How to Hike the Passu Glacier Trek in Pakistan
This post is about the Passu glacier trek in Pakistan. The Passu glacier is in the Karakorum mountain range of Northern Pakistan. This region is home to some of the largest glaciers in the world outside of the polar regions.
The glaciers in the Karakorum provide fresh water to more than 200 million people that live downstream in the valleys of the Indus river. Passu glacier is linked with the nearby Batura glacier, the Shispar glacier and the Ghulkin glacier.
Passu glacier is around 20 kilometers long and its meltwater feeds the Hunza river below that flows all the way into the Gilgit river and finally the Indus river.
Like most glaciers in the world, the Passu glacier is melting, increasing the risk of glacial lake outburst in the short term and a lack of water in the long term when the glaciers completely disappear.
Why hike the Passu glacier trek
The Passu glacier trek is one of the easiest hikes to visit a glacier along the Karakoram highway. While some of the other glaciers are longer, they are also more difficult to reach or are less impressive, because they are black glaciers.
The Batura glacier, for example, is a 57 kilometers long black glacier and you can see it from the Karakoram highway. Unfortunately, it is a massive bed of gray rocks and ice, making it difficult to distinguish the actual glacier from the mountainous rocks.
Passu glacier is a white glacier and therefore you can get your first obvious glimpse from the road as you enter Passu.
You have two options if you want to hike the Passu glacier trek. There is a very easygoing trail that starts in Passu and you will hike to the start of the glacier from below in about 30 – 45 minutes. Then there is a longer trail that starts from the Karakorum highway near Hussainabad village.
It is possible to do the Passu glacier trek without a guide. Both trails are easy to follow as long as you stay on the trail and don’t attempt to hike on the actual glacier. I strongly recommend bringing a local guide that knows the glacier if you like to hike on the glacier itself. This can be very risky due to rockfalls and instability.
My experience on the Passu glacier trek
I did both Passu glacier treks when I visited the Karakoram highway. In my opinion, both hikes are very well worth the time and give you a different perspective on the glacier.
The first time I hiked the Passu glacier trek was the easy trail from below. An easygoing hike of 40 minutes brought me to the start of the glacier. Honestly, you can see the length of the Passu glacier much better from a distance. Once you are right in front of it, it is mostly a world of grey rocks and ice.
However, the mountainous landscapes along the road and the former riverbed of the Passu glacier lake were spectacular. It was late afternoon and I was the only person around. At some point I heard rocks falling and saw there was a herd of ibex just beside me. Slowly they moved up the mountain again away from me.
The Passu glacier lake was now empty. Not because the glacier stopped melting, but because it has already receded so much that there is less meltwater, despite the fact that the Passu glacier continues to melt rapidly.
As you hike next to the former lake bed signs of erosion of how big this glacier once was, are obvious. In fact, the Passu glacier almost came all the way up to the road.
The Passu glacier left a deep impression on me. When I heard there was another trail with better views on the glacier from above I decided to visit the glacier a second time. The second Passu glacier trek was a bit more of a challenge, but allowed me to come much closer to the glacier itself. I hiked before too the Shkhara glacier and Chalaadi glacier in Georgia, but have never been this close to a glacier.
Passu Glacier Trek from below
Kilometers: 2 kilometer (one way)
Difficulty: very easy
Part 1: Follow the Karakoram highway
You can start this hike at the Yak Grill in Passu. A great restaurant serving the best yak burgers and steaks in Pakistan. Here you will find a cluster of hotels and a few other restaurants. Follow the Karakoram highway in the direction of Hussainabad and Karimabad for a short distance.
On the left you will pass a little shop. Here you can buy some snacks, water or fruits to bring along
After 250 – 300 meters there is a bend in the road. Here you will have to turn right on a dirt track.
Part 2: Follow the dirt road
Once you have found the dirt road, it is almost impossible to get lost. You can follow this dirt road for some 2 – 3 kilometers. Right next to you is the former lake bed of Passu glacier and the glacier river. You will have beautiful views on the Passu Cones and the Passu valley behind you.
The road stops a few hundred meters in front of the mouth of the glacier. If you hike on your own, I advise you to stop here. You can continue further by climbing over the rocks and boulders, but I recommend doing this only if you have a local guide with you.
Passu Glacier Trek from above
Kilometers: 4 – 8 kilometer (one way)
The Passu Glacier Trek from above is much longer than the trek from below. It makes for a perfect day hike when you are in Passu or Hussainabad/Gulmit/Ghulkin. Part of this trek is possible by car. This means that you can shorten this trek if you like.
Part 1: Hussainabad to Borith Lake (2 km)
Just before Hussaianabad village there is a very small tea shop and a blue sign showing where to leave the Karakoram highway to take the road up to Borith Lake and start the Passu glacier trek.
It is about 2 kilometers all the way up to Borith Lake. The road is paved and because of the amount of cars driving up to Borith lake, you might want to consider going by car rather than hiking this part of the Passu Glacier trek
Part 2: Borith Lake to Outdoor Cafe (4 km)
The paved road stops at Borith lake and changes into a dirt road that continues through a beautiful valley with some small and desolate villages. Jeeps can still continue on this road. At the end of the road is a large parking space and a small outdoor cafe serving delicious Pakistani tea.
After Borith Lake, the scenery becomes more and more spectacular. Although you can continue by jeep, if you have your own transport, this is a pleasant part of the Passu glacier trek to hike.
Part 3: Outdoor Cafe to the First Passu glacier viewpoint (2 kilometers)
From the Outdoor Cafe you can no longer continue by car. The path follows the side of the cliff with wonderful views on the Passu Cones and the Passu valley. You will see the trail of the easy Passu Glacier trek very far below you.
At first, the Passu glacier was completely out of sight. After 500 meters you go around a corner and the glacier comes into view. There are no words to describe the feeling it gave me. Spectacular feels like an understatement.
Most people Follow the road for about 20 – 30 minutes and then climb up the embankment for the first Passu Glacier Viewpoint.
Part 4: Death Valley to the Second Passu glacier Viewpoint (2 kilometers)
From the first Passu glacier viewpoint you can go back down to the trail again and then continue into Death Valley. A small high-altitude plain in between the mountain wall and the embankment. It’s called Death Valley, because there was a village that disappeared after a glacial lake outburst, causing many deaths.
Now it is a rather barren part of the Passu Glacier Trek. And also a very cold one, once you walk in the shadow. You no longer see the glacier that is behind the embankment next to you.
As you near the end of the Death Valley, you will see a trail going up the embankment, leading up to the Second Passu Glacier Viewpoint.
The trail continues as you can climb down towards the glacier. From here it becomes more challenging as it gets steep and you will have to climb over rocks and boulders. I do not recommend doing this when you hike alone. Go with a local guide if you want to hike on the glacier itself.
Passu Glacier Trek Alternatives
If you are up for a more challenging trek you can consider the 3 day Patundas trek. In this trek you actually cross the Passu glacier, camp at the Patundas meadows and then hike to the Batura glacier.
I haven’t done this trek myself, but I recommend this blogpost from Journeyera for more information.
Passu glacier Trek Travel Tips
Where to sleep
The Nearest hotels are in Passu or Hussainabad. In Passu I stayed at the Sarai Silk Route Hotel. This hotel focuses on large tour groups from Asia. As an independent traveler it can feel a little bit like a factory here, but the facilities are good and the prices reasonable.
After Passu, I stayed in Gulmit at Moksha Resort. This guesthouse was one of my favorite places along the Karakoram Highway with some of the best food I had in Pakistan. I really had a wonderful experience here and it’s more like a homestay than a resort. The family that runs the place were very friendly and helpful. It’s not that far from Hussainabad and I am sure the family can help you in bringing you to the start of the trail.
Where to eat
Glacier Breeze Restaurant: This restaurant is famous for its delicious apricot cake. I tried it and it is a nice treat after the hike.
Yak Grill: The best restaurant in Passu is without doubt the Yak Grill. They have the best Yak burgers and the best yak steaks. Vegetarian options are limited in Pakistan in general. The Yak Grill has a vegetarian creamy pasta that I found very delicious.
How to get there
The Passu Glacier Trek starts in either Hussainabad or Passu. Both villages are on the Karakoram highway and therefore easy to reach by public transport (minibus) or by hitchhiking.
Hitchhiking is very common on the Karakoram highway. People are very friendly and helpful. They might not allow you to pay, but it is polite to offer a small contribution towards the fuel costs when hitchhiking.
When to visit
The hiking season in the Karakorum runs from June till September. This is also the best time to visit the Passu glacier. The weather is generally pleasant, with average temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F) during the day. However, do note that this is also the busiest time and accommodations may be crowded.
Spring and autumn are transitional seasons in the Karakoram Mountains. During these times, the weather can be variable, with occasional rain and cooler temperatures. However, these seasons also offer advantages such as fewer tourists, beautiful blossoms in spring, and colorful autumn foliage in October. You can expect the first snow to arrive in November and it usually stays up till April. The Passu glacier hike is therefore best done in late spring and early autumn.
What to bring
The Passu glacier hike is an easygoing day trip from Passu or Gulmit and there is no need for special equipment. Just bring a day pack with everything you need on a day hike. Below are some things to think about for the Passu glacier hike in particular.
Water bottle with filter: If you are going on a hike it is always important to bring enough water. There is no need to add to the plastic waste problem so bring your own water bottle with a water filter or steri pen. There are not too many water sources on the way, so fill your bottles beforehand.
Sturdy shoes: Once you enter the glacier’s moraine there will be lots of rocks and boulders. There is no need for professional hiking boots, but you will definitely appreciate wearing sturdy shoes. For sure leave your slippers or sandals at home.
Warm clothes: Even if it is warm and sunny, it can be cold once you get close to the Passu glacier. Therefore bring some warm clothes.
Sustainable Travel on the Passu Glacier trek
The Karakoram Highway and the Hunza Valley is becoming a popular tourist destination. If not among foreigners, then at least for local Pakistani people that have the money to travel.
While tourism is a welcome source of income it can also have negative consequences. The trails become more crowded and pollution is a growing problem. Traveling sustainably in the Karakoram mountains is essential to minimize your environmental impact and preserve the area’s natural beauty for future generations.
Leave no Trace principle: When hiking to the Passu glacier, stick to the designated trails to protect the fragile alpine ecosystem. Straying off the marked paths can cause soil erosion.
If you are lucky enough to spot wildlife, such as ibex, observe quietly from a distance to prevent disruption to their habitats and help maintain their natural behaviors.
At last, ensure you take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has a huge problem with plastic waste. To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter.
Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to be sensitive of the community’s way of life. Pakistan is an Islamic country. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.
The people in Gilgit Baltistan are more liberal than elsewhere in Pakistan, but still appreciate it, if you dress modestly. Learning a few basic phrases in Urdu or Wakhi, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.
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