There are a few things in life that can take your breath away.
For local adventurer Mohammad Vol Haji Momin, crossing the elusive Gondogoro La trek in Pakistan was one of them.
Gondogoro La (also known as Gondogoro Pass) is a 5,585-metre high mountain pass in the Baltistan region of Pakistan, 25km south of the world’s second-highest peak, K2.
This on-the-edge trek crosses a high glaciated pass with extraordinary views but also dangers and mishaps, such as potential avalanches or frostbite, which lurk behind every step.
Mohammad Vol is the first Bruneian to complete the mountain pass, having done so within 22 days – 14 of which he had to sleep in tents with freezing temperatures below -25°C.
The 53-year old avid mountaineer told the Bulletin that crossing the Gondogoro Pass – dubbed the ‘King of all Treks’ – was the most fulfilling experience of his life.
However, he was quick to point out that the journey was beyond any conventional trekking.
“It is said that the moment you start your trek, the sights and experience is out of this world. Every day you will get to see something different as the amazing mountainscape changes as you go further in.”
“I said to myself, ‘I have to do it now, the longer I wait, the older I become, the more excuses will flood my brains’,” said Mohammad Vol.
As a “fitness freak” and being very much into a healthy lifestyle, he was positive he could do it but also needed to be 100 percent ready mentally and physically to enjoy such a challenging feat. Thus, all through Ramadhan (May) and Aidilfitri (June) he trained hard.
Mohammad Vol is no stranger to climbing mountains, having trekked Everest Base Camp last year in April. “But K2 Base Camp and Gondogoro Pass really stand out 20 fold, in every sense of adventure,” he said. “It is indeed one of the greatest adventure treks in the world. These are the words of the many world class trekkers that I met in this adventure.”
The mountaineer set out on his expedition in late July from Karachi, as the airspace of the capital city Islamabad was closed.
He was joined by trekkers from Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.
They began the expedition from a town called Skardu (the admin point), a two-day drive from Islamabad.
From Skardu, they proceeded to Askole (the starting point) and started trekking for eight days up to Concordia – popularly known as the ‘Throne Room of the Mountain Gods’.
They managed to cover 25 km a day on glacier moraines and icy treks during low ascend and averaging 15 km during high ascend.
Mohammad Vol also had one day purposely fitted to trek to K2 Base camp (the second highest peak in the world) and back to Concordia.
Then it was the climax of the trek, with one day spent hiking to Ali Camp (the staging area for crossing the Gondogoro La), over a demanding soft snow flat.
“And once you are up on Gondogoro Pass (5,585m), you will be at the first class seat of the ‘Throne Room’, with brilliant fresh sun rays reaching out into the mighty mysterious blue yonder and silent whispers that calm you down… I stood there dumb-founded, in awe and mesmerised,” he recalled.
The joy of triumphantly climbing over the Pass kept him going.
From there, the group had to travel back the same route to Skardu where their driver awaited, before travelling an additional three days back to the capital city.
Though he highly recommends the adventure, he added that the trek is no walk in the park.
“It is very challenging, and dangers come along with it. Yet, it is most rewarding,” described Mohammad Vol. “The Pass is steep and icy. At some parts there were no safety ropes. You just have to be confident and do it slowly and surely.”
“Those who seek out this trek must be in above-average fitness shape, have some experience in long haul above 4000m trekking, and a bit of mountaineering knowledge,” he affirmed.
It was an unforgettable experience for Mohammad Vol, who highlighted that the sense of achievement was truly mind-blowing.
“All the way through, I was seeking Allah the Almighty’s help and encouragement, Alhamdulillah. I witnessed His creation with my own two eyes, especially at the Pass,” he said.
“I was astounded and thankful of what my old body could do, to withstand the cold and high altitude, long haul walk.”
Speaking about the trekkers who joined him, he said, “Along with their curses, foul language, and ‘getting-old’ jokes, it was fun to be with these experienced trekkers. They were generous, humble and wise. They all have my highest respect.”
He took the opportunity to encourage Bruneians, young and old, to take up an outdoor hobby and stay active, be fit, eat clean and healthy.
“It is not easy, it takes commitment and consistency, but the benefits outweigh the risks by far, for the physical body and for the soul.”
“Go out and find what challenges you, be mindful and win that challenge,” he added.