Preliminary Reconnaissance

Exploration of the Shaksgam valley became an important geographical and geological target after the two journeys performed by Francis Younghusband. The first one was the tremendous crossing of the Muztagh Pass after an attempt to cross the Indira Col at the head of the Urdok Glacier, to conclude its journey from Peking to India which lasted one year (1887). The second journey was performed in 1889, when Younghusband was sent by the Indian Government to trace the road used by the Hunzakut robbers to attack the trade caravans en route to the Karakorum Pass. He entered with 6 Gurka soldiers in the Shaksgam valley from the Aghil Pass and was able to reach the Shimshal Pass and force the Mir of Hunza to stop the robberies (Younghusband, 1896).

Subsequently, the decade from 1926 was that of the “Shaksgam or Oprang Problem” (Oprang is the name of the lower part of the river before merging in the Yarkand river) and attracted several expeditions, mostly devoted to fill what was defined as “Blank on the Map”. The first expedition was that of K. Mason in 1926, arriving in Shaksgam from the Karakorum Pass and being stopped by the Kyagar Glacier which was damming the valley (Mason, 1927; 1938). The second one was the Italian expedition led by Duke of Spoleto (1929), with Desio and Balestrieri entering in Shaksgam from Baltoro via Muztagh Pass and the Sarpo Laggo Glacier (Savoia-Aosta & Desio, 1936). They went through the valley up to the Singhiè Glacier. Vissers and Wyss followed in 1935, joined by surveyors detached by the Trigonometrical Survey of India (Wyss, 1940). The surveyors were able to pass over the Kyagar Glacier and reached down till Durbin Jangal (sort of small oasis covered by thick bushes). Then, in 1937, the party of Shipton, Tilman, Spengler and Auden (Shipton, 1938 a,b) arrived from Baltoro and made an extensive and accurate survey till Aghil Pass and back in the rugged mountain groups at the head of the Skamri Glacier. The latest pioneer was Schomberg in 1945, who did a journey to lower Shaksgam, reaching the valley via Shimshal Pass (Schomberg, 1947). Mason (1955) summarized the highlights of these expeditions.

After the Partition between India and Pakistan, the valley (which was considered before as part of the British Raj) was left under the Chinese administration, following the border agreement between China and Pakistan.

By the eighties, the valley was mostly reached by few mountaineering expeditions, attracted by the K2 North Ridge, first climbed by a Japanese expedition in 1980, and by other peaks, like the Crown, the north faces of Broad Peak and Gasherbrums (Fig. 1). A mountaineering expedition that included also geologists was led by the famous climber G. Calcagno in early autumn 1988, whose results were published in 1990 and 1991 (Gaetani et al., 1990; 1991). Another expedition was performed in June-July 2006, mainly aimed to unravel the evolution of the metamorphic units; preliminary results were published by Groppo & Rolfo (2007) and Rolfo & Groppo (2007), while the tectonometamorphic evolution of the Aghil Range just north of Shaksgam valley was described by Groppo & Rolfo (2008).

Figure 1. A) The north face of K2. B) The north face of the Gasherbrum range.

A) The north face of K2. B) The north face of the Gasherbrum range.

A) The north face of K2 as seen from the Tek-ri hillock at the junction Sarpo Laggo/Shaksgam. B) The north face of the Gasherbrum range. From the left, the Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak) and the Gasherbrum II, both are over 8000 m high. From the snout of the Urdok Glacier.