THE ULTAR GLACIER. Magnus, Tim, Jonathan and I set off at 10:30 to climb up to the Ultar Glacier at the head of the steep gorge, which cut the hillside behind the village. The morning was cold and clear, and the mountains seemed so close that they could be touched. To the left, Golden Peak was a sheer wall of orange rock crowned with ice, and directly across the valley, the ice dome of Diran Peak rose for over 7,000 metres into the clear skies. Down to the south, the giant among giants, Rakaposhi stood aloof cold and deadly.
We stopped at one of the shops in the bazaar and bought some chocolate bars to sustain us on the climb, then walked up to the top of the hill to a point just beneath the Baltit Fort, where a track leading to the gorge began. The path was well-trodden. Its surface was a fine powder and led across the neat terraces then into the boulder-choked mouth of the gorge and upwards along the left-hand side of a stream.
We climbed hard for an hour and a half up the steep track, in places hopping from boulder to boulder or crunching across frozen pools of water. Our first sight of the glacier was some black and filthy ice protruding from the jumbled wasteland of moraine, then further up, rubble-choked cracks in the ice began showing through.
Magnus and John lost heart as the moraine became steeper and unstable, and they turned back leaving Tim and I to carry on: rock-hopping up the steep gully, then climbing up the lateral moraine to a vantage point above the glacier.
We sat and had a snack and enjoyed the view of the glacier whose lower slope led up to an icefall coming down from the foreboding, unclimbed flanks of Ultar Peak¹. As we watched, a huge avalanche thundered out from the valley above the icefall and crashed down upon the shattered seracs [ice pinnacles], sending a billowing cloud of snow and debris flying out across the glacier and carrying the roar of the avalanche’s passage down to us.
Although the sun was shining, it was cold sitting out on the exposed slab where we were, so we headed back down the side of the moraine and began to descend to the jumble of boulders and rubble.
As we climbed downwards, another avalanche rattled down off the wall of the valley just 100 m or so away from where we were standing. The noise filled the air with jagged sound and the swirling cloud of air and powdered ice billowed out towards us.
We rested at the base of the terminal moraine, leaning against the flat side of a huge boulder enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and being out of reach of the sharp breeze which still blew down from the snowfields above.
Halfway back down, we stopped at the beginning of a water channel that ran from the stream across the sheer rock wall of the valley. I was keen to follow it around to see where it went but Tim wasn’t keen so we continued our descent to the valley floor and back to the village. When we got back to the Hunza Inn, the cook had some hot soup ready for us so we all ate that then rested up until darkness once again enveloped the valley and the harsh light of the sun was replaced by the cold silver light of the moon.
¹Ultar’s two summits were finally climbed in 1996.
FOOTNOTE: The stream we climbed that day (and would revisit in 1994) is called the Ultar Nala. In the early 2000s, we named our chocolate Labrador Nala after this stream.