Entries in Shimshal Valley (4)


Pakistan Winter Sport - Shimshal Live and Climbing School

3. Shimshal Life - 2010 Pakistan Winter Expedition from Kristoffer Erickson on Vimeo.


Shimshal Climbing School: A School of Hope by Herve Barmasse

 Throughout the history of Himalayan alpinism one constant links all of the expeditions: the work of the porters. With great professionalism and commitment, adopting whatever means are required of a situation, the porters help realize the dreams of many passionate alpinists.

As it took place in the Alps in the 1700’s, here in the Karakorum, this population of highlanders, experts with vast knowledge about their land, will become the future professionals of the mountains, the future mountain guides.

It is a history which repeats itself, to which we can contribute. We are seeking to hasten this process slightly by allowing some mountain families to live briefly off the tourism our expedition brings to their valley.


Shimshal Valley, 23/25 January 2010.

It’s the second time I have come to Shimshal. The first was with Simone Moro in the summer of 2008. It was Simone who got me involved in the Shimshal Climbing School.

The reality of the Shimshal Climbing School is something quite rare, if not non-existent in other parts of Pakistan. In fact, this mountaineering school even allows the active participation of women.

After the big scare, we dedicated a number of days to the school with theoretical and practical lessons on knots, tying in, anchors, and climbing on ice. New technical equipment supplied by Kong was presented, we watched films on mountains and, thanks to the collaboration of Dr. Marco Cavana, there were lessons on how to intervene in cases of altitude sickness.

Forty students took part in the lessons. Twelve of these were smiling young women, with curious gazes, rosy complexions and hands roughened by work in the fields and from the bad weather. They were seated before me and I couldn’t help but look curiously at their expressions as they tried to understand the use of expansion camming units. I was moved by a feeling of tenderness and hope. Perhaps in the near future one of them will climb K2 and create a new chapter in the history of Pakistani alpinism.

4. Shimshal Climbing School - 2010 Pakistan Winter Expedition from Kristoffer Erickson on Vimeo.


The process for emancipating women in Pakistan started long ago, but the reality is still far from what can be defined as equality. The majority of women in Pakistani society are deprived of fundamental human rights. For now, equality between men and women remains an illusion.

Only in the last few years have we caught a glimpse of some concrete changes: women study, go to university and, thanks to the Aga Khan Foundation, primarily here in the Baltistan Gilgit region, women can assume defining roles in changing this country.



Pakistan Winter Sport -2 of 6

Pakistan Winter Sport by Herve Barmasse

Once The North Face agreed to sponsor our expedition called “Pakistan Winter Sport,” I felt happy and motivated for this new adventure. But, at the same time, I felt a great responsibility upon me. Not only did we have the lofty alpine objectives of opening of new ice routes and long descents on skis in unexplored mountains, we sought to embrace humanistic and social motivations. As a mountain guide instructor and rescue specialist my goal was to share this knowledge by teaching at the Shimshal Climbing School. The intention was to help the high-altitude porters in this community progress, both in terms of safety and skills on technical mountain terrain. Furthermore, thanks to the collaboration of Dr. Marco Cavana, we were to organize a clinic to deal with medial problems linked to inadequate sanitation in the area.

2. Land Slide - 2010 Pakistan Winter Expedition from Kristoffer Erickson on Vimeo.

The Pakistani Winter, Shimshal and its porters

Shimshal Valley, 20 January 2010

We are only the fifteenth winter-alpine expedition in the history of Pakistan. I’m accompanied by alpinist Eneko Pou, photographer and alpinist Kristoffer Erickson, journalist and alpinist Oscar Gogorza and Dr. Marco Cavana. We are in the North, in the Baltistan Gilgit region, close to Afghanistan, near the border with China.

Unlike the summer, when fields of grain, trees and green pastures contrast the brown color of the rock and dry land, everything is now gray. It seems to us like a black and white film. It is even cold at low altitudes and above 1600 meters it’s completely frozen.

We creep along in our Jeep on a bumpy, disjointed road similar to a mule’s paths. The access road to the town of Shimshal was literally ripped into the mountain, thanks to the will power of its inhabitants. It was constructed without mechanical means over 23 years of hard work with a pick and shovel. This spectacular off-road adventure alone justifies a trip to Pakistan.

Shimshal is a village of 2000 people, which has remained nearly completely isolated from the rest of Pakistan for 600 years. Although maintaining the Ishmaelite tradition, these people seem less rigid and more open than other muslims of the Pakistani mountains. Even the women allow this feeling to hold true when they respond to our waves with a smile. In the village there is no running water, no telephones or televisions. Only a few families have installed small solar panels that guarantee one meager light for three hours at a time during the long winter nights.

There are three mosques and a school where students go after having gathered wood, which, here in Pakistan, is quite rare. All the students learn English and those who can afford it, at the age of 17, will continue their studies in Gilgit. There are no doctors and the nearest hospital (now you can get there in an hour, before the construction of the road it took six days) is in Gulmit, where a general practitioner oversees all the emergencies without the use of “sophisticated” medical equipment.

The community is very united and the inhabitants help each other as in a big family. Any problem is a problem for Shimshal and not for one single person.

Potatoes, rice, chapatti, dal, peas and beans are preciously rationed to make sure that they aren’t left without supplies before the next replenishment. Once in a while they get to eat goat or yak meat. Unlike the summer, there are not chickens because they wouldn’t survive the harsh temperatures of the winter months. The yak is also a characteristic of Shimshal. It is rare to encounter these animals in Pakistan but in the Shimshal valley, along the border with China, thousands of them exist in the wild.

The “malida” (chapatti, cheese, butter and salt), the “graal” (chapatti, spices, butter and salt) or the “chalpindook” (chapatti and cheese) are considered dishes of the poor in Pakistan and are typical of this region. They are eaten nearly everyday.

The temperature during the five winter months is consistently well below zero—from minus 12 to minus 20. Even inside around the hearth, it rarely gets above 5 degrees. During the winter, the landscape and it’s people patiently await the summer in the same way our ancestors did in the Alps, hundreds of  years ago.

Every house has a particular structure featuring a single room with a wood stove in the center and an opening in the roof. Each home welcomes the entire family: grandparents, parents and children. In the same room they cook, sleep and live their daily lives for generations. For the inhabitants of Shimshal the winter days always pass by in the same manner. In the morning the women prepare breakfast with tea and milk with chapatti dipped in melted butter. Before going to school the daughters go and collect wood or water. A spring, the only one that is not frozen, guarantees drinking water to the entire village. All day long women patiently wait their turn to fill their water jugs. The men build and maintain the houses, cut wood, put up the walls and await the summer to work as porters and high-altitude porters. In the village of Shimshal more than 40 people have climbed a mountain of 8000 meters and Rajab Shan, the only Pakistani to have climbed all of the 8000-meter peaks of the Karakorum was born here. He is considered a real hero in all of Pakistan.


Pakistan Winter Sport - 1 of 6

Sa'eeda from Marrakech!

I just got down from an incredible ski traverse of the High Atlas Mountains.

My team was an international group of friends working on two different film projects. Representing the States we had Kim Havell and myself, from Canada we had Chris Rubens and Dave Mossop and from France Jordi Montserrat. Dave was the lead filmer for our group covering a segment for next years Salomon Freeski.tv and for the next film put out from the Rocky Mountain Sherpas. We spent 10 days linking six 4,000 meter peaks with some great ski runs across several valley miles of terrain. We finished the odyssey in the village of Zawiyat Ahansal where I said goodbye to my friends and I stayed in the village with my wife Cloe and my daughter Noor. We are now back in Marrakech enjoying our time together taking in the incredible history and culture of this ancient crossroads city.

Unfortunately we have little time to sight-see as Cloe is finishing this season's work on the igherm restoration project in Zawiyat Ahansal in the Central High Atlas. And me? Well I'm loving every second with Cloe and Noor before headed in early May to Norway's Svalbard Islands at over 80 degrees north in the Arctic Ocean. EmiloPrevitali, Jamie Laidlaw and I will explore the fjords of this northern arctic land of 24 hr sunlight in search of first descents! Our only hope now is that the prevailing continental winds pick up and clear out the ash plume from the Ejfjallajokul volcano. Inshallah!

I'm in the middle of editing the photos and will be posting more on the High Atlas traverse but first I wanted to share some stories from my recent North Face winter climbing and ski trip to Shishmal, Pakistan with Herve Barmasse from Valle de Aosta in Italy and Eneko Pou from the Basque country of Spain, and two other friends Oscar Gogorza also from Spain and Marco Cavana from Italy. 

Visiting this remote northern village, near China and surprisingly close to Afghanistan, was a rare opportunity to travel back in time to a community and culture that remains largely untouched by the political chaos surrounding them. Shimshal is one of the great mountain towns of the world and home to many of the high altitude porters that are so critical to every expedition throughout the Karakorum. We were fortunate to be able to spend time teaching advanced climbing and mountain rescue techniques at the local climbing school to not only men but women as well!

The trip was complicated by a tremendous landslide that completely blocked the Hunza River, cutting off our village from the rest of the world. At the end of the trip, as the weather deteriorated, the helicopters provided by the Aga Khan foundation couldn't fly and we waited and waited and even tried in vain to forge an alternative path around the lake and over what proven to be impassable terrain. As I write this, engineers are trying to find a way to release the waters that are rising over 2 feet per day in order to avert what could be a natural disaster of tremendous magnitude for tens of thousands of residents downstream.

Being the one behind the camera most of the time, I'll leave the words to Herve along with some video clips from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. This short clip is the first of several I'll be posting from the Shimshal experience as I can find the bandwidth to get them uploaded from here in northern Africa.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!


1. Arrival - 2010 Pakistan Winter Expedition from Kristoffer Erickson on Vimeo.


Ma'a Salaama for now,

Kris, Cloe and Noor


Departure: Shimshal Valley, Pakistan

Along with The North Face Athletes Herve Barmasse and Eneko Pou I will travel to the Shimshal Valley of Pakistan on January 17 where we will spend three weeks exploring this region's virgin ice climbing and ski mountaineering potential.  I will be documenting the trip for The North Face in both still photo and video format.

My cameras are in hand and ready for another adventure...

The North Face Expedition Press Release

“Every stone, every possible ice line and snow descent will be the aim of the North Face athletes,” says expedition leader Herve Barmasse, of this winter-sports exploration of the Shimshal Valley and it’s surrounding peaks in the Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan. Few climbers have visited this region of Baltistan in the cold season, but those who have trekked there in summer report spectacular waterfalls gushing down from the high peaks. In winter, these waterfalls will be frozen, offering enormous potential for first ascents on ice and mixed terrain. Equally untapped is the opportunity for exploration by ski and snowboard, in powder-filled couloirs and on the flanks of peaks as high as 7000 meters. They’ll even be on the lookout for bouldering around their glacier-based camps.

Integral to this quest for pushing the limits of alpine sports is the desire to interact with the Balti villagers who inhabit these mountains. A hamlets of subsistence farmers, the Shimshal valleyis a place where people exist  as close as one can to the earth and have lived this way of life for centuries. These Islamic folk have mastered the art of surviving the sub-zero Karakoram winters, and Herve’s team hope to learn from them. The team intends to offer something in return as well, by resuming the work of the Shimshal Climbing School, which North Face athlete Simone Moro started in 2008. This school teaches modern mountaineering skills to the local villagers who frequently work as high-altitude porters on climbing expeditions, and Herve and team will provide a training course during their visit.

This international team presents a unique array of talents. Herve Barmasse is a famous guide and alpinist from Italy, whose ascents in Patagonia are legendary; Kris Erickson, from the US state of Montana, is an alpinist, ice climber and big-mountain skier whose documentary work has appeared in publications worldwide; and, Eneko Pou is one of Spain’s top sport climbers, recently completed a quest to free climb a big wall on each of the seven continents.