The Legendary Shandur Pass

While hiking through snowy mountains in Pakistan might not sound like a typical vacation, Boots ‘n All writer Llew Bardecki shares the ups and downs (no pun intended) of the trip in his article Gilgit to Chitral: High Adventure on Pakistan’s Shandur Pass. The adventure of this trip makes for one great story.

“Nick and I started our walk in the dark, reaching the village of Barsat at about 04:15, just as the sky was beginning to lighten. Barsat was truly the end of the line. Jeeps would have had trouble making it there given the road conditions, and it was the last settlement of any kind until we reached the army checkpoint at Shandur Top, 23km further on.

At 05:30 we stopped for breakfast before taking the last fork in the road and heading up the valley towards the pass itself. The valley was absolutely beautiful in the early morning light, and the walking was fairly easy. There was a lot of mud, and some snow as well, but almost all of this was still frozen from the night’s cold. We’d made great time up until this point, but the newly risen sun was already starting to impose itself on the snows, and things would soon get much, much harder.

The trail had been fairly flat all morning, but at the end of the valley it took a sharp right turn and started to climb steeply up alongside a small creek. Some of the braids of the stream were a delightful surprise, their bright colours and vigourous plant life showing how quickly life could return to the highlands once winter had run its course.

The altitude made the climb a bit difficult, but it really wasn’t that hard. It was AFTER the steep slope that we really started to get bogged down. The grade had ensured that most of the snow had been shed already, but on the flatter sections, the road was completely covered and there were some very deep drifts along its path. Worse, we began to punch through the icy crust on top and sink deep into the soft snow beneath, regularly crossing small valleys with hidden streams flowing at their centres. Soon, our feet were soaked and freezing. Completely aside from the physical effort, we now needed to rest regularly just to thaw out our toes on the sun-warmed rocks.”