus continues to spiral out of control, and government officials appear to have no idea how to grapple with the pandemic.

A few weeks back, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a plan to reopen businesses and get back to a sense of normalcy, telling Pakistanis that they’ll just have to learn to live with the virus. That includes jump-starting the tourism industry, which is amongst the hardest hit during the lockdown.

Still, the country hasn’t reopened to foreign visitors yet, and may not do so any time soon. However, there are indications that that could change before the first week of July, which is when mountaineering and trekking teams often begin to arrive. And if some reports are to be believed, some teams are preparing to take the risk to wander in the mountains.

A few days back, Alan Arnette posted some information that he received from tour operators within Pakistan. Most of them indicated that all of their clients had canceled their plans for summer visits and that commercial climbing teams weren’t going to K2, Broad Peak, or the other big mountains this year.

Although the climbing industry seems to have slowed to a halt, sales for hangboards are through the roof.

Some indicated that they had hope for fall and winter expeditions, but for now, it looks like it will be a very quiet year for the Pakistani tourism industry. This falls right in line with everything that we’ve heard so far, with the expectation that there will be no climbing in the Karakoram this summer.

But one Pakistani official indicates that there is indeed considerable interest in coming to his country by trekkers and climbers. Karrar Haidri, the head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told Arnette that most of the teams have canceled or postponed their plans.

He also says that “more than (sic) 20 Expeditions and 30 trekking groups are applied Gilgit Baltistan Council for the Permit.” That would indicate that some people are still considering coming.

It is possible that those applications took place before the COVID-19 lockdown, and the numbers are skewed. Or, it could mean we’ll see some climbs taking place in the Karakoram this summer after all.

Despite all indications that no commercial teams were going to Pakistan this year, I have always maintained that we might see a few small independent teams. I still think that it is a long shot, but it could happen.

The big question now will be when will travel to and from Pakistan resume and when the Gilgit-Baltistan region will open for visitors. Keep in mind, as of this writing, Pakistan now has more than 120,000 infections and more than 2300 deaths due to the virus, with those numbers likely being low.

The coronavirus spread also seems to be speeding up as well, so things are far from safe there. Knowing all of this, would you go?

Kraig Becker