Why Do Alpine-Style Teams Prefer Pakistan to Nepal?

This past spring, all expeditions on 8,000’ers followed the normal routes, except for Kilian Jornet’s Everest West Ridge attempt. Only a handful of teams tried something new even on 6,000m and 7,000m peaks in Nepal.

Meanwhile, this summer in Pakistan, at least two expeditions are attempting alternative or new routes on 8,000m peaks. This includes Goettler and Vedrines’ recent near-success on Nanga Parbat’s Rupal Face and Urubko and Cardell’s upcoming new route on Gasherbrum I.

Also, several skilled teams are targeting difficult routes on Pakistan’s lesser peaks. These climbers have planned and trained for these expeditions for months. Often they still won’t succeed. That’s the nature of real alpinism.

But is there a reason why Pakistan attracts more technical teams than Nepal’s Himalaya? The short answer might be that climbing in Pakistan is cheaper. But we wondered if there is something more to it, so we asked some of the climbers in Pakistan this summer.

Climbers on the spot

Matteo della Bordella is currently approaching Baintha Brakk I (also known as The Ogre). He chose it not because it’s in Pakistan rather than Nepal, but because he’s been “fascinated by the photos and by the history of this mountain for a long time.”

Della Bordella is teaming up with elite climbers Francois Cazzanelli, Symon Welfringer, and Silvan Schupbach to attempt this steep and strikingly beautiful 7,000’er. The Ogre has been climbed only three times before. Della Bordella and his partners know that the odds are against them, despite their experience and training. All della Bordella hopes is that the mountain gives them a chance.

A hand holds a thermometer marking 50 degrees celsius.

This photo by Kenro Nakajima in the Hindu Kush expresses a whole philosophy of exploration.



Kazuya Hiraide of Japan simply looks for the blank spaces left on a map of the Himalaya. He started by marking all peaks that had been already climbed, then heads for the blank spaces, many of which are in Pakistan. Currently, he is heading to Tirich Mir with his regular partner, Kenro Nakajima.

Archil Badriashvili: more old-fashioned adventure

Archil Badriashvili of Georgia led the team that opened a new route on the isolated Saraghrar in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush last year. They won a Piolet d’Or for their effort.

He might also have awakened the climbing world to this region near the Afghan border that has seen few visitors until now. This year, three teams have chosen to go there. Says Badriashvili:

When looking closely at climbing options in Pakistan and in Nepal, there are many differences: People, mountain features and shapes, weather patterns, accessibility, affordability, etc. Nepal is an old, famous player in mountain tourism. After decades, they have focused on making the adventure safer, easier — more assisted, in one word. Tourism has become the state’s top priority.

The climbers pose on a stage holding the Piolets d'Or trophy.

Giorgi Tepnadze and Archil Badriashvili at the Piolet d’Or Ceremony. Photo: Piolet d’Or


However, this kind of assisted tourism is not for everyone. The exploration of the Karakoram started later and has evolved differently. Today, climbing 8,000’ers in Pakistan and Nepal are similar. But exploratory mountaineering is quite different in the two places.

Perhaps what extreme mountaineers seek in Pakistan is the adventure itself, as well as fewer expenses and more steepness to the peaks. Adventure is intrinsic to the harsh Pakistani mountains: incomparable granite towers, sharp summits of eternal ice, with few climbs on the record. That is a draw all its own!

Holecek: Affordable for young climbers

Marek Holecek of the Czech Republic has one Piolet d’Or after a climb in Nepal (Chamlang) and another in Pakistan (Gasherbrum I). Last year, he attempted a new route on Masherbrum, and this past spring he and Matej Bernat opened a new route on Nepal’s Sura Peak. So Holecek knows about climbing in both countries. Asked why Pakistan seems to attract bold, young climbers, he replied:

The answer is quite simple: Nepal has gradually become a destination where officials have become voracious! The overall price of an expedition makes Nepal an unaffordable destination for many young climbers. Just to give you an idea, the base price for Sura Peak was $8,000. The total cost for porters, porter insurance, personal insurance, plane tickets to Nepal and Lukla, as well as life on site was $15,000 for two climbers. I’m not counting climbing gear.

So it’s no wonder that young climbers who don’t have a VISA Gold card or a rich aunt in America are looking for alternatives. I’m not talking about commercial expeditions, where mountain tourism is booming.

Bernat takes a selfie and Holecek rises a finger, while on a snowy summit in a foggy day.

Marek Holecek, right, and Matej Bernat on the summit of Nepal’s Sura Peak this past spring. Photo: Marek Holecek


Pakistan is definitely cheaper, except for the area around the Baltoro and Abruzzi Glaciers, where the price for a permit and the mandatory service also touch the stars.

Holecek also pointed out that the Indian and Chinese Himalaya are also affordable alternatives to Nepal. So are the Afghan Hindu Kush and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s Pamir-Alay.

Urubko: Friendly to mountaineers

In Pakistan, “there is not an aggressive attitude toward mountaineers,” Denis Urubko told ExplorersWeb last year. He is currently heading toward Gasherbrum I to open a new alpine-style route with his wife, Maria Cardell.

Urubko also added that Pakistan’s paperwork is easier, and fees are cheaper. “You will not have as many discussions and quarrels with the locals as with Sherpas,” the always outspoken climber said. “I have never had any issues with people in Pakistan, but many negative experiences in Nepal.”

Urubko pitches a tent in a bivy shelter on a rocky mountain top, with a wide valley in background.

Denis Urubko sets up camp for the night on Koshar Gang, near Skardu, some days ago. Photo: Maria Cardell

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.