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Luke Smithwick | Himalayan Exploration

Big mountain skier and alpinist, mountain guide and Goal Zero ambassador Luke Smithwick continues his project to ski five hundred ski lines in the Himalayas.

By: Luke Smithwick

Luke Smithwick | Himalayan Exploration
Big mountain skier and alpinist, mountain guide and Goal Zero ambassador Luke Smithwick continues his project to ski five hundred ski lines in the Himalayas, the Himalaya 500.

The Pakistan Karakoram contains more than four thousand peaks above 20,000 feet. In short, it is a vast world of technical spires, towers and soaring glaciated peaks. The range politically spans in an arc across Pakistan, China and India. Over the past 10 years I’ve made some forays into this subrange of the Himalayas, yet this was my first big push in the region. Over the past four months I sought a variety of skiing objectives in four different locales of the Pakistan Karakoram; Shimshal, Nagar, Hunza and Skardu. Each region has its own unique character, orography and inhabitants. I chose to begin skiing in April because this is when the snowpack is most stable. Choosing steeper more challenging terrain during the Winter months means dealing with more avalanche problems.

Mountains and terrain without end, the Karakoram

A bit of backstory, this was part of the HIMALAYA 500, my project to ski five hundred ski lines in the Himalayas. I began the project in 2010 and am about half way through completing it. The goal of the project is to highlight the immense variety of culture, geology and snow climates in the 1500 mile long Great Himalaya range. This leg in the Pakistan Karakoram was nothing short of extraordinary.

Smithwick skiing another line at 19,000 feet in Shimshal

When we look at the four distinct regions of Shimshal, Nagar, Hunza and Skardu we have the residents of each respective region speaking four completely different language. In Shimshal they speak Wakhi, in Nagar they speak Burashashki, in Skardu they speak Balti, and in Hunza they speak Shina (along with Burashashki). Four distinct languages that have no relation to each other. The four regions are within one hundred square miles, and are distinctly separated by major glacial rivers and subranges of the Karakoram. I find it fascinating to have remarkably unique cultures developing in such close proximity to one another, and that so all because of the mountains themselves.

Smithwick approaching another ski line at 18000 feet in Shimshal Spring planting season in Nagar district

Now to move to the ski terrain, the Skardu area is the home of 8000m giants K2, Gasherbrum One & Two, and Broad Peak. While these peaks can be ski objectives themselves, there is a lot more variety in the region at lesser altitudes. The Baltoro glacier itself is 39 miles in length with the peaks alongside it being of varying types of rock, with the most appealing area being the Baltoro plutonic unit, which contains the granitoids of the Trango towers. As a skier I’m drawn to granite because it tends to create great hallways (couloirs) for skiing.

Couloirs to ski along the Baltoro glacier

The Nagar and Hunza areas also happen to hold excellent granite couloirs, along with sedimentary formations. What also struck me about the Nagar and Hunza regions were the lifestyles the inhabitants had carved out beneath the massive Karakoram mountains. Pastoral farmers plowed and planted the fields, youth herded the sheep and goat into the hills above villages, while others processed grain and made wool from their herds.

The Shimshal valley is off the beaten track and home to some of the best mountaineers in Pakistan. For the short period of time I had to ski the area we chose the Ghujerab mountains to the North of the village proper. We walked for a day and a half to set a high base camp, skiing ramps, faces and couloirs there in sedimentary limestone for four days before I was pulled back to head into the Baltoro for the next objective. When you reach higher elevations in Shimshal you come to the realization of how much is truly out there. I love that feeling, that no matter where you are in the Karakoram, there is always more on the distant horizon.

Skiing the first descent of a 6000 foot couloir in the Karakoram.

Today I’m back at my home in the Teton valley of Idaho. I put down roots here five years ago and it’s where I base for training and preparing for my projects in the Himalayas. I’m planning to ski an 8000 meter peak in Nepal in September 2021, stay tuned for the next update. This completes this leg of the project that I started in April 2021.

To power my most recent expeditions in the Karakoram I used two of the Goal Zero Nomad 100 solar panels and four Sherpa 100AC power banks. Portability is paramount for me, and I like to have several smaller but capable power banks that can be used for multiple applications on a given day (as opposed to having one large power bank). The batteries powered my Nikon D810 full frame D-SLR, Macbook Pro, DJI Mavic Pro, lights for the kitchen and dining, mobile phones, satellite phone, heated socks (for high altitude), headlamps, and two way radios.

Luke has now returned from the Pakistani Karakoram where most recently his team successfully climbed 8031m Gasherbrum Two. You can follow all of Luke’s adventure on his social media accounts, Instagram | Facebook | twitter

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