Makrong Chhish is one of the most intimidating and impressive snow, rock and ice peaks that I know of in Pakistan. The mountain is the highest peak on the southern side of the Hispar glacier, the fifth longest glacier in Pakistan, and forms part of the Spantik-Sosbun group. The peak is heavily fortified in all directions with no easy lines to the summit. There are also significant objective dangers. The south face has numerous seracs that would make a direct route virtually impossible. The west face is a huge slab of rock that nobody has yet to attempt, largely because the rock is likely to be poor quality for the majority of the climb. The prominent southwest ridge could be climbed however this stops short on the south face which is lined with dangerous seracs below the summit. Only the Eastern aspect of the mountain has seen any attempts although the routes are certainly not straight-forward. The mountain remains unclimbed. It's always difficult to know for certain what has been climbed in the Karakoram and what hasn't as there have been a lot of illegal ascents over the years and many climbs haven't been made public.
Two expeditions have officially attempted the mountain to date. The first was by a British expedition in 1991 consisting of Steve Hillen, David Tyson, David Lister and Mike Pennington. Unfortunately it ended in disaster. Two attempts were made via the south face and eastern ridge. On the first attempt the party climbed to just under 6000m making two bivouacs on route before descending due to insufficient acclimatisation. The second attempt encountered difficulties as a result of crevasses having opened up since the first attempt. Having again reached the second bivouac at 11am on the second day the team were struck by an avalanche shortly after. Fortunately no one was hurt however it was decided to abandon the attempt. At 5pm while abseiling over two crevasses a snow stake pulled out and David Lister slid some 60 feet before coming to rest. This left Steve Hillen above the crevasses without a rope. Having front pointed down to the second crevasse he lost his footing after jumping across it. He began to slide. Dave Tyson who was below him tried to stop him only to become entangled and both slid down an avalanche runnel and over an ice cliff to their deaths. Their bodies were later recovered.
The second attempt was made by another British team of Simon Yates and Steve Sustad in August/September 1996. It was plagued by unseasonably hot weather that made the route too dangerous to complete. Two attempts were made. The first via the Northeast face was thwarted at 5400m by unclimbable soft snow. The second, which approached tfrom the southeast flank reached 6400m before again being stopped by dangerous snow conditions and bad weather. Having opted to abort the attempt the pair were lucky get off the mountain safely after having been the victims of heavy rock fall in a narrow couloir that they were descending. Simon Yates has been quoted as saying that this as his closest encounter with disaster - quite a statement considering Simon Yates history!
Mike Searle and Simon Yates climbed a peak in the area called Mikeron Chhish (6000m) but this is a different peak.
North Face of Makrong Chhish
General information about reaching the Karakoram area can be found on the SP Karakoram page which I am in the process of building...
Reaching Base Camp
West of the Kunyang Glacier
The peak can easily be reached from the village of Hispar in a very long day or two very easy days. The route follows the northern side of the Hispar glacier having crossed the Hispar River a short distance from Hispar. The way is not always obvious as there are many animal trails to add confusion. Porters know the way however. Water can be found in sufficient amounts along the route from Hispar however it is silty all the way to the Kunyang glacier. Crossing the Kunyang Glacier is easy although the initial trail descending to the glacier is in dreadful condition and about to fall down (one section has although the way is still passable). The land is typical Karakoram for much of the trek however to the east of Kunyang glacier the ablation valley is surprisingly fertile.
Reaching Hispar Village
Jeep to Hispar village
From either Karimabad or Aliabad in Hunza first arrange a Jeep to the village of Nagar and then arrange a further one to the village of Hispar at the western end of the Hispar glacier. It is not possible to take a Jeep from Hunza directly to Hispar unless to driver is from Nagar as the road beyond Nagar is privately owned and only local Nagar drivers are allowed to use it. This unfortunately will put you in a poor bargaining position. Since there is no public transport between the villages having arranged a fee for your ‘special hire’ half the village will likely to join you for the journey without contributing to the fair. Public transport from Aliabad to Nagar leaves regularly as soon as vehicles fill up. They are likely to charge a little extra if you are carrying an expedition load on the roof. The road to Hispar sometimes blocks after rain and you may need to arrange porters on route, such as the village of Huru, as we had to.
Porters to/from Base Camp
Porters leaving Hispar village
It is three stages to base camp from Hispar village I think. If you have five or more porters then a guide is compulsory according to village rules (but not government rules). Hispar porters unfortunately do not have a reputation for being the most reliable so a guide may not be such a bad idea for this trek. Porters want Rs450 per stage including wapasi (so Rs300in effect). Wapasi is what you pay to the porter to return to where the trek began if it has finished elsewhere. For every stage half a stage is paid in Wapasi. I personally had minimal problems with our porters and found them to be a very amiable lot. Only problem was that they nicked our abseil tat meaning that we couldn't try a nearby peak unless I was to chop sections off my half ropes for tat! Ok, that's quite a big problem. They also seemed to be attracted to campsites with no water so be clear about where you will be spending the night when leaving Hispar.
Because the mountain is over 6500m, a climbing permit is required. While the Swiss map shows the peak to be 6607m, the Russian 1:50,000 topographical map shows the peak to be only 6511m.
The Ministry of Tourism has decided to maintain the 10% reduction in mountaineering royalty fees for peaks above 6500m in the Gilgit region (excluding Spantik) during 2008 in an attempt to attract more expeditions to the Karakoram. Royalties per expedition are based on a party of 7. Persons additional to this number will be subject to an additional royalty fee. Current royalties are listed below.
Note: These rates are only for the Gilgit region of the Karakoram which includes mountains north of Gilgit to the Chinese border.
No liaison officer is currently required for this peak!
Royalties for other areas are 50% the normal rate. See the Karakoram page which I am currently building for details...
Fee for 2009
royalty per person
royalty per person
7501 - 8000m
7001 - 7500m
6501 - 7000m
Up to 6500m
Peak royalties are only 5% the normal rate for a winter attempt although anybody considering a winter climb should read the information in the section directly below.
NE aspect of Makrong Chhish
A valid visa is required. Visas are NOT issued at the airport and must be obtained prior to arrival. Some embassies such as those in Central Asia are reluctant to issue visas and advise you to obtain them from your home country. A single-entry tourist visa is valid for 3 months from the date of arrival in pakistan and for 6 months from the date of issue. Some visas are only valid for 3 months from the date of issue so check if necessary when applying. Visa prices vary. Americans pay the most for their visa whilst Japanese get theirs free! Visa extensions and reentry stamps used to almost impossible to obtain however the process has become remarkably easier in the last few years. Gilgit DC is a good place to try.
Camping and Accomodation
There is no accomodation in Hispar village. The old rest house fell in to disrepair and is now closed. Beast bet is to camp on the outskirts of the village. Don't expect much privacy!
Bitanmal - an excellent spot for base camp
Bitanmal on the north side of the Hispar glacier and to the east of the Kunyang glacier is the obvious place for a base camp. Here there is a large meadow which is well watered and suitable for a game of football (or cricket). North are excellent views of Trivor and the Kunyang Chhish massif. Compared to base camps in the Concordia region this one will feel like heaven and is one of the nicest spots to camp in the Northern areas.
The trek to base camp can be broken in to two days by spending a night at Falolangkish although the water is very silty here.
Advanced base camp is usually placed in an ablation valley on the East Makrong Chhish glacier, a tributary of the Hispar glacier.
Makrong Chhish at Night
For many people visiting Pakistan's Northern Areas for the first time the warm summer's take time to adjust to. In Gilgit temperatures usually stay in their 30s during the summer and whilst it is cooler in the mountains it can still be uncomfortable at times. On days where there are no clouds a single layer will surfice and measures need to be taken to prevent sun burn. Weather can change quickly with fresh snow falling at any time in the year or heavy rains at lower altitudes. Come prepared for a range of climates.
Nights are generally warmer during the climbing season compared to destinations such as the Pamir, Tien Shan or Napalese Himalaya and an early start when climbing is usually imperative to avoid soft snow in the afternoon. It is not uncommon for low snow not to freeze at all during the night and the round-the clock temperatures will also weaken ice formation.
Also, not all rock in the Karakoram is like Trango. Most unfortunately is poor quality and rockfall is a significant risk on this mountain as illustrated by by 1996 expediton.
It is these climbing conditions that make the Karakoram difficult to climb in comparison to other ranges. Makrong Chhish is a technical climb but conditions need to be right for such a climb else it will certainly fail.
The only map that I have seen that accurately surveys the height of Makrong Chhish are the Russian which are available in 1:50,000 and 100,000 editions and the Swiss 1:250,000 maps. Russian maps are available online (ask no questions about copyright!) via the links below. The Russian maps are expensive to buy at around $75 and $50 respectively. The Swiss maps are cheap, easy to obtain and perfectly adequate. Most people who have climbed in the Karakoram own a copy. There is also a series of Japanese maps that claim to have fully surveyed all peaks on their sheets however I have not seen these as they do not appear to be widely distributed. The Leomann and AMS maps are also readily available but not worth purchasing in my opinion as they are very poorly surveyed.