Deosai Plains ski crossing. Thomas Niederlein, Norbert Trommler, and I arrived in Pakistan in mid-March, with plans to circumnavigate Nanga Parbat on skis, crossing the Shontar Pass into Kashmir and the Barai Pass toward Chilas.
Just before donning our skis, we were stopped by the army at Rattu in the Astore Valley. Despite the fact that we had a permit to enter the Pakistan-controlled sector of Kashmir, permission issued by the Kashmir Tourist Department, the army stopped us and warned us not to try traveling illegally; they would inform their check posts close to the border of our existence. Too bad!
We changed our plans to try a crossing of the Deosai Plains (east of Nanga Parbat, south of the Indus) from Astore toward Skardu. We would have to do so without a map, without any prior knowledge of the area, but with a rough idea of the route to take. An old jeep took us into the valley leading to Chilam until the snow was 30cm deep. From that point, at an altitude of ca 2,600m, we skied. We didn’t use pulks but carried 20kg rucksacks, which got 700 grams lighter each day.
That afternoon we skied along the snow-covered road for 16 km. The locals were friendly and invited us into their houses for the night. However, worried about catching fleas, we preferred to camp. The next day we traveled another three kilometers to Chilam, at 3,400m, where we had to pay a four-dollar fee to enter the Deosai National Park. Here we went into the wilderness.
It's hard to imagine how people live here in winter. Snow closes the road by the end of October and does not clear till the start of April. In early spring there is more than a meter of snow, and some of the villagers move around on ski.
From Chilam our route climbed steadily to 4,300m Chhachor Pass. In summer there is a jeep road, but in winter it is a great mountain area, with nice peaks that would be suitable to climb on ski. We didn’t, because we had no idea how long it would take to get to Skardu and hurried on our way. From the pass the descent to Sheosar Lake was easy but too gentle for skiing fun. On the subsequent four days we crossed the Deosai Plains, at an average altitude of 4,100m. We didn’t follow the summer track, close to the rivers, but made a more interesting route by crossing ridges and saddles, resulting in at least two fantastic powder runs. Crossing rivers was not a problem, because the entire Deosai Plains were covered by two meters of snow, creating solid bridges. The temperature varied from below -20°C on clear nights to about 0°C on cloudy days. Half the time we were able to collect fresh water by digging deep holes through the snow.
The last day, a ski descent of the Satpara Valley, was the best. We mostly kept on, or close to, the jeep track, which has been dug out of the steep valley walls. We were able to ski 10km to an altitude of 3,200m, then had to walk another 10km up to the village of Satpara. This time we did not refuse the invitations from friendly people, enjoying a fresh meal and a night’s sleep in a room. And not a single flea! Next morning a jeep took us to Skardu.
There have been reported ski journeys at the Satpara end of the Plains, but most skiers have used a helicopter for access. In 2006 a freestyle skiing and kite event, organized by the Pakistan Tourist Development Company, took place a few days before we arrived. Normally they erect a comfortable base camp at the point where the Deosai Plains begin and ski up surrounding mountains in day trips. We could find no reports of a previous ski crossing of the Plains, and locals at Chilam said no one had done it before. But of course no reports doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s never been done. What is certain is that the whole area between Skardu and Astore has great potential for ski mountaineering.
Christian Walter, Alpine Club of Saxony