More Skiers Head Off-Piste to Winter Karakorum

The mini-boom in winter ski mountaineering in the Karakorum continues. Earlier today, Sophie Lenaerts, Stef Maginelle and Jean-Francois Spelmans (aka Jeff) left for the Biafo-Hispar area, about as far from their home in flat Belgium as you can get. Together with their supplies and equipment, including skis, the trio will transfer to the tongue of the Biafo Glacier, then set off unassisted, with no fixed plan but several ideas. “Ours is a free-thinking expedition,” Lenaerts told ExplorersWeb.

The expedition’s dream peak, Lukpe Lawo Brakk (background).


Their first choice is ski up the Biafo Glacier to Snow Lake, then head for Lukpe Lawo Brakk (6,593m), Tahu Rutum (6,685m) or several unnamed peaks in the area, which are suitable for skis. “Ultimately, conditions will decide,” said Lenaerts. “There’ll be just the three of us out there, so we must be double-cautious.” The team will carry no SPOT-type locator but will contact home by satphone daily.

The Snow Lake area, at the head of Biafo Glacier. Photo: Alpine Adventure Guides Pakistan


While not as popular as the Baltoro, the Biafo-Hispar area is also accessible from Askole and draws trekking groups in the summer. Winter is a different story: Lenaerts and company have not managed to turn up any information about previous winter expeditions there.

The first Belgian woman to complete the Seven Summits, Lenaerts also attempted two Gasherbrums, Makalu and Lhotse. But although she is far from new to the Himalaya, she describes herself as a rookie ski tourer. “Stef and Jeff are much better than I, so depending on the chosen descent line, I might decline to follow them. Just in case, I brought my paraglider, and it would be great if I could jump from a summit while the guys ski down.”

Sophie Lenaerts.


Sophie Lenaerts and Stef Maginelle, life partners since 2015, first met in the Gasherbrums Base Camp in 2013. Back then, Lenaerts failed to reach any summit, while Maginelle made it to the top of GI and GII (no O2) within a week. In 2015, Lenaerts joined an all-Belgian expedition to Makalu, which was aborted after the tragic earthquake that hit most of the country. A couple of months later, she soloed Khan Tengri and, the following year, she succeeded on Everest.