Karakoram (mountains)

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Baltoro Glacier with Concordia Square and Gasherbrums

Baltoro Glacier with Concordia Square and Gasherbrums

Highest peak K2 ( 8611  m )
location Former Kashmir : Pakistan ( Gilgit-Baltistan ) • China ( Xinjiang / Shaksgam Valley ) • India ( Ladakh )
part of Hindu Kush Karakoram Himalaya chain
Karakoram (Pakistan)
Coordinates 35 ° 53 '  N , 76 ° 31'  E Coordinates: 35 ° 53 '  N , 76 ° 31'  E
Type Fold Mountains

The Karakoram is a mountain range up to 8611  m high in South Asia or High Asia . With the K2 it carries the second highest mountain on earth and with Broad Peak ( 8051  m ), Gasherbrum I ("Hidden Peak", 8080  m ) and Gasherbrum II ( 8034  m ) three more eight-thousanders. In addition, there are 63 independent seven-thousand-meter peaks and a number of secondary peaks. The Karakoram stretches across northern Pakistan, India and western China; parts of the border are controversial. The Indus and its tributary Shyok is often referred to as the demarcation of the Karakoram from the Himalayan main chain in the southeast.

The mountain range is about 700 kilometers long and 100 to 150 kilometers wide and stretches in a slight arc from northwest to southeast.

The Karakoram is known as the highest mountain range in the world. The highest mountain on earth , Mount Everest , is not in the Karakoram, but more than half of the mountain area is above 5000 meters. The Tibetan highlands lie at an altitude of 4500 to 5000 meters, but are relatively flat or undulating, whereas the Karakoram with its steep mountains and deep valleys has the largest area of ​​topographic relief over 6000 meters.


The name Karakorúm comes from Turkish and means "black rubble". It is derived from the Karakoram Pass , which itself lies southeast outside the mountains. There you will find the eponymous black rubble heaps. Another possible explanation is that the Turkic peoples associate colors with cardinal points. Kara ("black") stands for "north" or "north". Kara-korum could therefore also mean “north of the rubble” or “northern rubble”.

The Englishman William Moorcraft (1767-1825) is considered the first European geographer to use the name Karakorúm for the mountains between the Indus Valley and the Tarim Basin . The name initially caught on, and it was only towards the end of the 19th century that doubts about its suitability emerged. A name of the local population seemed more fitting: Muztagh means “iceberg” and thus describes the heavily glaciated high mountains appropriately.

Efforts have been made from various quarters to replace the name Karakoram with Muztagh . However, these efforts brought more confusion than benefit, because the name Muztagh is ambiguous and can also be found outside of the Karakoram, for example in the Pamir at Mount Muztagata . Günter Dyhrenfurth pointed out that the term Muztagh can only be used in compound names. In addition, Muztagh was perceived as a description rather than a name, and the retention of the name Karakoram was recommended.

This was followed by the Karakoram Conference in 1937 by dividing the mountains into the Great Karakoram and the Small Karakoram. The term Muztagh was used for the mountain ranges within the Great Karakoram, e.g. B. Baltoro Muztagh or Hispar Muztagh .


The Karakoram and its neighboring mountains (as well as their highest peaks). Correction to the picture: The Hinduraj is below the "sh" of "Hindu Kush". This actually goes up to the first "a" of "Karakorum" at the level of the "K" of "Kunlun Shan".
The second highest mountain on earth: K2 (8,611 m) in the Central Karakoram
Gasherbrum II (8,035 m),
high camp at 5,900 m altitude
The granite towers of the
Trango Group are located on the north side of the Baltoro Glacier

Geographic boundaries

f1Georeferencing Map with all coordinates: OSM | WikiMap

The Karakoram Conference 1936/37 consisted of participants from the Survey of India , the Royal Geographic Society , the Alpine Club and the Himalayan Club . She proposed the division of the mountains that is predominantly valid today, according to which the boundaries of the Karakoram were determined.

The Shyok River is fed by the glaciers on the east side of the southeastern part of the Karakoram main range. It flows first to the south and then turns to the northwest and flows towards the Indus . The upper reaches of the Shyok represents the eastern border of the Karakoram. The southern border of the Karakoram to the Ladakh Range is defined by the Shyok from its bend in the east ( ) to the confluence with the Indus ( ). This is where the short border of the Karakoram to the Himalayas begins, which follows the Indus downstream to the confluence of the Gilgit River ( ), where the border to the Hinduraj begins. Continue up the Gilgit to the confluence of the Ishkoman in the west ( ). The Ishkoman, the northern upper reaches of which is called Karambar , represents the western border. At the point where the border leaves the valley in a northeast direction up to the Chillinji Pass ( ), the Karakoram, Hinduraj and Hindu Kush meet. The pass forms the northwest corner of the mountain range. The northern border with the Hindu Kush runs from the Chillinji Pass through the valley of the Chapursan River to the east until, shortly before its confluence with the Hunza Valley, it changes north over the Kermin Pass ( ) into the northern neighboring valley. Here it follows the Kilik to the east to its confluence with the Kunjirap River ( ). The Karakoram border continues up the Kunjirab Valley to the Kunjirap Pass ( ), which is the border with China. From there it goes on to the Oprang Pass and then to the east down the Oprang Valley to its confluence with the Shaksgam Valley ( ). Up the Shaksgam valley, the northern Karakoram border continues in a south-easterly direction to the source of Shaksgam at the pass of the same name ( ). From there, the eastern border continues on the east side of the Rimo glacier ( ) and runs south through the valley of the Shyok, which rises on the Rimo glacier.

Neighboring mountains

The high mountains are located between the Pamir in the north, the Aghil Mountains and the Kunlun Shan in the east, the Ladakh Range in the southeast and the Himalayas in the south and the Hindu Kush in the west. As a mountain range about 500 km long, it spreads in a north-west-south-east direction in western China, northern India and northeastern Pakistan .

Karakoram and Himalayas

The question of whether the Karakoram belongs to the Himalayas is answered differently: The northern and western borders of the actual Himalayas are the Indus, which separates the Himalayas in the northwest and north from the Hindu Kush and Karakoram and in the northeast from the Ladakh Range and its southeastern extension, the called the Transhimalaya . The Swiss Himalayan researcher Günter Oskar Dyhrenfurth recommended the Karakorum-Himalaya as the correct name as early as 1935 (“albeit a bit lengthy”) . In his book "The Third Pole", a standard work on the Himalayas, he explains this as follows:

“The separation of the actual Himalayas and Karakoram by the Shayok and Indus valleys does not go any deeper than z. B. the contrast between the ( Eastern Alpine ) crystalline Central Alps and the (Southern Alpine) Dolomites, or between the Bernese Oberland and the Valais Alps. "

However, the name Karakoram-Himalaya has not caught on (Dyhrenfurth did not use it either) and a separation between Karakoram and Himalaya also finds supporters. Nevertheless, Dyhrenfurth is correct in his assessment that the geological similarities between the Himalayas and the Karakoram are greater than those between the Central and Southern Limestone Alps. For example, the Nanga Parbat, which belongs to the actual Himalayas, form a geological unit with the Haramosh located to the north (beyond the Indus Valley) ; one speaks here of the Nanga Parbat-Haramosh massif . Dyhrenfurth finally used the term "Himalaya System" , which included the Karakoram.

The plate tectonics provides a further indication that speaks for a separation of the Himalayas and Karakorum: The mountain building began 40 million years ago when the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate collided. While the Karakoram emerged from the part of the earth's crust that was on the edge of the Asian continent, the mass of the Himalayas was unfolded from the edges of the Indian subcontinent drifting towards Asia . The Indus represents part of the suture line (Indus suture ).

Mountain ranges within the Karakoram: Greater and Lesser Karakoram

Great Karakoram

The main chain of the Karakoram is called Great Karakoram (English: Greater Karakoram ). From the Saser Muztagh in the extreme south-east of the mountains to the Hispar Muztagh in the north-west east of the Hunza Valley, it can be represented as a long ridge that never falls below 5200  m . In the west of the Hunza Valley, the main chain continues in the Batura Muztagh as the westernmost mountain range of the Karakoram. The mountain ridge is interrupted here by the Hunza Valley, the highest connection from Batura Muztagh to the eastern part of the main chain leads over the Mingteke Pass , which, according to the definition of the Karakoram Conference, is already outside the Karakoram.

The individual mountain ranges of the Great Karakoram and their starting and ending points were defined in the report of the Karakoram Conference in 1937 from northwest to southeast as follows:

Note: For a list of the highest mountains in each mountain range, the list at the end of the article can be sorted by mountain range.

The Batura Muztagh is located south of the Batura Glacier and runs from Mount Koz Sar in the west to the Hunza Gorge. The Batura Muztagh includes the mountains Batura Sar ( 7795  m , highest mountain in the mountain range), Shispare and Ultar Sar , which towers above Karimabad , the former capital of the Hunza Empire .

From the Hunzaschlucht to the so-called Snow Lake , a glacier basin north of the Biafogletscher , the Hispar Muztagh lies north of the Hispar glacier . The highest mountain of Hispar Muztagh is the 7885  m high Distaghil Sar , it is also the highest mountain of the Karakoram outside of Baltoro Muztagh. Other high mountains are Kunyang Chhish , Kanjut Sar I and Momhil Sar .

The Panmah Muztagh is described as the mountain range drained by the Panmah Glacier and its main tributaries. It lies east of the Biafogletscher and runs from Snow Lake to the Western Muztagh Pass. The main range of the Panmah Muztagh runs north and east of the Panmah Glacier, while the highest mountains of the Panmah Muztagh - the Ogre - ( 7285  m ) and Latok groups - lie west of the Panmah Glacier between this and the Biafo.

The Baltoro Muztagh begins on the southeast side of the western Muztagh Pass . It is located on the north and east side of the Baltoro Glacier and contains the five highest mountains of the Karakoram with the K2 ( 8611  m ), the Broad Peak and the mountains Gasherbrum I , II and IV . Other well-known mountains are Muztagh Tower and Skil Brum , on which the alpine style was “invented” in 1957 , as well as the rugged granite cliffs of the Trango towers . The other end of the Baltoro Muztagh is to the southeast of the Gasherbrum Group .

The Siachen Muztagh chain follows from there on the northeast side of the Siachen glacier to the pass between the Teram Shehr glacier and the Rimo glacier . The Teram-Shehr flows west to the Siachen, the Rimo glacier to the east, the eastern foothills of the Siachen Muztagh continue on its north side to the upper reaches of the Shaksgam. The highest mountain of Siachen Muztagh is the Teram Kangri ( 7441  m ). The affiliation of the Sia Kangri is not clear . This mountain stands at the head of the Siachen glacier. The report of the Karakoram conference counts him among the Siachen Muztagh. Günter Dyhrenfurth, head of the first ascent expedition to Sia Kangri in 1934, gives both possibilities, Siachen and Baltoro Muztagh, the fact is that the gap between Sia Kangri and Gasherbrum I, its closest neighbor in Baltoro Muztagh, is much higher ( 6782  m ) than the saddle east of the mountain, connecting the Sia-Kangri massif with the other mountains of the Siachen Muztagh: the 5759  m high Indira Col .

The Rimo Muztagh is located south of the pass between the Teram Shehr and Rimo glaciers and north of the Sasser pass . The highest mountain is the 7516  m high Mamostong Kangri , which towers over the Rimo I by about 130 meters.

The Saser Muztagh stretches from the Sasser Pass in the north to the arch of the Shyok River. At 7672  m, the Saser Kangri I is the highest mountain in the Great Karakoram south of the Gasherbrum I.

Little Karakoram

The rakaposhi over the Hunza valley

The other mountain ranges of the Karakoram north and south of the main chain are collectively referred to as the Little Karakoram ( English Lesser Karakoram ). The suffix Muztagh seemed unsuitable for the individual departments. The report of the Karakoram conference preferred the terms chains ( ranges ), groups ( groups ) or mountains ( mountains ).

North of the main chain are the Lupghar Group (not to be confused with the Lupghar Sar , a mountain in Hispar Muztagh), west of the Hunza valley and north of the Batura glacier , as well as the Ghujerab mountains east of the Hunza valley and north of the Hispar Muztagh, on the north side of the Shimshal Valley. The Ghujerab Mountains are traversed by the Ghujerab River from east to west (to the Hunza) and divided into a northern and southern section. The highest mountain in the Ghujerab Mountains is the Karun Koh .

South of the main chain, the report of the Karakoram conference defined four mountain ranges:

The Saltoro Mountains lie west of the Siachen Glacier and the Nubra River, north of the Shyok and east of the Kondus Glacier . The 7742  m high Saltoro Kangri is the highest mountain in the chain, other mountains are Ghent Kangri and K12 . North of the Ghent, the Sia La pass connects the Saltoro Mountains with the Karakoram main chain

The Masherbrum Mountains lie south of the Baltoro Glacier and are separated from the Saltoro Mountains in the east by the Kondus Glacier. In the west, the Shigar, as an outflow of the Baltoro Glacier, delimits the mountains from the Spantik-Sosbun Mountains . The southern border is also the Shyok and the Indus, after it has absorbed the waters of the Shyok. The highest mountain of the entire Lesser Karakoram is the 7,821  m high Masherbrum , other mountains in the mountain range named after him are Chogolisa , Baltoro Kangri , K6 and Mango Gusor .

The part south of the Hispar Glacier, east of the Hunza, north of the Indus and west of the Biafo Glacier is divided into the Rakaposhi chain and the Haramosh chain by the Karakoram Conference . The Rakaposhi chain runs from the 7788  m high Rakaposhi on the east side of the Hunza Valley to the east via Diran and Malubiting and from there further north to the Spantik . Between Spantik and Malubiting lies the nutrient area of ​​the Chogo Lungma Glacier , which flows to the east and whose outlet flows into the Shigar. All mountains east of the Spantik and north of the Chogo-Lungma glacier were counted as part of the Rakaposhi chain. The Haramosh chain borders in Haramosh La southeast of Malubiting on the Rakaposhi chain and includes, in addition to the 7406  m high Haramosh, all mountain groups further east south of the Chogo Lungma glacier.

The cartographer Jerzy Wala has suggested a different classification, according to which the mountains north of the Chogo Lungma Glacier are not counted as part of the Rakaposhi chain, but are referred to as the Spantik Sosbun Mountains . It is named after the 7027  m high Spantik and the Sosbun Brakk ( 6413  m ) further east on the west side of the Biafo Glacier . The Rakaposhi Haramosh Mountains include the mountains previously known as the Haramosh chain and the westward train from Malubiting to Rakaposhi.

The chains of the Lesser Karakoram have also been referred to as the Kailas Karakoram . The Vissers instead used the name Saltoro Karakoram , which not only meant the Saltoro Mountains, but also the entire Lesser Karakoram.

Political structure

The Karakoram is located in the north of the disputed Kashmir region . The largest part in terms of area is in the autonomous Pakistani region of Gilgit-Baltistan , the former northern regions . The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China includes a small part northeast of the Kunjirap Pass, before the border between Pakistan and China along the Oprang Valley is identical to the Karakoram northern border. Only where the Wesm Mountains meet the Shaksgam Valley does the state border no longer run in the valley floor, but over the ridge to the south to the main watershed in northeastern Panmah Muztagh. From there it follows the Karakoram ridge east and south through the Baltoro Muztagh to the Indira Col , near the controversial triangle between China, Pakistan and India. The border between India and China continues to the southeast over the main ridge of the Siachen Muztagh where it leaves the Karakoram Mountains north of the Rimo Glacier to the east and continues to the Karakoram Pass. The two south-eastern mountain ranges of the Great Karakororum are therefore entirely in the Indian Union territory of Ladakh . The southern border from Gilgit-Baltistan to India was established as the Line of Control in the Shimla Agreement in 1972 , but it ends at the coordinate NJ 980420 ( ) in the south of the Saltoro Mountains, the further course to the Chinese border remained unclear. This led to the Siachen conflict in 1984 . While the Indian government is of the opinion that the border runs north over the main ridge of the Saltoro Mountains to the Indira Col, the Pakistani government interprets the border line in a straight line from point NJ 980420 to the Karakorum Pass. The latter would mean that the northern part of the Saltoro Mountains and the south side of the Siachen Muztagh (up to the Chinese border) belonged to Pakistan as well as the northern part of the Rimo-Muztagh, while the southern part of the Rimo Muztagh would be separated and like the Saser Muztagh would remain under Indian control. According to this interpretation, the Siachen Glacier would lie entirely in Pakistan, while the valley of its outflow, the Nubra Valley, belonged to India. According to the Indian view (border line through the Saltoro Mountains) the glacier would lie entirely in India.

Despite the politically difficult situation, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development was founded in 1983 , which included a large part of the Karakoram in the transnational development area of ​​the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region .


The north movement of the Indian plate

The Karakoram is a geologically young fold mountain range . He was together with the southeast, Himalayan chain raised when the northward aspiring some 40 million years ago Indian plate with the Eurasian plate collided, was itself pushed in the wake deeper and deeper into it drilled and by this ( thrust ). This makes the Karakoram part of the Alpid mountain system, to which a. Also Alps , Carpathians , Caucasus and Afghanistan are expected. The wedge of the Indian plate, which penetrated deep into the Asian plate furthest north, pushed the neighboring chains of the Hindu Kush, Pamir and western Kunlun up an arc to the north , along with the Karakoram . This is where the highest mountains on our planet meet, often referred to as the roof of the world .

The mountains are subject to complicated processes during orogenesis . It is compressed, lifted and folded. Older layers are laid on top of younger ones, and metamorphic rocks can rise from great depths . Some parts of the mountain are shifted over longer distances ( faults ). At the same time as the ascent, wind and water begin to erode and reshape the mountains . The current appearance of the Karakoram, to which the glacial activity, especially in the last glacials of the current Ice Age, contributed by carving out the valleys, is the result of these processes. Today the constructive and erosive forces are largely balanced.

The highest mountains of the Baltoro Muztagh are metamorphic rocks formed in a pushed up subduction wedge, which are known as batholith . On the northern edge of this chain, the so-called Karakoram Fault , a pronounced lateral fault on the edge of the Tibetan plateau , runs parallel to the edge of the Indian plate , from Kashgar to the holy mountain Kailash in the Transhimalayas. It forms the natural dividing line between the Karakoram and the Pamir. The offset along this fault is estimated to be up to several hundred kilometers.

In the south, the Karakoram is separated from the so-called Kohistan Complex by the Karakoram-Kohistan Suture . The Kohistan Complex is an example of an island arc - continent collision. It was literally squashed between the Indian plate and the Karakoram, whose predecessor originally represented the continental margin of Asia. In the south, the Kohistan Complex is separated from the Indian Plate by the Indus Suture.

The Karakoram is still a geologically very active region. The Indian subcontinent is still pushing its way further into the Asian land mass at a speed of around 4 cm per year. As a result, the uplift continues, in the Karakoram it is even particularly pronounced. On the southern edge of the mountains in the Indus Gorge, it is around one centimeter per year. When the plates collide, there are large overthrusts in tectonic nappes . In the depths, the earth's crust under the Karakoram has increased up to 70 kilometers thick and floats on the heavier layers below. Only then can the mountains rise to heights of over 8,000 meters.

In the Karakoram and its surroundings, the tensions that build up due to the interlocking of the continental plates in the earth's crust are repeatedly discharged in earthquakes . For example, on October 8, 2005, a devastating earthquake struck Kashmir , killing around 75,000 in Pakistan and India.


The Karakoram lies in the subtropical high pressure belt and separates the subtropical areas of the Indian subcontinent from the steppes and deserts of Central and High Asia with their arid continental climate . The prevailing westerly winds throughout the year lead to large amounts of precipitation , especially in winter and spring , which fall to the ground as snow all year round in the highest elevations and contribute to the extreme glaciation of the area. However, the maximum precipitation is reached in the summer months, when the southwest monsoon coming from the Indian Ocean reaches the main chain of the Karakoram in a weaker form, because it has already been milked from the upstream mountains. The Pakistani west, which is open to the lower Indus, is more rainy and greener than the north and east of the mountains. This has a corresponding effect on the glaciers, which in the Hunza Valley mostly end at altitudes of 2000 to 2500 m, in the east ( Rimo glacier ) in some cases between 4500 and 4800 m. Overall, the precipitation remains well below that on the southern roof of the Himalaya, which is much further south (east). They decrease starting from the Indian plate over the foothills up to the central Karakoram. Only the highest altitudes receive so much precipitation that one can speak of a humid climate here , while the surrounding lowlands are dry valleys.


As the brothers Robert and Hermann von Schlagintweit first recognized during their research expedition to High Asia in 1856, some mountain ranges of the Karakoram form part of the watershed between the catchment area of the Upper Indus (to the Indian Ocean ) and the Tarim Basin, which has no drainage . The watershed runs from the Karakoram Pass west across the eastern foothills of the Siachen Muztagh north of Middle Rimogletschers to the Karakoram main ridge on Apsarasas Kangri . It now follows the Karakoram main ridge to the northwest over Teram Kangri and Singhi Kangri and over the passes Turkestan La (north) , Indira Col (east) and Indira Col (west) to Baltoro Muztagh and on over the summits of Sia Kangri, Hidden Peak , Gasherbrum II and Broad Peak to Skyang La ( Windy Gap ) and there turns west over Skyang Kangri , K2, Skil Brum and Muztagh Tower . After the Eastern Muztagh Pass , it turns north in the north of the Trango Group and leads over the Western Muztagh Pass to the Panmah Muztagh and at Skamri Sar turns again in a westerly direction along the north side of the Nobande Sobande Glacier . North of the Simgang Glacier , the watershed leaves the Karakoram main chain and runs north over the ridge between Braldu Glacier in the east and Virjerab Glacier in the west to the Shimshal Pass . North of this pass it runs through the Ghujerab Mountains to the Kunjirap Pass and leaves the Karakoram.

The other mountain ranges only have a subordinate regional function as a watershed. Its outflows flow into the Indus via a few tributaries within the limits of the Karakoram.

Flora and fauna

The vegetation of the Karakoram is a typical mountain vegetation. Large parts of the mountains are covered by alpine mats , rocks and glaciers. On the montane slopes and in the high valleys there are also woody formations, such as deciduous and coniferous forests or bush areas. The larger mammals that can be found in the Karakoram include the Marco Polo Argali , a large wild sheep with huge horns, the Asiatic ibex , the blue sheep and the screw goat . Their greatest natural enemy is the snow leopard . Other predators of the Karakoram are wolves , brown bears and lynxes . To protect the nature of the Karakoram, protected areas such as the Central Karakoram National Park and the Khunjerab National Park have been established.


Marco Polo was the first European to go near the Karakoram on his trip to China in 1274. On his way through Asia he came through Kashgar , which is now the starting point of the Karakoram Highway . The first known European to travel to Baltistan was the British explorer Godfrey Thomas Vigne , who gave his name to the Vignegletscher , which descends from the Chogolisa . Between 1835 and 1838 he also traveled to Kashmir and Ladakh . In his lectures he reported on the rugged peaks and huge glaciers in the Karakoram.

Aerial view from the southern edge of the Karakoram over the Deosai plain to the exposed Haramukh in the distance

As part of the Great Trigonometrical Survey , the British administration, for strategic reasons, had a keen interest in exploring the mountain areas north of British India in more detail. It has long been believed that the highest mountains in the world were here. In 1852 the height of Mount Everest , then known as Peak XV, was determined. In 1855 surveying began in Kashmir in the northwest of the Himalayas. As part of this venture, Thomas George Montgomerie saw the highest mountains of the Baltoro Muztagh, including the K2 , from his position on the western summit of Haramukh (Station Peak) in Ladakh, around 200 kilometers away, in September 1856 and numbered them by ( K1 , K2, K3 , K4 , K5 etc.). While other names are in use today for most of these peaks, the working title of Montgomerie has been retained for the 8,611-meter-high K2.

In the same year, 1856, Adolf Schlagintweit , who was with his brothers Hermann and Robert on an extremely fruitful research trip to India and High Asia on behalf of the East India Company , came to the Baltoro Glacier for the first time and climbed the Old Muztagh Pass . The trip ended badly for Adolf, he was beheaded the following year in Kashgar as a suspected Chinese spy.

With a group of local porters, the British topographer Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen also penetrated into the heart of the Karakoram in 1861 . It rose so far over the Baltoro Glacier that he could take a look at the K2 near the Masherbrum . However, he did not reach his destination, the Muztagh Pass. An initial route description and an overview map on a scale of 1: 500,000 come from Godwin-Austen. The Godwin Austen Glacier , a tributary glacier of the Baltoro, which descends from Skyang Kangri , was named after him. The proposal to name K2 after him - analogous to Mount Everest - was rejected, but the name Mount Godwin Austen can be found in some maps.

Francis Younghusband

In 1887 the British explorer Sir Francis Younghusband , who came to Lhasa on his later Tibetan campaign and was partly responsible for massacres among the Tibetans, came from Kashgar on his long journey from Beijing to Srinagar to cross the Karakoram from east to west. When he had crossed the Aghil Mountains east of the Karakoram over the subsequently named Aghil Pass and saw the peaks of the Baltoro Muztagh from the northeast across the Shaksgam Valley, he wrote:

The Shaksgam valley, in the background on the left the K2

"What I had so ardently longed to see was now spread out before me. Where I had reached no white man had ever reached before. And there before me were peaks of 26,000 feet, and in one case 28,000 feet in height, rising above a valley bottom only 12,000 feet above sea-level. For mountain majesty and sheer sublimity, that scene is hardly to be excelled.
(What I so fervently hoped to see was now spread out in front of me. No white man had been where I was. And there in front of me were peaks of 8,000 meters, in one case even over 8500 meters, which rise above raised a valley floor that was only 3600 meters above sea level. In terms of excellence and sheer majesty, this mountain scenery can hardly be surpassed.) "

From the Shaksgam valley, Younghusband, who at the beginning of his journey had no mountaineering experience and had never stood on a glacier, climbed the Sarpo-Laggo glacier on the north side of the Baltoro-Muztagh and crossed the eastern "Old" Muztagh pass , whose existence was only known from hearsay, to the Baltoro Glacier. When he arrived in Askole, the first (or last) settlement in the Braldu valley, he set off again directly to cross the western “New” Muztagh pass back to the Sarpo Laggo glacier from the Panmah glacier, yes the rise on the west side of the pass proved impracticable.

Two years later, Younghusband crossed the Aghil Pass a second time in the direction of the Shaksgam Valley, this time following the Shaksgam downstream and explored the northeast side of the Karakoram from there. He was unable to climb a glacier he named Crevasse Glacier ( Skamrigletscher ), but he found the Shimshal Pass and thus the transition to the Shimshal Valley on the north side of the Hispar Muztagh and followed the Shimshal River to the Hunza Valley.

William Martin Conway (1895)

In 1890 Roberto Lerco from Gressoney climbed the lower slopes of the southeast ridge on K2 for the first time, after doing research around the Nanga Parbat . Two years later, in 1892, William Martin Conway led an expedition to the Karakoram. Among the participants were Oscar Eckenstein , the crampon inventor, and Matthias Zurbriggen , a Swiss mountain guide, and Charles Granville Bruce , a British officer and mountaineer. They explored the Hispar and Biafo glaciers , then Eckenstein, who did not get along with Conway, left, and the expedition turned to the central Baltoro Muztagh. Here Conway named the confluence of the Baltoro and Godwin Austen glaciers as Concordia . The names of Broad , Hidden and Bride Peak also go back to Conway. Conway's designation Golden Throne for the Baltoro Kangri has been somewhat forgotten today. The expedition reached an altitude record for the time at 6,890 meters.

First photo of the K2 (Jacot Guillarmod, 1902)

In 1902, Eckenstein returned to the Baltoro for a first serious attempt to climb the K2. The team included the Austrians Victor Wessely and Heinrich Pfannl , the Swiss doctor Jules Jacot Guillarmod , and the British engineer and art collector Guy Knowles , who made the expedition possible as a financier. Also there was the eccentric Briton Aleister Crowley , who was an excellent mountaineer but otherwise gained dubious fame as a black magician. The climbers turned from the south-east ridge, which seemed too steep to them for the porters, and towards the north-east ridge, but ultimately failed because of the difficulties and bad weather. The expedition explored the Godwin Austen Glacier and climbed to Skyang La (Saddle of the Winds, 6233 m). The highest point reached by Jacot Guillarmod and Wessely was at an altitude of about 6700 meters. Pfannl barely survived pulmonary edema after being transported to lower elevations several days after the onset of the first symptoms. The various rumors that the malaria fever-ridden Crowley pointed a revolver at Knowles at an altitude of 20,000 feet on the verge of the demolition but could be disarmed cannot be substantiated from the records of the expedition members and is very likely wrong. Jacot Guillardmod made the first photographs of the K2.

The Gasherbrums in a historical recording by Vittorio Sella

The southeast ridge of the K2 is now called the Abruzzi Council after Luigi Amedeo di Savoia-Aosta , Duke of Abruzzo . The Italian nobleman led a large expedition in 1909, including 360 porters, who made a serious attempt on this ridge, which would later prove to be the easiest route to the summit. Since they did not have enough fixed ropes to insure the route, they had to turn back without having achieved anything after they had already reached an altitude of more than 6,000 meters. Undeterred, Luigi Amadeo turned to other goals. They climbed the southeast ridge of Skyang Kangri until crevasses made it impossible for them to advance at an altitude of 6600 meters. At the Bride Peak of the Chogolisa they came to around 150 meters below the summit, but 7500 meters meant an altitude record for the time. Among the eleven mountaineers on the expedition was the well-known mountain photographer Vittorio Sella , who took sensational pictures of the mountains and glaciers. The doctor Filippo de Filippi , himself a participant in the exploration trip, wrote a detailed report on the expedition.

After that it remained quiet in the central areas of the Karakoram for several years. In 1929 it was again the Italians who sent an expedition to the Baltoro Muztagh, this time with a scientific focus. Ardito Desio , who led the first successful expedition on K2 a quarter of a century later, was the most famous participant in this venture. The following year, Giotto Dainelli explored the area around the Rimo glacier.

British scientists carried out further investigations on the Shaksgam Glacier and its surrounding valleys in what is now Xinjiang, China (including the north side of K2) in 1937. Eric Shipton , Harold W. Tilman and Michael donors committed inter alia designated by Younghusband as a "Crevasse Glacier" Skamrigletscher , at its exploration Younghusband had failed himself. From there they found a way through the main range of the Panmah Muztagh to Snow Lake on the Biafo Glacier. They also explored the Spantik-Sosbun Mountains on the west side of the Biafo.

Sunrise on the southeast ridge of the K2, in the background the Gasherbrum Group and Broad Peak

From 1938 mountaineers turned to the second highest mountain on earth. It was not until 1954, however, before Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni were the first people to set foot on the summit of K2, which was often described as the most difficult of all eight-thousanders .

Karakoram Glacier

The Karakoram is home to some of the largest glaciers outside the polar regions, including Alaska and Patagonia . The entire glaciated area is around 16,000 km².

The four central glaciers

The four largest glaciers are roughly in line and separate the main Karakoram range in the north from the mountain groups of the Lesser Karakoram in the south. The nutrient areas of the Baltoro and Siachen glaciers are just as interconnected as those of the Hispar and Biafo glaciers.

The longest glacier in the Karakoram is the 70 kilometer long Siachen glacier , which in Asia is only surpassed by the Fedtschenko glacier in the Pamirs . It is fed by numerous side glaciers, of which the Teram Shehr Glacier is the largest. The Siachen flows from the Sia Kangri and the surrounding mountains to the southeast and is drained via the Nubra River to the Shyok.

Karakoram Glacier 1856

On the northwest side of the Sia Kangri lies the nutrient area of ​​the Abruzzi Glacier , which is the outermost influx of the Baltoro Glacier and is called the Upper Baltoro Glacier after the influx of the Southern Gasherbrum Glacier . At Concordiaplatz it unites with the Godwin-Austen glacier coming from the K2 and flows as the Baltoro glacier towards the west. The Baltoro Glacier is about 60 kilometers long from the Conway Saddle between Sia Kangri and Baltoro Kangri to the end of the tongue, the Baltoro system with its numerous side glaciers covers an area of ​​524 km 2 . Its outflow, the Braldu , later Shigar, flows into the Indus at Skardu .

A few kilometers further downstream, the glacier tongue of the Biafogletscher penetrates from the northwest into the Braldu valley. With a length of 68 kilometers, this glacier is the second longest Karakoram glacier. Its nutrient area is the approximately 300 km 2 large glacier basin known as Snow Lake , the ice cover of which is almost flat and lies at an altitude of 4500 meters. At its equilibrium line , the ice of the Biafo Glacier is up to 1,400 meters thick. Unlike most other Karakoram glaciers, the Biafo is not primarily nourished by avalanches from the surrounding mountains, but mainly by snowfall over Snow Lake. The surface of the Biafogletscher consists of relatively flat, bare ice, especially in the summer months, without any noticeable crevices. Therefore it is exceptionally easy to hike compared to the other Karakoram glaciers.

To the west of Snow Lake, the 5150 meter high Hispar La represents a pass to the Hispar Glacier . From there, this glacier flows 46 kilometers to the west. Its outflow, the Hispar , flows into the Hunza at Karimabad . Four large valley glaciers flow from the branching chain of Hispar Muztagh to Hispar, from east to west are the Khani Basa Glacier , Yutmaru Glacier , Pumari Chhish Glacier and Kunyang Glacier .

Other important glaciers

The "Batura Wall" above the Batura Glacier, with Pasu Sar (left of the center of the picture), Muchu Chhish (just to the right of the center of the picture), and Batura I (to the right, apparently lower)

Like the other parts of the main chain, the Batura Muztagh is separated from a chain of the Lesser Karakoram by a larger glacier. However, in contrast to the four largest glaciers , the Batura glacier does not flow on the south but on the north side of the main chain to the east to the Hunza valley. With a length of 52 kilometers, it exceeds the Hispar glacier.

There are other larger glaciers on the north side of the main chain. From the mountains of Hispar Muztagh, 10 larger glaciers flow north or northeast to the Shimshal valley. These include (from west to east) the Momhil glacier (28 km), the Malangutti glacier (17 km), the Yazghil glacier (27 km), the Yukshin-Gardan glacier (18 km), the Khurdoping glacier (30 km) and the Virjerab glacier ( km). Further east, the 33-kilometer-long Braldu Glacier (not to be confused with the Braldu River, the outflow of the Baltoro) and the 38-kilometer-long Skamrigletscher to the Shaksgam Valley flow .

Within the Panmah Muztagh the Nobande-Sobande, the Choktoi and the Chiring glaciers flow together and form the Panmah glacier , whose outflow between the Baltoro and Biafo glaciers flows into the Braldu river.

On the north side of the Baltoro Muztagh, the Sarpo Laggo and K2 glaciers flow to the Shaksgam valley, on the east side of the Baltoro Muztagh are the Northern Gasherbrum Glacier , the Urdok Glacier (20 km) and the Saga Glacier .

The importance of the Chogolungma Glacier as the separation between the Rakaposhi Haramosh and Spantik Sosbun Mountains has been described above. The outlet of the Chogolungma Glacier is called Basha . Together with the Braldu, this river forms the Shigar, which drains the central Karakoram to the Indus.

Karakoram Glacier during the Ice Age

During the last glacial , there was a network of connected valley glaciers in the Karakoram between western Tibet and Nanga Parbat as well as the southern edge of the Tarim Basin and the Kampire Dior massif across today's ice divisions, i.e. the glaciation type of an ice stream network existed . In the east the Karakorum glaciers were connected to the glaciers of the Zanskar Himalayas and those of western Tibet , in the west with the ice stream network of Chitral and the northern Hindukush . The Indus Glacier, the largest main valley glacier, flowed south to below 870 m above sea level. M. out of the valley from 35 ° 30 '  N , 73 ° 18'  E down. This glacier received an inflow from the Nanga Parbat ice flow network, which is still part of the western edge of the Himalayan system, 120 km before its end. In the north, the Karakorum glaciers in the Shaksgam valley converged with those of the Aghil mountains. These glaciers had contact with those of the West Kunlun , from which the deepest outlet glacier tongues down to about 2000 m above sea level. M. have flowed down into the Tarim basin. While today's valley glaciers in the Karakoram reach a maximum length of 70 km, some of the Ice Age valley glacier arms and main valley glaciers, such as the Gilgit valley, Hunza, Shigar and Shyok Indus glaciers, were 170 to 700 km long. The glacial snow line (ELA), as the height limit between the glacier nutrient area and the melting zone, was lowered by around 1300 meters in altitude compared to today.

Typical truck on the Karakoram Highway


Of the actual high mountain region, only the Hunza Valley in the west is accessible to tourists , namely through the paved road called the Karakoram Highway , which leads over the Kunjirap Pass into the Chinese Xinjiang. Here you will find hotels, inns, campsites and opportunities for medical care. Some tour operators organize guided trekking routes into the high mountains , the most famous of which is the Baltoro Trek, which leads to Concordia at the foot of the eight-thousanders. Otherwise you have to stick to bases on the edge of the high mountains ( Skardu ) or outside ( Leh ), or do without development. The road over the Kunjirap Pass (up to the Chinese border) is a popular route with sporty cyclists.

List of the highest mountains in the Karakoram

Selection of important peaks, passes and places in the Karakoram (clickable)

The following list shows the highest mountains in the Karakoram and includes all mountains with a notch height of at least 500 meters. Information on secondary peaks (notch height below 500 m) can be found in the articles for the mountain groups or the individual mountains.


  • Rank : Rank that the summit in the Karakoram (among the highest mountains in Asia and therefore worldwide) has.
  • Summit : name of the mountain.
  • Height : Height of the mountain in meters.
  • State : State territory on which the mountain is located (PK = Pakistan, CN = China, IN = India). The asterisk (*) marks the mountains of the Saltoro chain in the unclearly defined border area between India and Pakistan immediately west of the Siachen glacier.
  • Mountain range : chain of the Karakoram, to which the mountain is counted ( ... Muztagh = Great Karakoram ; ... mountains = Small Karakoram ).
  • Schartenhöhe : difference in height (in meters) up to the next notch from which a higher mountain can be reached.
  • Reference mountain : The reference mountain (Parent Mountain) for the Schartenhöhe; indicated is the Prominence Master (the next higher mountain after the notch, which at the same time has a larger notch height); A deviating island parent is given in brackets ; if the brackets are missing, the prominence master is also the island parent.
  • Reference notch : The highest notch up to which at least one has to descend in order to reach a higher mountain. The height is given in meters (and, if given, your name).


summit Height
in m
Country mountain range Notch height
in m
Reference mountain Reference chart
1 (2) K2 8611 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 4017 Mount Everest 4594 ( Lo Mustang )
2 (11) Gasherbrum I 8080 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 2155 K2 5925 ( Skyang La / Windy Gap)
3 (12) Broad Peak 8051 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 1701 Gasherbrum I 6350
4 (13) Gasherbrum II 8034 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 1523 Gasherbrum I 6511 (Gasherbrum La)
5 (17) Gasherbrum IV 7932 PK Baltoro Muztagh 712 Gasherbrum II 7220
6 (19) Distaghil Sar 7885 PK Hispar Muztagh 2526 K2 5359
7 (21) Kunyang Chhish 7852 PK Hispar Muztagh 1765 Distaghil Sar 6087
8 (22) Masherbrum 7821 PK Masherbrum Mountains 2457 K2 5364
9 (25) Batura Sar 7795 PK Batura Muztagh 3118 K2 4677 ( Mingteke Pass )
10 (26) Rakaposhi 7788 PK Rakaposhi Haramosh Mountains 2818 K2 4970 ( Nushik La )
11 (28) Kanjut Sar I 7760 PK Hispar Muztagh 1660 Kunyang Chhish 6100
12 (31) Saltoro Kangri 7742 PK / IN * Saltoro Mountains 2160 K2 5582 ( Sia La )
13 (35) Saser Kangri I 7672 IN Saser Muztagh 2304 K2 5368 ( Sasser Pass )
14 (36) Chogolisa 7668 PK Masherbrum Mountains 1624 Gasherbrum I 6044 ( Conway saddle )
15 (38) Shispare 7611 PK Batura Muztagh 1241 Batura Sar 6370
16 (39) Trivor 7577 PK Hispar Muztagh 997 Distaghil Sar 6580
17 (43) Skyang Kangri 7545 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 1085 K2 6460
18 (45) Yukshin Gardan Sar 7530 PK Hispar Muztagh 1374 Kunyang Chhish 6156
19 (47) Saser Kangri II 7518 IN Saser Muztagh 1458 Saser Kangri I 6060
20 (48) Mamostong Kangri 7516 IN Rimo Muztagh 1803 Gasherbrum I (K2) 5713
21 (51) Saser Kangri III 7495 IN Saser Muztagh 835 Saser Kangri I 6660
22 (53) Pumari Chhish 7492 PK Hispar Muztagh 884 Kunyang Chhish 6608
23 (54) Pasu Sar 7478 PK Batura Muztagh 647 Batura Sar 6831
24 (57) Malubiting 7453 PK Rakaposhi Haramosh Mountains 2193 Rakaposhi 5260
25 (58) Teram Kangri I 7441 IN / CN Siachen Muztagh 1682 Gasherbrum I (K2) 5759 ( Turkestan La )
26 (60) K12 7428 PK / IN * Saltoro Mountains 1978 Saltoro Kangri (K2) 5450 ( Bilafond La )
27 (61) Sia Kangri 7424 PK Baltoro Muztagh 642 Gasherbrum I 6782
28 (64) Skil Brum 7410 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 1152 K2 6258
29 (65) Haramosh 7406 PK Rakaposhi Haramosh Mountains 2286 Rakaposhi 5120 ( Haramosh La )
30 (67) Ghent Kangri I. 7401 PK / IN * Saltoro Mountains 1493 Saltoro Kangri 5908 (Sherpi Col)
31 (68) Ultar Sar 7388 PK Batura Muztagh 688 Shispare 6700
32 (69) Rimo Kangri I. 7385 IN Rimo Muztagh 1428 Teram Kangri 5957 (Col Italia)
33 (71) Sherpi Kangri 7380 PK / IN * Saltoro Mountains 1320 Ghent Kangri 6060
34 (74) Momhil Sar 7343 PK Hispar Muztagh 907 Trivor (Distaghil Sar) 6436
35 (76) Yutmaru Sar 7330 PK Hispar Muztagh 680 Yukshin Gardan Sar 6650
36 (79) Chongtar Kangri I. 7315 CN Baltoro Muztagh 1295 K2 6020
37 (81) Baltoro Kangri 7300 PK Masherbrum Mountains 1121 Chogolisa 6179 ( Kondus saddle )
38 (83) Huang Guan Shan (The Crown) 7295 CN Yengisogat (Wesm Mountains) 1919 K2 5376 (east of the Muztagh Pass )
39 (86) Baintha Brakk (The Ogre) 7285 PK Panmah Muztagh 1891 Distaghil Sar 5394 (Sim La)
40 (87) K6 (Baltistan Peak) 7282 PK Masherbrum Mountains 1962 Gasherbrum I (K2) 5320
41 (88) Muztagh Tower 7276 PK / CN Baltoro Muztagh 1710 K2 5566
42 (90) Diran 7266 PK Rakaposhi Haramosh Mountains 1329 Malubiting 5940
43 (93) Apsarasas Kangri I 7243 IN / CN Siachen Muztagh 607 Teram Kangri 6636
44 (95) Rimo Kangri III 7233 IN Rimo Muztagh 613 Rimo Kangri I. 6620
45 (101) Malangutti Sar 7207 PK Hispar Muztagh 507 Distaghil Sar 6700
46 (105) Lupghar Sar 7200 PK Hispar Muztagh 730 Momhil Sar 6470


  • Wolfgang Heichel: Chronicle of the development of the Karakoram. Part I: Western Karakoram. Munich 2003.
  • Wolfgang Heichel: Chronicle of the development of the Karakoram. Part II: Central Karakorum I. Munich 2010.
  • William Martin Conway: Climbing and Exploration in the Karakoram Himalayas. Containing Scientific Reports by Prof. TG Bonney, D.Sc, FRS; Dr. AG Butler, FLS, FZS; W. Martin Conway; W. Laurence H. Duckworth, BA; Lt.-Col. AG Durand, CB; W. Botting Hemsley, FRS; WF Kirby, FLS, FES; Miss CA Raisin, B.Sc .; and Prof. CF Roy, FRS With Frontispiece portrait of the author. Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1904.

Web links

Commons : Karakoram  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  4. Mike P. Searle: Geology and Tectonics of the Karakoram Mountains. Chichester 1991, p. 3.
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